Meal-delivery services can be, well questionable. After all, how do you know that after shelling out hundreds of dollars for pre-made egg breakfasts and pot-pie dinners that the food will be any good? Philly-based company Real Food Works takes out some of the guesswork by partnering with local restaurants to deliver healthy food that actually tastes good from chefs you already know and love. Pretty awesome, right?
The service, which launched last May, is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe, a UPenn grad with a Wharton MBA who’s turned tech startups into serious enterprises. Two years ago, she rehabbed her own diet and committed to eating “clean” (i.e. no processed food, no dairy, low sodium, lots of veggies and whole grains). She found that all was swell and dandy—she felt much more energized and even-keeled, and shed eight pounds to boot—as long as she could control what she was eating. That meant no eating out—like, ever. “It’s really hard to eat clean in the real world,” she says. “I kept asking myself: why isn’t there an easier way to access to healthy food that’s convenient, too?”
Her inner entrepreneur was intrigued, but she couldn't figure out how best to solve the problem, Until one day—lightbulb. "I heard about how Uber partners with limo companies to make getting around in cities easier, so I thought, Why can't I use restaurants like Uber uses limos?" she says. Bingo. Real Food Works was born.
Here's how it works: Lucinda and her team partner with local restaurants, which create meals that follow the company's clean-eating guidelines. Restaurants are vetted before they can participate, a process that includes reading critic and customer reviews, checking health records and reviewing menus. Then its food is put to the test. "I'm a big foodie," says Lucinda. "I'm not willing got sacrifice good tasting food for this way of eating." Once Lucinda and her team are satisfied with a dish, it's added to the meal options.
Customers can choose from five, 10 or 15 meals per week, and decide if they want them to be breakfasts, lunches or dinners, or a mix of all three. Every Wednesday, customers receive an email with a list of the meals on tap for that following week, and they have until Friday to make their selections. The restaurants order the ingredients over the weekend and prep, cook, cool and package the meals on Monday and Tuesday. Deliveries go out Tuesday afternoon. Orders are delivered in insulated packages that can stay cold for hours, and the meals are designed and packaged to stay fresh for up to five days (making sure of this is part of the testing process).
The nice thing is, you're not obligated to get meals every week. You can pause or cancel your subscription anytime online. That means if you go on vacation or have a lot of work lunches one week, you don't have to worry about the meals piling up. Deliveries can be made to your home or office—wherever's convenient.
So far, Real Food Works works with 12 local eateries and caterers, including Cosmic Cafe, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, Pure Fare, Sorella Rose, Su Tao Cafe and Vgë Cafe. Lucinda says she's working with Honeygrow, Styers Cafe and Supper, among others, to bring new restaurants into the fold.
Lucinda was kind enough to give me a taste of a few of the meals—I sampled the falafel veg salad from Vge, moo shu vegetables from Su Tao Cafe, and breakfast pudding from Cosmic Cafe (big time YUM on that last one)—and I have to say, I was impressed (and most important, full). Each item comes labeled with detailed ingredients lists, as well as instructions for heating if necessary, and a date stamp for when it was made.
And although my meals happened to be meat-free, Real Food Works does have some meat and fish dishes, including buffalo chili, made with lean buffalo meat, and salmon burgers. And because most people don't get all their meals from Real Food Works, the company includes a handy guide with recipes and tips for going it on your own.
Remember, this isn't a weight-loss plan, although shedding a few extra pounds is a nice bonus for most people. The goal here is to eat real food—you know, hence the name.
"Once I weaned my body off the junk, I felt so much better," says Lucinda. "That's my goal with Real Food Works: to help people discover how good they can feel when they put the right fuel in their bodies."
Real Food Works meal plans range from $89 for five meals, $149 for 10 and $189 for 15. Delivery is available in the Philadelphia area, including the surrounding suburbs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.