I've been getting lots of questions lately about the healthy-on-the-go meal delivery services that seem to be popping up in neighborhoods across the country. The meals are as convenient as a TV dinner, but are prepared down the road and often without the additives or preservatives or other -"ives" that tend to be in their freezer section counterparts. So how do they rate on a dietitian's scale of 1-10? I'll give them a 7, contingent on a few conditions_

  1. Where does the food come from? Some companies use carriers like Fed-Ex to overnight the meals, others use fruit from local farmers. In addition to the carbon footprint your convenience meal will leave behind, if it comes from afar there are likely additives (sodium or worse) used to keep the food fresh.
  1. What's their story? The "About Us" tab on a website is one we often overlook. However, if you're going to let them prepare your family's dinner, don't you at least want to know how they got started? Some companies evoke a feel-good, family meals feeling while others cut to the chase on their intentions to help you lose weight.
  1. Who wrote the menu? Of course my vote is for a registered dietitian, preferably one (or more) who remains on staff. A contracted dietitian would be my next vote. Proceed with caution for those basing their expertise on personal experience and not education.
  1. Do you like most of the foods on the menu? This is one of the most important factors. You're essentially replacing trips to the grocery store with food from your chosen establishment. The foods you order need to be consistent with your flavor palate. In other words, it's a good thing if you look at the menu and think "I could make that." The point isn't for these places to give you something complex, but rather food that is fresh, pre-portioned, healthy, and most importantly ready to eat.
  1. How does the price measure up? Your time is valuable so you can decide how much you're willing to pay for convenience. As a general rule, meals will be more expensive than dining in, but should be cheaper than dining out. Many services offer discounts when you buy more meals, so planning ahead can save.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of www.Skinnyandthecity.com. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto www.FFactorDiet.com.