Food in a Box

1967 Swanson TV Dinner Advertisement Life Magazine October 6 1967

Maybe not this type of food in a box

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
–Harriet van Horne

“When the waitress asked if I wanted my pizza cut into four or eight slices, I said, ‘Four. I don’t think I can eat eight.’”
–Yogi Berra

I grew up in a Southern family. My grandmother cooked the old-fashioned Southern dishes from scratch and they were excellent. My mom was a good cook too, though, as a teacher and a mother (she’d remind me of this combination, which apparently gave her something close to omniscience…I’m sure you mother/teachers agree), she didn’t always have time to cook from scratch.

Mom tried to teach me how to cook. As a hyperactive and inquisitive child, I normally didn’t have a long enough attention span to stand around and wait for the mise en place necessary to get ready to prepare what she was cooking. Thus, the passing down of knowledge of delicious cooking from generation to generation ended with Mom.

In college, I ate in a mess hall. OK. During my plebe year, I didn’t eat much in the mess hall because I was a perpetually screwing up plebe, so instead of being able to eat in peace, I was refilling water glasses, explaining why I screwed up, asking trivia questions, and the like. Thank goodness for the Boodler’s pizza shop a mere 500 feet from my barracks. When I was in the Army, I either ate at the mess hall or went out to eat. I occasionally tried my hand at cooking, but the best I could do was spaghetti.

After getting married and graduating from grad school, I finally got a grill and taught myself how to cook on it. I gradually improved my skills to where I could prepare passable meals via open flame.

A couple of years ago, Tim Ferriss published The 4-Hour Chef, which I devoured (figuratively). I went from grilling chicken 5 times a week to cooking meals like feijoada and “sexy time steak.” My culinary range had exploded. Guy Fieri was watching over his shoulder waiting for me to overtake him like Julia Child attacking a glass of wine.

Then, we moved to an apartment complex. I lost my best cooking tool – my grill – as we are not allowed to have gas or charcoal grills on our balconies for obvious safety reasons. George Foreman must have made a deal with the complex for kickbacks, as his “grills” are still allowed.

In my mind, I was trying to cook with one arm tied behind my back.

I faced the problem that I’m sure all of you parents who are reading understand altogether too well. How do I…

  1. Cook a healthy meal (e.g. slow carb)
  2. That doesn’t take forever to prepare, and
  3. Doesn’t cost a fortune

After all, I can walk for 10 minutes and pick up two reasonably healthy Chipotle meals for under $20. So, the price point of a meal has to be such that it’s more economically feasible for me to cook rather than to go get something that someone else prepared and will have to clean up after.

I’d occasionally looked for meal preparation services that could fit the bill, but I hadn’t found any that were reasonably priced, much less that fit the slow carb requirements for food. Sure, their pastas and soufflés looked wonderful, but they were incompatible with my seemingly never-ending quest for sub-teen body fat percentages, and they were usually priced at $15-20 per meal.

However, recently, I stumbled upon a potential solution, and it’s right here in my backyard in Fort Worth (just in case Google didn’t realize it, I am a Fort Worth Registered Investment Advisor).

Is Food in a Box the Solution to My Cooking Battles?


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I’m sure you working folks totally understand this scenario.

You get up. You get ready. You go to work. You work for 9 or 10 hours a day (more than that, and you’re probably not getting the marginal utility of your time, but your boss thanks you; see “Is Spending More Time at Work Worth the Salary Increase?”). You commute home, usually in traffic, so it takes 50% longer to get home than to get to work. You arrive. You’re tired. You’re hungry. It takes 30 minutes (at least) to prepare dinner. If you have kids, it probably takes longer, because you want to see them. You eat. All you want to do is sit down, read, relax, and get ready for bed. Lather, rinse, repeat.

For most of us who are in this scenario, the biggest constraint isn’t money. It’s time. That’s why the frozen food section at the grocery store is so appealing. Grab a Swanson’s, throw it in the microwave, and 5 minutes later, you have a meal.

Except, despite the claims, those meals aren’t particularly healthy. You’ve cut down on time, and you may have cut down on cost, but you’re assaulting your body with crap.

Up until recently, my response has been to suck it down and cook. I value my health too much, but I’m not willing to pay through the nose for a cooking service. But, I was always passively looking for something that could hit the trifecta of requirements I listed above.

Finally, through the joys of Amazon Local, I saw a coupon for a company called Personal Trainer Food.

It sounded too good to be true.

$199 (via that coupon) for 28 days’ worth of lunch and dinner. That’d feed me and my wife for 2 weeks.

$3.55 a meal.

Plus, it was healthy. Mostly protein, some healthy fat, and low carbs. It wasn’t precisely slow carb, but it was close enough.

Furthermore, for those of you who have trouble with portion control, the meals are already bagged up in appropriate portion amounts. Throw a meat and a veggie in the microwave for 3 ½ minutes and your meal is ready.

We also used the Delboeuf illusion bias so that we weren’t hungry after eating, as these portions are smaller.

I was a little skeptical that the food would taste like rubber, but figured it was worth that amount to give it a shot. We ordered, and a couple of days later, a 45 pound box of food and dry ice arrived.

It was more food than we could fit in our freezer. Fortunately, the meats can stay in the refrigerator for 14 days, so we were able to shove everything into the freezer and fridge.

Fridge and Freezer full of food by Fort Worth Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

The results?

Dinner is Served! by Fort Worth Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

We’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how good the food has been. Sure, there are only so many things you can do to basic vegetables without destroying the nutritional value, but the meats have been tender, tasty, and well-spiced. Prep is so simple that even a caveman could probably make a meal without starving. Even when our microwave broke, all we had to do was put the meals on a tray, throw it into the oven for 18 minutes at 300 degrees, and it was ready.

Even at the normal price for the 2 meal a day package of $314, it’s $5.61 a meal.

Now, we have good food that is healthy, and, just as important, has bought us about 30-40 minutes a day in avoiding cooking.

Roughly speaking, we’re paying $6-7 a day compared to what we’d pay at a grocery store for the same basic ingredients, and we’re gaining 30-40 minutes back. Plus, we don’t have to go to the grocery store for our full grocery run, buying more time.

That’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make every day.

We don’t do the breakfasts, though. Most of their breakfasts are some variety of omelet and sausage. I just buy massive cartons of eggs and scramble eggs every morning. Since I make coffee, I can multi-task and scramble them while I’m making coffee. We eat 5 eggs at a cost of $1, which made the breakfast versions uneconomical for us. If it came with hot, piping coffee as part of the package, we’d buy the breakfast package too!

If you want to go check them out, you can go to the Personal Trainer Food website.

Look at Groupon, LivingSocial, Amazon Local, and RetailMeNot for deals. Since they’re a relatively new company, they’re marketing heavily and using those discount sites to gain awareness. I’d scour the web for discounts.

Have you outsourced cooking? Are you willing to give this a shot? Have you used Personal Trainer Food or another service before? What was your experience? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

About Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, is the Chief Technology officer of myFinancialAnswers, an online comprehensive financial planning service.

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