Looking for help preparing healthy meals at home? These markets can get you started

More stores are offering healthy fast-food options

Lisa Andrews thinks  backlash toward the fast-food industry has given birth to a movement.

At the forefront of this movement are healthy-food crusaders demanding options for non-processed meals without having to sacrifice convenience.

Andrews, a registered dietician and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition, said people have to work harder for healthy foods.

"As more and more information comes out about how poor health is linked with fast-food consumption, people are trying to eat a little bit more healthily, which includes doing more prep at home," Andrews said.

Because people are still busy regardless of their eating habits, a market has emerged for on-the-go healthy meals.

Online food delivery services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh were first to provide customers with meals that satisfy their nutritional needs without the hassle of figuring out recipes all on their own. Businesses such as Fit Food Stop and Kroger are competing with online services by providing individually prepared meals, nutritional advice and information about how to make the recipes from scratch.

Debbie Serenius, a registered dietician, nutritionist and owner of Nutrition Advantage, said she is willing to advocate for prepared healthy meals.

"It's a good option," Serenius said. "When I counsel clients, I often tell them that the grocery store is their fast food. You have a lot more options than any burger place."

Andrews said the new trend can help people learn more about preparing their own food, especially appropriate portion size. She also pointed out that learning how to prepare meals at home and having bulk items on hand could be a more realistic and cost-effective way to eat healthy.

"Maybe look at what the cost of that meal would be versus having frozen vegetables on hand that you can microwave very quickly," Andrews said. "Ordering prepared meals can be expensive."

Fresh Thyme Farmer's Market offers hot meals, salad bar, this Olive and Antipasti bar, plus other healthy prepared foods.

For people who are starting a healthy lifestyle and buying prepared food, Andrews offered this advice.

"Consumers should check if they have been designed or approved by a dietician," she said. "Meals may more likely be healthy and less indulgent. Make sure you like the food and that it's something that is sustainable. You can use it in the short term and pick up some cooking tips."

Shopping for prepared healthy meals can be daunting.

To help you get started, here is a list of places in the area where you can be sure to find healthy, prepared meals and what you'll be paying for them.

Fit Food Stop

3180 Madison Road Cincinnati

Read about new location opening on 3528 Columbia Parkway Cincinnati here.

This is the only healthy alternative to fast food in the area that specializes in individually prepared meals. Fit Food Stop offers gluten-free breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available.

Individual meals usually cost between $6 and $12 and menu options change daily. Store hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Customers can also order in bulk.

Owner Anthony Maley said nutrition advice and support is readily available and all recipes are open to the public.

Kroger Prep+Pared

3760 Paxton Ave., Cincinnati; 4613 Marburg Ave., Cincinnati; 1420 Vine St., Cincinnati or 12164 Lebanon Road, Sharonville

Kroger recently added the Prep+Pared option, mirroring online food delivery services by creating kits that hold all the ingredients and instructions for a meal. Some kit options are healthier than others, but meals are portioned properly to feed two adults. Each Prep+Pared kit ranges in price from $14 to $18. A subscription is not required.

At other Kroger grocery stores, customers can get oven-ready seafood with Kroger's Easy For You option at the service seafood counter. Simply choose the seafood, seasoning and garnish off a list and an employee will prep and seal it to be heated at home. Prices range from fish on sale at $3.99 a pound to $8.99 a pound.

Customers on the go can also get healthy, prepared food at any of the salad and hot bars inside Kroger stores, but are responsible for doling out their own portions starting at $4.99 a pound. Individually prepared appetizers, salads and sides are usually near the salad and hot bars and range from $5 to $10.

Hours vary at different Kroger locations, but the service seafood counter and any salad and hot bar usually close at 9 p.m. All options are offered seven days a week.

Kroger's website offers recipes and nutritional advice as well. 

Whole Foods

2693 Edmondson Rd. Cincinnati or 5805 Deerfield Blvd. Mason

Whole Foods has its very own "prepared foods" department where you can either eat in store or take to go. Although choices come in abundance, customers are responsible for portioning out their own meals at the hot bar and salad bar. Their meal options contain no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives, hydrogenated fats or high fructose corn syrup.

Whole Foods is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and meals are always $8.99 a pound in the prepared-foods department.

Check out the Whole Foods website for recipes and tutorials on how to prepare healthy meals. There's also advice and information on eating nutritious foods, including specific tips for special diets like vegan and gluten-free.

Fresh Thyme Farmer's Market

3321 Alamo Ave., Cincinnati; 7910 Beechmont Ave., Cincinnati; 82 Carothers Road, Newport or 11349 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati

Fresh Thyme has natural, organic, nutrient-rich, and earth-friendly products. While entire meals are not usually portioned out, individually packaged soups and salads are available.  Store hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and prices range from $5 to $10 for in-house prepared food.

Fresh Thyme also carries a salad bar at $6.99 a pound and an Olive and Antipasti bar at $7.99 a pound.

The Fresh Thyme website also offers healthy recipes.

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