Gluten-free consumers have to choose carefully to be sure meals are safe
Gym owner and competitive athlete Christopher Gartrell doesn’t have to avoid gluten. But several years ago,
he began following the same gluten-free diet as a roommate who has celiac disease.
Gartrell says his athletic performance and body composition quickly improved. Overall he just felt better. The
Tucson, Arizona, 28-year-old has followed a gluten-free diet ever since—but he doesn’t always have time to shop
for ingredients and cook healthy meals.
So Gartrell orders ready-to-eat meals from Freshly, a delivery service that offers everything from an Arrabiata Frittata to Cajun Meatballs with Creole-style Vegetables—all 100 percent gluten free.
“The food is just really convenient and really high quality for prepared meals,” Gartrell says. “I don’t have a lot of time. The food comes to my house, and it’s fantastic.”
Freshly is one of a growing number of companies that deliver fresh or frozen gluten-free meals directly to customers. The delivery services, which start at around $10 a meal but may charge considerably more, aim to offer a convenient option for those who follow the gluten-free diet.
Some, including Freshly, follow stringent enough preparation practices to make them safe for those who have celiac disease, but others say outright they are not designed for consumers who have a medical need for the gluten-free diet. Instead, they are aimed at those who choose to eliminate gluten. (See Gluten-Free Labeling Rules for Meal Delivery Services Vary for more details on rules governing labeling of gluten-free meals.)
Like other meal-delivery services, Freshly caters especially to busy 30- to 55-year-old professionals who live mostly
in urban or suburban areas, follow a gluten-free diet, and are starved for time but not necessarily money. Freshly
co-founder Carter Comstock is well-acquainted with the challenges of eating gluten free: He has several family members with celiac disease and is sensitive to gluten himself.
“As a consumer, I know how difficult it can be to find great-tasting gluten-free meals, especially if you are not a creative cook,” he says. “We target busy professionals [who] want to eat and live healthier and put a premium on convenience.”
Gartrell orders 10 Freshly meals every week, with omelets and stir-fries among his favorites. He says the meal-delivery service costs about the same as what he might pay for healthy takeout, making it an affordable solution for people who don’t have time to cook.
“As an athlete, food is fuel for me,” Gartrell says. “I’m pretty busy. If I don’t prep meals, I have to eat out.…It’s cost-effective if you look at it that way.”
Many delivery services offer gluten-free dishes as part of meal plans that emphasize natural, wholesome ingredients and are designed to promote overall health—and, in many cases, weight loss. The market seems to be expanding almost daily: In 2015, music superstar Beyoncé announced that she and a business partner had launched 22 Days Nutrition, a vegan meal-delivery service that’s also gluten free. And 64-year-old frozen food delivery fixture Schwan’s Home Service Inc. began loading its distinctive brown trucks with gluten-free pizza in 2014.
“The appeal of home delivery for gluten-free products is strong given the time [and] energy [required] to sometimes find gluten-free products that also taste great,” says Chris Leising, Sr. Schwan director of product innovation. “We can deliver all that to the consumer.”
But Tricia Thompson, a Manchester, Massachusetts, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant who specializes in celiac disease, advises gluten-free consumers to be cautious about meal-delivery services. “Consumers with celiac disease should think about these services the same way they think about restaurants and ask the same questions,” says Thompson, founder of the gluten-testing company Gluten Free Watchdog.
Delivery services that offer gluten-free meals that are not prepared in a dedicated kitchen and do not have gluten-free certification or third-party verification might be a better solution for people who choose to eat gluten free, rather than those who must follow a medically prescribed diet for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, Thompson says.
Here’s a look at some meal-delivery services that make a gluten-free claim.
Gluten isn’t the only ingredient missing from Freshly’s meals. The Tempe, Arizona, company, which launched in February, favors high-quality proteins, healthy fats and low-glycemic carbohydrates over processed ingredients, sugars and artificial sweeteners, Comstock says.
“We want to replace the artificial products that oversaturate the American diet with the real food we are meant to consume as fuel,” he says. “We wanted to offer a product that was healthy, convenient and, most importantly, delicious.”
On the menu: Freshly offers 27 menu items, with options for all three meals. Dishes range from a Garden Omelet to the Paleo Quinoa Porridge, Chimichurri Salmon, Cod Romesco, and Baked Penne Marinara.
What it costs: Freshly’s meals start at $10.75. Total weekly cost ranges from $69 to $229, depending on the number of meals and deliveries. Shipping is free.
How it works: Freshly currently delivers to 22 states. Customers order online or by phone. Food is cooked and shipped on the same day and arrives in a refrigerated box via overnight or two-day shipping.
Gluten-free specifics: Freshly’s entire menu is gluten free, and all meals are cooked in a 100 percent gluten-free facility. The company is pursuing gluten-free certifications.
“Freshly’s meals are naturally gluten-free,” Comstock adds. “There are a lot of highly processed gluten-free products out there that are not necessarily healthy.”
Fresh n’ Lean
Los Angeles-based Fresh n’ Lean, which has delivered gluten-free meals since 2010, uses organic, plant-based ingredients to create meals that are low in fat, salt, sugar and calories. “Avoiding gluten can be a challenge,” Fresh n’ Lean says on its website, freshnlean.com. “Our goal at Fresh n’ Lean is to make maintaining your gluten-free diet easier than ever.”
On the menu: Fresh n’ Lean’s menu changes weekly and includes options for all three meals. Recent offerings include Mixed Berry Chia Pudding, Summer Squash Forbidden Rice and Cauliflower Spinach Stew.
What it costs: Meals, which start at $9.33, are available a la carte or as part of a plan, with daily rates that range from $14.99 for one meal to $27.99 for three. Shipping is free, and meals for additional people in a customer’s household are offered at a discounted rate.
How it works: Weekly delivery is available nationwide. Customers place their orders online, and meals are shipped fresh in specially designed coolers.
Gluten-free specifics: All Fresh n’ Lean meals are 100 percent gluten free, a spokeswoman says, and are prepared in a gluten-free facility. “Our gluten-free meal-delivery service … [provides] you with ready-prepared meals you know you can depend on,” Fresh ‘n Lean’s website says. “We source all of the ingredients and save you the hassle, taking care every step of the way to ensure no gluten reaches your plate.”
Freshology, based in Southern California, delivers fresh, gourmet meals made from locally sourced, all-natural ingredients. Meals are created by a chef and nutritionist, and options include a gluten-free plan.
“We’ve designed our meal-delivery service for gluten intolerant and gluten sensitive customers to take the guess work out of finding delicious, nutritionally balanced meals,” Freshology says on its website, freshology.com.
On the menu: A daily gluten-free menu might include Korean Style Breakfast Burrito with Kimchi (breakfast); Baby Spinach and Fresh Mozzarella Saladwith Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Balsamic Dressing (lunch); Italian Turkey Meatballs, Quinoa Pasta, Pecorino Cheese and Arugula Walnut Pesto (dinner); and a Carrot Cupcake (dessert).
What it costs: Freshology Gluten Free costs $45.95 to $49.95 per day, with three meals included. There is an additional charge for shipping.
How it works: Delivery is available nationwide. Customers place their orders online or by phone, and meals arrive fresh in a cooler.
Gluten-free specifics: To prevent cross-contamination, Freshology adheres to “strict food safety regulations, set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture,” according to the website. However Freshology says, “our facility processes foods that contain gluten. We do not recommend our program for someone with celiac disease.”
Healthy Chef Creations
Healthy Chef Creations has delivered gluten-free meals nationwide for more than a decade. Nutrition coach Cara Fryxell says the Winter Park, Florida, company prepares its made-to-order meals from scratch, using only premium, organic and all-natural ingredients.
“Eating gluten-free can be costly and requires a lot of planning,” she says. “Many people find it difficult to find the variety of gluten-free food they want.…Healthy Chef Creations provides a delicious, easy and convenient way to follow a gluten-free diet…without getting tired of the same old foods.”
On the menu: Healthy Chef Creations’ menu changes weekly, with 10 to 20 entrée choices and side dishes offered for all three meals. Customers can order gluten-free dishes a la carte or as part of a meal plan, or work with Healthy Chef Creations to build their own customized gluten-free meal program.
“Healthy Chef Creations meals can be customized to each customer’s individual food preferences and special dietary needs,” Fryxell says. “It’s like having a virtual personal chef.”
What it costs: Prices vary based on order size, delivery method and other factors. Entrees start at $9.99, and standard daily meal plans range from $52.99 to $56.99, with shipping included. Shipping for a la carte meals ranges from $24.95 to $59.95. Prices for custom meal programs vary, with quotes available by phone.
How it works: Customers place orders online or by phone. Chefs prepare meals to order, which are shipped overnight in insulated cooler boxes. Meals are delivered weekly, and arrive fresh and ready to heat and eat.
Gluten-free specifics: Healthy Chef Creations’ facility is not certified gluten free. The company says on its website that it checks its ingredients for common allergens. However the website notes meals are prepared in a kitchen that also prepares meals containing potential allergens, and traces of those allergens may be found in ingredients received from suppliers.
MagicKitchen.com began delivering frozen meals in 2005, adding gluten-free options two years later. Chief executive officer Greg Miller says recent public awareness has fueled significant demand for the company’s steadily growing selection of gluten-free meals.
“The [gluten-free] meals are prepared in the same kitchen as other products,” Miller says, noting that the company makes it clear its products are not certified as gluten free.
On the menu: MagicKitchen.com now offers 23 gluten-free menu items, including Crustless Spinach Quiche, Many Bean Soup, Chicken and Artichoke with Spinach, Panna Cotta, and a variety of potatoes and vegetables.
What it costs: Prices for two servings range from $9.99 to $24.99. Shipping costs vary based on weight and distance, but $18 to $20 is typical. Shipping is free for orders of $125 or more that are placed every 30 days or less.
How it works: Customers can order meals online or by phone, with no minimums or contracts. Frozen meals are shipped to all 50 states from MagicKitchen.com’s distribution center in Kansas City, Kansas. Orders arrive within three business days in a reusable, recyclable Styrofoam container packed with dry ice.
Gluten-free specifics: MagicKitchen.com uses the “Safe Gluten-Free Food List” at Celiac.com to determine which products to list as gluten-free based on the ingredients they contain.
Paleo on the Go
The Paleo diet emphasizes meats, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits. Paleo on the Go offers chef-prepared frozen meals that are gluten, grain and dairy free. “The theory is that by eating foods similar to that of our early ancestors, we can lead healthier lives and prevent many of the common diseases that plague modern culture,” the Largo, Florida, company says on its website, paleoonthego.com.
On the menu: Options for all three meals include Breakfast Egg Muffin with Bacon, Herb Roasted Chicken, Butternut Squash Lasagna with Beef and Hearty Beef Stew.
What it costs: Meal plans, which include 14 complete meals, one soup, two bone broths, two paleo desserts and two bonus items, start at $245. Quantity discounts and a la carte items are available. Individual entrees start at about $10. Shipping starts at $19.99 and is free for orders of $333 or more in the contiguous United States only.
How it works: Delivery is available nationwide. Customers order online or by phone. Vacuum-sealed frozen meals are shipped with dry ice in thick coolers with an outer box.
Gluten-free specifics: “All of our food is chef prepared at our dedicated gluten-free kitchen,” Paleo on the Go says on its website.
Marshall, Minnesota-based Schwan’s has steadily expanded its selection for people on special diets, adding gluten-free pizza in 2014 and more gluten-free items last January.
“Schwan’s Home Service is constantly searching for new ways to help busy families enjoy mealtime together,” Leising says. “As awareness grows of our consumers’ special dietary needs, so does the effort to expand our offerings to meet those needs.”
On the menu: Schwan’s gluten-free items include Four Cheese and Pepperoni pizzas, Pad Thai, breaded chicken, brownie bites, white sandwich bread and blueberry streusel muffins.
What it costs: Prices range from $8.99 for gluten-free baked goods to $13.99 for 11-inch pizzas and $14.99 for breaded chicken. Shipping costs vary based on order size and delivery method.
How it works: Schwan’s customers order online or over the phone and receive their orders via personal delivery to their door or through the mail. If the customer won’t be home for a delivery, the order arrives in a cooler packed with dry ice. There are no membership fees, and deliveries generally come every two weeks.
Gluten-free specifics: Schwan’s gluten-free foods are certified by the Celiac Support Association, which “requires foods to have less than five parts per million [of gluten], a more stringent requirement than the [Food and Drug Administration],” Leising says. Schwan’s also offers a separate “No Gluten Ingredient” list of 146 products made without the grains that contain gluten—wheat, rye and barley—as wells as oats. These products—which include guacamole, hash browns, pulled pork, pot roast, tamales and vanilla ice cream—are not certified by a third party and don’t make a gluten-free claim.
22 Days Nutrition
22 Days Nutrition delivers 100 percent plant-based, organic meals that are also free of gluten, dairy, soy and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “Expect a variety of beans, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and delectable herbs and spices,” the company says on its website, 22daysnutrition.com.
On the menu: 22 Days offers a rotating menu. Daily options might include Hearty Granola for breakfast, and Shiitake Mushroom Yellow Curry and Lebanese Lentils with Spiced Cabbage for lunch or dinner.
What it costs: Prices start at $9.50 to $12.50 per meal, depending on the plan selected. Weekly shipping costs $20, but if you sign up for a 22-day plan, you only pay for the first two deliveries and the third is free.
How it works: Delivery is available anywhere in the continental United States. Customers order online or by phone. Meals are shipped overnight and delivered fresh in an insulated cooler on Fridays.
Gluten-free specifics: “All of our meals are 100 percent gluten-free,” 22 Days says on its website. “And you won’t find ‘gluten-free’ alternatives in our meals, things like potato starch or tapioca flour. Instead, we focus on real, clean whole foods that are naturally gluten-free. We find that this is a more digestible and satisfying way to avoid gluten.”
See Gluten-Free Labeling Rules for Meal Delivery Services Vary for more on governing labeling of gluten-free meals.
Mary Beth Schweigert is a regular contributor to Gluten-Free Living. She last wrote about weight loss and the gluten-free diet. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
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