Meez Meals is redefining 'home-cooked' meal

by Donna Berry
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Donna Berry

CHICAGO — Meez Meals is a culinary concept that allows local consumers to rediscover home cooking by delivering prepared and ready-to-cook ingredients for creative and healthy meals. The company’s name was coined from the French phrase “mise en place,” which means having the prep work taken care of before it’s time to cook. To Americanize it, the company’s founder, Jen Moore, went with the phonetic “Meez.”

At the heart of Meez Meals business model rests the idea that preparing a home-cooked meal without the hassle of buying and chopping ingredients returns cooking to a place of gratifying satisfaction. Ms. Moore said there are other home-delivery cooking concepts in the United States, but Meez Meals is the only to offer washed, chopped and portioned components … all ready to be cooked without any extra preparation.

Meez Meals delivers prepared and ready-to-cook ingredients for creative and healthy meals.

“The concept of Meez came about when I realized that people love the idea of cooking dinner from scratch, but too often, life gets in the way,” she said. “When my sister, who was working full time with a small child at home, complained that cooking wasn’t fun anymore and mentioned that what she really wanted was someone to cut everything up for her, I jumped on the idea.”

At the time, Ms. Moore was a marketing executive with brand management experience at Unilever and Barilla. With an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, she decided to start a business that would bring the pleasure back into cooking, and in 2010, Meez Meals was born.

Today, Meez Meals has nearly 3,500 members and more than 200,000 meals have been delivered to households within 1,000 square miles around Chicago. The company’s early and ongoing success is based on recognizing that people are happier and healthier when they sit down to a meal they cook themselves. Meez Meals introduces new recipes each and every week, so members never run the risk of getting into a dinnertime rut. The recipes stray away from spaghetti-and-meatballs standards and instead introduce members to inventive recipes, such as toasted gnocchi and sriracha aioli.

Jen Moore (left) founded the business, and Max Barajas, executive chef, creates the recipes.

There’s no commitment to the program, with the price per serving ranging from $8 to $12.50. Serving size may be adjusted to fit the needs of each household.

Ms. Moore explained how Meez Meals make economic sense.

“Our research suggests that 6 out of 10 Americans order takeout or delivery at least once a month, with an average of $209 being spent each month on this format,” she said. “The alternative is to shop for groceries, where most Americans spend an average of 41 minutes on a shopping trip. Once home, they spend about 30 minutes slicing, dicing and preparing ingredients for dinner. And sadly, about 25% of the items purchased end up in the garbage because they go unused, uneaten or simply go bad.”

The company recently added a philanthropic component through a partnership with Common Threads, a non-profit program that teaches children living in underserved communities how to cook through a professional-led, curriculum-based afterschool setting. Students learn about grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables as they chop, slice and bake their way to a healthy affordable meal.

The partnership is a monthly recipe called Meals for Good, which has Chicago chefs providing the recipe that Meez Meals then turns around and includes on its menu. Proceeds from the recipe are donated to Common Threads. This month, Stephanie Izard, executive chef and co-owner of Girl & The Goat, offered a recipe for a squash ratatouille side dish, which was inspired by a dish on her restaurant’s menu.

All of Meez Meals menu options are meatless, such as the sweet potato pie tamale pie, made with sweet potatoes, tomatoes, corn and black beans, plus a cornbread topping.

The side, like all Meez Meals menu options, is meatless, not because vegetarians are the target consumer.

“We believe that eating meatless meals a few days a week is good for your health and for the planet,” Ms. Moore said. “We also love the creativity that meatless meals require and the culinary adventure that it takes us on. Most of the folks who cook with us are not vegetarians, but they love the idea of eating a few meatless meals a week. And, of course, some people do choose to incorporate meat into their meals, and we include tips and suggestions on how to do this.”

Program members with special diets, whether it is gluten-free or dairy free, or specific ingredient preferences are also accommodated.

“Our focus is on providing balanced meals packed with vegetables, with the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat to make them filling and delicious,” Ms. Moore said. “Many traditional recipes use carbohydrates to make diners full. Instead, we use lots of veggies, and then just enough whole grains and protein to be satisfying.”

The company works with vegetarian and vegan sources of protein, including everything from dairy to legumes.

“There’s a common perception that vegetarians need tofu at every meal, and we love it and edamame in recipes, but we love the full spectrum of protein options,” Ms. Moore said. “We work with an artisanal tofu company in Andersonville (a Chicago neighborhood), which makes the best tofu I’ve ever tasted. We cook most of our beans in house, and use cheese and nuts, which are packed with flavor and are delicious.”

Recent menu options include black bean tacos with pineapple-jicama salsa, Kentucky BBQ tacos with fresh cabbage slaw, Mediterranean fold over with “melty” goat cheese, and pasta with orange marinated feta.

At the heart of these recipes are the ingredients that Executive Chef Max Barajas turns into meals. He manages recipe development from start to finish, and is motivated by the sourcing of ingredients and how each distinct flavor plays into the finished dish. Meez Meals prioritizes green living by sourcing local and in-season ingredients.

Orders placed at www.meezmeals.com by Friday at noon are delivered the following Monday in re-usable delivery coolers that keep ingredients chilled for up to 12 hours, in case no one is home to accept delivery. Each meal comes with cooking instructions and tips.

“Every recipe option offers a ‘health snapshot’ with details on calorie intake and comes with ‘lighten up’ tips to prepare the recipe for under 500 calories per serving,” Ms. Moore said. “Because you cook it yourself, you see everything that goes into the dish.”

Whether a busy professional looking to make a single-size portion of something delicious after a long day or working parents searching for an easy and nutritious meal to bring the family together around the table with, Meez Meals appeals to a spectrum of consumers.

“Families set the table,” Ms. Moore said. “Couples turn off the television. And everyone lingers over dinner a little longer. Meez Meals is on a mission to help more people slow down, recognize the power of home cooking and enjoy their evenings more than ever.”
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READER COMMENTS (3)

By Jen Moore 8/21/2014 11:40:15 AM
Thanks for sharing your note, Sam. Meez was actually named "Healthiest" in the same Chicago Magazine article, which called Meez, "A winner. Meals are fresh, foolproof, and ready in 30 minutes."

By Becca Altero 8/14/2014 9:37:49 AM
Meez makes dinnertime so easy! We've cooked with Blue Apron too, but we prefer Meez because they deliver chopped ingredients. Plus, there's an eco aspect- they even helped get us started on composting!

By Sam Monroe 8/12/2014 1:34:35 PM
The better option is using a company called "Madison & Rayne" - they have everything washed, cut, marinated and portioned AND they have all both Meat and Veg options - 10 menu items per week. Voted by Chicago Magazine as the "Most Delicious" of all the national companies including Meez - they are by far the best option out there!