Monthly Archives: March 2015

My Review of PlateJoy

I’ve been looking for some type of meal service for a while now because I want to eat healthy but don’t really know how to cook. I also don’t want to sort through millions of recipes online just to find a few that are easy and simple, which is all I want. I have no plans to be an all-star chef but I also don’t want to live on frozen garbage. And I don’t want to spend $500 a week on food either.

Enter: PlateJoy.

I randomly found this company when I was job hunting actually. They had a job posting for a job that I’m sadly not qualified for, but the description of the company was so intriguing that I went straight to their website and ended up signing up. Their tagline is “Healthy Eating For Busy People.” Being unemployed, I’m really not actually busy at all, but the “healthy eating” alone won me over. (Note: I was not paid to use PlateJoy and am not affiliated with them in any way).

This is how it works: you go on the site and answer some basic questions about yourself, how many meals you’d like per week, and what your dietary preferences are. I was thrilled to be able to choose the gluten-free, pescatarian menu since I don’t eat meat and I’ve been trying to kick gluten on and off for many months and it’s been a total failure. Once I entered all my info, which took just a few minutes, I was then presented with an array of lovely food porn photos of meals that not only look delicious but look super healthy! I was so excited!!! It’s like looking at a menu and since I love variety and lots of options it was so fun to look through them all. You can select the meals you’d like to try, or deselect the ones you don’t. You can also just remove ingredients if you don’t like them but like the rest of the recipe (one of the best features but it’s a bit hidden). PlateJoy presents a variety of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks/desserts and show all of the ingredients and nutritional info. I opted to have 6 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 4 dinners for the week (I couldn’t figure out how to get meals for all 7 days so I’m not sure if that’s even an option. I realized after I ordered that I could’ve done 5 lunches and 5 dinners but I don’t recall seeing that option. Oh well.)

I don’t know about other people, but this service was made for me. I think a lot of people will want the food delivered to their doorsteps already cooked and ready. I agree that would be nice, but I also really do want to learn how to cook (at least the basics). And I want to eat as healthy as possible. The only way to do that is to have full control over what is going into my food. No matter how fresh things seem at restaurants or meal delivery services, I still always wonder what I’m really eating. I’m also the type of person who goes to the grocery store and has no clue what to get so I just pick things that look good and have every intention of cooking but then don’t. I have been known to spend way more than $147 a week on super healthy, organic food only to come home and order a pizza because I’m too unmotivated to cook (even when I’ve used Instacart and didn’t even leave the house to do my own grocery shopping). And then of course, I end up throwing out my rotting veggies and moldy gluten-free tortillas a week later to make room in the refrigerator so I can go grocery shopping again and waste more of my money. Rinse and repeat.

I’m slightly concerned that the food will come and I won’t actually cook the meals but since everything is laid out so nicely and the photos look so scrumptious, I think I can do it. Plus they swear the meals take under 30 minutes to cook. I have quite a bit of feedback for the PlateJoy product/website:

  • I absolutely LOVE the website. It’s sleek and simple and modern. I am so picky about web design and get so irritated with bad UX but this is a rare 10/10.
  • The meals look amazingly delicious  – great photography! I think I was drooling looking through all the meal options.
  • Everything about this service totally appeals to me because I’m not on a mission to be a world-class chef by any stretch but I do want to learn how to make my own simple, easy meals that are healthy and balanced.
  • I love the ability to customize according to nutritional preferences (there’s even a vegan option which I totally want to try!).
  • I love that the ingredient list is included in every meal and that most recipes only have a handful of ingredients. Simple, easy, perfect.
  • I love that the nutritional info is included with every meal option!
  • I’m really excited not only to try new meals, but to try new ingredients. I can’t wait to see what brand of gluten-free bread ends up in my shopping bag.

All that said, I do have some product/website suggestions for PlateJoy. I truly love the concept so all of these are just my ideas for improving the product and in the end, bringing in more customers:

  • Make it VERY clear that the food is INCLUDED in the price. In the beginning, I honestly thought I’d have to go onto another site and pay for food. It’s kind of stupid to think of paying $100+ a week just for recipes, but this company is based in San Francisco where literally everything costs 10x what it would elsewhere, so nothing would surprise me. I think a huge mistake startups make is forgetting that users (especially first time users) don’t know their products as well as them and not every user is going to pick up on their concept right away. Never assume anything! I think for me, the confusion stemmed from the fact that PlateJoy really isn’t like any other service — isn’t a grocery service per se (like Instacart), or a meal delivery service (like SpoonRocket) either because you are cooking the food yourself. It’s somewhere in between. So I’d suggest making it explicit what people get for their $ up front because it actually is a fantastic service that is everything customers want: it fulfills a need, it’s simple/easy to use and it’s totally worth the money (in my opinion)!
  • I would completely change the landing page. This is just my opinion and I know I said I loved the website, but I sort of hate the color scheme. I really don’t like the white font on the dark green, boring looking salad. It’s hard to read and I’d choose a better looking recipe photo with brighter colors… a food rainbow dish of some sort. Just something more inviting. Same with the “Benefits” section at the bottom — it’s hard to read the white font on that yellow-y pasta dish (which is not super appealing either) and there’s way too much text in the Benefits section that no one will ever read.
  • Also, regarding the landing page…..I’d make all the text on the salad smaller and move it so it’s a header rather than the centerpiece of the page. Then I’d move all the “below the fold” steps to “above the fold” and make them smaller (more concise) and easier to read so new users don’t have to scroll for days down the page. The PlateJoy concept is actually quite simple and doesn’t need all that space to explain what it is. The design makes the service seem more complicated than it really is. I’m sure they’ve A/B tested the crap out of this page so just my 2 cents.
  • I had no clue about the “Digital Pantry” concept which means that they track how much of each ingredient you should have leftover (like salad dressing) so you don’t get more of it the following week. GENIUS! This should be better highlighted/advertised by being higher up on the page.
  • Add more foods to the “Ingredients you prefer to avoid” section. I actually loved all the ingredients on the list (like avocados and onions) but was really hoping to exclude my most hated food: cottage cheese. Lo and behold, nasty cottage cheese popped up in a recipe and I had to opt out of it. It would be nice to completely eliminate certain foods altogether.
  • Offer same day delivery. Instacart does this so I’m sure there’s a way. Some people aren’t planners, ya know?
  • I was unclear about the question about “favorite meals or ingredients” — basically, it allows you to type into a text box rather than manually select anything from a list like the rest of the questions. I wonder if this is is solely there to collect product feedback for the company to use, otherwise, I wonder how they actually incorporate this information into the recipes?
  • Allow users to adjust their macros. PlateJoy states that their macro breakdown is 10-35% fat, 10-25% protein, and 45-65% carbohydrates. If there were low-carb, sugar-free, etc. options, it would target a much larger audience.
  • Consider adding some type of meal tracker feature like MyFitnessPal so users can track how many calories, carbs, etc. they’re eating each day and week.
  • Consider allowing users to add personal weight loss goal targets and capacity to track their progress (more of a long term idea).

I have to say that one of the reasons I love this website is because, for a while, I was toying with the idea of creating what I called a macro meal planner app. It would be somewhat similar to the concept of PlateJoy in that it would allow people to have recipes catered to their needs/wants. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. My app would offer customized meal plans, very similar to the kind you’d pay a nutrition coach hundreds of dollars for. The app would also allow people to track their food intake in a food diary (similar to MyFitnessPal) and also track progress towards whatever fitness goals they have. (I might also find a way to incorporate workout plans into it). My app was going to be geared more towards fitness competitors and other health nuts who are really anal about what they eat. A lot of them already know the basics about nutrition but really need to know and be able to manipulate their macros to achieve their personal fitness goals. The app would allow them to select their macros (breakdown of carbs/fats/proteins) for each meal/day/week and then they would be presented with food selections that fit those macros. It would automatically generate the grocery lists too. And ideally, it would create less boring meals than the standard competitor meal of chicken, rice and broccoli. Also, users could opt to have use the grocery lists to buy the food themselves, or have the food delivered from the grocery store. Going a step further, it would be cool to even have the food all fully prepared but I didn’t think far ahead enough to figure out how that would work because working with prepared foods is a whole other ballgame. SpoonRocket does it amazingly well and I’m not entirely sure how, but they also only offer a few options whereas my site’s meals would always be totally custom. Logistically it would be difficult. And I’m not a software developer, so there’s that problem…

Anyway, let’s get back to the service itself and my personal experience with it!

So I excitedly placed my order 2 days out. On the day my order was set to come, I received an email with my recipes. My order arrived promptly during my selected 2 hour window. It even came with a bouquet of flowers which was a really nice touch! I love thoughtful details. As I unloaded my groceries, I was excited to see so many fresh foods and things I’d never tried before (like celery root!) but I was not so excited to see farm-raised salmon (GROSS). I thought they only selected the best ingredients but now that I know they might not, I will specify next time. I also think I was supposed to get 2 containers of yogurt but only received 1. A receipt really would’ve been nice and I’m not sure why they wouldn’t include one.

The first meal I decided to make was moules (better known as mussels to you plebs) because I love me some shellfish. After accidentally burning the shallots in the hot pan because I got distracted while opening the white wine, I had to start the recipe over. But I was really amazed at how fast and easy it was even with my false start. And even better, the mussels tasted amazing! I was quite impressed that I created this masterpiece myself. I even toasted up some of the gluten-free bread I got with my order and sopped up the yummy sauce with it. Honestly, it was SO GOOD.

Being a macro freak, I’m bummed that the nutritional info isn’t actually included on the recipe cards that are emailed. The info is online but you have to search for the recipe which can be done by using their meal search feature since they don’t actually have a “view current/past order” feature. And I’d already printed out the ones I was emailed so this was kind of a pain.

I went on the site to look at what I could order for next week and this is BY FAR my biggest pet peeve of all. I was super confused about how it works (and still am). I don’t think there’s a way to pick specific meals — you can only pick from a long list of what you’d like and I guess they randomly pick what meals you end up with each week? Every time I log in, I see new meals and things I don’t want keep sneaking in. I’m never quite sure what I’ll end up with so it’s kind of weird and makes me hesitant to re-order. Also, every time I refresh the page, I see a new list of meals that weren’t there before so I’m constantly de-selecting things that I don’t want…if every time I refresh the page the meals are changed, when is the order ever finalized? It’s like a revolving door menu. I finally just picked a date/time for delivery and got my “pantry list” emailed but it didn’t come with the recipes, so I still have no idea what I’m getting. I canceled the order and put my account on hold. I love variety as much as the next person, don’t get me wrong. But when I saw a meal with chicken in my pescatarian meal plan it was enough to give me pause about reordering.

Anyway, aside from these relatively minor issues, I do really love this concept and can’t wait for it to be even more awesome. If they could work out the kinks and really make it clear what meals you’re getting ahead of time, as well as deliver a grocery list along with the recipes so you can make sure you get what you’re supposed to, this service would be a 10/10. They outsource to Instacart for deliveries which makes me nervous because I’ve never had a 100% accurate order from Instacart. Also, this service is a bit pricey and may not be for everyone (particularly if you loathe the kitchen or do a lot of eating out as part of your lifestyle), but it certainly meets my needs and far exceeded my expectations in many ways. The most important thing is that the food itself and it certainly meets all the criteria I want: simple, fast, healthy and tasty. The food itself is absolutely delicious. Not only have I not had a bad meal, they’ve actually been restaurant-quality meals….and I cooked them all by myself in under 30 minutes! Now THAT is impressive!

Overall, I would definitely recommend PlateJoy to anyone looking to simplify their lives, eat at home more, eat healthier and/or stop wasting money/food unnecessarily. Cheers!

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10 Things I’d Like to Tell Everyone at the Gym

Day after day at the gym I see people doing things that are just not effective and possibly counterproductive or even harmful. Stop wasting your time in the gym – work smarter NOT harder!

Here are the 10 things I’d like to tell everyone at the gym:

1. Ladies, please, lay off the damn cardio. Not to be mean but most people I see day after day on cardio machines are not in good shape. IT’S NOT WORKING. Endless cardio is actually counterproductive and can make you fatter. Google it.

2. Also ladies, use heavier weight. Yes, I promise you, your arms won’t fall off if you use more than 5 pounds. Your purse probably weighs 10. Go for 15 and make me proud.

3. Men, stop trying to be tough. Drop the weight and perform the exercise correctly. The dudes around you are secretly laughing at you. The women are not impressed.

4. When doing the lat pull, you should be working your lats, not your shoulders. When doing bench, use your chest (puff your chest up ladies, shoulders down and back). Shoulders are smaller, and therefore, weaker muscles. If you increase the weight, you won’t be able to overcompensate with your shoulders because they’re not strong enough to do what your back/chest can do.

5. Learn what exercises work which muscles. Bodybuilding.com is your friend. If you don’t feel those muscles working, you’re definitely doing it wrong.

6. If you can’t bend to 90 degrees during a squat, lower the weight!! Your ass (and lower back) will thank me.

7. Don’t use momentum to lift a weight. Use your strength. If you don’t have it yet, build up to it by using lighter weights, full range of motion and slowing the F down. Weight lifting isn’t a race!

8. STRETCH!! It’s so good for your muscles (post workout) and can help you relax and de-stress. You know you wanna.

9. Drink water. I am amazed at the high % of people that don’t have water bottles in the gym. Being dehydrated actually makes you weaker and less energetic. It also makes you fatter. Drinking enough water is the single easiest way to keep your metabolism revved up.

10. Eat at least 80% whole foods (things from the ground and/or with one ingredient – fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains, etc.). If you don’t, none of this other crap will make any difference. Not only is this the “secret” to getting/staying fit, but it will give you energy for days, improve your sleep and mental focus, decrease your stress and greatly increase the odds that you will live long enough to see your grandkids grow up.

Treat your body well and it will return the favor!

Top Fitness Coaches Weigh in on Carbs, Calories and Everything in Between!

(Note: I originally posted this on my LittleBlondeMeathead.com but since updated it for this blog)

Confused about what to do at the gym? Not sure how many carbs to eat? Tired of counting calories but not seeing results?  Do you need someone to help keep you on track with your fitness goals? Hire an online fitness coach! Right?! Well, not so fast…

This blog is about my experience with 3 separate, unnamed online fitness coaches. Let me preface this by saying I first set foot in a gym about 5 years ago and had no clue what I was doing. I was determined to learn so I did tons of research on working out, nutrition, competing and all things in between. I have since become certified in personal training, done loads of fitness writing and even did a bikini fitness competition. I have read so many fitness articles/blogs, studied countless meal plans, watched hundreds of YouTube videos and stalked many a fitness model on Instagram/Facebook. And I just have to say that the more I exposed myself to, the more confused I became. And the more I felt like I needed a coach/trainer to help me.

Let me also make it clear that I knew there were many, many crappy online fitness trainers/nutrition coaches out there just waiting to rob me blind. Lots of these so-called experts post nice photos of themselves but literally have no credentials in health/fitness. Just because they look the part doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. It’s actually pretty hard to find one who knows what they’re talking about and is qualified to give you advice, yet so many charge hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars for super basic, cookie cutter training/meal plans that you can find on the internet. Your health is really not something you should mess around with and your fitness goals should not be something you take lightly. There are plenty of trainers who will flat out rip you off and ruin your health in the process.

About a year ago I realized my health/fitness goals had fallen by the wayside, as did my formerly strict meal/training plan. I knew I needed to get on track and really wanted accountability since I felt like that was the major thing lacking. So I ended up signing up with 3 different online fitness coaches (not at the same time). All were well-respected and quite accomplished in the fitness industry. I didn’t set out to sign up with 3. I signed up with each believing they would be the right fit for me but in the end none of them were. Before I signed up with the first coach, I was already pretty fed up with being overwhelmed by information and wanted some concrete rules to follow. I followed the first plan but then decided I also wanted to sign up for the others to compare and contrast different plans to see what commonalities I could take away from them (if any) in the end. This way, I would have some basic rules to follow with my own plan if theirs didn’t work and then I could share the rules with others. Because why should YOU spend thousands of dollars like I did when I can tell you what I learned for free, right?!

I picked each coach’s brain and asked lots and lots of questions about calories, carbs and everything in between. Not surprisingly, they had very different answers about most things. I realized quickly how misinformed people are about fitness and it’s through no fault of their own. Every so-called expert is preaching different things. It is obvious to me that different coaches value different things when it comes to fitness plans and it’s almost entirely based on the personal successes they’ve had with various elements of dieting and exercise. It is actually quite shocking how different they are in their opinions on a lot of the “basics.”

I decided to do a comparison of each of the plans on the biggest and most confusing variables for most of us (especially fitness competitors) such as carbs, calories, cardio, etc.. Here are their answers to some of the most common questions I see on fitness forums/blogs/etc.:

How many rest days should I take?
  • Coach 1 – 1 day per week
  • Coach 2 – strict 3 days on, 1 day off
  • Coach 3 – no full rest days (day 7 is HIIT cardio)
Can I eat dairy?
  • Coach 1 – yes
  • Coach 2 – yes
  • Coach 3 – no

What should I eat post workout?

  • Coach 1 – nothing special, just follow meal plan
  • Coach 2 – up to 50 g of any sugary low fat carb + protein shake
  • Coach 3 – 15 g simple carbs + protein shake
What supplements should I be taking?
  • Coach 1 – A ton! Literally $150+ a month worth of stuff (all things that the coach got commissions on of course — watch out for this trap!!)
  • Coach 2 – A few basics like fish oil and multi-vitamins
  • Coach 3 – None but recommended fish oil
How much cardio should I be doing?
  • Coach 1 – 5 sessions of 25-30 min per week
  • Coach 2 –  NONE
  • Coach 3 – 3 sessions of 25 min HIIT per week and one fat burning session (off day from weight training)

Can I flavor my food?

  • Coach 1 – adding low fat/no sugar condiments is ok
  • Coach 2 – “food shouldn’t taste good” – not permitted to use recipes of any kind and food should be bland
  • Coach 3  -add whatever you need to make it taste good including high quality oils
Should I be cycling my carbs?
  • Coach 1- no
  • Coach 2- no
  • Coach 3 – yes
How many healthy fats can I eat?
  • Coach 1 – some
  • Coach 2 – none – only a fish oil supplement
  • Coach 3 – lots – up to 62 g per day
How many carbs should I eat (on workout days)? (I am a 5’7″ woman weighing around 135 lbs)
  • Coach 1 = Less than 100
  • Coach 2  = about 165
  • Coach 3  =about 105-155 depending on day of carb cycle (my cycle was High, Low, Med, Med, repeat)
Am I allowed cheat/treat meals?
  • Coach 1 – yes, 1x a week, anything you want
  • Coach 2 – no (very strict on this)
  • Coach 3-  yes as long as it fits in your macros, you can eat it
Do I need to weigh/measure my food?
  • Coach 1 -Yes,  required to weigh all food with a food scale
  • Coach 2- Yes, required to weigh food with a food scale and strictly count calories (always stressed calories are MOST important)
  • Coach 3 – Yes, it’s good to weigh food but don’t worry about calories. Just count macros.
Do I need to eat before a workout?
  • Coach 1- yes
  • Coach 2- yes (strict)
  • Coach 3 – no only protein shake is fine
How many weight workouts per week do I need to do?
  • Coach 1 = 4
  • Coach 2 = 4
  • Coach 3 = 6

Craziest thing the coach said to me:

  • Coach 1 = It’s ok to develop a thyroid problem because “you just need to take a daily pill.” (This coach admitted to having a thyroid problem. Keep in mind that thyroid issues are very common with people who follow terrible fitness advice and end up undereating and overtraining!)
  • Coach 2 = When traveling, you should “pack frozen chicken in your suitcase and tell your hotel that you’re diabetic so they give you a mini fridge.” Huh?
  • Coach 3 = It’s good to throw up after a workout. You should “look like you just came back from a war” after your workout.

Cost of Plan

  • Coach 1 = $350 a month
  • Coach 2 = $200 first month, $100 each month after
  • Coach 3 = $150 per year

My conclusions:

Hardest Part of Each Plan For Me:
  • Coach 1 – Way too much cardio and it made the workouts were way too long. I truly hate cardio so I wanted to die most days. The workouts were insanely long.
  • Coach 2- Super rigid about weighing food and eating it bland. This got old really fast and I got tired of eating weird combos of food because I wasn’t allowed to use any recipes.
  • Coach 3 – The cardio workouts are killer….downright brutal.
Easiest Part of Each Plan For Me:
  • Coach 1 – The diet – I didn’t feel that restricted.
  • Coach 2 – No cardio — it was awesome!!! Workouts really short compared to other plans.
  • Coach 3 – The diet and rules about it are pretty flexible and some of the workouts were fun and challenging in a good way.
So after all that, what did I learn? Two things:
One is that if you are still thinking about hiring a fitness coach, make sure to do your homework. Research their credentials (find one with the right certifications, degrees, etc.), get current/past client referrals and don’t be afraid to ask a questions. Your plan should be customized to your needs/wants/body type, and if it’s not, it’s simply not worth the money. Trust me, you can Google plans like that for free.
The second thing I learned is that unless you are looking to compete or are brand new to the fitness world, you may not even need a fitness coach at all. There were a few rules that ALL three of my coaches agreed on and apply to anyone/everyone regardless of your current fitness level, weight or future goals.
And here they are:
  1. Drink a lot of water (a gallon or more a day)
  2. Eat a lot of high quality protein (lean meats, fish, eggs)
  3. Eat a lot of green veggies (as many as you can)
  4. Take fish oil every day
  5. Eat well balanced meals (protein, carbs and fat – moderate portions)
  6. Avoid sugar and alcohol!
  7. Lift heavy at the gym
  8. Measure/weigh food (ideally with a food scale)
  9. Be consistent with your eating/exercise and the results will come!

If you follow these 9 rules, chances are very good you will meet (and even exceed) your fitness goals. And with all the money I just saved you in fitness coaching, maybe you can take yourself on a nice little beach vacation to celebrate!