Ample, the Best Food Hack Since Sliced Bread

I feel like our world is obsessed with discovering the latest “hack” to make our lives as efficient as possible. I always receive emails about helpful hacks that will save me time, make me happier, make my workouts better, etc, etc. And of course eating hacks seem to be especially popular. How can we make our meals more convenient, more nutritious, more enjoyable so that we have more time leftover to do the things that we really love? The startup world is overrun with companies that are determined to hack your way to a better meal by delivering your food faster or doing the grocery shopping for you. Good food can be yours with just a click of an app.

Ample Bottles
bottles of ample ready to go. 400 calories, natural ingredients, 26% protein, 25% carbs, 49% healthy fat.

Ample is a new food startup that takes food hacking to the extreme. It disrupts our whole approach to eating by reducing the activity to only its core essential – delivering sustenance to the body. You don’t have to deal with the nuisance of thinking about what to eat, physically going out to get your food, waiting for a meal to get to you or doing any sort of prep whatsoever. All you do is grab an Ample meal shake bottle, fill it with some water or milk, shake vigorously to blend, and consume 400 clean calories fortified with the right mix of nutrients so that it can serve as a reliable meal replacement. And now you can get those 30 minutes back that would have been spent thinking about which salad to get at Chop’t and walking the few blocks over there.

I’m clearly not the right demographic for Ample, as I live to eat and can always make time for food. Even if I know that I will have back-to-back meetings, I will go get a salad at 10 am and bring it back to the office so that I am all prepared for the day ahead. I guess some people do not think ahead like that. These are probably the same people who are so busy that they forget to eat and think eating is getting in the way of getting things done. But I was curious to see what it tasted like and how I could potentially integrate Ample part-time into my life, so I took the plunge and decided to hack my lunch with an Ample shake.

Marni Ample 3
marni’s a fan of this life hack

It certainly was the easiest and quickest meal I ever made. I simply poured water up toward the top of the bottle and shook it pretty hard to make sure things were well-blended. I found that even though I was thorough in my shaking, things didn’t quite blend completely, and I was left with some powdery pancake-batter like lumps floating around. Flavor-wise, it wasn’t too bad. With almond milk, the Ample shake tasted somewhat like cookie batter, which isn’t a bad frame of reference. With water, however, I found that it tasted too much like some GNC muscle shake, although without that tinny, artificial aftertaste. I was nervous that I would be hungry, but what do you know, I actually was satiated from 12 to 4 pm, and no sugar crashes or anything in between. I honestly think that it would be worthwhile to have emergency bottles of Ample on standby for those days when things are crazy and finding time to step out for lunch is annoying. Because sometimes a Kind Bar doesn’t cut it. But an Ample shake definitely will.

So if this life hack is up your alley, you can pre-order some Ample shakes here on the company’s Indiegogo campaign page. Volume is key, because a $30 contribution can get you a 6-pack at $5 a bottle, whereas a $135 contribution can get you a 30-pack at $4.50 a bottle. The bottles are good for 6 months so stock up all you want! You can also choose between 400 or 600 calorie options. Clean, optimized eating at your fingertips, and affordable at that. Gone are the days of $15 salads at Sweetgreen or Chop’t. This might be the best food hack since sliced bread…

NatureBox, Healthy Snack Delivery Service

At around 3 pm on the dot, I start sniffing around the office for a snack. I’ll usually have a Kind Bar on standby, but variety is the spice of life, and another cranberry almond bar just won’t do. Our office has a small cafe on the ground floor, but the snack selection there is rather sad and limited. The sketchy deli around the corner isn’t much better. There are deceptively “healthy” options like Pirate Booty or Baked Lays on the shelves, but let’s be real, these are really bags of junk food dressed up as healthy.

I suppose I could cut up some fruit each day, but that requires advanced prep and effort. Sometimes I have the time to do that, but most often I don’t, so normally I resort to the same stash of Kind Bars to hold me over. On a good day, a coworker will bring in some yummy treats, and my problem is solved. But what if I could solve the dilemma of finding good snacks everyday, one that doesn’t involve waiting in line at Trader Joe’s daily and rationing up almonds into ziploc bags? This is the problem that NatureBox solves.

naturebox snacks
naturebox snacks

NatureBox is an e-commerce business that delivers wholesome snacks right to your doorstep through a monthly subscription service, no treks to Whole Foods required. For $19.95, the company will send you 5 full-snack bags each month, tailored to your tastes and preferences. You can either make selections from the 100+ options in their snack arsenal, or you can leave it entirely in their hands and receive a wildcard box. I really like the option to select specific snacks, because many of the snack subscription services out there won’t let you make those particular requests. You can usually specify what your general preferences are, and which snacks you never want to eat again, but there’s no guarantee that the awesome dried fruit you had last month will be in next month’s box. Not with NatureBox. You like those Flax Fortune Coins? You can choose them whenever you want!

The $19.95 price tag, which equates to about $4 a bag, seems pretty reasonable to me. This is comparable to buying a full-sized bag of organic nuts or coconut chips from the local food store. And each bag has about 4-6 servings, although in my case, one bag became one single serving, because I just lack self control at times. The point is, it’s a pretty economical and convenient way of stocking up on snacks in your pantry.

And what about the snacks themselves? As I mentioned before, the selection is pretty broad, covering a whole range of preferences. Are you more of a savory, salty snack type person? You can focus your search on the Chips, Pretzels category. Maybe you have more of a sweet tooth? The Baked Treats have you covered. What if your preferences are driven by more serious concerns, such as a nut or gluten allergy? You can refine your search in the Ingredient drop-down to exclude any life-threatening ingredients. Honestly, whatever your dietary preferences are, whether it’s Paleo, vegan, Atkins, whatever, NatureBox will make it clear whether or not a certain snack fits with your lifestyle.

NatureBox sent me some complimentary snacks, and I’m happy to report that the snacks taste wholesome, fresh and well-seasoned. You never have that sensation of eating too much salt, a common tactic snack companies use for flavor and for extending the snack’s shelf-life, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, too much sugar. I also found that the snacks do have depth to them and feel substantial, and you never feel like you’re just filling up on empty calories. These snacks actually could hold you over between meals. While every snack was good, I still had my favorites. Listed below is a brief overview of what I liked about each snack I tried, which you can reference when you hopefully start your own monthly subscription! You do realize that your first trial box is free, all you pay is the nominal shipping fee??

cashew nut clusters
cashew power clusters
strawberry carrot fruit chews
strawberry carrot fruit chews
whole wheat raspberry figgy bars
whole wheat raspberry figgy bars

Flax Fortune Coins – this was my clear favorite, essentially a fortune cookie, but with a hardbite crunch to it that the stale ones from your local Chinese restaurant could never match. They’re also infused with flax, which is a great source of healthy fat, antioxidants and fiber. I definitely finished this multi-serving bag in nearly a single day.

Whole Wheat Raspberry Figgy Bars – These taste very similar to Nutri Grain or Fig Newton bars. They have that same soft-baked whole grain cereal layer, but the fruit filling tastes much more vibrant, and you can really feel the different textures in the whole grains. There’s a sense that you’re eating a homemade snack, not one that’s been refined to a pulp in a factory. I always ate one of these before an evening workout, and they kept me going through some intense mountain climbers and butt kickers.

Sweet & Salty Nut Medley – I love snacking on nuts, so it’s no surprise that this was also one of my favorites. Almonds and cashews are two of my favorite nut varieties, so it was exciting that they were well-represented in the mix. I’m not a big fan of peanuts, however, so it was a little inconvenient picking my way around them to get to the almonds and cashews. NatureBox does offer other nut mixes, so avoiding a nut you don’t like can be easily done.

Cashew Power Clusters – I was impressed by how one cashew power cluster went a long way in giving me energy and satiating my hunger. They have a very dense, chalky and earthy aspect about them, with just the tiniest hint of sugar. Plus, the crunchy texture was very satisfying. These snacks were very effective in terms of holding you over in between meals.

Strawberry Carrot Fruit Chews – This was probably my least favorite, not because of the flavor, but I am just not a gummy candy/fruit chew snack person. They get stuck in your teeth and they’re a little too sweet. It seems like this is marketed more for children, which I’m not surprised by, as I always ate fruit snacks during grade school. I give NatureBox props for creatively sneaking in carrots into the snacks and totally masking their flavor, so that kids can get both their sugar and veggie fix without suspicion.

If you want to learn more about NatureBox, you should check out their website and sign up for a free trial box, which features 5 pre-selected snacks. It’ll automatically opt you into a recurring monthly subscription, which you can easily discontinue, but who doesn’t like receiving a little box of treats in the mail every month?

Goodmeal, the Healthy Food Delivery App

After reading about the infiltration of food delivery services in SF, I was very curious to see whether this trend would take off in New York. We’ve already seen Munchery enter the market, which I wrote about in a prior blog post, and now with Maple ready to launch soon, I’m sure more and more will pile on. I downloaded a couple of food delivery apps this weekend so that I could take them out for a test drive and determine whether this was a passing food startup fad, or whether these companies could actually have staying power.

This week, I decided to try out Goodmeal, a company that delivers healthy, ready-to-eat meals to your doorstep. Each day, the company offers 2-3 different healthy entrees that can be delivered to you in about 30 minutes or less. Unfortunately, Goodmeal’s delivery zone is limited to Chelsea, Gramercy and Murray Hill, so while my work address qualified, my home address didn’t.

goodmeal's cedar planked salmon
the goodmeal app

On day 1, I had the option of ordering the cedar planked salmon with green beans and fingerling potatoes and the “everything” chicken with roasted spring onions and mushroom confit. First thing I liked–the reasonable prices. An average entree costs $10-$12, and with a $2 flat delivery fee, your all-in costs will be around $15. That pricing is pretty comparable to a nice salad at Sweetgreens or a big plate at Dig Inn.

I went with the cedar planked salmon, which sounded more interesting than the chicken. Something else I liked about Goodmeal–transparency. The meals were clearly marked “gluten-free,” “dairy-free,” “low carb,” and “nut-free”, and you can access calorie count and ingredients on the app.

goodmeal's 100% recyclable packaging
goodmeal’s 100% recyclable packaging

I placed the order at 7:15 and received my meal at 7:45. This was definitely within the “30 minutes or less” promised window, which added to my list of positives–speed. I ordered from Goodmeal three different times, and no order took more than 30 minutes. The delivery guy handed me my meal box, sans bag, which I found a little odd. If I were home, this would be a non-issue, but I was at work, and now I had to carry this box and the small container of cranberries and nuts in my hands.

Also, I was not given utensils. This is a second instance of a delivery service not including utensils in an order–first Munchery, and now Goodmeal. Is there a reason for this? Less waste, assuming people will use their own silverware, or an extra cost that a lean start-up doesn’t want to deal with? I’m not sure, but I would like to receive utensils. So I would start off a cons list with the absence of a delivery bag and utensils.

cedar planked salmon, fingerling potatoes and green beans
cedar planked salmon, fingerling potatoes and green beans

The food arrived warm, which was a plus, and it was in a 100% recyclable box. The salmon certainly looked very appealing–it was a lovely, vibrant red color, as if it were just caught while swimming upstream in cold water, and the vegetables looked as if they were delivered from a local coop. And how did it all taste? Honestly, it was a little too healthy tasting for me. The salmon was minimally seasoned, almost sashimi-like, and the vegetables were pretty plain as well. I feel like this would be a clean-eating meal that Gwyneth Paltrow would approve of. Gwyneth Paltrow looks great, but she doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. I like my salmon fun, with a little more fat. It was getting a little too Paleo up in here…

avocado and chicken salad
avocado and chicken salad

A few days later, I ordered the avocado and chicken salad. I accidentally chose the wrong delivery address, so I called the customer help line to resolve the issue, and a friendly representative quickly let the driver know about the address change. It took about 30 minutes for the food to arrive since my call, which I was appreciative of, since I messed up the address. The awesome customer service gets very high marks.

chicken piccata with mustard greens and orzo
chicken piccata with mustard greens and orzo

The salad arrived without avocados, and the orange slices were not pitted of the seeds. It was clear that the preparation of this salad was not complete. I called the help desk again, and the woman was so nice and offered to deliver another one right that minute or to offer a credit for a future order. So while there was some inconsistency in product quality, the great customer service offset a lot of it. I did take her up on a free dinner the next day and ordered the chicken piccata. I actually liked this one a lot. The chicken was able to maintain a crispy breaded crust while staying tender inside, the mustard greens were very interesting, and the orzo was seasoned very well. I would order this again.

Overall, I liked the price point, the fast delivery time and the responsive customer service, and I even liked the limited menu, since I am the type of person who gets overwhelmed by too many food choices. However, I think one opportunity for improvement at Goodmeal would be for a more consistent product. The incomplete chicken salad was one example, and sometimes the entrees were a little too healthy and spa-like, whereas other times they were healthy and flavorful. I am lazy, impatient and health conscious, as are a lot of people in NYC, so there definitely is a market for a healthy meal delivery service like Goodmeal, which I will use again.