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New year, new focus on nutrition

by Ryan Pivoney | January 3, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune photo: Ben Fischer, owner of Eat Smart Meals, weighs out a portion of salmon Monday afternoon, Jan. 2, 2022, in the kitchen of his retail shop off Eastland Drive. Eat Smart Meals, a nutritious meal preparation business, has seen an influx orders as more people turn their attention to healthy eating in the new year.


The new year brings a lot of new faces to the gym.

But, as more people with fitness resolutions are finding out, the gym might not be the best place to start.

"There's definitely been a big shift toward food," said Luke Gabriel, owner of Capital Fitness and a personal trainer. "The workout people are still there, but there's been a big shift toward eating healthier."

Gabriel said the gym scene begins picking up around Dec. 28. As goals for the new year begin to percolate, he said he gets more messages, inquiries and phone calls about personal training and gym memberships.

This year, the questions have been different.

"I have been bombarded with nutrition questions and inquiries for the past week or so, and it's just continued and gotten busier as we go," Gabriel said. "It's surprising."

"There's been a bigger spike in people wanting to eat healthier versus joining the gym or doing one-on-one personal training," he added.

As a personal trainer, Gabriel does health coaching and helps clients create diet plans. He said people have been asking more questions about strategies for eating more nutritious foods and how to prepare them.

Gabriel recently began working with Ben Fischer on a meal preparation operation. At the beginning, Gabriel supplied the ingredients and Fischer prepared nutritious meals for him and a few clients.

"When he actually turned it into a business, it just blew up fast," Gabriel said.

Fischer, owner of Eat Smart Meals, said he's selling about 100 meals a day, plus snacks such as protein cake pops and brownies.

"I thought we were blowing up already but apparently people are still waiting until the new year because they just wanted to start it all at once and get through the holidays," he said, adding: "I'm seeing a huge influx now for online orders."

Fischer said he had to postpone more than a dozen online orders at the beginning of the week to ensure he could keep the refrigerators in his retail shop stocked.

Eat Smart Meals, located at 829 Eastland Drive, is a Jefferson City-based meal preparation and supplement store specializing in fresh ingredients sourced from Missouri and around the Midwest.

All the meats used in prepared meals are from Missouri, except salmon, Fischer said. Fruits and vegetables come from the state if they're in season, otherwise they come from other Midwestern states.

Fischer and his prep cook prepare the heat-and-eat style meals daily starting around 5 a.m. After ingredients are prepared, cooked and portioned, the complete meal is ready to be picked up from one of the refrigerators in the retail store. Most meals can be heated in the microwave in about two minutes, Fischer said.

Eat Smart Meals maintains a limited staple menu with items like chicken fajitas and Cuban steaks, and will also have a rotating seasonal menu. All dishes are free of preservatives and sugar, and contain minimal salt.

Fischer said the meals are aimed at all sorts of diets. Some are high in carbohydrates to fuel those going to the gym while others are focused on providing nutrition for a more sedentary lifestyle. Vegetarian and keto options are available as well.

Located in the same parking lot as Capital Fitness, Gabriel said a goal is for the retail store to be a social spot for fitness enthusiasts.

"We actually have a few guys now that come in around 3-4 o'clock or whatever and they'll eat their pre-workout meal and then they all walk over to the gym together and do their thing," Fischer said.

Capital Fitness is the only gym currently partnered with Eat Smart Meals.

Fischer said he's working with Studio 573 Fitness to add a fridge and begin offering Eat Smart Meals there within the next two weeks. He said he's also talking to a few salons around town with the goal of providing them snack offerings.

Gabriel said about half of people joining his gym at the start of the year don't see it through.

Clients often want to focus on exercise before looking at diet, which he said can be counterproductive because "the food is the most important part."

Kara Dement, owner of Capital Supplements, said good nutrition is the foundation for healthy digestion and sleeping patterns, as well as maintaining energy levels throughout the day and performing well at the gym.

"You can't out-train a bad diet," she said.

Dement owns retail space in Eat Smart Meals and works the front counter. She said it seems more people in recent years are taking nutrition into account when setting their health resolutions.

"People sort of stopped just Googling and going with the first answer they find...," she said.

Gabriel said the New Year's gym scramble dies down around mid- to late January as people "jump in and fall off."

"The people that make it three weeks pretty much stick with the lifestyle change," he said. "They create the new habits, they're coming to the gym two, three times a week and they kind of make it a more of a regular part of their life."

Gabriel said his advice for people beginning their fitness journey is to stick with it until it becomes a habit.

Dement advised starting slow and creating smaller habits that build up. She said massive lifestyle changes can be overwhelming, which leads to quitting, but changing one or two habits at a time is more manageable.

Gabriel said New Year's resolutions tend to be a more impulsive or emotionally driven decision to join a gym. The start of a new year can be a good time to make lifestyle changes, he said, but it's all about being in the right mindset.

"People will be amazed at what they can do in just a month and how much they can change their life," he said.

  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune Eat Smart Meals prep cook Josh Chesnut opens a container of seasoned rice to portion into prepared meals as business owner Ben Fischer cuts corresponding hunks of salmon. Fischer sources meats and ingredients from around Missouri and the Midwest to offer prepared meals, which he said has taken off with the new year.
 
 
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune Kara Dement, owner of Capital Supplements, works the front desk of Eat Smart Meals, where she has retail space. In addition to nutritious heat-and-eat meals, Eat Smart Meals offers protein snacks and nutrition supplements. The pre-portioned meals are stored in refrigerators beside the checkout counter.
 
 
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune A medley of roasted vegetables waits to be portioned into heat-and-eat style meals Monday at Eat Smart Meals. Monday's vegetables were partnered with salmon.
 
 
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune Ben Fischer, owner of Eat Smart Meals, cuts a portion of salmon Monday afternoon in the kitchen of his retail shop off Eastland Drive. Eat Smart Meals, a nutritious meal preparation business, has seen an influx orders as more people turn their attention to healthy eating in the new year.
 
 
  photo  Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune Ben Fischer, owner of Eat Smart Meals, cuts a portion of salmon Monday afternoon in the kitchen of his retail shop off Eastland Drive. Eat Smart Meals, a nutritious meal preparation business, has seen an influx orders as more people turn their attention to healthy eating in the new year.
 
 


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