realmealz believes the path to good health is through employees’ stomachs

June 10, 2012

in health games,wellness

one of the most-dreaded tasks in this household is choosing what’s for dinner. it’s not making dinner that’s at issue. we both can cook. it’s figuring out what to cook. we’re obviously not alone. a not-suitable-for-work website and book exist for people like us.

but what about the other hurdles to putting a home-cooked meal on the table—a lost art, sacrificed at the stone-table reality of long work hours and longer commutes, second jobs and prepared meals?

enter realmealz.

realmealz is a slick website that makes figuring out what’s for dinner, shopping for it and preparing it a simpler affair. the website offers an array of 30-minute recipes, a baked-in shopping organizer and instructional videos. it helps you find recipes based on what you have on hand and what you want to avoid. then it filters the recipes based on what meal you want to cook. in an ode to flipping through a cookbook, you can scroll through their attractively photographed selections for more random meal discoveries. each dish is broken down to show you its nutritional makeup according to what connie kwan, one of the founders, calls “VPG,” or vegetable protein grain. in a smart move, realmealz syncs users’ account with their android app. once you pick a recipe and make a shopping list, that shopping list’s automatically with you whenever you eventually hit the grocery store.

so far this may seem reminiscent of epicurious, the food network or other cooking sites. one difference is that many of the realmealz recipes are actually kwan’s and not chefs’ or nutritionists’. the key difference is that realmealz believes employers should be in the kitchen too. for companies, they offer “eat well challenges.”

in these challenges, employees—working in teams—rack up points as they interact with the realmealz website. go online? get a point. hunt down a recipe? get points. make a shopping list? point. and so on. kwan and her co-founders feel the more you use the site and its tools, the more your cooking confidence will grow and the more you’ll cook. they use this “gamification” element to encourage and reward that desired behavior.

realmealz has piloted their challenge with practice fusion, an electronic medical records company and realmealz advisor. practice fusion employees took to the idea so much, they expanded upon realmealz’ approach with their own activities, including a potluck cook-off. realmealz is also piloting their challenge concept with some blue shield of california employees.

realmealz is definitely on to something, but i have some reservations. a simple one is the reliance on kwan’s and other individuals’ cooking recipes. in our current climate of extreme chef adulation, will people be interested in cooking recipes from someone they don’t know? another reservation is whether employers are ready to get into the kitchen with their employees—and if employees are ready for them to be there.

my biggest reservation is about the cost. at $2 per employee per month, realmealz is pricey, particularly for the large employer who needs to consider this outlay alongside competing wellness budgetary priorities. a large employer i bounced realmealz off of told me that “for $2 per employee per month, i’d want realmealz to come cook the meal for the employee in his or her home.” that’s the voice of one, but i echo the concern and wonder if others might too.

still, realmealz has a great concept and a good-looking, well-functioning product. they’re looking for additional employers and considering how to expand the product so users can also shop for cooking products directly from their site. our collective cooking skills and time devoted to cooking have dropped with the advent of prepared foods and the separation between work and life growing ever blurrier. i’ll be watching to see what comes out of their kitchen next.

have you explored teaching employees how to cook? do you have a response to realmealz’ eat well challenge? share your thoughts in the comments. 

f

more about realmealz: realmealz helps workers eat right

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Matthews June 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

I like this idea a lot. One of the things that’s been tough for employers is that most wellness-oriented programs focus on either activity (which is relatively easy to track) or simple participation in programs like smoking cessation … nutrition has usually been the odd man out in my experience (or has been designed so poorly that it SHOULD be the odd man out).
One of the things that the Food Network and the Cooking Channel have taught us is that cooking can be a heck of a lot of fun. And I love the idea of doing cooking classes in the workplace to inspire employees to care about what they eat and where it comes from. So the idea of taking easy meals and putting some (very) basic game mechanics around them looks like a good play to me. However, IMHO, this program suffers from the same problem that a standalone step-tracking program does; it offers limited (if any) connection to other healthy behaviors. No single wellness program element is going to grab and hold the interest of every employee, so an employer’s best bet is to have a broad universe of tightly connected wellness programs – with the theory that they’re likely to find SOMETHING that resonates with the largest number of employees. And as you suggest, Fran, the $2 PEPM price is awfully high for a standalone program (that frankly wouldn’t be that hard to build into an existing rewards/food tracking program, having employees use the free version of the site).
So I like where this is going, but think that it’d be better-served if it was paired up with a Map-My-Fitness type program.
Thanks for the profile!

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fran June 18, 2012 at 8:09 am

greg, i failed to mention that realmealz does plan to integrate with other wellness platforms, so that may help reduce the standalone issues. i really like the idea of demonstration classes at work, too. when IDEO was a guest on a #co_health tweet chat and i wrote about their cooking & company program on the blog, a few cohealth community members tried to use their materials at work. unfortunately, they ran into problems ranging from safety concerns to lack of available infrastructure to run the demonstration classes. that’s why i also liked their “dinner in an attache” approach, which sent someone home with a recipe, cooking instructions and all of the core materials (sans those that would go off if not refrigerated). that, too, i’d imagine would get pricey, though. i think partnering with local grocery chains on shopping and cooking courses could be a neat solution for employers.

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Cherish Hart June 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm

In my role at the American Heart Association, we have been encouraging companies to develop wellness programs that include tobacco cessation, physical activity, nutrition and culture elements. Last year to support the effort of employers and community organizations we offered cooking demonstration kits for wellness champions to hold a cooking demonstration onsite. We had about 28 organizations use the kits at their sites. We kept it simple using a no-cook recipe from our simplecooking.org recipes so that even employers that don’t have kitchen facilities could get involved. The company leaders and the employees enjoyed it and were able to take home some tangible resources. The idea of gamification is very interesting…a great way to keep momentum going after something like that. Whether you use a product such as the one discussed here really depends on budget and time available. However, generally, I think that adding an element to your wellness program that encourages cooking and shares cooking skills and recipes is a great idea. Not only one that can give employees skills that they can use, but also add an element of fun and interactivity to your program.

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fran June 18, 2012 at 8:05 am

cherish, thanks for commenting. i’ve liked the idea of ready-made kits since i first learned of IDEO testing whether supplying employees with dinner kits helped them to cook more. i’d also like to see more emphasis on shopping, as we know that’s tricky business. have you tried to roll out your cooking demonstration approach to more organizations?

f

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