Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Marco Borges, an exercise physiologist, Beyonce's vegan personal trainer, and the founder of vegan food company 22 Days Nutrition.
We had a chance to sit down and chat while he was in DC for a conference, and I found him to be a very humble, mellow soul. When I mentioned that to him he said, "Well, hey, I'm Cuban!"
Later on, Marco sent me a complimentary week's worth of food from the vegan meal delivery service that he and Beyonce launched earlier last year, so I could write a review. And we followed up with an interview by phone. Here (at long last) is my detailed review, along with our interview.
First, I loved the packaging. The meals arrived in a big apple green colored cardboard box with inspirational words like "wholesome," "yummy," "organic" and "nourishing" written all over it. This was my first vegan meal delivery service ever, so I was like a kid in a candy apple green store!
I opened the box and saw this welcome sheet taped to the top of the cooler, with a paragraph welcoming me to the 22 Days Nutrition family and instructions on how to open the cooler, heat the meals, and recycle the containers and gel packs. Nice touch.
When I opened the cooler, the pre-packed meals looked kind of jumbled. The instruction sheet does say "the meals may have moved while in transit...that does not mean the taste and texture has been affected, they are still 100% delicious." Still, when I took them out of the cooler, they didn't look that appetizing, and I thought, "I could never do this."
But when I lined them up on the table and sorted them by breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I thought, "Wow! I have 21 meals here. It is convenient!" And indeed, I had 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners, and they were all different. I couldn't wait to dig in.
And I promptly called my mother, sister, and niece (all vegan) to come over and taste all this food with me. I was actually leaving for vacation in a few days, so I needed their help.
While I waited for them to arrive, I checked out the ingredients list and nutrition facts label on each meal. And I was VERY impressed with how healthy they were.
Here's an example from the French Ratatouille Pilaf (note: I tore the label--it didn't come like that).
You'll notice that the meal contains brown rice and lots of veggies and spices. All the ingredients are organic, except the sea salt (I won't quibble), and even the water is filtered.
And on the nutrition facts panel, you'll notice it says the package contains 1 serving (so no need to worry about portion control). And there's no saturated fat, only 66 grams of sodium, only 4 grams of sugar, and a big 20 grams of protein. Fabulous! And for those who count calories, there're only 530 of them.
This is a healthy, whole-food, low-oil, low-sugar, ample protein vegan meal, just like I'd make at home. They got this exactly right and that made me happy!
So how does it look and taste? Here's what the French Ratatouille Pilaf looked like heated and plated---bright and colorful (although my photo may not do it justice).
And the taste was very fresh, but a little bland. The instruction sheet does say "to enjoy your meals to their fullest potential, we suggest plating your meal and adding some of your favorite flavors to make each meal your own." So I added some cayenne pepper and a dash of sea salt, and voila, it was delish! (W)
Here's a list of the rest of the meals we tried, along with our reviews. (W is for winner, like the French Ratatouille Pilaf.)
Eggplant Kidney Beans and Red Cabbage: We loved this dish! We didn't need to add any seasonings and the beans were cooked just enough. (W)
Comfort Garbanzo Mushrooms with Minestrone: Very tasty. The chickpeas were cooked enough--just right. I don't normally cook sweet potatoes with chickpeas, and I liked them together in this dish, so it gave me some good ideas for other dishes. Plus, this meal had 24 grams of protein. (W)
Sesame Noodle and Enoki Mushroom: We loved the noodles, but the broccoli was overcooked for our taste. Overall, the dish was bland, even after adding salt.
Black-Eyed Peas and Tomato Stew: Overall flavorful, but the beans weren't cooked enough.
Cuban Fiesta Black Beans: Again, overall tasty, but the beans weren't cooked enough.
Eggplant Yellow Curry: Very flavorful. (W)
Golden Split Pea: Bland and the rice was undercooked.
Artichoke Pesto Pasta: The taste was fresh and light, but the flavor was so-so.
Moroccan Tagine: Very flavorful. (W)
Ensenada Chipotle Mexican Rice: We found the rice to be a little chewy for our taste and the dish a bit watery. We're not familiar enough with the dish to know if this texture is authentic or not.
Louisiana Style Lentil and Brown Rice: Pretty tasty. (W)
Quinoa Pilaf with Carmelized Onion: The quinoa was cooked well and the consistency was impressive in that it travelled well. (W)
Creamy Mushroom and Chard Penne: Tasted bland; not much to it.
Hearty Granola: Crunchy, great taste, not too sweet. (W)
Summer Almond Berry Loaf: The flavor was good and not too sweet, with lots of berries, but it was too dry. I didn't like the fact that the ingredients only said gluten-free flour. I wanted to know if it was 100% whole grain.
Green Apple Raspberry Loaf: Same as above, but I wanted more berries in this one.
Carrot Almond Muffin: The flavor was good, not too sweet, but also a bit dry and grainy for my taste.
Chia Pudding: Delish! (W)
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal: The taste was good, but reheated oatmeal is not my fave.
(I'm missing the 7th breakfast--don't know what happened to that one.)
So, overall, I was very impressed with how healthy the meals were. I can recommend them based on that alone. Kudos to Marco and Beyonce for getting that right!
And the convenience of having a week's worth of healthy prepared meals in my fridge for breakfast, lunch, and dinner was awesome.
As far as taste goes, almost half of the dishes (9 of 21) were winners just as they were. And for the rest of them, we needed to add a few seasonings to give them more flavor. And again, the instruction sheet did encourage us to do that.
Now, personally, as someone who's basically been cooking vegan meals from scratch for 30 years, if I were to pay for a vegan meal delivery service, I'd want them all to come well-seasoned and ready to eat--just like from a personal chef or restaurant. I wouldn't want to have to spice them up after I got them--which to me is like cooking. That would be an inconvenience for me.
That said, if I were ever in a pinch and needed to order vegan meal delivery, I'd definitely choose 22 Days Nutrition, because I know I'd be getting good, nutritious food.
For other vegans who're used to cooking, and still love the convenience and creativity of adding their own ingredients and flair to the prepared foods they buy, this service might be perfect.
And for new vegans and/or folks who don't, can't, or won't cook, having to add a little spice to their vegan meal delivery might not be a big deal, either. This service might be just the thing they need to eat all or more vegan food.
[UPDATE: A friend who just read this review had a couple of great suggestions about seasonings. First, perhaps the delivery could come with a card on seasonings and what goes well with each dish, for folks who want to spice or flavor things up a bit. Or second, maybe seasoning packets could be included with some meals or offered as an option for the package.]
So how much does it cost? It ranges, depending on how many meals a day and how many days a week you choose. For 3 meals a day for 7 days, which is what Marco provided me to sample, it would have cost about $9.24 a meal or about $194 for the week. When you factor in the hours saved from grocery shopping and cooking, it's actually pretty reasonable in my book. Where it starts to get more expensive is if you choose only 1 meal a day ($14.85 per meal) or 2 meals a day ($10.89 per meal). You can learn more about the meal plans here.
Now, last but not least, here's my interview with Marco. I asked him how going vegan changed his life, how his partnership with Beyonce came about, and what he hopes to accomplish with 22 Days Nutrition. Check it out...
TM: Why and when did you become vegan?
MB: I went fully plant-based about 10 years ago.
TM: How did it change your life?
MB: At first not much (I always felt pretty great :-), but then once I realized that my actions were inspiring others, specially those around me, to want to live healthier lives, it felt like the gift that kept giving :-). I knew I was doing everything in my power to live my healthiest life possible but now my actions were inspiring others to follow suit.
TM: Were you an exercise physiologist before or after you became vegan?
MB: My formal background is in Exercise Physiology so that came first and then my understanding of the remarkable benefits of a plant-based diet.
TM: What benefits have you seen in your clients (their endurance, recovery time, well-being) who adopt an all or more plant-based diet as a result of your guidance?
MB: I've seen everything from cholesterol levels dropping in no time to dramatic weight loss to phantom pains disappearing. I've seen people who have suffered for years from insomnia and depression find cures almost instantly. It's pretty incredible to be able to witness these miraculous transformations.
TM: What's your mission with the vegan meal delivery service? And with 22 Days Nutrition overall? Why should people eat more plant-based foods?
MB: At 22-Days Nutrition, we want to make it easy and affordable for people to live healthier lives and we do so by providing plant-based solutions that are always USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten-free, Soy-free and Always Plant-Based!! The benefits of a plant-based diet are too vast to name but from a health perspective it's the only diet known to slow, halt and even reverse heart disease. It reduces the risk of diabetes, stroke, dementia and many other age related diseases. From an environmental point of view, it's the single most positive action we can take to reduce our carbon footprint and promote cruelty-free living. Simply put, it's the most powerful thing we can do for ourselves, our planet and our animals.
TM: How did your partnership with Beyonce on the vegan meal delivery service come about?
MB: We have been friends for years and after witnessing the incredible benefits first hand, she decided she wanted to be a part of it.
TM: I noticed that customers who want to order the vegan meal delivery service can't see a menu and select the food they want. Can you tell us about that?
MB: We're working on an a-la-cart menu but right now it's not available. We source our ingredients from local farmers and everything is made fresh for all our meals sent out weekly.
TM: I'm very impressed with the nutrient profile of each meal. They're high in protein and low in fat, salt, and sugar. How important was that for you?
MB: Very!! We're not just trying to make great tasting foods but also foods that nourish from the inside out.
TM: What're your 3 favorite meals from your vegan meal delivery service?
MB: Haha, that's a tough one!! I work closely with our chefs and if I don't absolutely love a dish it won't make it onto the menu so I can honestly say that I love them all. :-)
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My huge thanks to Marco for this interview and for letting me try out the 22 Days Nutrition vegan meal delivery service. I enjoyed the experience! Check it out at 22 Days Nutrition.
Talk to you next week, family!