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Eating Well - Personal chefs gaining momentum among families

Eating Well - Personal chefs gaining momentum among families

When was the last time you took the kids to McDonald's for dinner because otherwise it would not be on the table until at least 9 p.m.? If you're a busy parent working out of the home, or an at-home mom providing a personal chauffeuring service to your children, the answer is probably last night.

As parents and children become busier by the minute -- with demanding jobs, after-school activities and maybe even a new baby in the house, today's families are turning to personal chefs to solve their "what's for dinner?" dilemmas. While often considered a service reserved exclusively for the very wealthy, more and more families in Greater Boston are now realizing that personal chef services equal money well spent when it comes to serving their families healthy, nutritious meals on a regular basis or for special occasions.

"Some of my clients have been saying that this is the best money they ever spent," said Christine Robinson, co-owner of A Fresh Endeavor personal chef service in Lexington. "When you factor in the amount of money people spend on take-out or fast-food on a weekly basis, combined with the lack of nutritional value in most of those meals, personal chef services can really make sense."

Brooke Baker, a mother of three who recently went back to work full time, hired a personal chef to help with her busy schedule.

"I'm the last person I ever thought would have a personal chef," Baker said. "It's really a huge time and stress-saver. My kids love the nutritious meals that are prepared and I'm not worrying about whether or not they're eating well. Also, now in my free time, I'm able to play with the kids instead of worrying about cooking for the week."

That peace of mind goes a long way.

"Parents just don't always have the time to make sure their kids are eating right," said Robinson. "That's where we come in. I've been deceiving children since 1999. One of my clients --- a three-and-a-half year old -- loves my spaghetti sauce. Little does she know that it is mixed with butternut squash or that her meatloaf contains pureed broccoli. You'd never know!"

This type of imaginative cooking is something that parents who may be working all day -- or who may be home with days filled up to the brim -- can really appreciate.

For these reasons, the personal chef industry has been growing steadily. The American Personal Chef Association estimates that in the next five years, there will be nearly 25,000 personal chefs in the United States serving nearly 300,000 clients.

Personal chefs are culinary professionals who do the grocery shopping and cook the meals in your home, packaging and storing them in your refrigerator or freezer on typically a weekly or biweekly basis. Many families today, however, are also using personal chefs on a one-time basis for special events, or as a gift for a family with a new baby or other life-changing event.

"I recently had a man in Florida purchase a gift certificate for his mom who broke her arm. He had peace of mind that she was eating well in her own home," said Inna Garber, owner of personal chef service The Yummy Chef in Sharon. "Another customer of mine has a daughter who requires a non-dairy, low-fat diet. It's often difficult to come up with new meals to provide her, so they turned to me to ensure that she eats well and adheres to her dietary restrictions."

"I've been seeing a big demand for new baby gift certificates," said Susan Findlay of The Wholesome Table personal chef service in Needham. "My own pediatrician just purchased a gift certificate from me for a friend who recently had a new baby. When a new mom comes home from the hospital, she is usually overwhelmed and exhausted and really craves comfort foods. Having readily prepared beef stew, chicken marsala or lasagna is one of the best gifts she can receive."

Local personal chefs meet with their customers to select a personalized menu, taking into consideration special tastes and dietary restrictions. For example, many personal chefs work with clients on special diets such as The Zone, Atkins, Weight Watchers, or provide kosher foods or macrobiotic cooking. They do all the shopping and bring with them their own pans, utensils and other kitchen tools to prepare all the food in the customer's home. Typically, regular services are offered in a two-week cycle, with three different entrées provided for each week.

The cost of personal chef services vary. "For a three-entrée, two-week session (so really six meals), I would charge $390 including the cost of groceries for a family of four," said Robinson. She also offers a children's menu, priced at $35 per selection (with each dish serving 8-10 child-sized portions). Types of meals offered by Robinson as part of the children's menu include spaghetti and meatballs, mini-hamburger patties, chicken noodle soup, roast chicken breast and macaroni and cheese.

The Yummy Chef offers meals on a per entrée charge of $8-13 per meal, including groceries. Most customers request approximately 20 meals at one time. The Wholesome Table typically charges $150 plus the cost of groceries (which would average $50 for three entrées/six meals).

Anyway you cut the cake, slice the turkey or spice the meatballs, one thing is clear: the services offered by personal chefs around Greater Boston are gaining momentum. The convenience and time-savings offered, as well as the healthy alternative to fast-food, make personal chef services the way to go for many busy families.

To contact the personal chefs mentioned in this story:

Christine Robinson
A Fresh Endeavor
781-860-0222
www.afreshendeavor.com 

For the names of additional personal chefs by region throughout Massachusetts, contact The American Personal Chef Association: www.personalchef.com

Linda Pendergast-Savage is a PR consultant and freelance writer. She lives in Plymouth, Mass. With her husband and three children. She can be reached at lsavage@adelphia.net.

By Linda Pendergast-Savage
Friday, April 23, 2004


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