- Associated Press - Sunday, November 4, 2018

ADVANCE, N.C. (AP) - A personal trainer’s side business is heating up in Advance, offering healthy meals to 25 to 30 clients a week.

Pam Baker, a trainer at the William G. White YMCA in Winston-Salem, and her husband, Inkem, started a meal delivery service called Healthy Made Simple in March - a week before they got married.

“Being a personal trainer and trying to encourage fitness and wellness, you really can’t ignore nutrition,” Baker said. “I had clients who were trying to achieve goals but weren’t getting there because of their diet.”

Baker’s business concept had been simmering on the back burner for a couple of years.

“I started this right after I separated from my ex-husband (in 2015),” said Baker, a 51-year-old mother of six. She was cooking for a few friends and clients.

“Most of them were trying to lose weight,” she said. “It was a way to help make ends meet.”

Baker might well have kept her cooking to something informal for friends and a few others if she hadn’t met Inkem Baker online in February 2017.

Inkem Baker, a theater teacher at North Forsyth High School who shares Pam Baker’s passion for running and fitness, soon began encouraging his wife-to-be to go into the food business. “He always enjoyed my cooking and was very supportive of my efforts,” she said. “He thought this was something we could really share and take to the next level.”

Inkem Baker helped her find a commercial kitchen that would allow her to launch Healthy Made Simple.

“Having a big family, I’ve always liked cooking. And I’ve done some event planning, so this has worked out well,” Pam Baker said.

This meal service focuses on dinner entrees, but also includes some breakfast main dishes or entrees suitable for lunch. Items are sold fully cooked, ready to eat or reheat, depending on the item.

People who use the service sign up on the company’s website, www.hmsimple.com. Pam Baker will post a weekly menu on Sundays. Customers can look at the menu online, and they have until midnight Thursday to place orders.

Right now, the Bakers are juggling the new business with full-time jobs. They do all the cooking together over the weekend, and either deliver the food or have it available for pickup on Mondays. Pam Baker’s daughters Bailey, 23, and Anna, 14, often help with the cooking, and 17-year-old son Aidan helps with washing dishes.

Items come in servings of three. Order forms list ingredients, calories and Weight Watcher points. Baker is not a registered dietitian, but she often chooses recipes from such sources as Cooking Light that focus on healthy recipes.

Most of her recipes are low-calorie, she said. “But some of my clients are just busy people, not trying to lose weight, and they sometimes ask for something more indulgent,” she said.

Though the menus constantly change, she said she typically offers one or more salads and some soups, stews or chilis. “Our kale salad is really popular,” she said. “And our white chicken chili is a huge favorite.”

Recent menu items have included chicken Marsala, roast pork tenderloin with blueberry sauce and steamed broccoli, sausage and apple-stuffed sweet potatoes, three-cheese Mediterranean lasagna, Tex-Mex shrimp salad and broccoli-cheddar quiche.

She doesn’t offer separate side dishes. Everything is sold together. “But we do a lot steamed vegetables, so what you get is a full meal,” Baker said.

Prices for the three-serving dishes range from about $15 to $26.

“I’m starting to offer more variety. Now we have over 100 menu items,” Baker said.

All of the items are individually packaged to encourage people to eat modest portions. Hot items can be microwaved. And many items are freezer-friendly for customers who don’t plan to eat them right away.

Many of Baker’s customers follow Weight Watchers, and they like that she uses Weight Watchers points.

“I’ve tried all kinds of delivery services, and none of them had the Weight Watchers component,” said Mandy Haggerson of Advance, who described herself as a busy mom with small children. “I’ve also gotten to know the owners and I feel like they walk the walk. They live healthy lifestyles,” she said.

Carla Lindstrom, a client of Baker’s at the Y, said she lost about 30 pounds in eight months with exercise and diet. “Part of eating unhealthy is a need for speed,” she said. “When you don’t have quick meals, you choose badly. So this made it a lot easier for me to eat healthy.”

Lindstrom particularly likes such items as the Korean brisket tacos and the turkey meatloaf. “I’ve basically ordered it every week. I’ve never gone away hungry.”

Martha Davis Wilson said she loves convenience of the pre-portioned items, which helps her manage her weight. “And most of the ones I love are easy to freeze,” she said.

“The menu changes every week, but (Baker) always brings back items, and she’s very open to suggestions,” Wilson said.

Baker credited restaurateur Mary Haglund, the founder of Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, with encouraging her to follow her dream and with offering her advice on starting the business.

In January, Baker plans to open her commercial kitchen for lunch on Mondays. That way, people can pick up advance orders, but also get lunch while they’re at it. “It will be mostly grab-and-go, but we’ll also have a few tables,” she said.

Baker said that Healthy Made Simple isn’t just appealing to people’s desire to get nutritious, low-calorie meals, but also to their desire for convenience. “There’s no shopping. There’s no cleanup. Some people are trying to lose weight. But some people are just busy.

“This is just a convenient way to take some of the chaos out of your life.”

___

Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com


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