Food. The very thought stirs unfathomable pathos in the anguished mind of many an office worker, for whom a good meal can be a distant and unattainable vision. Preparing a tolerable packed lunch is time consuming; finding somewhere to order from each day can be a Sisyphean task, to be repeated ad nauseam. But perhaps a reprieve is in the offing. A number of enterprises now purvey healthy dabbas, delivering balanced—and delectable—meals to your desk, with each offering a variety of options and combinations to ward your palate against that crushing ennui. With healthy alter egos of classic comfort foods now so easily available, clean eating need no longer be a time sink. The concept of the meal in a box works well for office goers because it serves as a perfect desk lunch. It is non-messy and non-greasy, and the ingredients used are fresh, seasonal produce. These dabbas are designed with busy people in mind and can easily be polished off in less than a quarter of an hour. And the menus are furnished with offerings for big and small eaters alike and will surely cater to your diet, be it paleo, keto, vegan or simple ghar ka khana style.
How did these dabba services come to be? Here’s a case in point. Bangalore-based Dhananjai Raja Kuttikad recalls the origins of his enterprise, PurpleBasil: “A couple of years ago, my wife and I decided to make a lifestyle change and take up healthy eating. We realised there were no service providers in the market that truly made healthy eating easy, or even focused on all-round nutrition. This was a definite and large market gap, and we set out to solve this.” After talking to friends, it dawned on Kuttikad that healthy eating could be easy—if, and only if, ‘healthy food’ consisted of meals that people would want to eat and not what they felt they had to eat. And so long as healthy food itself remained boring, sustainable healthy eating would remain a chimera.
World In A Box, a Gurgaon-based food service founded by ex-banker Nitish Jha with starving office drones in mind, is a bit special in that it was later acquired by Michelin-recommended chef GauTAM Chaudhry. “Healthy eating is not about just eating low-fat food or salads. It is about the right balance of nutrients and giving office goers an overall delicious meal that will make them feel happy and contented,” Chaudhry tells Outlook.
PurpleBasil’s co-founders (right); their Asia noodle salad
Similarly, The Diet, a Mumbai-based meal service founded by Nimisha Iyer and Preeti Gosain, believes that to remain healthy, you don’t have to eat less—you just have to eat right. Hence their tag line, ‘Eat properly every day.’ Iyer, who looks after the service’s business side, is an ex-communications professional who faced hypothyroidism and high cholesterol at a young age. She wanted to ensure that all office goers got something interesting yet healthy to eat at the workplace. She says, “The Diet is especially for those who don’t have help at home and who find it difficult to follow a diet regimen because they are working.”
Iyer adds, “Our motto is to break the myth that healthy food is boring.” The Diet’s meal service aims to help you resolve your meal-related issues, thereby giving back crucial hours each week by removing your need to plan, shop and cook. It is an introduction to a healthier way of life. Instead of advising people on what to eat and what not to eat, they prefer curating interesting menus with a healthy twist. The best diet regimen is the one that you will stick to beyond January. That means that what you eat actually needs to satisfy your taste buds. “Our meals are freshly cooked and don’t contain any artificial colour or preservatives. They are grilled, baked, sautéed or steamed but never deep fried,” says Gosain.
All these services have a focus on ensuring that consumers get an appropriate quantity of food with the right balance of nutrients. Mumbai-based nutritionist Tripti Gupta says, “For office goers, the lunch break is the only time that allows your mind to rest, recharge and gear up to refocus towards the second half. A poor meal can leave you sluggish, dropping your attention span and productivity drastically. Supplying your body and brain with the right macro and micronutrients can help you perform far more efficiently and energetically.”
Consumers, it seems, concur that the healthy dabbas fulfil these nutritional criteria. Shweta Kaushik, an interior designer who works long hours, says, “What I love about these dabba services is that it is beautifully balanced in terms of your food macros and is portioned perfectly. The food is light so you don’t feel sluggish in the afternoons. And most importantly, the food is prepared in a healthy manner without compromising on taste.” Such sluggishness follows from the ever-present danger of overeating while doing a desk job; as Gupta points out, “Remember, your brain needs to stay alert; an overdose or under dose of glucose supply to your brain will immediately affect your focus.”
Shalini Gulati, a certified Zumba trainer, testifies to the nutritional balance. “I need my dose of protein after my Zumba classes. World In A Box is the best as it provides me with high-protein and low-carb meals, which help my body recover after a workout. The delivery service caters to your meal needs for the entire day,” she says.
Speaking about The Diet, Iyer says, “Most people start a diet regimen but cannot carry on with it for long as they don’t have the bandwidth to shop, decide their meal, cook it in a healthy manner, get it to taste yummy—which is where we come in. Most of our subscribers are office goers. The meals are balanced to ensure that they meet an individual’s nutritional requirements. The regular meals can be served to a diabetic patient, as they are balanced, no refined flour is used and sweets made from natural sugars are included twice a week.”
Bhakti Mehta, owner of Little Food Daily, another Mumbai-based healthy food delivery service, tells Outlook that their meals are well balanced, “including the Indian food meals—these too are planned as healthy Indian meal bowls, instead of the roti- sabzi–dal routine.” The food is made in such a way that office goers will not feel sluggish or sleepy, and will be able to continue with their work after a meal. All the dishes are made with just a teaspoon of olive oil, and no refined sugar or flour is added to the food, keeping the customers’ health in mind.
These dabba services also offer customised meals for special requirements. “The Diet does special meals like keto and paleo only on request. These are priced marginally higher,” says Iyer. To this Mehta adds, “Little Food Daily offers a personal, customised four-meals-a-day plan for clients who have strict dietary requirements. Here we customise the food as per their personal requirement.”
Little Food Daily owner Bhakti Mehta; one of her dabbas
It’s not just about balance—variety is another cardinal principal for these services. Firm in the belief that there’s nothing fabulous about a bowl of oats khichdi, World In A Box gives consumers the chance to build their own meal out of a gourmand’s menu. As founder Jha points out, “Everybody deserves to indulge in good food from time to time. But to make good food healthy is the biggest challenge.” He adds, “From vibrant salads to exotic sandwiches and hearty smoothies, we offer plenty of healthy options to keep the midday meal on track for office goers. I believe food tastes better when it looks good. It is all about fine dining in a box.”
Jha’s firm is far from alone in having a multitude of options—most of the healthy dabba services have a menu that changes daily, serving fresh, healthy and minimally processed meals. Describing how it works, PurpleBasil founder Kuttikad says, “Our customers order from us through our app or website, or through major aggregator platforms. They can choose to order either a one-time meal or sign up for our flexible prepaid diet plan subscriptions. Calorie counts and macro nutrition content for each meal is shared on our website.” The meals at PurpleBasil are served in two formats—a three-course meal consisting of a chef-designed combination of a main dish, a side dish, and a beverage, or a one-course meal consisting of just the main dish. Most of the meals have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian variants. They also have a group signup plan—this is useful for gym buddies and start-ups, as you can sign up to obtain a group discount for orders delivered to a specified address.
Nimisha Iyer and Preeti Gosain, co-founders of The Diet
Talking about The Diet, Niraj Shah, markets editor with a leading channel, says, “It is an eclectic mix of healthy food which is packed well. They have a huge variety to offer. I don’t know how they do it, but my mind is at peace knowing that I will eat something I like for lunch, with the reassurance that it will be healthy food prepared in a clean environment.”
Little Food Daily, too, has its home-styled specialities, inspired by European, American and Asian cuisines. Their meals are healthy and portion-controlled. And there is a focus on the whole package: “All the meals are designed within one bowl which makes it easy to eat at the desk. It is non-messy for working lunches and also as meals on the go. The food is served with eco-friendly cutlery and the boxes are microwave-friendly, giving a complete experience of healthy food,” says Mehta.
Vinu Thomas, a technical architect in the software industry, has similar praise for PurpleBasil’s packaging. “PurpleBasil delivers a smile with a unique message in each meal. Most importantly, I like the packaging of the food. The meal is served in plastic-free, eco-friendly boxes.”
When the tedium of grocery shopping seems forbidding and the prospect of getting messy in the kitchen arises like a dread nightmare before you, healthy dabba services may be a seductive alternative—but with a cost. The average price of a meal for one ranges from Rs 250 to Rs 350, although they do have monthly subscription plans and plans that are priced on a case-by-case basis, depending on an individual’s requirement and delivery distance. Nevertheless, if money is no object, the healthy dabba may be the panacea for all your dietary ills.