My interest was piqued when an E-mail appeared in my inbox from a satisfied customer of Simply Nutritious Meals. This fledgling business makes and delivers fresh, healthful, ready-to-heat meals to the greater Princeton area. I was also intrigued because back in the 1980s I started a similar business, Doorstep Dinners. (U.S. 1 contributor Barbara Fox was one of my regular customers.)
Princeton resident Sheila Siderman, the customer who sent the E-mail, was writing about Tiffany Millen, the energetic 27-year-old owner of Simply Nutritious. “For a very reasonable fee she can deliver meals to [homes and] offices along Route 1, allowing workers to take home a healthy dinner. For those people working late, it’s a fabulous option.”
Millen is a personal trainer who also studied nutritional sciences at Rutgers and has an associate’s degree in culinary arts from Mercer County College. On Millen’s website, www.simplynutritiousmeals.com, she writes that the biggest obstacle she faced with her personal trainer clients was changing their eating habits. They simply didn’t have time to cook — or don’t like to or don’t know how. So she based her business on offering a different healthful, home-style meal each day, delivered Monday through Thursday. Each meal consists of a lean protein accompanied by whole grains and locally sourced vegetables. A vegetarian option is offered each day, and everything comes packaged in microwave-safe containers, with reheating instructions.
Customers peruse the upcoming week’s menu online and place their orders by Sunday at 9 p.m. Meals, including delivery, are $15 each, plus tax.
Millen estimates that about three-quarters of her customers are retired couples who would otherwise be eating out, but who want to eat wholesome foods and to limit certain ingredients like sodium. Among the other 25 percent are, she notes, “a lot of doctors. They are busy seeing clients all week, but they, too, want to eat well.” About 40 percent of her customers are single males; the remainder are mostly female heads of households. “I don’t have single female clients,” she says. She does have entire families, though, including one family, for example, with four children in high school. “I love it when a parent says something to me like, ‘you got my eight-year-old to eat a fig last night,’” Millen says.
This accomplished cooking pro has a thick binder of recipes she rotates through. As part of her culinary training, Millen completed an externship at Hopewell’s Blue Bottle Cafe, as well as at Griggstown Farm and in the kitchen and hospitality unit of the Medical Center at Princeton. Simply Nutritious meals range from beef braised with mushrooms, rosemary, carrots, and onions over red-skin mashed potatoes and with a side of roasted cauliflower, to vegetarian whole-wheat conchiglie pasta tossed in spicy sun-dried tomato pesto, cannellini beans, and Swiss chard, topped with fresh Parmesan and toasted almonds. (A non-vegetarian version includes turkey sausage and omits the beans and almonds.)
Millen says she has been surprised by the large number of orders she gets for the vegetarian dinners like her black-eyed pea gumbo with brown rice. She has also found that clients really go for the homier dishes, including turkey meatloaf muffins. “Of course, I do make them with caramelized onions and three types of ketchup and honey, but still…” she says. Fish, too, is perennially popular. “I top cod, salmon, or tilapia with roasted tomatoes, panko crumbs, and olive oil and serve it with, for example, whole wheat couscous and asparagus.” She also mentions the mushrooms she stuffs with Griggstown’s feta and spinach turkey sausage.
Simply Nutritious Meals has been delivering meals to Siderman, who retired recently from a career in educational publishing, and her husband, Jerry Palin, who retired from a research position with the state of New York, for more than a year now. It turns out that Siderman is not just a customer, but the instigator of the business.
“Sheila, one of my in-home training clients, suggested it,” says Millen, whose specialty is training runners. “She and her husband knew that I was in culinary school, and they knew what I was cooking for myself each day. So she offered to pay me to cook the same things for them. Then, after I started to make meals for her, her friends became jealous.”
Millen, who lives in Rocky Hill, officially launched Simply Nutritious Meals last summer and at this point is handling every aspect of the business herself. “Shopping, cooking, delivering, accounting, managing the website — you name it,” she says. “And I’m still working five or six hours a week as a trainer, and I’m still in school! I started slow, to make sure the quality is there. Then, through word of mouth, it just took off. Now, I spend just about all day, every day, running and operating the business. At this point I’m ready to start growing.” Millen has a quid pro quo arrangement with Griggstown Farm: she uses their kitchen to cook and has access to the vegetables they grow as part of their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), in exchange for which she works on the farm.
Even as a child, she found cooking pleasurable. “It has always made me happy, for as long as I can remember. I never saw it as a chore,” she says. At a young age she announced to her mother that she wanted to become vegetarian. (She no longer is.) “My mom made me read her vegetarian nutrition cookbook,” she says, and that’s what got her started along this path.
Millen was born in Princeton, living her earliest years in the historic Thomas Clark House at Princeton Battlefield where her mother was curator. “My mother always hating cooking,” she says, “yet when I was three my parents decided to open a bed and breakfast inn in upstate New York, and that’s where I was raised.” In 2000 the family moved back to New Jersey, and in 2002 Tiffany graduated from Ewing High School. Her father, Brian, works in the athletic department of the Lawrenceville School. Her mother, Patricia, is executive director of the Roebling Museum (U.S. 1, July 14, 2010).
While studying at Rutgers, Millen realized she wanted to add strong, basic cooking techniques (like knife skills and sanitation) to her skill set. “I didn’t see myself as a line cook in a restaurant,” she says. So after earning her culinary degree she continued her training work — both her private practice and at the Princeton Fitness & Wellness Center in Montgomery where she continues to work even now. She is also back at Rutgers part-time finishing up her nutrition degree. “I’m the kind of person who always wants to finish what I’ve started,” she says.
Simply Nutritious Meals, 609-731-2753, www.simplynutritiousmeals.com, or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Pat Tanner’s blog at www.dinewithpat.com.