The hustle and bustle of modern-day life in East Texas can present a challenge when trying to eat healthy. East Texans are hard pressed to quickly prepare nutritious home-cooked meals. That is where Fit City Foods steps in.
Lloyd Nichols, owner of The Diner, said his daughter, Sarah, a member of a CrossFit community, sparked the idea a few years ago.
Ms. Nichols, 27, cofounder and director of marketing and web development, said she is supportive of healthy eating to improve health and spur weight loss.
"If you want the best results, you have to keep nutrition on track," Ms. Nichols said.
Since last September, she has been devoted to the job full time.
In the beginning, Ms. Nichols would use The Diner's kitchen, which closed at 2 p.m., to produce healthy dishes for CrossFit clients who wanted access to fresh, preservative-free foods.
The food was then delivered to her clients at the gym after taking orders through email.
"It just kind of evolved since then," Ms. Nichols said. "I didn't expect for it to happen so quickly. I thought it would stay in the fitness community."
That's when Nichols took over the new venture. His team developed a menu with the help of nutritionist and culinary artist.
Today, Ms. Nichols works with Chef Alfredo Ortiz to create new menu items.
Lean meats, colorful fresh vegetables, fruits and low-carbohydrate options are among a variety of offerings. Nutritional information is available online and labeled on each container. All meals are prepared from scratch in the kitchen, including spice blends, salad dressings and Paleo mayo to avoid the additives of store-bought products.
"We did that because you want to know exactly what's in your food," Ms. Nichols said. "Everything is raw material. It's never precooked. We made sure we were giving them quality."
Since Nichols has been on the Fit City Tyler Coalition, a community-wide campaign to improve health in the area, he made the connection from the group's healthy living efforts since it was established in 2010.
"We researched it. It was an open name. We branded it, and we became Fit City Foods," Nichols said.
They've also partnered with gyms and other businesses as pickup locations, including KH Fitness, Premier Fitness, Premier CrossFit, East Texas Adventures Boot Camp, API, CrossFit Tyler and Grounds for Justice.
Nichols, who has been in the restaurant business for 41 years and also owns a Popeye's franchise, said healthy living is all about balance.
"I've also always worked out, and what I found and what many people find is that the No. 1 challenge that people have for staying fit isn't necessarily exercise or lack thereof," he said. "It's what they put in their body. You can do great with an exercise program, but eat poorly still."
Many customers come back regularly, sometimes buying meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, he said.
Michelle Black, 40, and her husband, Steve, have been using Fit City Foods for their lunches everyday for about a year.
"I was just making health and nutrition changes in my life," Mrs. Black said.
She attended a nutrition class, where Nichols spoke about the food offerings.
The couple had been exercising, but it wasn't producing the weight loss they wanted.
"I noticed results but not enough results," Mrs. Black said.
When they improved their nutrition, the weight shed more quickly. She lost 45 pounds, and her husband, Tyler police officer Steve Black, dropped about 40.
Mrs. Black said their go-to meals include a southwest scramble with ground turkey, rice and cheese and a faux pasta dish made with zucchini and ground turkey meatballs.
"It's just all good food," Mrs. Black said. "I know that it's not processed food. We have very busy lives, and this is going to be something we don't have to pre-fix. That was a huge thing for us. It was already prepared, and there's no thinking involved."
With pounds lost and improved health, the couple said they have no plans to change their regimen.
"We're continuing to do it because we feel amazing," Mrs. Black said.
Up next for Fit City Foods is a frozen food line that will launch in April along with a new website. Ms. Nichols said they would use denser vegetables that won't lose water when frozen. It will be shipped around Texas, she said.
"We want it to grow as much as it will grow," Nichols said. "It's very positive, because it provides good benefits to the customer."