Durban - Finding the time to cook a meal in the evening is a stretch for many working parents – late meetings, school lifts, homework, varying schedules and business trips mean that, for many, shopping, chopping and cooking are not an option.
But a burgeoning industry of home-cooked ready meals, in many cases delivered to the door, is coming to the rescue and putting meals on the tables of many families.
All customers have to do is go online, select their orders (in advance of delivery day), pay and wait for the doorbell to ring. Then it is a matter of heating and eating, assembling or cooking a meal that is semi-prepared.
One of the most successful is My Chef, a service that has been running for 10 years and an offshoot of Blue Strawberry catering company that operates from Springfield Park, Durban.
Meals are cooked, using fresh ingredients, on Mondays and Thursdays, and delivered to homes throughout the greater Durban area, from Ballito to eManzimtoti, and inland as far as Assagay, on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Athena Pampallis, the creative director, says the idea for home deliveries of family meals came to her more than 10 years ago when, as a busy working mom, she found herself with no time in the evenings to prepare meals. She loves to cook, but there was too much else to do. She set about designing menus and it grew from there.
“I didn’t realise how big My Chef would become,” she says. “People are so busy and there are many evenings when they get home late.
“The idea is to supply family meals that are freshly cooked, using fresh ingredients, and ready to eat or freeze. We do not use preservatives. Some of our meals are ready to heat and eat, while, in others, we have done the preparation so all you have to do is cook them and eat them.”
Jenni Jackson, owner of Blue Strawberry and My Chef, says parents are under so much pressure and having pre- or semi-prepared meals saves time shopping, chopping and washing up.
On the large and varied menu are heat-and-eat items like curried mince with butternut and potato, mild chicken korma, toad in the hole, beef and green bean casserole, or assemble-and-eat items like crispy plum and sesame chicken, sweet and sour pork stir fry, garlic and parsley hake fillets, as well as desserts, vegetarian options, a slimmers’ range, kids’ menu, lunch items, baked goods, drinks and even weekly essentials, like bread and milk.
Consulting dietitian, Julie Thomas, has approved all meal ratios and portions.
Two new menus, for Tuesday and Friday, are released each week. Orders are placed online and paid for a week in advance. There is a minimum order of R250 and a delivery fee of R45.
Vasanthi Soni is another passionate cook who is a lifeline for time-pressured families. She has cooked from her home in central Durban for 25 years and while she does not offer a delivery service, people bring tiffins, which she fills, and off they go to heat and eat.
“I have always loved cooking and 25 years ago I decided to try and earn a living from it,” she says. “I started cooking for some friends who were doctors and worked long hours. Word spread and more people asked me to cook specific dishes.”
Vasanthi’s meals are strictly vegetarian, comprising vegetables, beans and pulses, and she is helped by her sister-in-law, Ranjan. She will cook to people’s preferences, but requires a minimum order of two portions.
Brigid and Bianca Annall, of Brigid’s Catering, are turning out between 300 and 500 meals a week from their premises in Durban North, which are delivered to homes in the greater Durban area.
The business was started when Brigid was retrenched five years ago. She loved cooking and had friends who were too busy to prepare meals in the evening – so she designed a menu and put word out, cooking from the kitchen of her Glen Anil home. Orders came in steadily and Brigid realised this could be a new career.
Her daughter, Bianca, a former restaurant manager, joined her a year ago to help meet the increasing demand and they moved to bigger premises.
“We both love cooking so this is the perfect business for us,” says Bianca.
The mom and daughter team, assisted by a staff of four, prepare family meals, office lunches, meals for the elderly or students, and they also supply daily meals for a professional football team.
Orders are for basic home-cooked fare – cottage pie, chicken à la king, spaghetti bolognaise, hake and potato bake, bangers and mash, vegetable breyani and other family staples.
Their menu includes desserts, as well as low carb, low fat, low GI, gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Razia Mayat of Westville turned her passion for cooking and baking into a business eight years ago.
She began by baking cakes and savouries for friends in her neighbourhood.
Word spread and soon busy professionals were asking her to cook them meals for their families. The business grew from there.
“Many people, particularly working mothers, are short of time in the evenings,” she says. “I also cook for students and elderly people.”
All food is halaal and she does a lot of meals over the fasting month of Ramadaan. She cooks mostly chicken and lamb dishes, as well as kebabs, rice dishes, lentils and pasta, and she requires a minimum order of six. Her customers bring containers and she fills them.
“I will cook whatever they ask for – if I know how to cook it, I will,” she says.
Meals on Wheels extends service
The Meals on Wheels organisation has been serving meals to the elderly and people in need for 50 years and last year served up 3.45 million meals in KZN.
It has widened its area of service to include people with little or no income, those on old age pensions or disability and child care grants. It also helps unemployed women with children, child-headed households and orphans.
“Many of our beneficiaries cannot walk, are frail and sickly, so the delivery of the food to their homes is a necessary service,” says Erika Botha, co-ordinating manager of Meals on Wheels.
“The meals are prepared with the help of volunteers. Food is provided by donors from the community and donations are received from private donors, small companies and shops, as well as corporates.
“Not only do we deliver cooked meals to the homes of pensioners, but meals are also served from the service points so that social interaction can be encouraged as well as activities, crafts, exercise, workshops and talks.
“Most of the pensioners whom we assist are also looking after their children and grandchildren due to unemployment. Many look after grandchildren as parents have died of HIV and Aids. In these cases, our beneficiaries will not only collect their own meal, but also a meal for the family.”
Meals on Wheels serves 10 million meals every year in South Africa. The organisation also has a Community Carer Initiative in which carers provide support and care to beneficiaries.
Services include basic medical attention, organising social enrichment activities, economical cooking lessons, outings for the elderly, home cleaning and other forms of help. This programme is dependent on volunteers who use their expertise in the areas where help is needed.
Another project is the Vegetable Hamper Project in which each pensioner contributes R20 a week and vegetables are bought in bulk. The pensioners pack them into hampers to be distributed among themselves.