By Ingrid Howard
With so many misconceptions about dieting and fitness, living healthy can be a challenge. But Paul Shunnarah, owner of Fit Five Meals and Gauntlet Fitness Kickboxing and Boxing, has taken some of the effort out of eating nutritious meals and getting in a good workout.
Fit Five Meals serves up prepared meals made healthier mostly by leaving out the fatty stuff and watching portion sizes, Shunnarah said.
“One thing you’ll hear people love is the fact that it’s fun food,” he said. “It’s not raw kale and tofu, it’s things you traditionally eat. One of the feedbacks we got when we did mac ‘n’ cheese was, ‘Thank you for making something that I already like healthy.’”
When Shunnarah was 23, almost 10 years ago, he opened Overtime Grill & Bar near Lakeshore Parkway with his brother-in-law and his closest friends. Up until this point, he had never considered himself a chef.
“Growing up, I was definitely not a chef,” he said. “When I bought and built out Overtime, I actually had no choice. I had to be able to do everything I was telling my employees to do.”
In 2012, Shunnarah took on his next adventure. He and his partners decided to open a kickboxing studio that used high-intensity interval training instead of fighting MMA-style.
“Owning a restaurant and owning a gym are two odd ends of the spectrum,” he said. “One serves burgers and wings, one kicks your butt.”
Shunnarah and some of the other Gauntlet members started ordering meals from a local meal delivery service to the gym. The service had a few issues, though, including a high price and food that was too low in calories.
Shunnarah decided to start preparing his own meals, and he posted one of his meals on social media.
“I started getting Facebook and Instagram messages,” he said. “‘How much are they? Where are they coming from?’ I was like, ‘No, we’re just making them for ourselves.’”
He realized there was a market for preparing meals and selling them, and he already knew which problems to avoid from his experience with the other service. He made a Facebook post asking his friends if they would be interested.
Brock Warren, the owner of Elite Nutrition, told Shunnarah that he would sell Shunnarah’s meals at his store, starting with 50 meals each Monday.
Two years later, Fit Five Meals is sometimes selling more than 3,500 meals in a couple of days.
How It Works
Customers can pick up the meals at a gym or nutrition store in the Birmingham metro and beyond. Although customers can drop in without ordering ahead, most of the Fit Five customers order ahead online so their meals are guaranteed.
To prepare the food, the customer has the option to microwave it for a minute and a half, which is the conventional option. Other customers have said they use toaster ovens or air fryers.
The original menu had five options — which is where the name Fit Five originated — but now customers can choose from more than 15 options, including turkey cheeseburger pizza, macaroni and cheese and buffalo chicken wrap.
Shunnarah has a few secrets to keeping his menu items on the healthy side. One is eliminating the use of butter and oils. Another is portion control.
“I learned when we first started, what I thought was a scoop, was either more or less of certain items. What I thought was a cup of rice was actually 12 ounces, which is an additional like 8 carbs (per ounce). So I was intaking 30 more grams of carbs than I needed because I didn’t know what portions looked like.”
For example, with Fit Five’s Skinny Mac N Cheese, the chefs measure out one ounce of cheddar and an ounce of low-fat mozzarella. This also helps keep Fit Five’s prices low — each meal is between $7.50 and $9 — because the chefs aren’t using as many ingredients per meal as a typical restaurant.
Similar to the way his gym helps people create a workout plan, customers say that Fit Five has taken the effort out of cooking and eating healthy.
Katie Crommelin, a mother of three boys who all play sports, said she had trouble cooking for her family before she became a Fit Five customer.
“Yes, it’s great to have a healthy meal, but it’s the convenience of something that tastes good and that’s there,” she said. “All five of my family members, we’re all eating at different times.”
Shunnarah’s company feeds more people than his typical customer base.
At the end of each week, Fit Five donates the unsold food to homeless shelters and food banks. On holidays, they match each meal sold with one to be donated to local shelters.
“Why not feed somebody?” he said. “That’s our goal, right, is feeding people, helping people. So we might as well keep that integrity going down the line of our distribution.”
Shunnarah said it’s the company’s goal to have served 15,000 in a month, and he said he believes they are only a few weeks away from accomplishing that. As the company grows, he said, its giving and community work will continue to grow.
In response, the community has supported Fit Five through its journey. Shunnarah said he has seen a company make a small mistake and get bashed for it.
“We’ve made mistakes, and we’ve had people address it,” he said. “We’ll be like, ‘We totally apologize. We’re going to fix that and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ And they’re like, ‘No problem, we just wanted to let you know.’
“We are a small company right now, so those little things happen because we’re not robots.”
To learn more or order online, visit fitfivemeals.com.