Ep. 99: The PrepDish Story!

By: Cassy Joy Garcia
Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

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On today's episode, I'm joined by Allison Schaaf, owner and founder of PrepDish!


We're back with our 99th episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

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Episode 99 Sponsors

  • Aaptivv – be sure to enter the promo code “fedandfit” (one word) at checkout, and your first 30 days are on the house!
  • PrepDish – get 2 *FREE* weeks of Paleo/gluten-free meal plans with the code “FEDANDFIT” by clicking HERE!

Episode 99 Transcription

Today’s show is brought to you by Aaptiv! Aaptiv is a fabulous app and robust online community that allows you access to top notch, motivating personal trainers who guide you through an audio-based workout that is timed to your choosing with fun, perfectly synchronized music. I like to think of it like Netflix for fitness. Aaptiv gives members unlimited access to their entire bank of high-end, trainer-led workout classes. If you’re looking for fresh, high quality, on the go, motivating workouts that adapt to your lifestyle, I highly recommend Aaptiv.

In fact; if you head over to the curator playlist section of Aaptiv, you’ll see a familiar face! I chose 7 of my favorite Aaptiv workouts that you can kind of get a sneak peek into my own routine. Everything from well-rounded mix of intense cardio to restorative serenity; I hope you enjoy it. And then because they're just the best, Aaptiv is even offering Fed and Fit listeners a free 30-day trial. When you sign up for a monthly subscription at www.Aaptiv.com; be sure to enter the promo code FEDANDFIT, one word, at checkout, and your first 30 days are on the house.

Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit podcast. Today I’m joined by a lovely, lovely guest. Her name is Allison Schaaf; she is the MS/RD/LD {laughs} food and nutrition culinary expert and founder of Prep Dish. And you’ve heard me talking about Prep Dish for a few weeks now; they’re one of our Fed and Fit podcast sponsors. I am so thrilled to bring her onto the show today so you can learn more about their amazing company and what they have to offer everybody. But to briefly introduce, in case this is maybe you’re first episode; welcome to the party. Prep Dish is a subscription based gluten free and paleo meal plan service. Allison holds a Bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition from Johnson and Wales University; a Masters in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University, and became a registered dietitian at the New England Medical Center. When she isn’t cooking, Allison fully embraces life in Puerto Rico. She is an avid yogi, and enjoys regular hikes in nearby rainforests. Man; I’m just going to come hang out with you sometime! {laughs} As well as long walks on the beach. I’m definitely coming; I’m inviting myself. Allison is an avid trainer, and draws culinary inspiration from each trip. Thank you so much for coming on the show today; welcome Allison!

Allison Schaaf: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to talk with you today.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, this is going to be so much fun. And I mean, I’m personally using your services. And when I set up wanting to work with companies for the podcast, I really wanted to work with some that I really used and really trusted; so I’m really, really excited to be able to share more of your story and more about Prep Dish with listeners here so they can really hear the full story. But if you don’t mind, telling us a little bit more about yourself, a little bit more about your story, and why you chose to start Prep Dish.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah; so after obviously based on my education and training, I’ve always had an interest in food and nutrition. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, so when I graduated school I knew I wanted to do something on my own. In high school, I had actually worked as a personal chef for a local family in my small town in Kansas that I grew up in, and I really enjoyed that work. So after I got all this training to be chef and to be a dietician, I kind of went back to what I knew, which was cooking for families. So I moved to Austin, Texas, and started a personal chef company and loved it. I went into people’s homes and cooked for them every week, and life was good. I really enjoyed that.

As I started to think about how I would grow, and make the business more sustainable for me, I realized that the personal chef company wasn’t the best fit for the lifestyle I wanted. I wanted to be able to travel, and wasn’t able to travel at all. I kind of got myself in a situation where I always had to be kind of on, and be in person. So, I wanted to look at how I could reach more people, and sort of expand the business to better suit me and my skills. That’s where I came up with this idea; hey, I have this system that I’m using with my clients, but for the people that don’t want to have the personal chef, here I have this system of going in and visiting people once a week and doing all their meal prep for the week. So I started writing down that system and putting it into a format that I could share with a broader audience. So that’s exactly what I did.

I actually still have that personal chef company; I have another chef that does the cooking for me, so I have a lot of the same clients, but I don’t do any of the actual cooking anymore. And then I manage Prep Dish. So what Prep Dish is; like I said, taking that system of cooking once a week. So each week I email out a PDF, it’s a grocery list and then very specific instructions on, what do you do on Sunday or Monday evening for one to two hours that you’re all set up for the entire week. And that’s things like chopping all your vegetables, making a soup, tossing together a salad. A lot of the work can be done up front, and that way throughout the week, things can be easy because you’ve already don’t all that work up front, and making a healthy decision simple because you already have the food waiting for you in the fridge. So, that’s sort of how I came up with the idea of Prep Dish. I’ve been at it for a while; I started in actually in 2012 is when I came up with the idea. So, it’s been a few years now. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: That’s awesome. And you guys, I can’t speak highly enough about the quality of these plans that she sends out. And the type A girl in me just totally geeks out over the what to make when guide, because I was like; oh I love it! Make this this day, make this this day. And there’s something really, really powerful, to your point, of doing something as simple as chopping your vegetables on a Sunday afternoon. Even if you’re not planning on cooking them, but you’ve got them washed and you’ve got them semi prepped so that on a busy Wednesday night, or whenever it is you get home from work, or you’ve got the kids home from school, and everything is crazy and mayhem, and it’s so tempting to just order in takeout because you just don’t know if you’ve got the energy it takes to cook something homemade. You’ve already invested just some of the time, and you’ve taken that edge off of the burden of cooking from home, and it’s so powerful, and I just think that’s really brilliant to be able to loop those steps in from the get-go.

Allison Schaaf: Oh yeah. I mean, I get caught in that trap, myself. It’s like; I buy the Brussels’ sprouts, but for some reason if I wait until Wednesday night to chop them, you know, your mind things; oh, that’s too much work! Well it doesn’t take that long, but if they’re already cut then you just have to put them on a pan and roast them. Then all of a sudden, there’s no block to doing it.

Cassy Joy: Totally! Yeah, exactly. It’s almost akin to choosing your workout clothes the night before and setting them out. Because when you wake up, and you’re thinking, “Gosh I don’t know if I have the energy to get up and go to the gym.” Well, at least I don’t have to decide what I’m going to wear. {laughs} You know?

Allison Schaaf: Exactly! No, it’s just kind of those first little steps, and once they’ve been taken, it’s like; well, now you can’t really go back. You’ve already done the work.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, definitely. Well this kind of leads into my next question; but what do you think, in your experience in this industry and working with folks one on one, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges that people face when it comes to pursuing a healthy grain-free or paleo type lifestyle?

Allison Schaaf: You know, it’s time. And the perception of time, and also sort of making the time, which comes down, I think, also to priorities. How important is this in your life, and are you going to figure out a way to make it work and make time for it. And I think it’s kind of like that exercise thing of setting the shoes out; it’s like making that first step and committing to it, and trying it. With my subscribers; what either happens is they sign up for it, they have these hopes that they’re going to do it, but they don’t actually use it. The ones that actually use it; once they’ve used it and they’ve seen the benefit; well that in and of itself is motivating. So it’s just kind of taking that first step and trying out one week. Because once you’ve done one week, it motivates you to do the next, and so on and so forth. So it really is sometimes just that first step of giving it a trying and seeing that it really is doable and; I think a lot of times it’s that mental block of; oh I just don’t have time for this. But there really is time for it; it’s just making it a priority and figuring out when to make that time.

Cassy Joy: Yeah. And you know what, when I’m; I mean with every single work project, but especially with meal planning. When you think about; Sunday, I love Sundays on social media. They’re my favorite day, because I get tagged in all these photos of people making recipes from my book, and from my blog! And they’re writing their weekly meal plan down on their piece of paper, and they’re flipping through all of their favorite cookbooks; but I would argue that 80% of the work that goes into meal planning for a week is in actually planning it. It’s not in the execution, and the amount of time it takes to put into that. And that, as you said, just not having the time to invest in something like this; just executing on a meal plan that somebody has already thought through; it already works together; there’s a shopping list already put together, they’ve told you what to make when; takes so much of that burden of time, of planning, out of the equation. And it really is; it’s a downhill ride from there.

Allison Schaaf: Mm-hmm.

Cassy Joy: I think that is so wonderful and so powerful. It really frees up your mind. Because if this is the first time that you’re learning how to cook from home, there’s no reason to overcomplicate things and thinking you have to invent new meals, and you have to invent this entire meal plan. There’s this service out there that can really help support you, and I just. Anyways, obviously I’m a huge fan, but I can’t speak highly enough of taking advantage of some of those resources. I think they could really be a lifesaver once you get started.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, I mean I think it’s with any sort of healthy habit that you want to start in your life. It’s figuring out how to make sure that that habit is not hard to do. So something like this; you can order your groceries. Well, if the groceries show up and they’re already there, it’s just making each step as simple as possible so you’re not having to do thinking and effort to make it happen. There are so many habits like that; where if you just do; if you set yourself up for success. Like with meditation; it’s like, if I do it first thing in the morning, there’s nothing in the way. So I just do it first thing in the morning, and then I set myself up to where there’s not going to be any way that I don’t do it, because it’s just the first thing I do. {laughs} Whereas if you wait till later in the day, it’s so easy for things to get crazy and you just don’t do it.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, I totally agree. And can I just geek out for a second also about the grocery delivery services.

Allison Schaaf: Oh yeah. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: Oh my gosh. When I got my first Prep Dish meal plan delivered to my email, and I was clicking through it, and I was just diving in and loving on it. There was this link that says, click here for your online grocery list. I was like, what is that? And I clicked on it; you guys. She’s preloaded the grocery list into a grocery delivery service, and you can search it by zip code and it will find one if there’s one near you, and you can have your groceries delivered! {laughs} It’s so brilliant! I went and called my husband, and I was like, look at this! {laughs}

Allison Schaaf: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: This is so cool.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, grocery delivery is life changing. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: It is life changing! When I was working on my book and I was trying to finish it; sometimes as a food photographer you want to go to the store so you can pick out the pretty Brussel sprouts, you know?

Allison Schaaf: Yeah.

Cassy Joy: But you get to the point where if you’re making 7 recipes a day, when I was chasing that book deadline, there’s just no time to do that. So every night my routine was cook all day, photograph in the afternoon, clean my kitchen until we go to bed and then right before; this is great. These are not things I recommend people doing for work/life balance, but for a season. I would sit in bed and I would type up my grocery list for the next morning that I needed to do those recipes, and they were delivered first thing. And it really does make life so much easier. So that’s wonderful.

Ok, sorry about that tangent. I just think it’s so cool. Do you have any favorite member success stories? Folks who have been either a client of your previous meal services or of Prep Dish?

Allison Schaaf: Yeah. You know in general I love reading things that my subscribers have to say, especially when they’re happy stories. The recent one that comes to mind that stood out; there’s a lady and she’s living in South Korea, and she’s using the meal plans and loves them. So sometimes there are things like that, where I’m like, “Oh wow. Someone in South Korea.” She’s here; her husband is in the military, so she said it’s just been so nice to have one less thing she has to worry about living that far away. There are a few ingredients that she’s struggled to find, but she’s really able to make it work, and she’s getting all the other ladies on board; and I was like, how awesome is that, that someone all the way in South Korea is using these plans.

You know, any subscriber that reaches out, if their email contains words like; “I’m sorry I’m gushing,” then you know that’s one of my favorites. {laughs} One of my favorite emails to read. But you know; it doesn’t have to be extravagant, but gosh. They’re like; I get to have more time with my kids now; or my daughter put on an apron and was helping me cut strawberries. Those stories; or the pictures of the kids helping out in the kitchen. It’s like; I don’t know, such a dream for me to hear those things. It just, it makes my heart so happy.

Cassy Joy: That is so sweet. That’s awesome. I can’t; I have nothing to add to that, that’s beautiful. {laughs} Well, then that kind of leads into this question; what are some of your favorite parts of your job, and all of the wonderful things that you do?

Allison Schaaf: You know, I would say; when I first started I loved cooking and coming up with the recipes, and that was a lot of fun for me. And then of course, seeing the impact that those recipes have on subscribers. And I think even a large part of it is seeing the number of people that I can impact. Because you know, the personal chef company, that was awesome. I had 5 family that I cooked for, and I really made a difference in those 5 families, but now it’s thousands of people that really, their lives are being improved and I’m giving them healthy food and family dinners and more time. So that’s awesome to see.

But then also as my job’s evolved, I really enjoy the fact that I have a team. Which something when I first started as an entrepreneur, I said I want to be a solo-preneur, I don’t want to be a manager. I was very strong on that, but now I really love having a team, and it’s fun to see the girls on my team; they really get to kind of do a job that they love, and they get to be a part of this Prep Dish thing. So that’s been really fun, too, to have that and see their lives be so positively impacted by the business, and see them be a part of something that I have so much fun with. So it definitely; I feel like every month or something there’s something new that’s like a new favorite of my job.

Cassy Joy: Aww. Yeah, it all depends on the season; but that’s wonderful.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah.

Cassy Joy: I do; I’m with you on that. I love what I do; the content of it. I have a huge, I mean, just a very honest, I guess passion. It’s such an over-used word, but it’s so true, when it comes to the drive that I have for the work that I do. And a nice little surprise in this business in hiring folks and bringing more people on the team and working with them is the joy that comes from that. It’s really fantastic, and you get a lot; it just makes it so much more fun to bounce ideas off of folks and then see them grow into something that they really, really love and are passionate about.

So I’m curious then; in working with your team, what goes; this is, {laughs} I’m surprising Allison with this question. But what goes into preparing for a week of meal plans that go out? Because I know that you have a bunch of different dietary modifications that go into it. That’s no easy work. You’re constantly offering if you want to swap fish for this kind of dish, you can do that. What’s the process that goes into it, and how long does it take you to make these amazing resources each week?

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, they’re pretty time intensive {laughs} as I’m sure you can imagine having, I know you do a lot of recipe development and stuff. But it’s evolved over time. In the beginning, I did everything and it took me like a year just to put everything together, because I wanted them all to be perfect and they just took a lot of time. But as the years have evolved, the process has changed a little bit. I’ve gotten to where I batch a lot more of it. It’s like, “Duh, my product teaches you how to batch and do everything at once.”

Cassy Joy: {laughs}

Allison Schaaf: So I’ve figured out how to do that, so we’re not always doing meal plan edits and revisions and all of that. We have a few weeks where we take off, and then we kind of get back into it, just giving everyone a mental break.

But you know, we have some recipes that we swap out. We send surveys for all of that. I do the recipe testing still, but I do have someone; my chef that has been helping out with some of that. We have a huge giant Google sheet, and there are probably 30 steps in there, and we do a checkmark for each one to make sure everything happens. So everything from editing them to making sure the nutrition facts are there. We separate out the recipes, we do the grocery list you talked about. So with all of that, I found the most important part is that we track every step that we take to make sure nothing is missing. And once you do that, it’s pretty easy. It’s just like, it’s a process and it’s a checkmark. It continues to evolve, and it’s gotten way more sophisticated than it used to be when it was just, you know, me doing it on my own.

Cassy Joy: I can imagine.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: Isn’t that a hilarious concept? I batch my work, and I try to encourage folks to do that as well, but for whatever reason when I’m actually in the thick of it, it’s just a big hot mess {laughs}.

Allison Schaaf: I know, I know.

Cassy Joy: Oh man, that’s funny. Well good for you guys, that sounds wonderful. And it shows that you’re that thorough and you have that much attention to detail. And just for people who are curious; maybe they haven’t tried Prep Dish yet. Can you walk; again, surprise question, but can you walk someone through the user experience once they get signed up and what they can expect?

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, sure. So at the core, what Prep Dish was in the beginning was, we send out an email, you have your PDF; so each week it’s a new meal plan with new recipes, and that’s that grocery list and the instructions on prep day and then instructions throughout the week. But now we have a member login, so you can log in and access your meal plans. We have a premium subscription, which gives you access not only to this month’s meal plans, but all of our archives. Most months we have some sort of bonus handout, whether it’s crockpot meals or something like that. So we’re always trying to figure out ways that we can add value to our subscribers.

We have the grocery list that you talked about. We actually have two formats of that. So we have; the Instacart list that they can use with Instacart, but when we also have just a text version of the list so people can copy and paste and use the grocery list into whatever system they have. So whether it’s any of the grocery apps that are out there; our lists are usually compatible with other grocery lists or whatever system people are using, whether it’s Evernote, or Wunderlist, or something like that.

And yeah, it’s just sort of a weekly; each Friday, they get a new menu, we have a super-fast menu that’s really fun, because that’s one for those times when you really don’t have time; which some people would argue is every week, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. {laughs} But the super-fast menu; once a month there’s an option to do that menu, which only requires one hour of prep time. So the others, depending on the week, it’s usually about 2 hours of prep time. But the super-fast gets it done in one hour, so using a lot of pre-chopped things, and less fancy marinades, and stuff like that.

Yeah, that’s sort of; the customer login was a big project last year, making sure people could log in and access a lot more information. It’s allowed us to create challenges that we do a few times a year now, where it’s 7 days a week of meal planning, so it’s been really fun to have that, as well, as a feature. So they kind of have access to a lot more content.

Cassy Joy: Awesome. That is so, so great. And like I said, you do offer modifications. So if somebody likes cheese on a salad, or they don’t; you definitely call that out in the things that you send out. And I really appreciate it. I think you guys put together an amazing product. If you’re listening; there are a lot of folks that listen to this show; there are a lot of people that have been submerged in this paleo lifestyle for years, and maybe they’re just looking for ways to optimize or make life a little bit easier, or have a little bit, free up a little bit more time to be with their families. And there are a lot of folks listening who are just getting started. And if you’re just getting started, and it’s intimidating to you to plan all these meals out, and cook from home, this could be a really, really fantastic resource. They put a lot into it. I really believe in it.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, the modifications that you talked about; I can talk about those a little bit.

Cassy Joy: Yeah.

Allison Schaaf: It’s really making sure; so the people that have the most success with Prep Dish are the ones that are able to figure out how to; I call it make it their own. So they see that there’s a side of broccoli, and they’re like, “Eh, my family likes asparagus.” So they’re kind of able to make swaps, and after a few weeks figure out how to make it into something that is best for their family. But then we also get a lot of feedback on different things, so we’ve made things; like you said, dairy is always optional. We try to make it pretty simple to do nut-free options, or to swap out seafood, pork; and then we do have a set AIP thing, so if someone is going through that we have an AIP and Whole30 plans. They’re not part of the year-long subscription, but they’re a one-time purchase for those items. So we’ve really tried to sort of listen to our customers, and figure out what would be helpful.

Cassy Joy: That’s great; that’s really wonderful. And you’re not getting; when they send you a meal plan, they don’t expect you to cook 3 meals a day for 5-7 days {laughs}. I think it’s very realistic the amount of meals that you send folks, because then it also allows you to go out to lunch if you want, or if you want to have a dinner out or something like that. I think it fits very nicely with what I would consider a realistic lifestyle.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, it’s funny. Even when I was going into people’s homes and cooking the food for them; in the beginning I would say, start lower than you think, because you don’t need 7 dinners a week, or 6 dinners a week, because life is going to get in the way. And even though you have me to make them for you, you’re going to end up throwing away food.

Cassy Joy: Mm-hmm. That’s smart; there’s a lot of wisdom in that. Well, awesome. Ok, I won’t keep you very long but I have one last question for you. As someone who is clearly very passionate about entrepreneurship, you have this successful, wonderful business that’s serving a very important need in the world; I’ve found that when I talk to most business owners, we accidentally become passionate about business {laughs}.

Allison Schaaf: {laughs} Yes.

Cassy Joy: You know, we are excited and motivated by the content of what we’re working on, but we all eventually accidentally trip into the same world of equally being excited about business. So there’s a lot of business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs who are listening to this show. Do you have any piece of advice for somebody who is looking to get started; maybe they’re intimidated by the process. Maybe they’re thinking; gosh, maybe I should have started in 2012. Anything that you can give somebody is a tip to just get started or to stick with a plan or a vision. What are some of the things you wish you had known back then, I guess that’s a much more succinct way to put it.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, I mean I guess the first part of that; to kind of touch on the, “I should have started earlier.” You know, everyone has something unique to offer, and there’s always space for someone new. It’s not like, oh it’s so competitive I can’t do anything. You’re always going to bring a unique voice and style, there’s always space for everyone. So I would start by saying that.

And, you really have to be committed, and you have to believe in what you’re doing. Because I could have quit a few years ago; there are several times I could have quit, but I didn’t, and that’s because I believed in what I was doing. You have to have that in the back of your mind, because you’re going to have to fall back on that belief several times, or at least I’ve had to {laughs}. Probably more times, you know; sometimes I’m like, gosh if I was thinking logically, I would have quit so many times. {laughs} Even looking back; I was like, man I was a crazy person to keep going when the first few years, it’s rough. So just be committed and believe in it, and eventually I think it works out. So. {laughs} Happy to be where I am now.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, definitely. I hear what you’re saying. There is a period of time where you just have to have a lot of grit, and hang on. And I’ve said this before on the show, but I think there is a little bit of crazy that has to be in the equation; to your point, when it comes to starting something like this, because as a blog, as a blogger; for years there wasn’t even a product that I was selling. But it blossomed very quickly into a full-time gig without fulltime support {laughs}. And it just really took true grit and believe in just whatever the idea was; not knowing how it was going to turn into a sustainable business. But I’m with you. I think start now; have a lot of grit; know that it’s going to be tough. Acknowledge that, and know that when it gets tough, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing the wrong thing, it just means that you’re working through it.

Allison Schaaf: Yeah, I mean if you’re consistent and you know; I think in your heart, you kind of know if you’re putting out your best work. And if you’re putting out your best work, I think eventually that gets recognized.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, man well this has been such a great conversation. And I want to remind everybody, because Prep Dish is one of our lovely podcast sponsors, they are offering two free weeks of Prep Dish for Fed and Fit listeners. So you can’t beat that. All you have to do is go to www.PrepDish.com/FedandFit for this deal, and your first two weeks are free. It really is a no-brainer; it’s a great way to try it out, see those really cool Instacart lists. Get very excited. Allison, do you have anything to add there?

Allison Schaaf: No, I was just going to say thank you so much for having me, and thanks for all the work you do. You’re such an inspiration; and your food photos, and recipes, and everything. I love the work that you do and really look up to you. So thank you.

Cassy Joy: Aww, that is so nice. Thank you so much, Allison. And for all the listeners, remember you can always find a full transcript of today’s show, like every show, at www.FedandFit.com, as well as direct links to the Prep Dish deal where you can get your two free weeks, so go ahead and check that out on www.FedandFit.com.

And if you like the show, please head over to Amazon; iTunes. I always say Amazon {laughs}. Head over to iTunes and leave a review. Those reviews really help get the show into the hands of other folks. So thank you so much for listening. Allison, thank you so much for coming on; please keep up the great work. I really look up to all the work that you do, as well. And to everybody else; thanks so much for listening, we’ll be back again next week.


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