To Joe Martinez, training for American Ninja Warrior for six months was no different from how he approached starting his fresh food delivery service, Healthy Meals Supreme, this past year.
While getting in shape for the rigorous competition, all while living with diabetes, was a feat the Plainsboro resident set for himself for his 60th birthday. Martinez, who is now 61, says training for his goal made him in the best shape of his life in 2017, with a body fat of 6 percent.
He says that “luckily,” he was not selected for the intense competition, however he had a lot of fun in hitting his personal challenge. Martinez says he approaches everything he does like a to-do list.
“I usually have a to do list with 7 to 10 things on it for the day, and I start with the highest priority and just keep going till I accomplish what I set out for, whether it’s competition training or Healthy Meals Supreme,” he says.
His vision for the business was of a food service delivering healthy but tasty and affordable food. The non-frozen meals, ordered through healthymealssupreme.com, are delivered by UPS to customers’ doorsteps. The meals are vacuum-sealed and microwaveable with their ingredients determined using a nutritional calculator.
“I looked at other food companies providing meals, whether it was local or even national. They were all frozen or freeze dried and tasted like cardboard,” Martinez says. “The nutritional values really didn’t fall into guidelines for chronic diseases, like the Mediterranean or DASH diets.”
Martinez, who is also a registered pharmacist, diabetes educator and culinary medicine specialist, officially launched his business in December 2018 and wanted to provide easy to access food that people with chronic diseases are able to eat as well.
The company serves nine states in the northeastern out of a commercial kitchen in Trenton, with 10 current full-time employees and plans for expansion within the next two months.
The company’s online menu features 38 gluten-free options on that follows the recommendations of the Mediterranean and DASH diets with $5 breakfast and $8 lunches and dinners. (The DASH diet is a low-sodium eating plan designed to control high blood pressure, while the Mediterranean diet is a regimen that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats.)
Customers can order a week at a time with no subscriptions or contracts. The service is designed for individuals who have to follow a specific diet or don’t have the time to cook healthy meals for themselves.
“I said it has to taste good, and we are committed to freshly prepared food,” Martinez says of his meals that range from 350 to 500 calories with no sugar or wheat added.
Options include meals such as a chorizo egg keto muffin, a keto grass fed steak burger with cauliflower cheddar mash, and dessert options such as avocado dark chocolate collagen brownies that taste exactly like a typical fudgy homemade brownie. (The ketogenic diet, keto for short, is a low-carbohydrate meal plan.)
Understanding the difficulties and barriers to healthy eating, especially with a diagnosis such as diabetes, led Martinez to begin Healthy Meals Supreme to help “position people for success” when it comes to eating.
Although the meals are a lower count of calories, Martinez says “no one ever goes away from the table hungry.” The portion-controlled foods that are packed with nutrients make for a filling meal, he says.
Martinez credits his father with instilling an entrepreneurial spirit and innate desire to help people. He worked for his dad as a milk boy in Newark, where he was born and raised.
As he grew older he worked at Johnson & Johnson and did odd jobs throughout high school and college to make some extra cash. Upon graduating from Rutgers University College of Pharmacy in 1980, he became a registered pharmacist and led different medical and clinical departments for pharmaceutical companies along with having built medical teams from scratch.
Long before Healthy Meals Supreme, Martinez would often indulge in junk food cravings including a diet of pizza and chocolate bars.
The origins of the inspiration for his company stretch back to when Martinez was 36 and had a life-altering moment. Martinez’s father had been recently diagnosed with diabetes, and after a Sunday dinner with an assortment of ravioli, vegetables and Italian bread, Martinez showed his dad how to use a glucose meter.
“At this time I was a pharmacist, and I had been losing weight for about six months,” Martinez says. When he used the glucose meter on himself, Martinez found his blood sugar to be at 253. He checked his father’s and it was at a lower number of 144. After this red flag, Martinez was diagnosed with diabetes himself. (Blood sugar levels up to 180 are considered normal after meals.)
“That kind of made sense as to why I had lost weight and just wasn’t feeling right,” he says. “My doctor said I do have diabetes, and then the frustration hit. I thought ‘why me?’ I’m 36.”
After the initial surprise over the diagnosis, Martinez started quickly hunting down all information related to diabetes.
“You can’t control what happens to you in life but you can control how you respond to it,” he says. “I called up some colleagues, some doctors and endocrinologists who had differing opinions and that started me down the path to healthy eating. I found that eating better made a difference in how I felt, how much medicine I took, what I could do during the day.”
At the time of his diagnosis, Martinez’s brother-in-law was an executive chef.
“I asked him for help, and between the two of us we came up for a mixture of foods that were low-carb and appropriate for diabetes but also tasted good.”
When Martinez would bring his meals to the pharmacy where he worked, his colleagues would see them and sample them, saying that they would buy them. This led Martinez to open up a healthy food shop with his brother-in-law in Milltown.
The shop closed after his brother-in-law died from a heart attack and a blood clot. “It was very emotional for me. He was like my big brother at the time,” Martinez says.
Afterwards, Martinez strayed from coming up with healthy and tasty meals, working in different pharmaceutical biotech companies and serving as the Medicaid Pharmacy director in New Jersey.
The idea for Healthy Meals Supreme wasn’t born until Martinez’s good friend Mark Krakauer, a sales broker interested in chronic disease therapy, revived the idea of a “culinary medicine” food service providing healthy but delicious meals.
“I like to get feedback from people, especially people that are smarter than me,” Martinez says. “We put together a team, looking at different recipes and who was the competition and what were they doing—and more importantly what were they not doing.”
Beginning a business is no walk in the park, and Martinez’s true altruism and experience with health-related issues is what has kept him motivated to build HMS to where it is today.
“I believe if you’re serving something bigger than yourself and for other people, you can get through the hard days because not everything is easy, but I know what people living with chronic diseases are going through,” he says.
Martinez wants people to trust what they are putting into their bodies, so he makes sure there is a nutritional chart and calculator available on his website.
“We have a real-time, dynamic nutritional calculator so people know the average fat of their meals, the average carb level and average protein. They can either print it off themselves, show their trainer, or they can bring it to their doctor’s appointment and show them or their diabetic educator,” Martinez says. “It’s one step closer to personalized nutrition. A person’s quality of life is really impacted by what goes into their bodies.”
Healthy Meals Supreme also has a scientific advisory board that is instrumental to the nutritional calculator. Chef Karl Guggenmos sits on Martinez’s advisory board and helps him come up with their recipes.
Martinez is not finished with setting big goals for himself. He is about to embark on another huge personal goal of tackling a “Tough Mudder” obstacle course race next year.
His wife, Michele, is also a pharmacist. With her, he has three grown sons.
Besides personal goals, there are big visions for the future of HMS. He says the next step is expansion across the nation as well as personalized nutrition in support of personalized medicine involving a DNA test for customers.
Martinez wants to expand to other regions of the country, beginning with the East Coast. But that will take more commercial kitchens and getting the permits to build them.
“Things are moving along and pretty fast,” he says of his business that has been operating for less than a year.
Martinez eventually hopes to take Healthy Meals Supreme global and bring his service to Europe and South America, which will involve researching the local tastes.
“The meals have to be individualized to what different citizens are used to,” Martinez says. “In the meantime, we’re focusing on helping people where we are now.”