If you've seen a pink van with a weightlifting panda decal on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard lately, you've spotted chef and bodybuilder Jeff Houser delivering fresh, healthy meals. Houser owns Jacked Panda, a boutique meal prep service.
Houser hand cooks about 1,000 fitness-inspired, high-protein and low-glycemic index carb meals per week (about 500 per day) and delivers them within a 24-hour period to customers' doors and local gyms.
Houser has been a professional chef most of his life. He began cooking meals with his mother, who owned Thai restaurants in Virginia. At age 17, he enrolled in culinary school at Johnson and Wales University and trained in classic French cuisine. He's worked with culinary stars Wolfgang Puck, Nobu Matsuhisa, and Chef Guy Leroy, and owned fine-dining establishments in Los Angeles and Jacksonville called Fusion Bistro, fusing his French and Thai style together.
It wasn't until nine months ago that Houser went full-force into the meal prep business. He's had experience prepping healthy meals for professional bodybuilders, Olympic athletes and Sarasota doctors, but Jacked Panda was developed more from Houser's love of fitness and health, understanding that busy individuals need proper fuel and how meal prep has positively impacted his own life.
"My wife works is a registered nurse and we have two kids," says Houser. "We are really busy, but love keeping up this healthy lifestyle, so meal prep has been the best. Nutrition is very medicinal to me."
All of Jacked Panda's meals are between 600 to 800 calories, include 4 oz. to 6 oz. of lean protein, one cup of starch and one cup of vegetables, Houser says. Protein sources include sirloin, ground beef, Atlantic salmon or tilapia, and organic chicken. He also cooks low-glycemic index starches like jasmine rice and sweet potatoes and roasted veggies.
But it's the flavors and varieties of meals that make Jacked Panda stand out. Houser incorporates Southeast Asian flavors like sweet chili and garlic. Some of his meals include stuffed peppers, lemon rosemary chicken kabobs, keto pancakes and more.
Each meal plan comes with three meals and two grab-'n'-go snacks like egg salad with avocado mayo, protein muffins or yogurt parfait.
"Meal prep has to taste good, for the average Joe and professional athlete. Some of the leanest athletes in the world are fitness competitors, coming in at two to three percent body fat," says Houser. "A lot of them achieve this through meal prepping, and eating small meals six times per day with an emphasis on protein and healthy starch."
If you want to order something from Jacked Panda, just visit their website and choose a $400, $600 or $800 meal plan or buy meal at a time online or at the refuel station. Deliveries are made Monday and Thursday each week from as far as Longboat Key to Moccasin Wallow Road in Parrish.
"Part of this business is showing me being fit at 47-years-old and spreading the positive message that clean eating is accessible for everyone and can be enjoyable, too," Houser adds.
Visit the ReFuel Station at 5920 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., or order online or by calling (941) 544-9696.