Grabbing an easy, nutritious lunch on the go is hard enough. Make it kosher, and it’s near impossible.
In an effort to fill the gap, Gabe Smolarz of Robbinsville has launched Dr. Gabe’s Foods, offering single-serving, high-protein, minimally processed foods for kosher consumers.
A monthly “Lunch Balancer” box includes five lunches, all made with few preservatives and weighing in at about 500 calories, with 20 grams of protein and 30 grams of net carbohydrates.
As an endocrinologist in full-time clinic practice with the Princeton Medical Group, Smolarz was seeing “dozens of patients a day with diabetes, needing help making healthier food choices.”
“I’m a big believer in the power of changing your diet,” he told NJJN. “Diet is incredibly important in the prevention and treatment of problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, as well as fatigue.”
He tried educating his patients, but noted that many had difficulty following through. “I thought to myself, how can I make eating high protein and lower carbs more convenient? I decided to create meals on the go that didn’t need refrigeration or any kind of prep,” he said.
It took about six months to research the viability of the company. His cofounder and business CEO is his brother, Shaun.
To launch his endeavor, Gabe, who now serves as medical director of U.S. Medical Affairs at AstraZeneca, headed around the country in search of single-serving products that he could put together to create nourishing, low-calorie meals.
Shaun, who lives in the northern suburbs of New York City and previously worked on Wall Street, said in an e-mail, “Lunch Balancer is neither a diet program nor a meal replacement program.” Instead, it is aimed at customers who are travelling, have no time to pack a lunch, or do not have easy access to fresh, healthy kosher options.
A typical meal includes roasted edamame (soybeans), a bag of protein pretzels, a mango fruit strip, and a bag of roasted chickpeas.
“Once we had the idea of creating healthy, convenient meals on the go, we realized that there is a real need within the observant Jewish community,” said Shaun, adding that Lunch Balancer uses “the Chicago Rabbinical Council list of commonly accepted kosher certifying agencies as the baseline kosher standard for foods” included in its meals.
The switch to fully kosher products was easy, said Gabe, because they quickly realized that the vast majority of their products were OU-certified.
“Kosher food on the go doesn’t exist, and the stuff that does isn’t really good for you,” Gabe said. “It is laden with preservatives and very high in fat. I saw this as being a service to healthy eating within the Jewish community.”
Some companies, he said, prepackage fresh food on ice that is shelf stable, but must be reheated, which requires a microwave or stove. “We literally need no prep whatsoever, so we don’t really have direct competition in the kosher world,” said Gabe.
The Smolarz brothers grew up and became b’nei mitzva in a Conservative congregation in Westport, Conn.; their family kept kosher at home. Gabe met his wife, Robin, a native of East Windsor, while in medical school, and the couple decided to live near her parents. Robin’s family is active at Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction — her father, Jerry Sava, was congregation president in the mid-1990s and her mother, Adrienne, sisterhood president in the 1980s — and that’s where they joined. Robin taught preschool there until they had kids and now teaches Hebrew school and runs the youth group.
“She is the baby of seven kids,” Gabe said of his wife’s family, and pictures of all the siblings’ confirmation classes are on the walls of Beth Chaim.
Dr. Gabe’s Foods is truly a family affair; in addition to Shaun, who handles business strategy, marketing, and operations, their mother, Sari of Rockland County, NY — who maintains a private nutrition practice in Bergen County — serves as vice president-nutrition.
“It is a tripartite business,” said Gabe: “her nutrition lens, my endocrinology lens, and Shaun’s business contribution. It is like a small family business where each lends a certain specialty.”