Heart Check Logo 300dpiThe online meal planning service DinnerTime is making it easier to build a heart-healthy diet. The company now identifies products with the Heart-Check mark. It’s the familiar symbol on food packages that indicates a particular food meets the nutrition requirements of the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Food Certification Program.

The relationship has the potential to help many people, said Charles Moore, who co-founded the Baltimore-based company with his wife, Laura, the company’s chief executive officer.

“DinnerTime was conceived to help families do what they intend to do: eat healthier and more frequently with their family members at home,” he said.

The subscription-based service provides nutritional information for the meals it recommends. Heart-healthy recipes provided by the AHA have also been incorporated into the web-based program.

Research supports the health benefits of home cooking. A 2014 study found that adults who ate home-cooked meals six to seven times a week consumed almost 140 fewer calories a day than those eating at home once a week or not at all. Eating more meals at home also led to eating less fat and sugar.

A 2015 study found that family meals during adolescence were associated with lower chances of becoming overweight or obese a decade later, compared with adolescents who never had family meals.

Meal planning is an important part of healthy eating, said Alisha Farris, Ph.D., a Childhood Obesity Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech.

“You probably won’t be able to make sure you have all the food groups if you haven’t planned ahead of time,” she said. Meals in general should include a vegetable, fruit, whole grains, lean meats or beans.

“If you don’t have a plan and you’re stressed out, it’s so much easier to stop by and pick up fast food — something that’s not optimal for health,” Farris said.

In addition to helping busy parents, DinnerTime can also tailor meals to families who have someone with specific health concerns such as heart disease, diabetes or gout, said Charles.

Although “docs give people good advice” when diagnosing heart disease or other conditions, people sometimes walk away not knowing how to change their eating habits, Laura said.

The concept for the company, founded nearly three years ago, came from Laura’s struggles to feed her own extended family. Her brother, who has diabetes, lives with the couple, as do her in-laws half of the year.

“The idea came out of my personal pain, the chore I had every day,” Laura said. She said most people want to eat healthy, but don’t know how.

Subscribers can personalize their meal plan according to their calendars, such as an easy meal for soccer practice nights or a more elaborate meal for special occasions, she said.

The service uses “a tremendous amount of math and data” to create personalized plans that take into account personal tastes, time concerns, allergies, cooking skills and food costs, said Charles. The system gets “smarter” as subscribers enter more information.

The company monitors sales at grocery stores and applies it to its subscribers’ menu plans. “We know that salmon is on sale this week, flounder next week,” he said.

DinnerTime subscribers pay $89 a year, and receive weekly grocery lists, recipes and meal plans. The service is provided for free by some employers as an employee benefit.