11/21/2012 01:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Thanksgiving the Fresh 20 Way: Melissa Lanz's Healthy Food Revolution

Melissa Lanz calls herself a serial entrepreneur, a writer and a cook. Her website states, "Health and happiness in all things is my mojo. Business is my passion." Formerly an Internet brand consultant for Fortune 100 companies, Lanz founded The Fresh 20 two years ago. Her life had become very routine -- fast food, overwork, sleep deprivation. She was given two days' notice for a business trip to Europe and her boss was astounded to learn that Melissa might not be able to make arrangements for her kids that quickly. He had no idea she had two small children. Why? Because in the society we live in, we keep anything out of the spotlight that might potentially slow us down in the workplace. "I was working long hours and making poor nutrition decisions based on lack of time," Melissa told me. "My children were toddlers and I realized that they were starting to watch my eating habits. It was time for a healthier family food culture in my home."

That was Melissa's breakthrough moment when she realized that her job was not serving her, she was serving it, and she needed to stop and breathe. She took stock of who she was and where she was at and she realized that she was happiest in the kitchen, creating healthy meals for her family. She was also well aware that strong communities were being built online. "After searching for time saving solutions on the web, I couldn't find a service that helped plan healthy food. At the time, everyone was focusing on getting it done quick without a major concern for nutrition. I wanted both, so The Fresh 20 was born."

Melissa saw that there was a real benefit she could provide for stressed-out parents like herself with a thoughtful meal plan that creates five delicious, budget-friendly, and healthy dinners out of just 20 ingredients each week, thus the name The Fresh 20. The meal plans (which include both a vegetarian and a gluten-free option) are published every Friday and subscribers are encouraged to go to the local farmer's market with their families on the weekend to buy the ingredients. They are given a step-by-step guide on how to prepare the meals every week and each complete meal takes less than 30 minutes to pull together.

The Fresh 20, in addition to a thrifty and easy meal plan, encourages parents to involve children not just in the process of shopping for the food, but also in food preparation and clearing a space for a sit-down mealtime every night. Melissa feels that this is a way to place better health front and center in the family food culture.

One of the main philosophies of The Fresh 20 is making dinner a destination instead of something that is rushed through on the way to prime time TV and internet surfing. The best information exchange happens around the family dinner table where children participate as equals. Health and happiness start in the kitchen and dinner time is a vital part of the equation. The Fresh 20 is about preparing dinner just as much as eating together.

To address the changing needs and food sensitivities of our families, Melissa created three plans that a subscriber can opt in for: classic, vegetarian, or gluten-free. "The Fresh 20 works because the cooking uses unprocessed food and stays fresh," she says. "The number one irritant to allergies is processed food products, additives and chemicals." Once processed food is removed from the daily diet, she maintains, "it gets easier to hear what our bodies crave when we eliminate the junk."

As we head into the holiday season, with Thanksgiving this week and Christmas and Hanukkah following soon after, what does Melissa suggest for how to handle these overeating extravaganzas: "Don't overbuy. There is so much food waste at the holidays. Plan ahead and consider making sensible portions for guests to discourage over stuffing. Try to create a menu that is light and step away from some of the more heavy traditional items laden with cream and butter." The Fresh 20 has some great suggestions for Thanksgiving cooking and preparation.


Trent Lanz Photography, Used With Permission


"Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Food, family and friends gathered around a table. Is there anything better? Note to husband: Football and beer do not count as better. For years, I searched for the newest Turkey day craze spending hours and hours reading fall issues of cooking magazines. I know people still get excited about deep fried turkey and tur-duck-en, but I have returned to the simpler ways of Thanksgiving relying on simple ingredients and a genuine love of cooking healthy, delicious food." - Melissa Lanz

The Fresh 20 plan is a very affordable $15 for three months, or $49 per year for an annual subscription. It also provides a list of 20 cooking essentials to keep on hand as staples. Check the Facebook page on Black Friday weekend through to Cyber Monday for special 50 percent off gift certificates for annual subscriptions. Harper Collins will publish her first Fresh 20 cookbook in April and it can be pre-ordered via Amazon.

For more by Holly Cara Price, click here.

For more on Thanksgiving, click here.