Metro-East News

Highland business helps metro-east residents eat healthy without having to cook

A former body builder has turned her lifestyle of healthy eating into a business.

Kristine Overacker is the owner of Ruck Sack Meals, a meal planning and preparation service in Highland. She and chef Chase Overacker make hundreds of meals each week for people who are too busy to cook or trying to lose weight, or those with special dietary needs.

“They order it online and then we cook it, package it and deliver it,” she said. “Or they can pick it up at one of our free pick-up locations.”

Last week’s meals included island shrimp with cilantro-lime-coconut rice and a grilled-squash medley; chicken margarita over gluten-free, yellow-lentil penne with broccoli; and grilled sirloin with Parmesan cream sauce on the side, grilled asparagus and tri-color potatoes.

Some meals are customized to meet individual needs and tastes of customers, such as Brad Crow, 56, of Salem. He found out about the service from a flyer at a Centralia gym.

Brad was busy with two jobs, working as a 911 dispatcher and managing a car wash, when he began ordering individual meals last fall.

“I was doing everything else right,” he said. “I was running and doing CrossFit, but I was struggling with the nutrition part, and you can’t really get the best returns with just working out.”

Today, Brad has a customized meal plan with 28 meals a week (four a day) that can be stored in the refrigerator and heated at home or work. Kristine comes up with menus that provide plenty of complex carbohydrates and proteins, per his request.

“I need structure, and this gives it to me,” Brad said.

Kristine Overacker, left, is the owner of Ruck Sack Meals in Highland. She hired her ex-husband, Chase Overacker, because “he’s the best chef I know,” she said. Teri Maddox

Owner hired ex-husband as chef

Kristine, 35, of Glen Carbon, worked in sales and accounting after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. She never worked in a restaurant or any type of food service.

“I was into body-building, and I would meal prep for myself, and other people would ask me to meal prep for them, but I would always turn them down because I was working 40 hours a week and spending another 12 hours on my own meal prep on weekends,” she said.

Kristine stuck to a “clean” diet with lean proteins, low salt, few sauces or oils and no preservatives or processed foods. She weighed portions in grams to get an exact number of calories each day.

Kristine founded Ruck Sack Meals nearly two years ago in her home before renting half the lower level of an 1880s brick home in Highland. Then she hired Chase, her ex-husband, to run the commercial kitchen.

“I thought, ‘He’s the best chef I know, so I might as well give him a call,’” she said.

Chase, 37, of rural Edwardsville, grew up in Tennessee with a grandmother who specialized in “Southern comfort food.” He became a cook in the Marine Corps at age 17, followed by a short stint with security in Uzbekistan, where he met Kristine.

The name “Ruck Sack Meals” is a reference to a military backpack.

Chase later worked as a chef at St. Louis restaurants such as The Purple Martin, Rue Lafayette and The Shaved Duck. He had to change some of his culinary habits to prepare healthier meals for Ruck Sack. Today, he’s a walking advertisement.

“When I started here, I weighed about 290 pounds,” he said. “I’ve lost about 100 pounds, mainly from eating clean food.”

Kristine Overacker was a body builder when she started preparing and packaging healthy meals for herself. Now she does it for other people, too. Provided

Children help with the business

The Overackers have two children, Isaac, 16, and Samantha, 13, who help with everything from washing dishes to portioning meals during the summer.

Ruck Sack delivers to pick-up locations, mostly fitness centers, in Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, O’Fallon, Collinsville, Trenton, Alton, Scott Air Force Base, Breese, Centralia, Greenville and Salem at no charge. Home delivery costs $5 to $10, depending on the city.

Customers can also buy “grab-and-go” meals at Maryville Farmers Market, some fitness centers and a boutique called No Jack, It’s a Jill Thing, next door to Ruck Sack.

“Our containers are made of plant fiber, and the lids are made of corn, so it’s all compostable, and they can be microwaved or heated up in the oven,” Kristine said. “The meals can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to four months.”

The Ruck Sack menu changes every six to eight weeks, but it always includes vegetarian and vegan options. Beef, pork and lamb come from local farms. Most online meals cost $8 to $10.

“With custom orders, we give them a list of our commonly-used ingredients, and they tell us what they don’t like,” Kristine said. “So we build their meals for the whole week based on that. ... It’s great for new dieters. They don’t have to think. They don’t have to count calories or weigh anything.”

Kristine donates one meal to St. Patrick Center in St. Louis or Highland Area Christian Service Ministry Food Pantry for every meal ordered by customers on the first day of each month.

The idea is to help people in need, but also to give back to a community that has supported her entrepreneurial efforts.

“I had $150 to buy my first week of groceries for meal prep, and that $150 basically turned into $100,000 in sales my first year,” she said.

Chase Overacker cuts veggies for a bok-choy stir fry at Ruck Sack Meals in Highland. He honed his culinary skills as a Marine Corps cook and restaurant chef. Teri Maddox
Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.