It’s a Monday morning in the Wellness Kitchen at East Campus’ Recreation and Wellness Center, and dozens of grocery bags are teeming with colorful ingredients waiting to be sorted and prepped for Meal Kit Mondays.
Offered by Campus Recreation for faculty, staff, students and the public, the program provides an opportunity to order a meal kit for $15. Initially offered monthly when launched in 2018, Meal Kit Mondays are now the first and third Monday of each month, with three different menu selections.
As preparation starts, Brenna Schmader, nutrition education coordinator, lays out stacks of recipe cards and a spreadsheet of orders. Schmader, along with Brenna Mazour and Meredith Brandt, both student workers with the Wellness Kitchen, get to work folding small white container boxes before organizing the groceries into individual orders.
The menu choices they’re working on are pasta primavera; chicken, black bean and vegetable enchiladas; and bean and sweet potato breakfast hash. Schmader, Mazour and Brandt are measuring penne servings, counting wheat tortilla shells, weighing chicken pieces and separating out fresh greens. Topping off each kit is a recipe card, complete with nutrition information.
Each meal option is carefully chosen by Schmader, a registered dietician, to be quick and nutritious — and also delicious.
“I take inspiration from a lot of places, and I like to cook myself,” Schmader said. “We have a backlog of recipes, but I also like to find new ones, and as a dietician, I can take a recipe and make a swap if needed.
“All the recipes we’ve selected are balanced meals, so throughout the entire menu, we incorporate all the different food groups and also have a vegetarian option.”
Meal Kit Mondays have become a campus staple for busy faculty, staff and students who want a healthy meal without the planning and shopping. The program was launched on the heels of delivered meal kits flooding the market and the airwaves. But those kits are often expensive and onerous, with auto-shipments needing to be canceled and the added worry about deliveries with food that could spoil.
Meal Kit Mondays sidestepped those issues and made the meals more affordable. At $15 per kit that feeds four, the cost of a serving is $3.75, with no delivery fees, compared to an average of $9 per serving among the leading meal kit delivery companies.
“Those meal kits tend to be more expensive and less accessible, especially to our student population,” Schmader said. “All of our recipes take an hour or less to make, and they can pick it up on campus, so it’s close by. People often order multiple kits, and half of their shopping and planning is done for the week.”
Customers pick up their orders at the Wellness Kitchen between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., which also adds an opportunity for any questions about prep to be answered.
Meal Kit Mondays were paused by COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. Over the past year and a half, orders have ticked back up, but Schmader would like to see more take advantage of the program, and possibly make it a weekly offering.
Mazour, a senior psychology major enrolled in the pre-dietetics program, often does the grocery shopping, prep and is on hand for the customer pickups. As a high schooler, she began having health issues related to food, and went on an odyssey of sorts, learning all she could about nutrition and meal planning. Now, she’s an ace at planning, shopping and cooking for herself and wanted to turn that into a career.
“I want to go into nutritional therapy, and this work gives me a good background in that,” Mazour, a Lincoln native, said. “I cook all of my own meals and have a spreadsheet myself for all the recipes I want to do in a month, and I love to organize, so it doesn’t even feel like work. I just enjoy it.”
Mazour has also led CookWell Classes, which are monthly interactive classes that expand culinary skills and nutrition knowledge, while allowing an opportunity to cook with others.
“It was nerve-wracking at first, but honestly, it’s really fun time, where everyone is relaxed and having fun, and we get to make a great meal,” Mazour said.
The Wellness Kitchen will offer its next CookWell class at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 15. Additionally, group classes can be requested, on a sliding fee, depending on the recipes and number of participants.
Kit menus can be viewed and ordered for Meal Kit Mondays online. The next offering is Aug. 15, with orders due by Aug. 10. The menus available are baked southwest chicken casserole, egg roll skillet or vegan BBQ tofu bowls.
To learn more about all the programs the Wellness Kitchen provides, including nutritional consultations and classes, visit the Wellness Kitchen website.