Shipped-to-home meal kits like HelloFresh and Blue Apron have become notorious for popping up in podcasts and YouTube ads, wiggling their way into the homes of busy families who want a meal more wholesome than running through the drive-thru again. While these boxes are popular, the costs can be extreme. The University of Nebraska has an alternative – Meal Kit Mondays advertises healthy, straightforward meals at a reasonable cost.
East Campus Recreation’s Wellness Center’s Meal Kit Mondays program is a spin on the meal subscription service, sans the subscription. Once a month, people can register a few days prior and pick up their $15 meal kit after school or work. The kit provides pre-portioned ingredients for a four-serving meal and a recipe card. The program offers multiple protein and meatless options – October’s meal kit features a choice of ingredients for vegetable paella, crushed peppercorn steak with creamed kale and potato wedges, and harvest skillet chicken with sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts and sautéed apples.
Wellness and Nutrition Education Coordinator Marissa Pakiz, who joined the campus rec team this May, oversees the program and the 30-approximate boxes that are handed off each month.
“This is a good way to both educate, maybe push somebody out of their comfort zone a little bit with a certain recipe, but make it approachable and easy,” Pakiz said. “Just giving them those tangible tools to take steps toward a healthier lifestyle.”
Meal Kit Mondays not only serve aspiring home chefs, but also provide hands-on experience for undergraduates interested in meal planning and dieticians in training. Pakiz works with graduate dietetic interns from the College of Education and Human Sciences, guiding them through Meal Kit Mondays recipes and planning as part of their supervised practice program before sitting for their registered dietician exam.
“It’s a really good experience with quantity food preparation,” Pakiz said. “It’s an opportunity for them to do the math and put together grocery lists and potentially pair up or pair down recipes to fit what we need.”
And the recipes crafted by the interns are not a one-and-done. Michelle Homp, associate professor of practice in the university’s mathematics department, has been a long-time patron of the service, close to its inception in 2018. After her family finishes the meal, she repurposes the recipes, sharing the ease of pre-portioned dinner.
“I saved some of the empty boxes,” Homp said during pick-up for September’s Meal Kit. “I kept some recipes, and I made little Christmas gifts following some of those recipes, and I gave them to friends.”
Homp originally opted to try the program because she had previously tried online meal plans where she had to do the legwork of picking up the ingredients, but life with a job and kids got in the way.
“You get busy,” Homp said. “I had three kids. It was just more helpful to be able to pick something when everything was already there. And it was great. I could have the kids go (prepare the meal). If I was running late, I could just call home and say ‘Okay… start making supper, pick whichever box you want and get started.’ Pretty handy.”
Pakiz said the program has received positive feedback like Homp’s by word-of-mouth, but as she gets more comfortable in her position, she plans to implement evaluation surveys for program growth. Groceries are purchased through Wellness and Nutrition Education’s budget, and the program self-generates a small amount of profit that goes back to fund other programs as well.
Growth within Meal Kit Mondays includes the potential of increasing the frequency of meal pick ups to either every or every other Monday next semester. Homp said she would be interested in extra meal kit days because of their cost-effectiveness and usefulness to her family.
“I have tried a couple that are more expensive, but I like the economical cost of these, and they’ve been good for us,” Homp said.
Painless curation of healthy living is the Wellness Center’s goal, and programs like Meal Kit Monday, according to Pakiz, are successfully helping them reach it.
“Part of our mission statement is supporting the pursuit of a balanced lifestyle within the Lincoln community and within the UNL community,” Pakiz said. “That really is kind of the crux of what this is about – just supporting the pursuit of that healthy lifestyle and giving somebody a very practical and tangible way to get a healthy meal on the table.”