It’s a Monday morning in the Wellness Kitchen at the East Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, and dozens of grocery bags are brimming with colorful ingredients waiting to be sorted and prepared for Meal Kit Mondays.
Offered by Campus Recreation for faculty, staff, students and the public, the program provides the opportunity to order a $15 meal kit. Initially offered monthly when it launched in 2018, Meal Kit Mondays are now the first and third Mondays of each month, with three different menu selections.
As prep begins, nutrition education coordinator Brenna Schmader lays out stacks of recipe cards and an ordering spreadsheet. Schmader, along with Brenna Mazour and Meredith Brandt, both student workers at the Wellness Kitchen, get to work folding small white boxes before organizing purchases into individual orders.
The menu options they are working on are spring pasta; chicken, black bean and vegetable enchiladas; and hash beans and sweet potatoes for breakfast. Schmader, Mazour, and Brandt are measuring penne portions, counting wheat tortillas, weighing chicken pieces, and separating fresh vegetables. Completing each kit is a recipe card, complete with nutritional information.
Schmader, a registered dietitian, carefully chooses each meal option to be quick and nutritious, as well as delicious.
“I get inspiration from a lot of places and I like to cook for myself,” Schmader said. “We have a backlog of recipes, but I also like to find new ones, and as a dietitian, I can take a recipe and swap if needed.
“All the recipes we have selected are balanced meals, so throughout the menu, we incorporate all the different food groups and we 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 the delivered meal kits flooding the market and the airwaves. But those kits are often costly and burdensome, with auto shipments having to be canceled and the added worry of deliveries with food that could spoil.
Meal Kit Mondays sidestepped those issues and made meals more affordable. At $15 per kit that feeds four people, the cost of a serving is $3.75, excluding delivery charges, compared to an average of $9 per serving among major meal kit delivery companies.
“Those meal kits tend to be more expensive and less accessible, especially for our student population,” Schmader said. “All of our recipes take an hour or less to prepare, and they can be picked up on campus, so it’s close. 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 pm, which also provides an opportunity to answer any questions about the preparation.
Meal Kit Mondays were paused for COVID-19-19 stops due to pandemic. Over the last year and a half, orders have increased again, but Schmader would like to see more take advantage of the show and possibly make it a weekly deal.
Mazour, a psychology senior enrolled in the pre-diet program, often does the grocery shopping, prepping, and is available for customer pickups. As a high school student, he started having food-related health problems and went on something of an odyssey, learning everything he could about nutrition and meal planning. Now, she is an ace at planning, shopping and cooking for herself and she wanted to turn that into a career.
“I want to get into nutrition therapy, and this job gives me a good foundation in that,” said Mazour, a Lincoln native. “I cook all my meals and I have a spreadsheet for all the recipes I want to make 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 providing the opportunity to cook with others.
“It was stressful at first, but honestly, it’s a really fun time, where everyone is relaxed and having fun, and we get to have a great meal,” Mazour said.
The Wellness Kitchen will host its next CookWell class at 5:30 pm on September 15. In addition, group classes can be requested, with a variable rate, depending on the recipes and the number of participants.
Kit menus can be viewed and ordered online for Meal Kit Mondays. The next sale is August 15, and orders are due August 10. Available menus are Southwest Baked Chicken Casserole, Egg Roll Skillet, or Vegan. barbecue tofu bowls.
To learn more about all the programs the Wellness Kitchen offers, including nutritional consultations and classes, visit the Wellness Kitchen website.