For students and staff at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL), meal prep is made easy with Meal Kit Mondays.
Two Mondays a month, student workers in the wellness and nutrition department sell meal kits on campus, each of which contain pre-portioned ingredients for a meal with four servings.
Student staff began the program in 2019, and it is currently led by UNL’s nutrition education coordinator, Brenna Schmader.
“The main goal of Meal Kit Monday is to provide easy, balanced, nutritious and delicious meals that are quick and easy for students, staff, faculty and community members to whip up,” Schmader said.
The kits sell for $15, and three different options are offered—two with meat and one without. On the next Meal Kit Monday, participants will find the ingredients for a deconstructed chicken pot pie, mini taco pizzas or vegetarian chow mein.
An affordable alternative
The pricing was established with affordability in mind and to provide an alternative to meal prep subscription services like Hello Fresh, which starts at $7.49 a serving, according to the company’s website. Additionally, no subscription is required and participants can purchase as many boxes as desired.
Schmader said that the meal kits can help students save time, which can be particularly helpful for those with a busy schedule.
“They might need to chop a few things or pan-fry a few things, and that meal is ready to go in under an hour,” she said.
To assemble the meal kits, the team starts with finding recipes, which are approved by Schmader, a dietitian, who ensures that the meals are nutritious.
“All of the meals are approved through me, so I can make sure they’re balanced, they’re nutritious, they have at least three food groups,” she said. “Packed with good fruits, good vegetables, lots of fiber, lean protein, low-fat dairy—we’re using oils instead of butter and animal fat, so it’s just a little bit more healthful than what somebody meal prepping independently might find.”
After the recipes are chosen, student staff put together a grocery list and begin the process of putting the boxes together. They start with portioning the dry ingredients and add in any wet or raw ingredients on Monday. The boxes are then ready to be passed out by Monday afternoon.
Recently, the program has seen a jump in participation, according to Schmader.
“For the past 6 months, I’d say, we were averaging anywhere from 15 to 25 [each Monday],"she said. “The word has gotten out a lot more, and so our numbers have been going from like 80 meal kits to over 100 meal kits.”
Right now, the team finds new meals for every Meal Kit Monday, but in the future, Schmader hopes to roll out a 6-month recipe rotation.
Using a 6-month recipe cycle would simplify the process of creating the boxes while still providing variety, she said. She hopes to pilot the rotation in the upcoming spring semester
“Currently and historically, students … would have to make the recipe cards, the grocery list, the recipe costing, do all that from scratch. We have got a ton—a ton—of resources and recipes that are going unused,” Schmader said. “So, I’ve done a little bit of data analysis to try and identify which recipes are the most successful and the most popular, and then created a 6-month cycle from there. So, we don’t have to make all of those new content items every single Meal Kit Monday.”