For incessantly busy working and stay-at-home moms, unboxing Blue Apron and Hello Fresh meals is like getting a birthday present. No list making, no grocery shopping, no coming up with something that isn’t grilled cheese again tonight — no measuring, even. Just snipping packages and following instructions. End result: fewer dishes, quicker prep times, and a delicious, healthy meal we don’t have to feel guilty about (like, at all).
If you’re the chief meal-planner, grocery-shopper, and dishwasher-loader in your household, nights like this sound like a dream come true. But, for the 32 million Americans with food allergies and their families, these pre-measured perfect meals are an illusion.
Local mom Angie Nelson is aiming to change that with Safer Plate, a meal prep service free of the nine top allergens. Six years ago, her son had a reaction to peanut butter at six months old. Further testing revealed that he was also allergic to tree nuts, eggs, and milk. “The diagnosis rocked my world and changed mealtime for my family,” Nelson says. “I was breastfeeding at the time, so I too had to eliminate these items from my diet.”
Daunting, overwhelming, alienating.
“I grew tired of spending hours in the grocery store reading every label and trying to come up with recipes that my whole family would enjoy,” she says. And, while allergy-friendly snacks have proliferated in recent years, we can’t subside on snacks alone. “What’s lacking is a convenient meal solution that tastes great,” Nelson says.
She longed for a solution that could ease the burden of shopping, prepping, and meal planning. “I loved the concept of letting someone else do the meal planning and the convenience that came with it,” she says. But with cross-contamination a high risk in existing meal kit services, she didn’t feel comfortable ordering for her family.
Despite the extreme prevalence of food allergies — some 85 million US consumers shopping for allergy-friendly products for themselves, family, or friends — there are no other meal kit companies that are free of the top nine allergens with a dedicated facility (to eliminate cross contamination risk). Nelson also notes that “if you walk through the frozen aisles of the grocery store, there are very limited single serving meals that do not contain top allergens.”
From this struggle, Safer Plate was born.
“The ADA considers food allergies a disability, yet it is difficult for families like mine to find safe food options in grocery stores, event centers, airports, hospitals, malls — you name it,” Nelson says.
I, myself, remember the struggle well. I was allergic to dairy for the first 10 years of my life, and allergy-friendly options like oat and almond milk weren’t widely available in the early aughts, so soy was our sole option — and not offered many places. My parents toted containers of dairy-free meals and snacks to parties, malls, and friends’ houses to guarantee I had a safe meal.
“Our goal at Safer Plate is to be the solution by offering our meals anywhere and everywhere you would eat to normalize allergy-friendly food and help those who have felt left out [to] feel seen, understood, and welcome, ”Nelson says.
The top nine allergens include: peanuts, tree nuts *, shellfish, seafood / fish, milk, gluten, egg, soy, and sesame. (* But Safer Plate meals down include coconut.)
So, with all those allergens out of the way, what edibles are left on the list? “It’s amazing how many things you can eat, ”Nelson says. “Meat, rice, fresh vegetables and fruits, [and] gluten free pastas are some of the many ingredients we can incorporate into our meals. “
Chefs at Safer Plate thoroughly research each ingredient to ensure it’s free of those top nine, and any products entering the facility where meals are prepared are required to be free of those top nine to eliminate potential of cross-contamination. Each food and ingredient entering the facility has to be SQF (Safe Quality Food) Certified, which means they have documented cleaning and allergen testing procedures in place.
After deep-dive research on ingredients, the Safer Plate chefs create meals free of these top allergy categories. Think: oven fried chicken with JoJo potatoes and ranch dip, crispy maple mustard chicken, Mongolian beef, sweet and sour orange chicken, and chicken alfredo rotini, which is a heat-and-eat meal.
And say goodbye to prepping separate meals for allergies. “We aim to please everyone, not just those with allergies and intolerances,” Nelson says. “With their experience and skill set, [the chefs] can create the most flavorful and delicious meals. “
Set apart from other boxed meal services, Safer Plate is a non-subscription company. “We understand weekly needs change, and we don’t want people to feel tied down to a plan,” Nelson says. “You can order as much or as little as you’d like.”
The menu refreshes weekly, but standard offerings like soups and individually prepared meals are always available. Meals ship on Tuesdays and are typically delivered on Wednesdays and Thursdays. “I personally find the cost worth it, knowing how much time it saves me every week from reading every label at the grocery store and trying to come up with new dinner ideas,” Nelson says. “Not to mention, there is very little waste, as we send the exact amount of ingredients that are needed to prepare a meal.”