This food bank takes a HelloFresh approach to its pantry

Inspired by the popularity of meal kit services, pantry assistants in Madison, Wisconsin, have created step-by-step kits that combine basic food pantry ingredients with creative recipe cards.

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Madison’s Fritz Food Pantry prides itself on offering a wide variety of foods and ingredients to accommodate as many diets, allergies and food preferences as possible. Their approach is not just about continuity. The pandemic has exacerbated the hunger crisis. Food pantries like The Fritz have also found a significant impact on the health of their customers’ diets.

But just because the variety of healthy foods and ingredients is on offer, not every visitor can put together a recipe at home. So volunteer-turned-part-time pantry assistant Abby Warfel came up with the idea of ​​building a step-by-step HelloFresh-inspired meal kit.

“Many of our customers don’t have time, right? Creative meal planning takes energy, but we all want to cook delicious meals for our families,” Warfel says. “So meal kits seemed like a really good tool for them. We’re working on it.” She saw the kit as a way to add to that.

Warfel’s original idea to encourage customers to cook with pantry ingredients was to place to-go recipe cards on pantry shelves next to meal staples such as nutritious casseroles. However, the recipe card failed and her customers didn’t receive it the way she expected. Warfel then had the idea that by bundling recipe ingredients into meal kits, she would eliminate the process of “buying” recipe ingredients.

When Warfel assembled the first 25 kits for Shepard’s Pie earlier this year, they flew off store shelves and were a huge success.

A food pantry customer near Fitchburg, Jim built one of the original 25 kits and loved it. “It was really easy to follow and put together. Once you’ve made the meat mixture, add the veggies and put the mashed potatoes on top. It was a piece of cake,” he says. “The recipe was so easy that I could make it with my eyes closed.”

Meal kits are simple, with the necessary ingredients packed in a brown paper bag and a printed recipe card stapled to the outside. The goal of Warfel’s kits is not just to use up items and ingredients that are readily available at the time, but to create easy and flexible recipes.

“The most recent kit we made was for sheet pan roasted chicken and vegetables,” she says. She wrote step-by-step recipes incorporating substitutions and additional options. “If you want something other than chicken thighs, you can get chickpeas or canned chickpeas instead.

So far, the meal kits are beginning to add a sense of community to the pantry, just as Warfel hoped. The Shepherd’s Pie recipe piqued the interest of some of the Pantry’s Spanish-speaking customers. “Some people were like, ‘No, thank you,’ but others were like, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try.'”

This customer response prompted Warfel to come up with a third idea. “That made me think that I needed to think more broadly,” says Warfel. “I want all my customers to feel valued and value other customers and their experiences. I think food is a great window into other people’s cultures. increase.”

The kit comes with instructions in both English and Spanish, but Pantry’s clientele is more diverse than that. Warfel describes The Fritz as the most diverse place he’s encountered in Madison. “There are people of all ages, from young families to seniors, and a wide variety of ethnic and cultural traditions. We’re starting to collect recipes from some of our customers,” she explains. “For example, there have been a lot of immigrants recently from different countries in Latin America. I don’t know much about Colombian cuisine, but my customers do.”

It’s also thanks to these efforts that customers like Jim find support in the Pantry community during difficult times.

After the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic forced him and his family to use the pantry, he said, “We met people and it became like a small community. I’m the one struggling.” Not only can you see other people do the same, you can share stories and get to know other people’s lives,” he says. “By going to Panty and getting the items you need, your world expands.”

In addition to helping Jim’s finances during difficult times, you can also maximize your resources to cook a meal for your neighbor who has muscular dystrophy.

Soon, Jim may be cooking Colombian and Persian dishes for his family and neighbors, thanks to Warfel’s expanded menu of internationally-influenced meal kits.

Cinnamon Janzer is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. Her work has been featured in National Geographic, US News & World Report,, and more. She holds a social her master’s degree in design, specializing in interventional design, from her College of Art, Maryland Her Institute, and a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and fine arts from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. .

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