EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Angie Nelson and her husband have always known their way around the kitchen, but she never imagined she'd have to revamp her entire cooking repertoire for the safety of her family. The birth of her first child, Liam, changed everything.
When Liam was six months old, he was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and milk.
"That was a really overwhelming and difficult time for my husband and I," said Nelson. "We typically love to cook, but [it was hard] with those restrictions, and trying to make the food delicious and exciting."
Nelson said the experience was isolating, but she soon realized she wasn't alone. Liam is one of the 32 million Americans who live with food allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Nelson found comfort in what she describes as a "tight-knit" community of other families experiencing the same thing--many, for whom eating out, ordering take-out, or ordering from a meal kit delivery services wasn't an option.
"There’s really no easy button for food allergy families, managing these things," Nelson said. "It is really straining on the family. It’s overwhelming. And we really want to give families just the opportunity to press that easy button and get food delivered to their door that’s safe and delicious."
That's how Safer Plate was born. Nelson partnered with her father-in-law, COO Tom Nelson, Executive Chef Gilbert Junge, and a nutritionist to create a variety of flavorful meals that are free from the top nine allergens: peanuts, tree nuts (except coconut), egg, soy, milk, wheat, sesame, shellfish, and fish. Those ingredients never even enter the kitchen.
This month, the business expanded from Minnesota to also serve families in Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas. Within weeks, they will serve Illinois as well.
Families can order from the Safer Plate website to choose what they'd like to order from week-by-week menus, that come in 2- or 4-serving packages. Families can order as much or as little as they want, and the meals will be shipped to them via FedEx.
Nelson said the response has been overwhelming.
"To just get the feedback from people that we’ve changed their life or that we’ve made life simpler...it really warms my heart and just makes me feel so excited about what we’re doing now and what we can be doing in the future," she said.
Chef Junge, who used to serve as an executive chef at Mayo Clinic, is used to serving patients with different medical needs. He says he enjoys working for a company that is founded on inclusivity.
"When I grew up, I remember my fondest memories were having meals with my family, and everyone was included," Junge said.
Safer Plate meal samples
In the kitchen, Junge works with another chef as well as a dietitian.
"When we look at our recipes and menus, we know what we have to avoid but then we really get creative and think of what we want to bring in," said Junge. "And then we have to procure the items...if we're going to buy from a company, we have to review if the [product] has ever come into contamination with the allergens we are trying to avoid."
The meals are geared towards home cooks, not professional chefs, and they come with easy-to-follow instructions.
Nelson says she's happy that her son Liam can finally enjoy a variety of meals.
"I don’t think he truly gets it but I know that’s one thing that also gives me a lot of joy, is having him see his mom develop something and work on something so passionately that helps people," she said. "I think someday he’s going to appreciate that even more than I’ll know."
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