How a meal prep service might save your sanity.
Having a busy family life does not mean you have to sacrifice family time around the dinner table. But when full schedules force recipe searching and grocery shopping to the bottom of your to-do list, dinnertime can devolve into a series of too many unhealthy take-out meals.
Aleksandra (Aleks) Till launched Homegrown Foods five years ago because eating out and frequent trips to the grocery store isn’t an option for many families with little kids. Till started her meal kit delivery business as a mom for moms. “I have three young kids and I just believe that making cooking at home easier for people is super important,” Till says. “We are all so busy these days, and eating wholesome meals is important.”
Till has been cooking her whole life and when she became a mom, she began hearing so many other moms say they went from “liking” to cook to “having” to cook. So when her brother-in-law was visiting from Sweden and talked about the idea of meal kits taking off in that country, Till thought it was a good idea and that somebody should do that here. Little did this trained graphic designer know at the time that she would transition to become a successful business owner of a meal kit delivery service.
To start out, Till knew she’d need access to a commercial kitchen. “A lot of food businesses in the Twin Cities look for incubator kitchens, a space to hang your hat,” Till says. Her research led her to discover that Agra Culture provides promissory space to people like her and that’s where Till preps and assembles her meal kits each week. “What I love about [Agra Culture] is how close it is to home and that we share the same emphasis on an organic, clean and sustainable philosophy. We care about people being healthy.”
How It Works
Till started out doing everything herself, including designing the website. That worked fine when she was getting six orders each week. Now, with 75-100 orders per week, Till has two people helping her prepare and package the meal kits although Till still maintains the website and writes all of the site’s blog posts on topics like “How to clean a burned pan” or “How to make macrobiotic baby food.”
Till plans the website’s ordering menus and customers simply set their preferences online or select specific meals to suit their family’s tastes. Till and her helpers shop, portion and pack the orders for delivery by 5 p.m. each Wednesday. “We have couriers deliver on Wednesdays because it ensures the freshest ingredients,” Till says. “If we delivered on Mondays, your packed meals would have been sitting around over the weekend.”
Till dissects each recipe into all of the parts you would have to dig for in your kitchen pantry. Every spice mix and dressing is prepared from scratch. “We portion and label the ingredients and then pack it up. We’ve honed in on the process,” she says, emphasizing that people can order whatever they want. There is no strict menu. Her job is to be accurate and efficient.
Till also values fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. “In the summertime, I shop at the farmers’ market to get as much local produce as I can, to support people in our communities since that’s their livelihood,” says Till. “My customers can’t always get to a farmers’ market so they value that.”
Lindsay Cisewski of Edina has tried several meal prep services and was excited to hear about a local company that uses locally sourced and organic ingredients. Her family of four (two adults and two children under age 5) once enjoyed Till’s service for six weeks straight during a time when they had a lot going on. “It was a real sanity saver,” Cisewski says. “Now we order whenever we have a particularly busy week. The ordering process is a piece of cake since it’s all online and you can customize it to your family’s preferences. The food comes in an insulated bag and cooler with each recipe in its own bag. All of the instructions are included which makes preparation very easy. The recipes are family-friendly, but also unique. We’ve tried a ton of the recipes and they have all been excellent! They usually take 30 minutes to one hour to prepare from start to finish.”
Megan Butler of Edina has tried a national meal prep company that she says was convenient but that she didn’t like throwing away all the extra packaging. She discovered Homegrown Foods at the Linden Hills Farmers’ Market. She says, “I think you have to enjoy cooking at least a little bit to enjoy Homegrown Foods. The instructions are clear and the meals are easy to prepare but sometimes Aleks takes me out of my comfort zone with some of the preparation techniques—this is good for me as I don’t want to be in cooking ruts.” Experimenting with meal prep is also a fun way to get older kids involved in the kitchen helping to prepare meals or even making their own meals. Butler also notes that it’s easy to determine when ordering which meals might take more time. So if it’s a super busy week, she selects meals that are easier to prepare or can be made in a slow cooker.
Till says her approach is worth the work. She likes to create comfort foods from around the world—dishes that are familiar but interesting. She always incorporates vegetables. “I have little kids and understand the importance of sneaking in those veggies,” says Till.
Some recipes (there are over 400 available on her website) have been tested up to five times. “I get frustrated when [a recipe] isn’t right. It stinks when you work hard and it doesn’t turn out.” But because Till understands that failure in the kitchen is why many people hate to cook, she won’t put a dish on her menu unless it’s right.
Some of Till’s favorite menu items include spinach ricotta cannelloni, greek-style swiss chard rolls, chicken paprikash, green vegetable cashew stir fry and lobster bisque. Each of Till’s recipes are her own, not anything pilfered from the likes of Julia Child.
Cisewski says, “[The recipes] put you outside your normal go-to dishes and it’s so much fun trying new things we might not have otherwise chosen ourselves.”
Butler’s daughter’s favorites are the tomato soup in summer and the chicken pot pie during colder months. “It’s really nice to have meals that reflect the seasons and have minimal extra packaging,” Butler says. “Since it’s a local company, Homegrown Foods actually makes me feel more connected to my community.”
Till seems to have found the right balance of quality and convenience for her customers. “I know my meal kit service is something that many customers have said saves their marriage,” says Till. “They no longer argue about who’s cooking dinner and what they are making.” And although Till would love to further expand her business, she also notes that she doesn’t envy those national business models. Just like many neighborhood restaurants never become chains, when it comes to scale, Till says, “There’s nothing wrong with being a small company that serves the local community.”