Angie Nelson’s son Liam was just six months old when he was diagnosed with food allergies. It was jarring news for the Maple Grove family that loved to cook together in the kitchen.
“We felt overwhelmed and alienated,” said Nelson. “It was very difficult to find safe ingredients.”
Nelson dutifully scoured items at the grocery store to make sure that they wouldn’t make her son sick, but as the world went into lockdown and she started ordering her groceries online, the task grew exponentially harder.
“I thought, why aren’t there more options for families like mine?” said Nelson.
Rather than wait for someone else to provide a solution, Nelson took the reins and launched Safer Plate, a meal kit service that provides ingredients to create tasty meals at home while avoiding the top nine food allergens including peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, seafood, shellfish, and sesame. Safer Plate launched in July 2021 in a 4,000 square foot space in Eden Prairie.
“I didn’t do it alone,” said Nelson who gives credit to her entrepreneurial father-in-law Tom Nelson for helping her make important business connections and chef Gilbert Junge for coming aboard to develop their menus.
Junge came to Safer Plate after several years as an enterprise executive chef at Mayo Clinic. Working in the healthcare field, Junge said he saw a need for allergen-free meals. “There’s such a lack of options for this community,” he said.
Last February, Safer Plate did a four-week pilot of their meal kit service. Since then, they’ve made their headquarters in Eden Prairie’s Shady View Business Center while continuing to develop and test their recipes. Today, Safer Plate delivers meals to five states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa) and Junge said they are preparing to add Illinois “within the month.”
Safer Plate currently offers more than 60 meal kits. Among the most popular are the pasta dishes and Asian meals, said Nelson. Their top seller is the kid-friendly oven-fried chicken with jojo potatoes. Nelson’s personal favorite is the lemon caper chicken.
“The food has been incredibly delicious,” said Nelson. And that’s a major goal – to make sure the food is tasty, despite restrictions.
“We’re trying to get rid of the stigma of food allergies,” she said.
“We don’t want anyone to feel isolated,” Nelson continued. “We want to create positive relationships with food because life is surrounded by food.”
Safe and tasty
The food is designed to appeal to more than just those with food allergies. “The food is good, it’s tasty,” said Junge, who has enjoyed the challenge of creating meals “that everyone in the family can enjoy.”
So far, the feedback from customers has been positive. “People have emailed me saying, ‘You’ve changed my life,’” offered Nelson.
“I get it,” she said. “It’s a big relief.”
Last November, Junge was able to deliver an allergen-free pumpkin pie to a family whose 20-year-old daughter had never been able to eat the Thanksgiving staple due to her restrictions. It was a moment of particular pride for the Safer Plate team.
“It energizes us to keep going,” said Nelson.
This February, Safer Plate is planning to launch their ready-to-eat foods with completely prepared, heat-and-eat meals. They are also working toward achieving gluten-free certification. And with each new state added to their delivery options, their 4,000 square foot space seems smaller.
“We’re already looking at expanding our physical space,” said Junge.
“We’re excited to one day be national,” said Nelson.
Until then, she is proud to have a growing cache of meals that give her son choices. “I love that he can pick anything he wants off the menu and feel included, feel part of the group.”