Angie Nelson struggled for years to find convenient and safe meals to feed her oldest son, who she found out soon after he was born was allergic to a host of common food ingredients including nuts, eggs and milk.
"Over time, I got really burnt out," Nelson said. "Something that I loved to do, cooking, became a chore with so many restrictions and frustrations and trying to make multiple meals at dinner time, one that was safe for my son and one that my husband and I really enjoyed."
To help other families whose members have food allergies, Nelson recently launched Safer Plate, a meal kit delivery service made with food devoid of the top allergens such as milk, eggs, wheat, nuts and fish.
Nelson co-founded the company with her father-in-law, Tom Nelson, who serves as chief operating officer. She partnered with head chef Gilbert Junge, who has previously worked on global menus for critical care patients as a corporate chef for Mayo Clinic, and local dietitian Julie Jasken to create the menus.
The company sent out its first official meals this month. Safer Plate is available for meal kit delivery only in Minnesota, but the company hopes to expand nationwide in the near future.
The goal of Safer Plate is to help families of those with allergies have positive relationships with food and create meal options everyone can enjoy regardless of dietary restrictions.
About 32 million people have food allergies in the United States, or nearly 11% of adults and more than 7% of children, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Eight foods cause most food allergy reactions: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
Safer Plate suppliers and vendors, including those that provide the ingredients and distribute the meals, are Safe Quality Food (SQF) certified.
Customers can choose how many portions and meals per week they would like. About 40 meals or recipes are available, including Szechuan chicken lettuce wraps, Nordic meatballs, tater tot hotdish and fried chicken with macaroni and cheese.
The menu will continue to be updated, and Junge hopes it appeals to everyone in the family.
"A big part of Safer Plate is to be a solution like a one-meal solution instead of parents making multiple meals for a family dinner," Junge said.
Food is medicine and critical to a person's overall health and well-being, Junge said. At Mayo Clinic, he developed a standalone kitchen at the Rochester campus free of gluten for patients. He also has worked as an executive chef at the University of Minnesota.
The company has a 4,000-square-foot production facility in Eden Prairie with a handful of workers. Safer Plate has been in the space since last August and has done a small trial to test out recipes and logistics.
The idea for Safer Plate was born before the pandemic, but it likely will benefit from a consumer surge in interest in home delivery options.
The global meal kit delivery services market size is expected to reach $19.92 billion by 2027, according to a report released last summer by Grand View Research, Inc. The report said the market was expected to see increased traction in 2020 due to the pandemic as people were forced to social distance and many restaurants were closed.
Nelson, who started the company as a stay-at-home mom, hopes Safer Plate can partner with schools and hospitals in the future to provide meals. As early as September, the company plans to start offering already prepared meals that just need to be heated or served.