When Duke Jackson was asked about his favorite meal kit, he didn’t hesitate: "Anything with quinoa."
Families on St. Paul’s East Side, like Duke's, can receive a weekly meal kit through East Side Table — a collaborative project hosted by HealthEast, part of Fairview Health Services, and supported in part by generous donations.
The idea of East Side Table sprouted from overwhelming evidence gathered through a Community Health Needs Assessment, a process of talking with people in the communities we serve and listening to their ideas and health concerns. Community members on the East Side identified opportunities for partnership and increased resources to address the lack of access to healthy food and food preparation skills.
The project came to life with the help of a working council comprised of 13 local nonprofit organizations, all with the same goal in mind — to nourish the neighborhood.
The main component of East Side Table is the Make-at-Home Meal Kit program. Families sign up for the 10-week program through one of the local community partners and must live, work, learn, play, or worship on St. Paul’s East Side. Participants are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis after completing a survey about their food habits and skills, access to healthy foods, and social connectedness.
Families pick up the weekly kit at one of six community locations. Delivery is also an option, to ensure that transportation is not a barrier to participation.
Kits are complete with pre-portioned, locally-sourced ingredients and a step-by-step recipe card, increasing the likelihood the healthy meal will be made again. The working council works closely with Local Crate, a subscription-based meal kit company, to modify their current recipes — increasing vegetables and whole grains — and to create new culturally relevant ones. The recipes provided in the meal kits reflect the diverse and unique cultures on the East Side — cultures like Hmong, Karen, and Latino.
“Every week, my family looks forward to receiving the meal kit,” says Duke’s mom, Shaquonna Jackson. “We come together to prepare the meal and enjoy it as a family.”
It’s an opportunity to encourage more cooking at home, avoiding the nutritional pitfalls of fast food and take out.
“My mom lets me cut the vegetables,” Duke says. “She takes care of the cooking part, but I get to stir the food. I want to be a chef when I grow up, and I like to watch the Food Network on TV.”
The Make-at-Home Meal Kit program is showing promising results. In 2018, more than 6,100 healthy meals were distributed to local families. After the two 10-week sessions, 40 percent of participants said they learned at least one new food skill and 26 percent tried new fruits and vegetables. More than 81 percent of participants said their family was willing to try new, healthier foods because of the program.
East Side Table is out in the community providing cooking demonstrations, offering classes, and hosting nutrition workshops that focus on chronic disease management. In addition, a group of older adults from the East Side gather monthly and serve as counsel to East Side Table on how to best engage the senior population in accessing healthy food.
“Our motto is ‘breaking bread, sharing skills’,” says Terese Hill, coordinator of East Side Table. “We want to nourish the East Side community by sharing new cooking skills, encouraging healthy eating, and helping bring families together over healthy meals at their own table.”
Look for upcoming classes with East Side Table, and shop at Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op during February, when you can round up your purchase or donate your reusable bag credit to support East Side Table.