Features On the Table

Meals That Heal

Courtesy of Mademeals

Mademeals brings healthful, responsible food to the tri-state’s most needy

No one expected that launching a startup business in 2020 would be so hard; luckily for Jesse McBride, the founder and CEO of Mademeals, the demand for healthy food was all the more pronounced during a global health crisis.

Food availability has been a particularly stressful element of the pandemic for vulnerable populations, specifically the elderly, the differently-abled, those in low-income areas and the homeless. According to Feeding America projections, the annual food insecurity rate is up 15.6% overall and 23.1% for children due to the pandemic — that’s 50.4 million hungry people in the U.S. as of October 2020.

COVID-19 has also increased the need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) as unemployment grew. Even though the Families First Act expanded maximum benefits for SNAP recipients by 40% in March 2020, many families are still left wondering where their next meal will come from.

Although Mademeals is a for-profit business, it has been donating meals to first responders and families in need throughout the pandemic. With a five-employee kitchen team and a mission to reach zero waste, the South Kearny, New Jersey-based company is determined to offset some of the hunger pains of the tri-state area. Here is what McBride had to say about the challenges he’s faced so far.

HOW DID MADEMEALS GET STARTED?

I actually have no formal culinary training, but I’ve been passionate about nutrition and fitness since college. A few years after graduating with a Bachelor’s in psychology, I landed a recruitment role where I helped build UX design teams for startups in NYC. I loved my job, but I was itching to start something of my own.

Being a busy professional, I found it extremely difficult to eat healthy. So, in 2016, I decided I would start a prepared meal delivery business that would solve that exact problem.

That same year, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory gut condition, which completely changed my perspective on what it means to eat healthy. I began seeking out humanely-raised meats, organic and local produce and sustainable seafood.

My diagnosis fueled our mission today, which is helping busy folks eat healthy, high-quality food that is sourced from local farms that use sustainable and humane practices.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO FORM A FOR-PROFIT BUSINESS RATHER THAN A NON-PROFIT?

I knew I wanted to make an impact with the business, but I also knew I wanted to build a profitable business that did not depend on grants or donations to thrive. So I decided that I would start a business that was built around generating profits while making a positive impact on the local community and the environment as a whole. It just felt like the right thing to do.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR ROLE DURING THE PANDEMIC?

As soon as COVID-19 hit, I knew we would have an essential role in helping our healthcare workers and first responders. We raised money and donated over 5,000 meals to first responders. Once the first wave slowed down and first responders were no longer overwhelmed, we knew there would still be many people in need. So, we got involved with the newly-launched Hudson County Hunger Project, which is banding restaurants together to help feed elderly and disabled individuals who are dealing with food insecurity.

HAVE YOU NOTICED A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN FOOD SECURITY IN THE TRI-STATE AREA OVER THE PAST SEVERAL MONTHS?

Absolutely. The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic. So many small restaurants that provided their communities with freshly-made food have closed their doors. This has had a tremendous ripple effect. Small, local farms have lost revenue because the restaurants they were selling to are now closed, and people have less options for freshly-made food in their communities, especially those in lower-income neighborhoods. How people access healthy food is changing, and food delivery on the rise. I believe things will eventually level out, but we now have an opportunity to create solutions to address food insecurity using innovative solutions and new models.

HOW DID YOU GET CONNECTED WITH THE HUDSON COUNTY HUNGER PROJECT? WHAT HAS YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH THEM LOOKED LIKE SO FAR?

Once the first wave of COVID-19 slowed down and hospitals were not as overwhelmed, we had a team meeting to discuss how we could redirect our efforts and identify a new group of people who needed help. We quickly realized that our elderly, disabled and homeless populations were most at risk and were dealing with severe food insecurity. It was around this time that the Hudson County Hunger Project (HCHP), designed to help local restaurants feed those most in need, was launched. As one of the first few food businesses to collaborate with HCHP, we have helped the program deliver over 28,000 meals to those most in need in our community.

GIVE ME SOME EXAMPLES OF MEALS YOU OFFER. WHICH ONES ARE MOST POPULAR? WHICH ONES DO YOU LIKE BEST?

One of our most popular meals is our garden stuffed chicken with sweet potato mash and crispy lemon zest brussels sprouts. This meal features pasture-raised, certified-humane chicken stuffed with organic spinach, peppers and feta cheese. It’s delicious!

My personal favorite is our Peruvian chicken with yuca mash, broccolini and house aji sauce. We brine and marinate our chicken for a total of 48 hours, which guarantees an incredibly succulent texture that’s hard to beat. The yuca mash is divine (we sell it in bulk!), and the green aji sauce is perfect. In addition to our meals, we also offer breakfasts, soups, salads, snacks, desserts and beverages.

We offer a range of meal options that meet most dietary restrictions, including low-carb, vegan, pescatarian, dairy-free, gluten-free and nut-free. When choosing options on our website, all allergen and macro nutrient information can be viewed.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FOOD SOURCING. HOW DID YOU IDENTIFY YOUR FARMS?

Our sourcing is the most important part of our business and our differentiator. We rotate our menu every month in order to feature in-season ingredients, which makes sourcing locally much easier. In addition to sourcing local products through a variety of local vendors that align with our beliefs, such as Harvest Drop, Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-Op, Zone 7 and Baldor, we work directly with local farms that use organic practices, such as Nolasco Farm and Rolling Hills farm. We are particular about the vendors and farms we work with, always ensuring their beliefs align with ours so we can have trust that they will always source the sort of products we strive to use.

HOW DO YOU PLAN TO GO ZERO-WASTE?

There are a few things we have done to move towards a zero-waste food operation. We take our orders in advance, and we have built a production process that allows us to only source the ingredients we use. Leftovers are either composted or donated to local chicken farms so that no food is thrown into the garbage. We are also in the process of having our facility become USDA approved, which furthers our mission to be responsible about our production process and our waste.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR MADEMEALS?

Right now, we are focused on letting people know we exist. At the end of the day, we want to help as many people as we can, so growing the business is our main objective. My goal is for Mademeals to be known as the best prepared meal delivery service in the tri-state area that not only delivers a world-class product and experience but that also helps to make a positive impact on our community. Once we get there, we will look at expanding nationwide.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER COMMUNITY MEMBERS?

I just want to urge everyone to eat well and nourish their bodies. Your immune system needs to be strong right now. Also, if there’s anything you can do to help your community, whether that’s donating to a local non-profit, volunteering or simply buying from companies doing work in their community, do it. There are so many people who need help right now.

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