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Family Meals

Repackage frozen surplus prepared food into individual meals to serve those who face barriers to cooking for themselves.

Photo of Fiona

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Since 1981 Food For Free has been a pioneer in the field of food rescue. Food For Free rescues fresh food—food that might otherwise go to waste—and distributes it within the local emergency food system where it can reach those in need.

Launched in the spring of 2016, the Family Meals program re-purposes prepared foods into single-serving meals for people with limited access to kitchens.

Family Meals uses frozen surplus foods donated from local university dining halls and other sources, rescued via our Prepared Foods Rescue program. With the work of staff and volunteers, Family Meals takes this food and repackages it into individual heat-and-eat frozen meals for:

  • Families sheltered in hotels, without access to kitchens
  • Families with young children who are struggling to put dinner on the table
  • Other populations that face barriers to cooking for themselves

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Work with local universities and other institutions to identify sources willing to donate surplus food. Secure kitchen space in a local church or community center. Collaborate with donors on methods to safely collect, freeze, and transport the donated food to a kitchen where the meals may be processed. Package the rescued food into single-serving containers and then freeze the meals to ensure food safety. Work with local agencies to identify populations who will benefit from the donated meals.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

While our Family Meals program is up and running, it's still in its infancy. We welcome any and all ideas about refining and improving our process in order to help feel additional people.

Tell us about your work experience:

Food For Free has been rescuing fresh food since 1981.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

How far along is your idea?

  • It was in the works before this challenge – it’s existed for 2-6 months

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

The Family Meals program re-purposes excess prepared foods donated from local university dining halls into single-serving meals for people with limited access to kitchens who are facing food insecurity.

[Only for launched ideas] How does your idea differ from what you're already doing?

The Family Meals program is still in its infancy. We're still looking to refine and improve all our processes: from rescuing more prepared food, to how we make the meals, and finally to whom we distribute the finished meals.

How is your idea unique to the space?

As far as we have been able to tell, the Family Meals program is unique. We believe we are the only organization taking frozen, excess food and turning it into healthy, frozen heat-and-eat meals intended for individuals and families who face barriers to cooking.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

We need strong relationships with our food donors, our kitchen space donors, our volunteer workers, and our meal recipients to make this entire program successful.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Along with our partner agencies, we're tracking the amount of food we re-purpose, the number of meals we make and deliver, and the number of individuals who receive our meals. We're also interested in potentially tracking health outcomes of the individuals who receive the meals.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Continue to refine all our processes. Family Meals is still a work in progress and we're constantly reevaluating everything we do. In particular, we are currently brainstorming how to make our kitchen work space more conducive to our particular needs and limitations.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ben Applebaum

As already stated: great idea. 
I was curious if there was any communication to the diners/customers that their institution was participating in this. In addition to broadening awareness of the program and possibly increasing traffic to the dining facility, might this be a way to solicit contributions or participation from more more people. For example, diners could "pay it forward" and add a donation to their bill at check out that would help fund the process.

Photo of Fiona

Hi Ben. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I love this idea, but unfortunately most of our donors are university dining halls, where students don't usually pay out of pocket, or even get a bill, so no funds actually change hands at the point of "purchase." But I take your point to heart and I'll brainstorm other ways to potentially engage the diners in a way that leads to more visibility for our program. 

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