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I Was a Winner in the Spoon x Chef'd Meal Plan Recipe Contest and Got First Dibs

Basically lots of bragging rights.

Almost a year ago, Spoon University and Chef’d teamed up to create a meal plan for busy college students (aka you and me) so eating healthy, delicious food doesn’t have to be difficult and you can improve your cooking skills.

In March, I got an email announcing that Spoon was hosting a contest with Chef’d to find 20 new recipes to go into the boxes. I immediately decided I was going to enter. The criteria was to create a unique, delicious, and balanced recipe with easy-to-follow steps and 10 ingredients or less. Then we were to upload the photo and recipe instructions to the Chef’d website. The 20 students with the most votes had the chance to become a part of the Spoon Meal Plan and the top 10 would receive one free week of the Meal Plan.

The Recipe Development Process

Jennifer Nigro

The day after I got the email, I went to my Arabic class and asked my professor, “Darius, I’m entering a recipe contest, what should I make?” Almost without hesitation, he responded, “Shrimp, bamboo shoot, snow peas, cilantro, cut one onion, one clove garlic. Don’t let the vegetables cook completely. Fry the onion, put bamboo shoot, add cilantro and oriental basil cut into tiny pieces. Then add some Thai sauce and a little can of coconut milk. Don’t add too much, that’s the base. Put the sliced bamboo shoot on top and baby corn.”

I asked if I should add noodles or rice and he said, “You can add noodles, don’t add rice.” I took notes on everything he said and got to work adapting it to fit the contest criteria. My professor is from South Sudan, but absolutely loves Thai food. He’s also a great cook and loves quality food (especially lamb), so I thought to myself, this is perfect, I’m totally doing this!

On a weekend in early April, I planned the whole process and walked to downtown Burlington’s local co-op to get the ingredients. For my entry recipe, I used rice noodles, frozen shrimp, bamboo shoots, frozen stir-fry vegetables, minced garlic, baby corn, cilantro, vegetable oil, fish sauce, and coconut milk. I also seasoned with salt and pepper. I plated it like I was competing on Chopped and took probably more than 30 photos of it in two types of lighting with halogen bulbs that mimic natural light and next to a window.

I then edited the photo to make it look its best, uploaded my entry to the website, and immediately shared it with friends and family on social media. I titled it Gluten and Dairy-Free Thai Shrimp Stir Fry.

Making, Ordering, and Receiving the Meal Plan

Jennifer Nigro

At the end of April, I got an email from Chef’d notifying me that my recipe had been selected to be featured in the Spoon Meal Plan! I was so psyched! I did it! Come August, Chef’d would be sending out my recipe to tons of people!

In early November, I received a code to redeem for a free week of the meal plan, and on November 15, three giant boxes arrived to my building’s mail room. I brought them up to my room and opened them right away. You can customize your box to include a variety of options. For mine, I chose my stir fry recipe for my quick and easy two-serving meal and two wraps, KNOW mini muffins, two Quaker overnight oats, and mug mac n’ cheese for my grab and go meals.

For one of the overnight oats recipes, Chef’d couldn't get fresh ingredients to be delivered in time so I received a credit to use at a later date. For my snacks, I received a La Colombe Triple Draft Latte, two packets of Nut Butter Nation Brown Sugar Cinnamon Peanut Butter, Beanitos Mac n’ Cheese Baked White Bean Crunch, YumEarth organic fruit snacks, White Cheddar PopCorners, an Oatmega chocolate coconut whey protein bar, and an UnReal peanut butter cup. For my fruit, I received an orange, a grapefruit, an apple, a pear, and a mango.

Wednesday

Jennifer Nigro

I received the boxes Wednesday afternoon, put my food packs in the refrigerator and headed off to my afternoon classes. After I got back, I had the mango for a snack and it was the kind of mango you can eat with a spoon. Beautiful, really.

That evening, I got to work on my stir fry. It was so cool to make it with fresh ingredients instead of frozen, and to have exactly how much I needed of everything. Chef’d added Sriracha and lime to the recipe, and it gave it such great heat and acidity that it didn’t really have before. It definitely brightened up the stick-to-your-bones richness of the original recipe.

Jennifer Nigro

Thursday

Jennifer Nigro

On Thursday, I started my day with the KNOW mini muffins, Nut Butter Nation peanut butter, and a giant 11.5 inch banana (I measured) that I got from the dining hall on Wednesday. The muffins were delicious and the texture was great for being gluten free. The peanut butter had a satisfying sweetness that paired nicely with the banana.

For lunch, I had one of the wraps, a Marcona Almond Pesto Chicken and Cherry Tomato wrap. Let me tell you, it was incredible. I would totally have that every day if I could. It was the first time I had sous vide chicken, and I must say I’m thinking about investing in a sous vide cooker. For dinner, I had the second serving of the stir fry and I can confirm it reheats very well!

Jennifer Nigro

Friday

Jennifer Nigro

For breakfast, I had Quaker Apple Pie Overnight Oats that I prepared the night before. It was quite tasty, although if you don’t plan on taking aesthetically pleasing photos of it before you dig in, I recommend giving it a nice shake before refrigerating overnight to get everything mixed together a bit more. It gave me the energy I needed for my morning workout—volunteering at a preschool.

When I got back to my room, it was lunchtime and I was feeling good. I made myself the second wrap, a Smoked Turkey Breast and Havarti Cheese Wrap. It was nourishing and tasted great. I tried the La Colombe Triple Draft Latte after lunch since I’m rather sensitive to caffeine and sugar and didn’t want to be in what I like to call “squirrel mode” while on an 11-hour train ride home for Thanksgiving break. It was delicious, but I must warn you, it might make your heart beat faster!

For dinner, I made the Four Cheese Mac n’ Cheese In A Mug, and it was so easy with the precooked macaroni. I’m not the biggest fan of American cheese personally, but the three other cheeses definitely balanced it out and it tasted pretty good!

Jennifer Nigro

Saturday

Jennifer Nigro

Saturday was a travel ordeal, but luckily I planned ahead for what I would be eating during what ended up being a 15-hour train and bus adventure. For breakfast I had the same thing I ate Friday, but I microwaved the muffins. I can confirm, they are positively scrumptious warmed up.

On the train, I had an apple, orange, and the Oatmega Bar, and I’ve got to give it an A. It kept me full for several hours and tasted great. For “dinner” I had the Beanitos, fruit snacks, PopCorners, and a granola bar my mom had previously sent me in a care package. The fruit snacks and PopCorners were great! The Beanitos were a solid good, although for some reason the first bite mentally brought me back to a Long Island mall I frequent when visiting family. That went away a bit as I kept eating them, and the cheese flavor was nice and not at all artificial-tasting.

Jennifer Nigro

Overall Experience

Overall, this was a great opportunity to try out such a cool meal plan subscription service, and a great opportunity to gain bragging rights with my friends and family. It was easy and fun to make the recipes, and I will definitely recreate some of them in the future.

My favorite grab-and-go option was the Marcona Almond Pesto Chicken Wrap, so if you decide to order the meal plan, I highly recommend selecting it. The only thing that got somewhat hectic was managing all the packaging. Most time estimates ended up taking longer due to the packaging and prep work, but it was still easy and fast.

At UVM, we have recycling and compost bins in all our dining facilities, and I would be curious to learn if compostable packaging could be a realistic option for these kinds of meal services. Alternatively, there could be provided instructions on how to properly recycle the boxes, ice packs, and food packaging so it is easy and still accessible to customers.

I would definitely consider ordering another week in the future, especially when I’ll be living off campus next year. If you like cooking and quality food delivered right to your door and you can afford the $63 per week for the meal plan, the Spoon University Meal Plan with Chef’d is something you should definitely try out.