We chat with Jennifer Stuchell, Founder of Pantry Fuel, whose mission is to serve the community convenient, healthy meals made from whole food ingredients. In this interview, Jenny shares her passion for providing better nutrition with food made from real ingredients.
In 2013, my Tutu (“grandmother” in Hawaiian) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During this time my father and I would taxi her to doctors’ appointments and do her grocery shopping. I was 22 at the time. If you’ve ever been a carer for a loved one, you know the weight and significance of this role. My Tutu always loved eating out – this was a social experience for her– but she never really had a love of cooking. So, when not feeling well enough to eat out any longer, she resorted to freezer meals and shakes.
Five months after her initial diagnosis, my sweet Tutu passed away. Unbeknownst to our family, the cancer had spread. I carried a terrible burden, feeling like I hadn’t done enough to make her life more comfortable towards the end. Though at the time I was a decent “home cook”, I wished there had been a healthy and convenient option such as Pantry Fuel, to provide my sweet Tutu with ready-made fresh meals delivered to her home. A year later, I launched Pantry Fuel.
My mom and grandmother are avid gardeners and so I grew up with the opportunity to enjoy fresh berries, tomatoes, greens, and herbs all summer. In fact, I had never eaten a store-bought tomato until high school lunch.
As you know, nothing beats a tomato-on-the-vine homegrown to peak ripeness. Pantry Fuel menus change seasonally every three months and rotate weekly.
Understanding that seasonal produce not only tastes better, but has increased nutrients and lower “food miles” (i.e. fewer carbon emissions to get that food to your table) are all things that influence our ever-changing menus.
Food is fuel! And what we eat determines how we feel and think.
Pantry Fuel meals are “dietitian-approved”. This is not a legal or standard label, but it means that we have partnered with registered dietitians (as well as doctors and nurse practitioners) in our local community to vet our menus and help promote their nutrition efficacy.
This is something we do because transparency is of the utmost importance when it comes to serving food that is “healthy”. A lot of food items or recipes can be labeled “healthy”, but most of the time this is subjective. As we create recipes and menus based on science-driven data and a professional vetting process, our customers can trust us. We only deliver to and serve the greater Spokane Region as of now.
Each week our culinary team creates five new gluten-free whole food entrées intended for larger-portion lunches or dinners. Our customers have the opportunity to pick and choose the meals they’d like by ordering “la carte”, or we also offer a meal plan subscription for five meals a week.
The subscription is automated, recurring and offers a slight discount. Most meals can be made vegetarian or dairy-free, while also having an option to increase protein by an ounce (five ounces total or about 30 grams of protein/meal - the maximum amount our bodies can use in an eating period).
Our team also creates a new gluten-free alternative sweet treat, without processed sugars, every month. We always keep a few other popular sweet treats on hand too (Harvest Granola Bar and Espresso Brownie, all gluten-free).
Research, research, and more research. First, I create a generalized list of meals we want on the menu for the new season, focusing on seasonal produce while pairing it with lean proteins. I like to look at traditional meals, say a lasagna, and figure out how we can increase the nutrient density, decrease the “empty calories” (such as the white lasagna noodles), while sticking as closely as possibly to traditional and expected flavors of the dish.
For this particular lasagna example, we will use zucchini planks in place of lasagna noodles. A delicious substitute that will also increase your veggie intake! After I’ve written a menu, our head chef and community team of dietitians get to try the meals out, then add their own take and expertise for a finalized recipe. This allows for the perfect marriage between flavor and nutrition.
We mostly serve busy professionals, but lately, with the pandemic, have seen a rise in serving stay-at-home families and elderly people. We are so fortunate to act as a healthy resource for our community.
It’s easy to start using Pantry Fuel. You can simply navigate to our website and select the “Order Now” button. This will direct you to our current menu, add-on alternative treats, and even the few family meals (serves approximately four people) we offer. You can order “ la carte” style from any of these menus.
The other option is to navigate to our meal plan page. There you have the option to subscribe to weekly meals, or you can even purchase a meal plan as a one-time option to save a little money if you know you want to try all five meals from our current menu. Order cut-offs are each Wednesday by midnight for deliveries or pick-ups (from our kitchen in downtown Spokane) the following Monday .
At first when the pandemic hit, we could see our customers dropping off, unsure of the future and focusing on creating more meals at home. That quickly changed, however, and we started picking up again as our community realized that they could be stuck at home for a while and that they didn’t want to cook every single meal.
That’s exactly what Pantry Fuel does well, though.
We only create five new meals weekly, because our meals are intended to help fill in the gaps on the days when you run out of meal ideas or time. We’re here to make eating healthy more convenient and a better alternative to eating unhealthy fast food or take-out. I believe that during this pandemic our community is really valuing meal delivery services to fill in meals they don’t want to cook at home. People are also enjoying trying out cooking for the first time, particularly when, prior to the pandemic, eating out a few times per week was the norm for many.