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NOURISHMENT – Transformation Stories

Plated’s Elana Karp Changes Lives One Meal Kit at a Time

By Robin Rootenberg

Elana Karp jumped with both feet into the task of changing lives when she graduated and joined Teach for America. She soon discovered a more fundamental aspect of life can set up children—and their families—for successful, happy, healthy lives: good nutrition.

Today, as head chef and culinary co-founder of Plated, the nationwide meal-kit delivery service, Karp continues her mission with inspired and customizable menus and plans that teach home chefs, from novices to veterans, how to cook a fish or anything else rather than rely on takeout or prepared food as weeknight options.

In doing so, Karp and Plated are helping to nourish more than healthy bodies. 24Life asked Karp for more insight into how she and Plated are making a difference in busy families’ lives, one dinner at a time.

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24Life: You began your career focused on education in the classroom. Did you always intend to pursue a career with the goal of making a difference? What did you learn from that experience?

Elana Karp: I always knew that I wanted to do something that would have a positive impact and make a difference, so Teach for America was a really great place for me to start my career. I’ve found that when I’m motivated by a bigger purpose, it makes it easier for me to stay positive and keep moving forward, even when challenges arise. Knowing that you’re doing something because you’re making change and advancing a mission you believe in makes it worthwhile, and I think having that perspective really helps when the going gets tough.

24Life: What was the moment or catalyst that made you decide to turn your attention to education about food?

EK: It was something that developed over the time I spent with my students, but I would say that there was an aha moment for me. Pretty early on in the school year, we had a class field trip. The school usually provided student lunches, but on field trip days, kids brought their lunches. When it was time to eat, I was surprised by the amount of sugary drinks, processed snacks and enormous sandwiches that were in their lunch bags. And the impact on their behavior and ability to concentrate was noticeable almost immediately.

From there, I began to notice it more often at other moments of the day at various eating occasions. Once I observed the problem, I made a point to bring more education about food and nutrition into the classroom. I taught my students about fruits and vegetables, everything from how they grow to what they can do for your body.

And I made it real for them, too. At a class event, I made a pasta filled with vegetables, and the kids were excited to talk about what they had learned about the ingredients—and they also commented that it tasted good! While on a small scale, I saw the impact that teaching them about eating better could make. Kids are like sponges and they want to learn and try new things. They were eager to try to incorporate new eating habits, particularly when they understood why.

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24Life: Tell us more about the business you started to teach families and kids to cook, as well as your after-school nutrition program. What was the need you saw?

EK: The need was similar to the need that co-founders Nick Taranto and Josh Hix saw for Plated. People often want to cook at home, but it can be hard to do it well and on your terms from week to week. For my business, part of addressing that need was instilling the important connection between food and well-being so that cooking meals became an integral part of a family’s weekly routine. It was about helping people cook at home by focusing on teaching families to cook together.

A part of this was aimed at getting kids to participate in meal planning and creation at an early age. When kids are a part the process, they are more apt to like the dish they’ve made. So you’re not only teaching them a skill, but you’re creating a fun environment where they’re trying new ingredients and flavors—and enjoying them! In the end, it is about enabling them to create nourishing dishes that are also delicious—something they can take with them for the rest of their lives.

For the after-school program, we incorporated an educational component into school lunch. We taught them about the nutritional aspects of the ingredients in their meals and developed cooking classes tied to them. For example, we’d take an ingredient that was in their lunch and use it in different recipes in other ways focusing on health benefits as well as great taste. It provided a deeper understanding of the relationship between what they were eating and their overall well-being, and gave them actionable ideas to use in their daily lives.

24Life: How did your formal education help you prepare to fulfill it?

EK: Together, my tenure at Teach for America and my training at Le Cordon Bleu gave me the right combination of skills, knowledge and experience to create a program that served this need. Through Teach for America and earning my Master of Education, I understood the basics of how to teach people things. My culinary training gave me an expertise in cooking techniques, flavors and an overall appreciation of the culinary arts. Through this, I was able to tackle ideas and concepts around food and cooking that aren’t always approachable and make them doable.

After I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, I tried a range of jobs to help me learn, grow and get a better understanding of the variety of things you can do in the food space. This wasn’t as much about supplementing my formal education but more about giving myself hands-on experience doing different projects and participating in different businesses. This also gave me a chance to get a better understanding of the things I was most excited about pursuing. I jumped at every opportunity, whether it was catering an event or selling turkeys at a farmers market. Because TFA was so hands-on, I felt confident in my teaching abilities, but having just graduated culinary school, I wanted real-world culinary experience to achieve that same level of confidence in that field, as well.

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24Life: What insights did you gain about your ability to make a difference?

EK: I learned that you can’t teach in a vacuum and that you can really make a lasting difference in people’s lives when they understand how and why new ideas and skills can apply to their lives. For example, when I was teaching classes in schools, we did a class on smoothies. I drove home the importance of using real fruits and vegetables with no added sweeteners and enjoying the natural flavors of the ingredients themselves. They were a hit with the kids.

A few days later, one of my student’s mom called me to tell me that her daughter had gone through their freezer to check the labels on all the frozen fruits and vegetables to ensure they lacked extra sugar or additives. She really took it to heart!

24Life: How did that work evolve into a desire to make a difference in the way people eat and your work at Plated?

EK: Plated offered me the opportunity to help people create meals at home on a national scale and in a new way. While meal kits may seem common now, at the time Plated launched, meal-kit delivery was a pretty new concept.

Plated combined many of the things that I was working for on a smaller scale and made them possible in such a big way. Our national reach enables us to have a positive impact on the cooking and eating habits of so many people. Because the meals we design are for home cooks, we test rigorously and really think about the people at home who are cooking our recipes, whether novice or experienced. For those who don’t know how to cook or lack confidence in the kitchen, we’re empowering them with new life-changing skills that can improve their relationship with food and show them that creating a meal can be satisfying and fun!

For people who are already confident cooks, we’ve made the whole mealtime experience easier by taking out the planning and shopping. We’ve also made it better by adding the element of discovery and excitement—new recipes, new ingredients, new cooking techniques and new flavor combinations.

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24Life: What’s your vision for the future of Plated?

EK: Plated has provided an incredible platform for me to raise awareness about the value of cooking your own meals while at the same actually making it easier and more accessible for people to do just that! The more I can encourage learning and discovery by helping people prepare new dishes and share great meals, the better! A big part of that is celebrating the idea that cooking can be fun. It isn’t just about learning a specific technique or trying a certain recipe but about enjoying the overall experience of making food that you’ll love and take pride in sharing.

Video credit: TheStacks, Shutterstock
Photo credit: Rob and Julia Campbell, Stocksy; Nik MacMillan, Unsplash; Alexander Sinn, Unsplash; Alpha_7D, Shutterstock; Drew Coffman, Unsplash; Giada Canu, Stocksy

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Author

Robin Rootenberg

Robin Rootenberg is managing editor for 24Life and 24Life TV. Nothing makes her happier than the possibility of one more person rediscovering the joy of movement, or trying something new. A UC Berkeley grad, her writing and communications career spans more than two decades, and she’s been running for even longer.

Video credit: Plated
Photo credit: Kimberly Farmer, Unsplash; LightField Studios, Shutterstock; Anne Preble, Unsplash; Santi Nunez, Stocksy; George Dolgikh, Shutterstock

Background

Don’t leave without becoming a 24Life Insider! Get free 24Life workouts, recipes, lifestyle hacks and more direct to your inbox.

Author

Robin Rootenberg

Robin Rootenberg is managing editor for 24Life and 24Life TV. Nothing makes her happier than the possibility of one more person rediscovering the joy of movement, or trying something new. A UC Berkeley grad, her writing and communications career spans more than two decades, and she’s been running for even longer.

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