Ends+Stems founder Alison Mountford is on a mission to serve healthy meals and reduce food waste, a problem too often overlooked. One meal plan recipe at a time, she’s making a difference for both families and the world. We sat down with her to hear how she does it.
In a world where there are so many meal plans out there, how do you make yours stand out from the pack?
Most meal plans are simply a collection of recipes with a day of the week slapped on top. My meal plan recipes interact with each other so that they make up a smart week. Usually one is super fast, one might be low prep but roasts in the oven and the other is on the stovetop. You’re getting an experienced chef’s meal planning process.
Also, for those other systems that do thoughtful meal plans this way, they do tend to reduce food waste naturally by having a plan. But I take it further with additional food waste tips and tricks and shared culinary skills that I have learned after cooking literally millions of dollars worth of food for clients.
That said, there are options out there, and everyone should find a system that works for them.
You’re a small operation. What are some of the challenges you face?
Being a sole proprietor is the best and the worst! I’m a people person and I love generating ideas with a team, so it can be lonely. I value working with interns, contractors, other business partners and making genuine connections with my clients and followers on social media. Staying on top of my to-do list is always a challenge, too. I have many more ideas and goals than hours in the day, so I have to be sure to prioritize and seek help when needed. Luckily, I’ve been doing this for a long time so I have good habits and am used to the challenge.
What are your future goals for Ends+Stems?
Slow and steady increase of cooks and users on the membership platform. I’m also about to launch my first course-style program, where people can get a little more detail about meal planning and feeding their families. I want to be there for folks who feel stressed about getting dinner on the table, learning how to feed their kids well and to help families take steps towards a more sustainable home kitchen.
I love how you make it such a personal experience. Is that something you set out to emphasize when first developing the idea?
Thanks! I actually just can’t help it. Since I am so much of this business, it genuinely came from meeting so many people asking for help about getting dinner on the table and wasting less food. I want to be here for my clients and followers. I want to know them and help them find a planning system and recipes that work for them. Because they all get my personal attention, this is how the business now works. Any other way would feel more difficult to pull off.
What’s one thing we can all do to help cut down on food waste?
The absolute easiest first step is to eat the food that already exists in your house. Can you put off shopping for a day and eat something a little out of the box?
And step two is to buy 5 -10% less the next time you shop. If you normally pick up three types of fruit, make it two types instead. If you absentmindedly grab two handfuls of mushrooms, can you think that through and put a few back? The typical household in the U.S. throws out 20-40% of the food they buy, or around $2000 a year.
What’s the biggest cause of food waste? What can bigger outlets do to make a difference?
It’s important to separate household food waste (in which I am an expert teacher) and food waste and loss that occurs at other points of the supply chain. At home, the biggest cause seems to be the business of our modern world. Truly! We are all pulled in so many directions and especially if cooking is not your happy place, it’s really challenging to begin the chore of cooking as soon as you get home. So folks have good intentions, then change the plan and order out or cook something more simple, and that good intentioned broccoli goes bad.
In the overall picture, other leading causes of waste are institutions and grocery stores who need better incentives and systems for donating extras (or perhaps fines for the amount they waste would work better). Our learned preference for absolutely perfect looking produce isn’t in harmony with how food grows and can lead to a lot of waste as well.
What’s your favorite meal that you’ve created for Ends & Stems?
This Sheet Pan Chicken Parm gets rave reviews and is really delicious. I personally love dishes like this poke bowl, because you can substitute in vegetables and grains as needed to use up what you have on hand.
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