Clean plates, happy kids at Zaman International summer meals sites

If a clean plate is an indicator of how much a child likes their food, then the chefs at Zaman International are surely doing something right.

With the help of a United Way for Southeastern Michigan grant, Zaman has become a food vendor for its own Meet Up and Eat Up summer meals sites. They’re offering freshly made meals free to children 18 and under at two pilot sites this summer.

Zaman has served as a Meet Up and Eat Up site sponsor for five years. By preparing meals in its Culinary Arts Kitchen this year, team members can ensure the food tastes great and is culturally appropriate for a variety of ethnicities.

“The food we’re serving has to be healthy, but it also has to be food that kids want to eat,” said Zainab Malallah, summer food program manager at Zaman. “It’s a balance.”

Zaman International is upping the nutrition at the Meet Up and Eat Up summer meal sites, thanks to a United Way grant.

Focusing on feedback

Many of the menu items get positive feedback from the children. The kids at the sites say that their favorite options are the make-your-own pizzas and chicken wraps. All foods are halal and paired with fresh produce to create a balanced meal.

“We used to notice a lot of food being left on the plates after lunch. Not so much anymore,” said Zainab.

Feedback is also an important tool for United Way. Over the past year, our Health and Basic Needs Manager Katherine Fuller and her team met with dozens of site sponsors to discuss ways to improve their programs and increase participation.

To help propel their innovative and strategic ideas, United Way issued $250,000 in mini-grants to six Meet Up and Eat Up meal sponsors. Four additional organizations also received funds to provide enrichment activities at summer meal sites.

It’s all part of our work with our partners to create a culture of wellness. Together, we ensure that families can meet their basic needs.

With increased access to healthy food and physical activity, we can help build stronger communities across the region.

Eliminating stigmas

“One of the basic human rights is access to food; not just any food, but healthy food,” said Monica Boomer director of community engagement at Zaman.

She added that just because a child is facing poverty, it doesn’t mean they’re any less deserving of healthy food.

Serving foods that the kids are familiar with helps to increase comfort and decrease stigma around free-meal programs.

Activities are another way to break down barriers and build bonds. That’s why Zaman is also using funds from their United Way grant to purchase games and arts and craft materials.

Zaman International Culinary Arts Kitchen staff prepare meals for their Meet Up and Eat Up summer meal sites.

Streamlining operations

Zaman expects to reach more than 15,000 children this summer across its 22 sites in Detroit, Inkster and Dearborn.

Site monitors — hired with money from the grant — are helping to streamline logistics. They also keep the meal service running smoothly at each site.

The organization plans to prepare even more meals in its Culinary Arts Kitchen next year. As team members continue to increase the quality of the meals and incorporate feedback, they’re hoping even more kids will join the Clean Plate Club.

To learn more about Meet Up and Eat Up, click here.

To find a Meet Up and Eat Up site near you, call 2-1-1 or text “FOOD” to 877-877.