‘This is my thing’
Feeding a family of 12 may have been the impetus for Dani Kitchen, a certified dietary manager, to launch her unique meal delivery service, but the seeds to turn out dishes tailored to varied taste buds and health needs were planted around the time she graduated from high school.
“I got into working in adult foster care homes and I just remember looking at some of the stuff they were eating and thinking: this can’t be healthy. They were having behavioral issues and their grocery carts were full of Mountain Dew and junk food,” Kitchen said. “And so that’s kind of where it started for my interest in nutrition. And how it affects the body.”
From a corner of the commercial kitchen in the unassuming Daane’s Catering building at 8901 Portage Rd., where the 1970s-era thank you letters and vintage memorabilia still adorn the office walls, Dani’s Kitchen is a twist on the now common meal delivery service (and her name).
Clients choose from a standard menu set each week, and the meals are customized based on food sensitivities and other dietary needs, catering to people who might be tight on time but don’t want to cut corners on either flavor or their health.
The menu is posted each week on the Dani’s Kitchen website, where orders are due by Wednesday evening, and the meals are available on Sunday for pick up or delivery. Dietary needs are written into the order form.
Kitchen had a client who was unable to eat tomatoes so she created the “No-Mato Sauce” using carrots, beets, and pumpkin. “It really tastes and works perfect as a replacement,” she said. She made a variation of that for a tomato-less BBQ sauce as well.
The meal purchase is made through PayPal and confirmed via email. Deliveries, with a small fee, are done by Kitchen herself.
Portion sizes are commensurate with a healthy diet, and the meals retain a freshness — no frozen veggie texture or mealy rice — after a minute on high in the microwave.
The vegan Curried Chickpea Bowl still packs umami flavors and a complex combination of spices, leaving the mouth full of aromatics like garlic, onion, and the tender legumes. The addition of cinnamon is unexpected, but adds a balance to the bright spicy notes of capsaicin pepper and the astringent vinegar dressed greens. Although the rice is simple, it helps to ground the dish with a satisfying carb fix.
The Cranberry Chocolate Breakfast Cookies are individually wrapped, providing a clear sense of portion, instead of a bag full of cookies lined up like dominoes waiting to be knocked over. They are satisfyingly dense with a creamy peanut butter and cherries base, complimented by a texture punch from the oats and chocolate.
Kitchen says the Spicy Jerk Chicken and Greek Turkey Burgers are always popular – as are the cookies. The menu items vary seasonally and some client favorites are rotated in on a regular basis, with one or two vegetarian options available each week.
‘You can’t outrun your fork’
After graduating from Comstock High School two decades ago and following her adult foster care work, Kitchen became a registered massage therapist and certified in lifestyle counseling and management for a job at a chiropractor’s office.
The doctor would tell patients to cut out ingredients like gluten, dairy, and soy that triggered certain ailments but also packed the flavors. Kitchen would curate recipes from what they could eat.
“They would always come back and say, ‘Yeah, that sounds great, but I don’t cook, have time to cook. You know, I don’t have the patience for this.’ And so I started saying someone should do this for people. How great would that be? And there was just nothing that existed. And so I kept saying I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this.”
Soon after, Kalamazoo Valley Community College launched its Culinary and Dietary Management program, and Kitchen enrolled.
“There were the cooks and chefs, and then there’s the nutrition, and they all had a common goal,” she said. “And so that’s kind of where I got going.”
At KVCC, she saw food being grown on a farm, what it took for the farmer to bring it to market, and how the crops were then taken from the kitchen to the café diner’s tray. During a hospital internship, she spent time with dieticians and recognized another disconnect between the need for patients to consume nutrients and the lack of training in the healthcare system for the nutrition to taste good.
Her business is now as personal to her as it is to her clients. She offers a one-on-one nutritional coaching program, tailoring it to their needs. When she was younger and struggled with her own weight and “yoyo dieting,” she found herself with no resources to keep weight off except restricting calories. “Restricting eventually leads to bingeing because you can only restrict for so long and then you lose control and you just can’t outrun your fork.”
From tasty nutrition to a business model
Kitchen and her husband have a blended family with 10 children — four are still at home. In 2018, she decided to figure out how to follow her own aspirations for balancing family — her first customers — and career goals for a custom meal preparation business.
“It’s the job that I want but it doesn’t even exist,” she thought at the time. “So I’m gonna have to create that. And then it just sort of happened.”
In the fall of 2019, at the suggestion of friends and family who had enjoyed her soft launch, Kitchen posted on Facebook about a meal service. It got over 1,000 views.
“I was actually at a health fair for my job and she was there as a vendor showing her food stuff off and I thought it was an easy, convenient way to have a variety of meals,” said Amber Lintz, a client of Dani’s Kitchen since 2019. A pharmacist without much time but dairy, egg, and gluten sensitivities, Lintz was limited to where she could go out to eat or what she could prepare for herself.
“Dani is well trained and has some additional knowledge and expertise,” Lintz said. “She does a really good job labeling containers and making sure my food is separate from everyone else’s to minimize cross contamination.”
With a steady clientele, and the confidence from maintaining a successful business during a pandemic, she’s now considering hiring staff to augment the help she gets from her 17-year-old kid.
“My journey has been messy,” Kitchen said. “I’ve done a lot of things over the years but they all came together in pairing the nutrition education with the culinary aspect and the challenge of creating delicious healthy food and I think, ‘Yes! This is my thing; this is what I do’. I love that.”
8901 Portage Road
Portage, MI 49002
Delivery hours: 9am-12pm Sundays
Pickup hours: 2pm-4pm Sundays
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