Meals for healing

MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology staff prepares meals for health care workers fighting COVID-19.

April 29, 2020
Contact: Pate McCuien, 573-882-4870,

As hospitals have become increasingly full, The University of Missouri’s Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology has stepped up to help MU Health Care workers. In just two weeks, members from the department have cooked and prepared 500 frozen meals to help MU Health Care provide food to nurses, physicians and staff who may be fatigued and hungry.

Department chair Chris Hardin originally thought of the idea and asked MU Health Care officials if they could use the extra meals. He thinks it is imperative that the lab does what it can to assist the health care system in any way possible.

“We’re all University of Missouri employees,” Hardin said. “We are obligated to do whatever we can to help any aspect of the university, especially MU Health Care during this intense time period.”

This is a photo of a research chef preparing meals.

MU Department of Nutrition and Physiology Research Chef Kenny Williams spent nearly two weeks working in the research lab to meet the goal of cooking and prepping 500 meals for MU Health Care employees.

Hardin felt the best way to assist MU Health Care was to utilize the research kitchen inside the MU Nutritional Center for Health. After opening in 2014, the building was used to conduct research in human nutrition and exercise physiology, and much more.

However, after the stay-at-home order was announced, Kenneth Williams, lab supervisor and research chef, and Talyia Fordham, research lab technician, were the only two people in the lab. That’s when they developed the goal of getting the meals made and prepackaged, ready to be frozen.

Williams has a background in culinary arts and kitchen management, and he says that his cooking experiences in the health care system inspired him to volunteer for the project.

“I was executive chef at St. Mary’s Hospital,” Williams said. “I know what it’s like to have small emergencies where your staff can’t come into work, and it would have been nice to have someone say 'Here are a bunch of meals that are ready-to-go.'”

This is a photo of pre-packaged frozen meals.

Research and lab technician Talyia Fordham packaged all 500 of the meals so that they could be frozen.

To get the meals “ready to go,” they must be packaged. Fordham handled the packaging for the project. She says that volunteering was an easy decision and that she was eager to help.

“I really felt like there was so much that could be done in the community,” Fordham said. “Hearing that Dr. Hardin was trying to help out the community in this way inspired me. It really was a no-brainer.”

Williams cooked 10 different types of meals, including enchiladas, vegetarian enchiladas, teriyaki chicken, lasagna and vegetarian lasagna. Though there are a variety of meals, Hardin trusted Williams to make the meals healthy as well.

“Chef Williams has a tremendous skill in making foods that are both nutritious and tasty,” Hardin said. “I had full confidence in Kenny to put together a very healthy, delicious and varied menu.”

Once the meals were cooked and packaged, they were sent to MU Health Care. As the pandemic continues, the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology plans to continue this effort in whatever capacity is needed.

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