Mary Stec, Office Manager at the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center, distributes the first meal kit to Liz Mattern and her daughter, Davita, on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

WILKES-BARRE – Amanda Ammermann and her five-year-old daughter love to cook. They often play Disney music and dance around their kitchen while baking cookies.

Recently, coming up with nutritious dinnertime meals has become challenging for the Luzerne County mother.

“I always tell my daughter that she is going to sprout feathers because all she wants is chicken nuggets all the time,” Ammermann joked.

The mother-daughter duo is hoping their participation in a new pilot program, launched May 20 by the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center, will help.

The Taste & See Meal Kit Program will provide fresh, healthy, locally sourced food to 25 families on a regular basis for one year. Working in collaboration with local chefs and other community agencies, each family will receive a recipe card and all of the needed ingredients to make a meal together at home.

Participants in the Taste & See Meal Kit Program receive a reusable tote bag which can be refilled with new ingredients for each meal preparation.

“I’m really hopeful we can find some new favorites,” Ammermann said as she picked up her first meal kit.

Liz Mattern also knows the struggle of having children who do not enjoy a wide range of food. Her family has also decided to take part in the Taste & See Meal Kit Program.

“We stick with what we know so it’ll be nice to have stuff thrown in that maybe we wouldn’t have ordinarily made,” Mattern explained.

Just hours after picking up their meal kit, Mattern and her ten-year-old daughter, Davita, made the first recipe, Ritz Chicken from Jonathan’s Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre.

“This is a lifelong skill she is going to need,” Mattern said. “This is a good way to spend time together and get some real education!”

As part of the Taste & See Meal Kit Program, participants receive a binder to store the laminated recipes they receive as they pick up their ingredients. (Photos/Eric Deabill)

In all, 94 individuals (32 adults and 62 children) will participate in the program’s first year.

“We saw a need for our families and children to have more nutritious meals at home. Our children love to be hands on and get involved in making things so we partnered with a lot of restaurants in the area and their chefs,” Mary Stec, Office Manager at the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center, said. Former restaurant owner Ruth Corcoran oversaw the recipe collection and selection process.

“We teamed with Hillside Farms for our meat and dairy, and we teamed with Rowlands Pennsylvania Produce in Falls for all of our fresh vegetables and produce. They do a remarkable job so the families are really going to get a treat,” Stec said. Hillside Farms is also an educational partner for the program and will offer hands-on programs for CYC families focusing on where their food comes from and the importance of local farms.

Joanne Padilla has five people in her family. She appreciates that all of the food is being provided so she will not have to run to the grocery store. She also is looking forward to a wide selection of recipes.

“I am excited because it might be something new that I’ve never had, so I am excited to try it,” Padilla said.

Just hours after receiving their first meal kit, Davita Mattern, 10, helped her mother prepare and enjoy the program’s first recipe, Ritz Chicken.

The Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center received a $15,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Program to support the launch of the Taste & See Meal Kit Program. Additional funding from the Luzerne Foundation, whose Youth Advisory Committee chose the project as a winner in a grants competition, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation will ensure the program’s success.

“As a provider of more than 10,000 meals a month to children in poverty, the Catholic Youth Center is keenly aware of the challenges families face in terms of putting a balanced and nutritious meal on the table,” Ryan Smith, CYC Program Executive, said. “This innovative program will help each family become more aware of basic nutritional principles and habits.”

As they make the meals together, participating families will be encouraged to take and share photos, provide feedback on the recipes and complete educational family challenges while they learn more about nutrition.

“My hope is that it will bring families closer together as far as making meals and spending time together while also realizing the nutritional value of eating healthier as a family. It all starts by example,” Stec said.

“This program will really be a win-win, not only for the families participating but also the local farmers who are partnering with us and the CYC itself,” Smith added. “If our families are able to prepare healthier meals at home on a consistent basis, our entire community benefits. We’re excited to get this program started.”

As part of the program, the CYC also plans to expand its on-site garden so that the agency can engage all of its students in the acts of growing and cultivating their own food.