Mahtomedi native Angie Nelson works to develop allergen-free meals.
In July of 2016, Mahtomedi native Angie Nelson’s life was turned upside down. Just six months after the birth of her first child, Liam, she learned that he was allergic to four of the top nine major food allergens.
“It was a really scary time for us,” Nelson says. As first-time parents, Nelson and her husband, Paul, tried to avoid allergies by feeding Liam peanut butter and other allergens at an early age—a recommendation from their pediatrician. “So I had given him peanut butter and mashed banana as a snack when he was 6 months old, and he had no reaction. Two weeks later, he broke out head-to-toe in hives, crying uncontrollably,” Nelson says. This reaction led to Liam’s allergen diagnosis; the family was to steer clear of peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and milk.
Since Nelson had been breastfeeding at the time, she had to eliminate all allergens out of her own diet. Trips to the grocery store meant reading every food label top to bottom; the Nelsons had to cook each meal from scratch and were left with limited options. Plus, the added fear of creating cross-contamination, eating out at a restaurant or going on playdates.
“It was a tough time, and I do feel that we were blessed that we like to cook,” Nelson says. “We found recipes that are important to our family, such as my husband’s family pancake recipe that he grew up on, and we found out how to make it without eggs and milk. We played around in the kitchen to make [Liam’s] life as normal as possible.”
Wanting to find better options for her family and others going through the same situation, Nelson, alongside chef Gilbert Junge, developed Liam’s by Safer Plate, a frozen meal company featuring four distinct meals that are free from the top nine allergens.
“It’s kind of a long story, but my best friend and colleague is Greg Coley … He was the executive chef at a country club that Tom Nelson, Angie’s father-in-law, was a member at,” Junge says. “They were discussing Safer Plate in its infancy, and Greg said to Tom that he knew the perfect guy to talk to, so I was introduced through Tom.”
That was in 2019. At the time, Junge was the corporate chef for the Mayo Clinic. Now, Junge is the vice president of operations for Liam’s by Safer Plate and works on developing new allergen-free meals.
Prior to developing the line of frozen meals, Liam’s by Safer Plate operated as a meal kit delivery company, for which Junge had developed more than 60 recipes. He’s taken some of those recipes and developed the Liam’s by Safer Plate meal options, including: Cheezy Rotini, cooked rotini in a dairy-free cheezy sauce with a side of broccoli; Tangy Pulled Pork, prepared pulled pork with barbecue sauce and sweet corn; Chicken Alfredo Rotini, cooked with chicken, rotini and Alfredo sauce with a side of broccoli; and Beef and Pea Pods, cooked beef in a Mongolian-style sauce with pea pods and rice.
“A big part of our company is bringing convenience to families like ours, but it’s also about normalizing food allergies, creating a new normal and making kids like ours and adults feel more confident about their allergies and to not feel so isolated and alone,” Nelson says.
Junge amplifies that mission. “A lot of people think it’s not going to taste good, and they ask, ‘Why would you buy something that’s free of something that you’re used to getting?’ It’s something that we’re trying to change,” he says. “These items taste good. It’s not just for those that have allergies, it’s a healthier way of eating … The misconception of allergen-free food is that it isn’t tasty. It’s something that we want to let people know isn’t true.”
Contributed by Angie Nelson
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ¼ cup applesauce
- 2 ½ cups Ripple milk
- 5 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
Whisk all dry ingredients together then add applesauce, and stir. In a separate bowl, combine lemon juice and Ripple, and stir until it thickens to the consistency of buttermilk. Add “buttermilk” mixture to the other ingredients, and add vanilla and a heavy pinch of salt. Mix until combined. Some lumps are OK. Heat a greased pan (Use cooking spray, olive oil, butter or whichever is safe/preferred for your family.) over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add about ¼ cup of batter to the pan. Wait for bubbles on the top of the pancake to start popping, then use a spatula to flip the pancake over. Serve with your favorite maple syrup, or top with Enjoy Life chocolate chips.
*Note: Unlike Liam’s frozen meals, this recipe is not free of the top allergens. Please be sure to adjust ingredients as needed for you and your family.
The Big 9
While many foods are known to cause allergic reactions, a small group of foods known as “The Big 9” account for 90 percent of serious food allergy reactions, like anaphylaxis. These nine allergens include: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat.
Liam’s by Safer Plate can be found at all Lunds & Byerlys and Festival Foods locations, select Hy-Vee and Kowalski’s Markets across the Twin Cities, local co-ops and more.