Staff Spotlight: Director of Nutrition - Alyssa De La Peña

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There is so much thought that goes into planning Gourmet Gorilla’s seasonal menus. From making sure our food represents a variety of different cultural backgrounds, to sourcing only clean label ingredients, there are many things to consider when deciding what makes in on our menu. Luckily, we have a Director of Nutrition that makes this process seem like a breeze! Meet Alyssa De La Peña, the master of all things nutrition at Gourmet Gorilla. This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alyssa to learn more about her and the work she does at Gourmet Gorilla.

Q: Let’s start by clearing one very important thing up...what is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

While the term Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Nutritionist are often times used interchangeably they have very different meanings. All RD’s are Nutritionists but not all Nutritionists are RD’s. The term Nutritionist is not regulated, so technically, anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist without any formal training. A Dietitian is someone that has a minimum of a four year college degree from an accredited university, has undergone 1,200 hours of supervised practice, passed a national board exam, and completes a minimum of 15 hours of continuing education each year. 

Q: What drew you to school nutrition?

A few things drew me to school nutrition, the main reason being my passion to help others. Throughout my course work in undergrad and grad school I loved learning about nutrition science and then being able to share that information with clients. Food plays such a large role in every single person's life, so to be able to educate people on the importance of nutrition and how food works in their body is one of the best parts about my job! Also, I cannot think of a better way to make a big impact than teaching young children important facts about nutrition that they will be able to implement and benefit from their entire lives. 

Q: What do you think is working well and what do you think could change when it comes to school nutrition requirements?

When it comes to school nutrition requirements, I think the National School Lunch Program does an excellent job in emphasizing the importance of fruits and vegetables. Did you know that only 1 in 10 American’s get enough fruits and vegetables each day?! Depending on age, the USDA recommends anywhere from 5 - 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day.

An area for improvement in school nutrition would be food waste. Offer vs. Serve is designed to cut back on food waste and I think it is a great first step! However, there is still leftover food that gets discarded each day. I think it would be great if we could come up with a way to rescue the leftovers and give it to those who need additional meals while still operating within the NSLP rules and regulations.

Q: Give us a snapshot of a week in your shoes at Gourmet Gorilla?

One of the best things about Gourmet Gorilla is that no two days are alike! A week in my shoes typically involves team meetings focused around the menu, assisting parents and administration with questions related to nutrition, testing recipes, and managing our ordering site.  

Q: What is your favorite item on the fall menu

My favorite item on the fall menu is the Mexican Lasagna. I am a vegetarian and love all Mexican food so this dish is the perfect fit! It contains beans, cheese, salsa, and tortillas…. What’s not to love! 

Q: Tell us more about you! What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work I love to spend time with my boyfriend, Josh and our two cats Lupita and Javier. In addition to spending time with my little family, I enjoy working out and spending as much time outside as I can while we still have some nice Chicago weather. I also love to cook - Buffalo Cauliflower is an all time favorite for me!

Alyssa was kind enough to share her Buffalo Cauliflower recipe - check it out below!

Buffalo Cauliflower



1 large head of cauliflower

½ cup Frank’s RedHot Sauce

2 tbsp melted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

  2. Cut cauliflower into florets and place in large mixing bowl

  3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together hot sauce, melted butter, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, and salt.

  4. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower florets 

  5. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer over lined baking sheet and bake 25 - 30 minutes or until cauliflower is fork tender and browned around the edges. 

Farm to School Programs: the key to a resilient local food system?

The demand for local food has been on the rise for the last decade. Terms such as “farm-to-table” or “farm-to-glass” have become omnipresent in tandem with this growing demand for the hyper local. Whether it be food or beverage, the “farm-to” movement is becoming quite a big part of the zeitgeist. But what about Farm-to-School? Many people are aware of school gardens and the benefits of hands on learning, but Farm-to-School encapsulates much more than that. 

Since the days of its inception in the early 1990’s, the Farm to School concept has always been “a school-based program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving local and healthy foods in school cafeterias or classrooms, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting small and medium-sized local and regional farmers.” 1 Farm to School is a unique concept in that it takes a holistic approach to health and nutrition, and works to strengthen not only growing bodies of students, but our local economies and communities. In 2010, then President Barack Obama signed into law the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. This statute formally established the Farm to School program, which aims to “carry out a program to assist eligible schools, State and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers, and nonprofit entities through grants and technical assistance to implement farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools 2. Although over time states have opted to enact their own unique version of farm to school legislation, there are three core elements of the program: procurement, school gardens, and education. When implemented together, these three elements are what enables the Farm to School program to create community-wide change and strengthen the local food system. Each key aspect of the program has a specific set of goals:

Procurement: Local foods are purchased, promoted and served in the cafeteria or as a snack or taste-test; 

School gardens: Students engage in hands-on learning through gardening; and 

Education: Students participate in education activities related to agriculture, food, health or nutrition. 3

The procurement goals are creating a massive economic opportunity for local farmers. By prioritizing local food, regional farmers are seeing the benefits of a new institutional market opening up. Since 2013, 789 million dollars have been spent on local food that will flow directly into school cafeterias. This number is likely to grow with the introduction of the Kids Eat Local Act (H.R. 3220, S. 1817), which was introduced to Congress in June of this year. This landmark bill will be included in the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR) alongside the Farm to School program. Other communities could be seeing these economic benefits as well. According to research done by the national farm to school network, for every job created by school districts purchasing local foods, additional economic activity creates another 1.67 jobs. This means higher employment rates and increased cash flow directly impact communities where farm to school programs are implemented. These factors taken together is positioning the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization as one of the most lucrative opportunities for our regional farmers.




While the Farm to School’s local procurement strategy is a great opportunity for economic growth, the school gardens and education elements provide long term health benefits for students and the communities they live in. By incorporating a hands on education curriculum that allows students to interact with healthy vegetables, educators are allowing children to familiarize themselves with these foods, increasing the likelihood that they will grow to include these in their diets in the long term. Researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that “When schools offer school gardens, 44.2 percent of students eat more fruits and vegetables; when schools serve local food, 33.1 percent of students eat more fruits and vegetables.” This openness also correlates to a demonstrated willingness to try new and healthier food options. The Farm to School network also reports on findings that show “Minimized diet-related diseases in childhood such as obesity and diabetes through the promotion of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, specifically for high-risk, low-income students.” This is important for those communities experiencing food apartheid; a term that is more encompassing than “food dessert,” and refers to neighborhoods that have plenty of corner stores or convenience stores, but require a trip to the grocery store by vehicle. While the demand for better, healthier options and larger grocery stores has  always existed in these communities, more and more people are gaining awareness and understanding as terminology and concepts such as “Food Justice” is becoming more common place. School gardens help open the door for young leaders to advocate for access to larger grocery stores, farmers markets, and community gardens, ultimately benefiting the overall health of their communities. 

Being at the front lines of food and nutrition, Gourmet Gorilla knows firsthand the value of exposing students to healthy food, and educating them on the long lasting benefits of a healthy diet. Similar to the Farm to School Network’s three core elements, Gourmet Gorilla focuses on sustainable sourcing, clean ingredients, and education. We partner with local food purveyors and farmers throughout the midwest to ensure we are supporting the growth of our local food system. This goes hand-in-hand with our guarantee for 100% clean label ingredients, because when you know where your food is coming from, there is an added level of transparency that ensures no additives, hormones, or mystery ingredients that no one can pronounce (dimethylpolysiloxane?!). We are in full support of the Kids Eat Local Act, and would love to see the return of a new CNR this year. The Act would help to implement much of the work we are doing all over the country, ensuring each student has access to the healthy food that they deserve.

Like with any program that works to create effective change, it may seem impossible or daunting learning how to get involved. Luckily, it is actually quite easy. The Farm to School Network is looking for your voices to help them prepare for the possible return of CNR this year. Not sure how you can help? Follow this link for some great resources that detail the best way to get involved to guarantee the passing of the CNR this year, because local food and school gardens are so much more than buzzwords; they ensure resilient, strong, and sustainable communities.

This post was written by Anna Crofts - Senior Client Account Representative

Summer Meals: More Than Just a Lunch

The beginning of June is an exciting time, especially for kids. The arrival of June means they are one step closer to summer break; a time of freedom, relaxation, and warm summer days. But with school being out of session, the summer also becomes a critical time for children’s health and well-being. For many students, the meals being provided at their schools are the healthiest meal they will be eating all day. As a participant provider in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), we here at Gourmet Gorilla understand the importance that school lunch plays on an overall healthy lifestyle. The NSLP serves approximately 30.4 million lunches daily to children in more than 100,00 schools across the nation. The unfortunate reality is that for many of those kids, the end of the school year can also mean the end of lunch. In Illinois alone, 1,395,970 people are struggling with hunger - and of them 453,260 are children.(Feeding America). Summer Feeding Programs help bridge the food insecurity gap in the summer months when school lunch is not an option.

The United State’s Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides kids and teens in low-income areas free meals when school is out. We partner with the largest distributor of summer meals in Chicago: The Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD). The Greater Chicago Food Depository is Chicago’s food bank. They provide food for the hungry while striving to end hunger in our community. Gourmet Gorilla is proud to make and distribute hundreds of meals each day throughout the year to schools, community centers, and libraries across Chicagoland who are part of the Greater Chicago Food Depository feeding program.

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A snapshot of our summer meals

While we may distribute hundreds of meals during the school year, this number reaches into the tens of thousands during the summer, with the peak being 15,000 meals going out the doors of Gourmet Gorilla each day to over 200 sites. These meals are planned and created using the same standards that we follow throughout the school year: at least 70% of our ingredients are organic, we use only local and hormone free meats, and the majority of our ingredients are made from scratch right in our commercial kitchen. We believe the access to healthy, clean, and delicious food is a human right, and this goal does not stop when school is out.

Each day in the summer, Gourmet Gorilla sends out tens of thousands of meals. We use refrigerated trucks to keep the meals cool, and compostable packaging to protect the environment and reduce plastic use.

Each day in the summer, Gourmet Gorilla sends out tens of thousands of meals. We use refrigerated trucks to keep the meals cool, and compostable packaging to protect the environment and reduce plastic use.

With such a large spike in total meals, this means a lot of changes here at Gourmet Gorilla.

Our cook team hard at work

Our cook team hard at work

During the summer, our team works hard to make sure that every kid who needs one is getting local, delicious made from meals each day this summer. From our kitchen team that prepares and packages the meals, to our fleet of drivers who work tirelessly each day to ensure the meals are getting out the door, summertime is a fast-paced time of year here at Gourmet Gorilla! From our team to yours, we hope you have a happy, healthy, and safe summer! Here’s to the new season!

Think your community center needs summer meals? Visit the Greater Chicago Food Depository to apply for the summer meals program! Click here to view their website:

Learn how to Compost!

Springtime Activities: Learn how to Compost!


Longer days, the sun shining, the smell of soil and earth outdoors, and the removal of long underwear from your daily wardrobe can only mean one thing:  springtime in Chicago is finally here!
Spring is a great time to plan outdoor activities at your school or at home with your family. Winter offers so many wonderful outdoor activities such as playing in the snow, building snowmen, and sledding but nothing beats going outside and laying in the grass and getting your hands a little dirty on a warm day. 

If you have a green thumb or not, spring is a great time to teach the young ones in your life about growing plants and the processes of the natural world that affect us directly- like how our food grows. These activities and experiments are fun and educational for all ages.

One of our favorite hands on activities for the spring is composting in the classroom. In this activity kids will learn that food scraps can be recycled, just like how we recycle paper or glass at home. This happens through the process of decomposition, and at the end of this process, food scraps turn into a nutrient rich soil called compost. Kids will also learn what ingredients are needed to create compost and what items you can and cannot put in a compost bin.

Students build their own soil-arium and mix together food scraps, soil, paper scraps and ‘rainwater’. Students can observe the multi week process and watch their food scraps turn into nutrient rich soil. This soil can be used to plant something at home.

To do this you will need:

  • A wide mouth glass jar, or a clear plastic cup for each child

  • Organic yard debris (such as fallen leaves, grass clippings and dirt)

  • Old newspaper

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps

  • Water

  • Permanent marker


Kids will layer soil, newspaper, and food scraps. This will be repeated until the jar is full. In the end it is ideal to have an even ratio of all 3 of these. You will top off the jar with a little ‘rainwater’ which will help get the decomposition process started. If you can collect rainwater that is great! If not, you can definitely use tap water.

Cap the concoction and poke some holes in the top to let in oxygen. Mark on the container to indicate the top of the ingredients. Lastly, set your compost experiment on a sunny windowsill.

Every two weeks mark a line to show the ‘new’ top as the decomposition process takes place. 
In about 12 weeks your organic matter will turn into a nutrient rich soil that will be ready for your garden!

We found this activity on the Tom’s of Maine website. You can view the full activity here.

If you are interested in having a Gourmet Gorilla team member come out to your school to lead a composting activity please reach out to us at

It's National Nutrition Month!


March marks the beginning of National Nutrition Month! National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It is celebrated every March with the goal to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and lifestyle habits. Here at Gourmet Gorilla, we strive to promote healthy eating year-round, so we are quite excited to participate on a national level to promote a healthy lifestyle with this campaign. Our Registered Dieticians on staff work hard all year to come up with programming and menu items that make healthy eating delicious, fun, and most importantly long-term. Our goal is to change the way our students see healthy eating; not as a burden, but as something that can feel and taste great. The more likely children and teens are to eat fruit and vegetables, the more likely they are to carry that into adulthood.

While embracing National Nutrition Month and switching over to healthier eating habits this March is great, we also encourage you to take this time to move towards making permanent changes that can benefit both you and your family. Not sure where to begin? Check out the following nutrition and health tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Health Tips for 2019

Eat Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for students! Start your morning off with a healthy breakfast that includes lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables
50 is the magic number when it comes to your lunch plate! Always be sure that 50% of your plate is filled with fruits and veggies. These add color, flavor, and texture to your plate! Experiment with different types such as frozen, fresh, or canned to find your favorite!

Be Active
Regular physical activity has many health benefits. Children and teens should get 60 or more minutes of physical activity per day. Don’t have time to go to the gym? Go on a walk as a family or play a game of catch or basketball.

Get to Know Food Labels
Reading the Nutrition Facts on food packaging can help you shop, eat, or drink smarter. Not sure what ingredients to watch out for? 
Here is a guide than can help walk you through the good, the bad, and the ugly ingredients. 

Drink More Water
Feeling dehydrated? Shockingly enough, if you’re feeling thirsty, that means your body is not getting enough water. Aim for 8 8 oz glasses per day. It can be tricky to remember to be drinking water, especially because when you’re hydrated, you may not be feeling thirsty. To be sure you’re drinking enough, always carry a water bottle around with you at school or work. There are also plenty of apps that can set an alert to let you know to take a sip! Try Daily Water or Hydra Coach!

Explore New Foods and Flavors
It’s always good to expand your flavor horizons! Next time you go shopping, try picking up a new fruit, vegetable, or whole grain for you and your family to try.

National Nutrition Month is a great time to make healthy changes, but it is also important to think of a way to make these small changes long-term goals. Work together with your family to come up with ways to incorporate some of these health tips into the rest of 2019! For more information and some great handouts, check out

Staff Spotlight!

Staff Spotlight: Samuel Parker - Logistics Manager


This week, we sat down with Logistics Manager Samuel Parker. As the manager of our driver fleet, Sam plays a huge park in ensuring that healthy, cooked from scratch meals are delivered to kiddos all throughout Chicagloand on a daily basis. Read on to learn more about Sam, his role at Gourmet Gorilla, and some memorable moments.


Q: Tell us a little about yourself - where are you from, how long have you lived in chicago, what are your interests, etc.?

-I grew up in the panhandle of Nebraska.  I am the son of a railroader and a teacher and I have 2 younger sisters.  My family moved to Topeka, Kansas around the time I was starting high school.  After high school I attended and graduated from the University of Kansas.  I just recently moved to Chicago this past summer.  As far as my interests go, I follow sports quite a bit and am a big fan of the Royals, Chiefs, and Jayhawks.

Q: Have you worked in logistics and/or with food systems before?

-I have worked several different positions in the logistics field for the past 12+ years.  Working with food systems is something that is new for me.  My previous positions have been mostly focused on the distribution of items that were far less temperature sensitive and time sensitive.  There is a level of precision that is demanded by this position that wasn’t necessarily required in my previous experience.

Q: What attracted you to working at Gourmet Gorilla?

-When I made the decision to move to Chicago, I was looking for a fast growing company with a mission statement that I really believed in.  Offering healthy food to kids is an idea that is easy to get behind!  In the preliminary conversations I had with members of the team here, I felt as though there was a need and an opportunity for me to make an impact.

Q: What does a logistics manager at Gourmet Gorilla do? What does a typical day at work consist of for you?

-The short answer to this question is that the logistics department is tasked with making sure the healthy meals that are prepared by our kitchen team are transported/delivered to our clients safely and efficiently.  The process of ensuring this happens is a bit more intricate and complicated than the short answer, but that basically summarizes our responsibilities.  

Q: What is the funniest/most outrageous thing that has happened to you while at work?

-As you can imagine, with a large fleet of vehicles dispersed all throughout Chicagoland area, issues do occasionally arise.  I would say the most outrageous, (not sure I would call it funny!) thing that has happened since I have been here has been  - one of our drivers actually got a truck wedged and stuck underneath a bridge.  It was wedged so tightly underneath the bridge, that a tow truck was initially unable to pull it out! 

Q: If you had to move to another department for a day what would you like to do a GG? Why?

-That is a good question.  I suppose I would choose to spend a day in the purchasing department.  I know that some of the other departments rely heavily on the decisions that are made in that department.  I can imagine there are a ton of moving parts yet everything always seems to go so smoothly.  

Q: What is your favorite part of working at Gourmet Gorilla?

-My favorite part of Gourmet Gorilla is definitely the team of people that we work with.  I genuinely like every single person I work with on a day to day basis.  

Happy Valentine's Day!

A New Way of Looking at Valentine’s Day

Ok., Valentine’s Day may be a controversial holiday. This holiday is often dismissed as a commercialized celebration created by Hallmark to increase sales of greeting cards, chocolate and candy. However, this is not completely true; some of the first records of Valentine’s Day are handmade paper cards from the Middle Ages. St. Valentine and a celebration around February 14th can be traced back to Ancient Rome, although the meaning and celebration of the holiday has morphed over the years as it has been integrated into different cultures. Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many countries all over the world, each with its own tradition. My favorite that I came across was ystävänpäivä which is Finland and Estonia’s Valentine’s Day, which translates into “Friends Day”. This day is an opportunity to remember friends by sending them cards and small tokens of affection.

I like to view Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to show gratitude for friends and family by making homemade cards and baked goods. Valentine’s Day can be tricky to avoid allergens and sugar when there seems to be an excess of boxed chocolate and sweetheart candies everywhere. I am looking forward to making these homemade coconut filled chocolate hearts which are dairy, nut, sugar & gluten free. You only need 4 ingredients (and a heart shaped baking tin if you want to get fancy).


Homemade Valentine Coconut Filled Candy [Dairy, Nut, Sugar, & Gluten Free]

Prep Time 30 minutes

Total Time 30 minutes

Servings 12

Calories 103 kcal

Author Brenda Bennett | Sugar-Free Mom



  1. In a small bowl melt carob chips and 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in the microwave or in a pot on the stove.

  2. Stir until completely smooth.

  3. In another bowl mix 2 more tablespoons of coconut oil with 2 tablespoons of shredded coconut and stevia.

  4. In a silicone mini valentine shaped mold or mini cupcake liners, fill each with 1 teaspoon of chocolate.

  5. Add 1/2 teaspoon of coconut mixture.

  6. Cover each with 1 1/2 teaspoons of chocolate.

  7. Top with remaining shredded coconut.

  8. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or freeze for 10 minutes.


At Gourmet Gorilla, we understand that sometimes you just need a little sweet treat and that this can be done without using added sugars. Unsweetened applesauce, sunbutter, banana and honey are the staple ingredients to some of our favorite kid approved semi-sweet items like banana muffins, our homemade granola bars, and quick breads with fruit. If you are on a sugar free or low sugar diet, it doesn’t mean you have to cut out all sweet items… which is great news for Valentine’s Day!

Living with Food Allergies


Tree nut allergies have become a nemesis for many families all-across the country, causing many households, schools, and community centers to maintain a nut free environment. This can be complicated, especially with the prevalence of nuts in all sorts of snacks and sweets. New research being presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting suggests that peanut allergies in children has increased 21 percent since 2010, and that nearly 2.5 percent of U.S. children may have an allergy to peanuts. One of the most frightening aspects of this allergy its ability to become fatal. Childhood hospitalizations for food allergy related occurrences tripled between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s
Here at Gourmet Gorilla, we provide lunches for children all throughout Chicagoland. We understand how important it is for parents to feel at ease while their kids are at school-especially when those kiddos have allergies. For this reason, our facility is 100% nut-free; this means not only does our food not contain nuts, but nuts never enter our production facility or office spaces. However, nuts aren’t the only allergy that more and more folks are struggling with day-to-day. According to the FDA, there are 8 foods that make up 90% of allergic reaction cases in the U.S.

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Allergies to the foods listed above are becoming commonplace in schools across the country. Because of this, we also provide allergen free menus, which eliminate ingredients such as gluten, dairy and eggs. Food allergies are not something to be taken lightly, and to ensure that Gourmet Gorilla kids are getting exactly what their growing bodies need (and shouldn’t have!) we send out comprehensive lists of ingredients to our schools each month. 

We know how tricky it can be to have a child with food allergies. It isn’t as simple as running into the store and grabbing a quick snack. Rather, as a parent of a child with food allergies, quite a lot of time is spent scouring labels and mentally checking off the boxes for ingredients that aren’t there. Not sure what snacks are safe for your kiddos? Well, fear not, Gourmet Gorilla has got you covered with some home-made snack ideas.

Keepin’ it Simple: Allergen Free Snacks

Life is busy; between sports, play dates, grocery shopping and family outings, it’s not always easy to plan ahead. In order to make your days a little simpler, we are going to share some kid-tested nut free snacks that are easy to make and transport. Time saving, worry-free, and delicious.


Root Veggie Chips

Puffed Rice Trail Mix

Roasted Chickpeas

Nut Free No Bake Energy Balls

More Questions?

Still have questions about your child’s food allergies? Check out this useful sheet for kids and parents from This list runs through important information such as hidden names for allergens and clever substitutes.

Welcome Our New Dietetics Intern: Tracey!


We are so thrilled that Tracey will be joining the Gourmet Gorilla team for the next month! Read on to learn more about our new intern!

Hi my name is Tracey, and I am so excited to be working with Gourmet Gorilla for the next month as part of my Dietetic Internship! A little bit about myself, I graduated from Miami University in Ohio last May with a major in Dietetics and a minor in Management and Leadership. I have lived in Chicago for the past 10 years and before that lived in Florida, I have still have not gotten accustomed to the cold weather.

I have a black lab named Ozzie, he is turning 3 in December; he is one of the most mischievous dogs you will ever meet and believes he is a lap dog. I also have 2 brothers, a younger and an older brother, so I am stuck in the middle.  I am very passionate about nutrition and I am always experimenting and creating new healthy recipes, especially ones that involve chocolate.  I hope to one day either work a professional sports team or have my own private practice. Looking forward to the next 4 weeks!

Tracey was kind enough to share her very own Almon Joy Chia Seed Protein Pudding Recipe! This recipe is sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike! Enjoy!


~ Almond Joy Protein Chia Seeds Pudding~
1/3 cup chia seeds
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 scoop chocolate protein powder
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/4 cup coconut shreds
1/4 cup almond slices
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

1. Mix all ingredients together except the coconut shreds and almond slices
2. Refrigerate 2-3 hours (or overnight)
3. Layer alternating coconut shreds/almond slice and pudding
4. Top with any leftover coconut shreds and almonds and chocolate chips
* Will stay good up to 5 days in the refrigerator

Cooking and Preserving the Autumn Harvest


You know the end of summer is near when the piles of heirloom tomatoes, leafy lettuces, pints of fresh berries and quarts of stone fruit slowly dwindle away from the weekly offering at your neighborhood farmers market. In its place are heaps of colorful carrots, hearty brassicas like kohlrabi and broccoli, golden and purple beets, crisp local apples, and wonky looking varieties of winter squash. Although some of these items like the carrots and broccoli have been around for most of the summer, they receive a new appreciation once the weather has chilled. The possibility of a long and slow roasting or chopping up and tossing into a large stew to release their complex flavors becomes an activity that is looked forward to as the days get shorter and we spend a bit more time at home (and maybe more time cooking!) than we did in the summer months.

Autumnal fruits and vegetables have the bonus of being hearty and keeping in your fridge or pantry with a long life if stored properly. This means you can stock up on local root vegetables when the price is right and you don’t have to stress about cooking them in the immediate days following their purchase. This makes it easier to always have produce on hand and being able to whip up a tasty and nutritious meal with the addition of a few pantry staples.


Best Practice for Storing

Apples: Store your apples in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator with a slightly moistened paper towel on top. Apples give off a lot of ethylene gas, so just one bruised or rotting apple will quickly ripen the others. If you have any apples with soft spots, set it aside to eat or bake.

Potatoes: Potatoes are best kept in a cool and dry location in a paper bag or cardboard box. Their ideal temperature range is 45-55 degrees F which can be difficult to find in your home, so you can try to store them in the coolest part of your kitchen or on the steps going down to your basement.


Winter Squash: Most winter squash will have been cured before you purchase it and bring it home. This means that the squash sat out in a sunny and dry place for 7 to 10 days just after being harvested. If this has been done well, the squash should last for several months.Squash store best at an even 50 degrees F in a cool dark place and are best to not be touching one another to avoid bruising.

Carrots: Cut off the greens - if you are going to use them later (which we recommend!) you can store them separately in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel inside. Place carrots in a container filled with water and place in refrigerator. Whole carrots stay crunchy in this cold water bath. If the water starts to look cloudy swap it with fresh water.

Kale: Kale is one of the rare greens that can be washed and preps days in advance without wilting or losing quality. It will stay fresh in your crisper, if kept dry, for over a week. The key is to remove any moisture; You can wrap the greens in a dry paper towel and store inside plastic bag.

If you’re not going to use your kale within a week of purchasing you can freeze them and save them for smoothies or cooking later on. You will need to blanch the kale beforehand (cook in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, drain, then transfer to ice water), dry kale thoroughly and store in a freezer bag for up to 8 months.

What pantry items to keep stocked in your kitchen this fall and winter

  • Gnocchi - this is a welcome change from the classic pasta staple which is filling and adds great texture to a dish. You can find shelf stable gnocchi at your local supermarket.

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  • Lentils - Nutty and earthy in flavor, lentils are inexpensive and are an excellent source of protein and fiber. They bulk up a meal easily and are easy to prepare.

  • Garbanzo Beans - taste great sauteed with greens, lemon, and garlic and topped with a yogurt based sauce. If you have a food processor at home you can even try making your own hummus!

  • Canned tomatoes - the more variety, the better! You can whip up salsa with diced tomatoes, add a hearty layer of flavor to a stew with crushed tomatoes, or make a simple and tasty tomato soup with pureed tomatoes.

It's National School Lunch Week!

It's National School Lunch Week!

This week at Gourmet Gorilla, we are excited to highlight the National School Lunch Program! Not sure what that is? Read on to find out more!

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was established in 1946 by President Harry Truman. Over the years, the NSLP has provided millions of children with nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches each school day. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy created the National School Lunch Week, which takes place THIS WEEK!

Not only is it National School Lunch Week, October is National Farm to School MONTH. That’s right, a whole month dedicated to advocacy and community outreach, bringing local food sourcing to schools near you.

At Gourmet Gorilla, we strive to provide quality, great tasting meals that are also locally sourced and nutritionally balanced that kids of all ages will enjoy. We have Registered Dietitian Nutritionists on staff to ensure we are meeting NSLP guidelines and our food is kid approved. Our 
Purchasing Manager works hard to source local and organic foods that come from the Midwest. Our entire team is diligent in making sure that the food we provide for the kids is top notch.

Bring one of our favorite meals home by using our in house mac n cheese recipe:

Creamy Mac n Cheese


Cook Time: 30-60 mins

Yield: 4 Servings


1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon flour

¼ tsp sea salt

¾ cup whole milk

½ cup shredded American Cheese

¼ cup shredded Cheddar Cheese

¾ cup Elbow Noodles



Preheat oven to 350 (optional, if you would like to bake mac n cheese).

Heat butter in small skillet. Add flour and mix with flour until it forms a thick rue (until there is no more white dry flour, and it become paste-like).

Slowly add milk to heated skillet and stir until dissolved. Keep on medium low heat with a lid, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick (about 15 minutes).

Boil water for pasta. Cook until elbow pasta is al dente (about 7 minutes).

Once mixture has reached a thick consistency add shredded American and Cheddar Cheese slowly, stirring to combine.

Add salt.

Combine pasta and cheese sauce together.

Option to bake for 25 minutes until warm and slightly brown on top.


Staff Spotlight: Lead Baker Daisy Lopez!

This week, I sat down with Gourmet Gorilla’s lead baker, Daisy Lopez, to discuss everything from blueberry bread to tarantulas. As Gourmet Gorilla’s lead baker, Daisy is the creator of all those delicious breads, brownies, and muffins that have become kid favorites. Read on to find out more about Daisy!


Anna: What is your official title?

Daisy: I am the lead baker

A:  And how long have you been at GG?

D: I have been here for about a year and a half

A : What were you doing before GG, and what led you to this position?

D: So I went to school for baking and pastry, and I was a pastry chef for a few years. I used to do wedding cakes, and then I switched over to being a regular pastry chef, and it wasn’t really rewarding. I always wanted to do something where I could feel like I was helping someone, and I didn’t really feel like I was making a difference at all and was very over worked.  I just thought, you know I need to find something where either I’m helping someone, or at least I’m helping myself because I wasn’t really happy. So I started looking at jobs and found this position at Gourmet Gorilla and starting reading what the company was about and thought, hey that’s pretty cool! I have always thought that helping kids learn about food at a young age will definitely help them regarding nutrition in the future. so applied and thought, ok let’s see what happens.

A: How has your background as a pastry chef helped you in this role?

D: I did a lot of work with substitutions, both for myself at home and at work, so I had a lot of practice with making recipes healthier. One thing I took on here was tweaking the brownie recipe. It used to have oil, so I removed that and added applesauce, and reduced the sugar to make it healthier, and the texture really improved!

A: What do you find is the most rewarding part of working for Gourmet Gorilla?


D: For me it is the fact that sometimes I get to help my other co-workers. A lot of them don’t know English very well, and since I have been getting to know them better and am learning what they are able to understand it allows me to assist them when they are having a hard time understanding something. Because I am bilingual, and I came from a household where my mom also didn’t really know English very well, I learned to be a little more patient and try to translate for her. With my teammates, I am always trying to listen to them and whatever needs they have to try and help communicate that out to the rest of the kitchen. I have found that over time this has also helped a lot of my team members become more confident, because it gives them the opportunity to also practice and be heard.

A: Do you have any experience with the menu development?

D: My main task has been taking past or current menu items and making them a little bit healthier!

A: What are your favorite current menu items

D: The cornbread is really good! I ended up changing that recipe a little bit too. We changed the flour to whole wheat and added applesauce. I like this one to make as well, because even though it is tough to mix sometimes, I don’t have to spread it! Overall though, I think the blueberry bread is my favorite.

A: So tells us more about you! What do you like to do outside of work?

D: Me and my husband like going on picnics, going to the park, I love patios – if we are going out to eat I always have to find a patio! I also love to explore and try new foods, I have to try everything once. On our Honeymoon we went to Cambodia and we had bugs – tarantulas and scorpions – and you know what the tarantulas weren’t that bad! 


This Blog Post was Written by Anna Crofts - Client Account Reprsentative

Fall Flavors: The Power of Pumpkin


Fall has officially arrived, and you know what that means: sweater weather, pumpkin flavored desserts, and Halloween! If you’re planning on carving pumpkins soon, remember to save the pulp - it can be used for a hearty chili! Although pumpkins make great jack-o-lanterns, they also have numerous health benefits. Pumpkin is a good source of:

  •   Fiber, which helps you feel full and promotes regular bowel movements. Fiber is also known to help maintain blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol levels.

  • Vitamin A, which is important for healthy vision, normal cell growth, and a strong immune system. With flu season upon us, Vitamin A can help fight the abundance of viruses.

  • Vitamin C, which helps to repair tissues, protect against heart disease, and helps with the absorption of iron.

  • Potassium, which helps maintain a healthy blood pressure, as well as enables the heart and other organs to function properly.

Pumpkin is also low in calories. One cup of cubed pumpkin is about thirty calories and one cup of pumpkin puree (not to be confused with pumpkin pie mix) contains about eighty calories. Chili is a fall favorite and this recipe is sure to be a crowd pleaser!

Hearty Fall Chili


  •   1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

  •   3 cloves garlic, minced

  •   1-2 jalapeños, minced (with seeds removed for a milder chili, and with seeds for a more spicy chili)

  •   1 lb. ground turkey

  •   2 tsp ground cumin

  •   2 tsp chili powder

  •   1/2 tsp salt

  •   1 tsp cinnamon

  •   1 tsp thyme

  •   2 cans of beans, rinsed (white, black, or pinto beans)

  •   1 8-oz can corn

  •   1 can pumpkin puree

  •   1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

  •   1 cup sodium-free chicken broth

  •   Optional toppings (jalapeño slices, Greek yogurt, sour cream, cheddar cheese)




1.      Place 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in large saucepan over high heat. Once heated, add 3 cloves garlic (minced) and sauté for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Next, add diced jalapeños and sauté for another 1-2 minutes, or until softened.

2.      Add ground turkey and cook until browned. Then, add 2 tsp cumin, 2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp thyme. Stir the mixture well.

3.      Next, add the 2 cans of beans, 1 8-oz can corn, 1 can pumpkin puree, 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes, and 1 cup sodium-free chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, or until thickened. Be sure to taste as you go and add a few extra dashes of the seasonings if needed.

4.      Once cooked, serve chili and top with optional jalapeño slices, cheddar cheese, or plain Greek yogurt.

The recipe yields eight servings. One serving is 370 calories, 14 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 50 grams of carbohydrates, and 28 grams of fiber.

Recipe courtesy of

This Blog Post was brought to you by Carolyn Prucha, RD.




Staff Spotlight: Purchasing Manager Jared Jaggers


Last week I sat down with our purchasing manager, Jared Jaggers, to find out a little more about him, his role at  Gourmet Gorilla, and how he works with Gourmet Gorilla’s mission to source sustainable ingredients for all of the meals we create each day.

DS: How long have you been working at Gourmet Gorilla?

JJ: 5 years!

And what is your official Title?

Purchasing Manager

Tell us a little about yourself; What led you to working to Gourmet Gorilla, and this position in particular?

I have a background in Environmental Studies and Biology. I was working for a private Ecological Landscaping company before working at Gourmet Gorilla, and one of my co-workers left the company to start working here. He later referred me to an open position in inventory and I left the Ecological Landscaping company to begin working here. I moved around in the company a bit, later working in a logistics management position, at that time we had about 10 trucks, 10 drivers, and 100 schools. When the purchasing manager position opened up, I wanted to move into that position. I am more of a numbers person anyway, so that position appealed to me more than the logistics manager. I wanted to be more focused on the kitchen side of things and already had the background knowledge from working in inventory. I have been doing purchasing now for about 4 years.

The Famous Lion-O!

The Famous Lion-O!

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to play video games and I try and be in a sport team; In the summer it’s volleyball or kickball, and I’m about to join a soccer team. Basically hanging out and relaxing with my wife and my cat, Lion-O.

What policies and standards does Gourmet Gorilla have around purchasing?

We are looking through every ingredient of everything we buy and try to keep everything as clean as possible.There are some ingredients we just don’t allow, like tree nuts, peanuts, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, artificial colors or flavor, trans fat, and GMOs for instance. We keep our products at least 70% local and organic and avoid GMO when possible. I work closely with our staff dietitians when selecting items.

What are the benefits and difficulties of sourcing products and ingredients in the Midwest?

There is a lot of protein and dairy agriculture in the Midwest; We get our turkey from Michigan, chicken from Missouri, our drumsticks are from a small Amish farm in Indiana. We source our milk from Sassy Cow farm in Wisconsin.
There is a large variety of produce available during our growing season and there is an increasing amount of organic produce that is available in the Midwest. However, there are produce items we simply can’t source locally, like lemons or pineapple.

Sourcing the right quantity of local and small batch product can be difficult. It’s doable, it just takes a lot of work and communication with the vendor. Smaller producers need more time to prepare for a large order, like Country View Dairy in Iowa who we source our yogurt from, you can’t just let them know you need something for the next day, you need to give them a few weeks notice.

What are you most excited about for the upcoming school year?

Our newest waste reduction efforts. NSLP (National School Lunch Program) schools are now able to order in a new way that is specified by component, which will lead to less waste. The severs at those schools know what the kids like and don’t like, and allowing servers to control the orders on this level will help reduce their food waste and we will not be ordering food that isn’t consumed by students.

What is your favorite part of working at Gourmet Gorilla?
The people. I am lucky to work with a lot of dedicated people who work so hard to get healthy food out the door everyday.

*This blog post was brought to you by Davin Steiger, Client Account Representative

'Tis is the season of strawberries


We at Gourmet Gorilla are welcoming the warm weather and the bountiful fresh fruits and vegetables that arrive with summertime. A universal favorite among the GG team is strawberries... of course! Let me tell you, if you are a farmer’s market junkie like me, this is the best way to shop for some fresh strawberries and start a conversation with the vendors about where they are grown and how long the season will last. Of course, don’t forget to buy some extra boxes and consume them in various ways. And even if they start to get mushy and overripe sitting in your refrigerator, we can suggest some cool recipes before you make your way to the bin.
As Brad Leone, Bon Appetit’s Test Kitchen Manager rightly said, “Strawberries are like tomatoes for me; I’ll wait till they’re in season, then gorge myself like a brown bear before hibernation.” Amen to that!

Here are some easy recipes we’ve compiled as you make your way through the strawberry season: 

Strawberry Eton Mess


-    1 cup strawberries – half sliced, and half kept whole for assembling
-    1/3 cup sugar
-    1 1/2 cup heavy cream
-    1 box store bought meringues

This classic British dessert is easy to whip. When the party arrives - it wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to assemble this! 
-    Toss half of sliced berries with sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set over a medium saucepan filled with 1" of barely simmering water. Let sit until berries are soft and juices have accumulated in bowl, 25–30 minutes. Let cool, then toss in remaining sliced berries.
-    Whisk cream in a medium bowl to soft peaks. Layer cream, meringues, then strawberry mixture in four 8-oz. glasses. Chill 20 minutes. Top with whole strawberries to serve.
Link to the original recipe

Strawberry Arugula walnut Salad


-    1 ½ cup fresh arugula
-    4 oz. cooked chicken breast. We recommend grilling and basting with honey Dijon mustard!
-    1 cup sliced strawberries
-    8 roasted walnuts
-    1 scallion, thinly sliced diagonal
-    Crushed red pepper flakes
Ps: This is a farmer’s market friendly recipe. Don’t forget to pick your favorite salad dressing for this recipe. 

Arrange arugula, cooked chicken breast, sliced strawberries, scallions, and walnut in your salad bowl. Gently sprinkle red pepper flakes if you are feeling bold. We also recommend dried oregano or fresh basil if you have some in your pantry. Drizzle your dressing and you are good to go with this easy recipe. 

Strawberry Lemonade



-    1 can sparkling water
-    5 sliced strawberries
-    4-5 mint leaves
-    2 lime slices
-    Ice

When the sun is up and above, this could be your go-to drink! This one is a kid friendly recipe. 
 Put 4 sliced strawberries and mint leaves in a glass and crush them until the fruit is broken up and the   leaves are bruised. Add ice to glass. Pour sparkling water over ice. Add lime slices and the last of the strawberry slices to the drink. Garnish with fresh mint and a strawberry.

   Link to original recipe

Happy Berrying!

This week's blog post is brought to you by Ritika Jagasia, Client Account Representative

Summer Feeding - School’s Out!

lunch bus.jpg

Temperatures nearing 90 degrees, kids playing in jungle gyms at parks where dozens more are lined up to receive today’s lunch- a chicken salad sandwich, fresh clementine, cucumber slices and ranch dip, and a cold carton of milk. This is summer for us here at Gourmet Gorilla.  Our drivers are getting ready to start out on their summer routes, our dietitians have been busy creating nutrient packed, delicious summer meals, and our kitchen staff is getting geared up to providing millions of meals to kids throughout Cook County.

The anticipation of our summer feeding programs is here and we are excited by the impact we can make each day. During the school year, Gourmet Gorilla provides meals to early childhood programs, elementary and high schools, and after school programs. When school is out during the summer months, our operations don’t stop, we continue to provide summer meals throughout the area to local libraries, YMCAs, and community centers, hoping to bring much needed access of a healthy meal to children who typically rely on these meals at their schools throughout the academic year. 

Nationally, 22 million children receive free or reduced meals through the National School Lunch Program, but in the summer months when school is out, only 3.9 million receive meals through the USDA summer food service program. That equates to only 1 out of 6 getting meals during summer break.*  At Gourmet Gorilla, we are working to help narrow this gap by improving access to meal sites, raising awareness, and nourishing kids through these months with fresh, healthy, great-tasting meals.

Many of the kids we serve in the summer rely on them to keep them fed and we believe that helping them receive the proper nutrition will help put them on the path to success.  Our goal is for our meals to be a way to teach them healthy habits now in order to build the groundwork for them to take care of themselves later.

If you’d like more information on where our meals are served, here’s a link to one our partners’, Greater Chicago Food Depository, that provides our meals at their Lunch Bus sites located throughout Cook County.
*Food Action Research Center

This week's blog post is brought to you by Danielle Hrzic, Chief Business Development Officer, Co Founder



The Secret to Good Cooking

The Secret to Good Cooking

The secret to good cooking comes from a well-stocked pantry and a kitchen full of essential equipment. As Peter Parker rightly said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”, we at Gourmet Gorilla have the most rewarding as well as challenging task of providing nutritious food to kids. With this power, we also have the responsibility of maintaining an industrial kitchen and keeping a special check on our gigantic equipment. Compared to this, maintaining tiny kitchen tools seems so much easier.

The Power of Superfoods

Superfoods. What is this term that is so hot in the nutrition world right now? The term “superfoods” does not have one singular definition. There are no standards created to qualify if the food is considered “super” or not. In fact, in some ways I believe all food is super! Even though the term “superfood” does not have a singular definition you will find that most foods that are described as a “super” are high in antioxidant, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Antioxidants and phytochemicals are both important to include in a well balanced diet. Antioxidants help protect the body from damaged molecules called free radicals. There are studies connecting free radicals to blood vessel disease and cancer. Antioxidants have been shown to help prevent that. Phytochemicals are a chemical compounds found in plants. There have been studies that have shown the these help fight atherosclerosis which is the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls.  So what are some examples of common “superfoods”? Take a look at the list below:

  1. Berries - Blueberries and strawberries are both great examples. They both contain high levels of phytochemicals called flavonoids which are important for cardiovascular health.

  2. Tomatoes - Tomatoes are a great source of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is helpful in removing the “bad” cholesterol which improves blood vessel health and can help prevent heart attacks. They are also high in potassium which is heart healthy!

  3. Dark Chocolate - Dark Chocolate that is made up of at least 60-70% cocoa contains flavonoids called polyphenols. Polyphenols have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and inflammation. Dark chocolate is high in fat so it is important to not over consume.

  4. Cinnamon - Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants, such as polyphenols. Cinnamon has also been shown to help with inflammation.

  5. Sweet Potatoes - Sweet potatoes are high in phytochemicals and vitamin A. Vitamin A in a vitamin that plays an important role in eye health.