MANNA’s New Menu

Penne with Meatballs Waffles with Fruit Salmon


This fall, MANNA’s clients may notice a few changes to their meals. After more than a year of drafting, planning, and perfecting, MANNA is taking our already delicious food to the next level by rolling out a new menu.

MANNA’s menu could be described as either an art or a science, depending on who you ask. In the nutrition wing of MANNA’s office, if you ask about our menu you’ll hear about caloric needs, macro and micro nutrients, and the technical nutrition standards we are committed to meeting to ensure that our meals will help our clients to heal. But if you talk to Eric Gantz, MANNA’s Director of Operations and culinary guru, it’s a different story. Eric talks about what it feels like to sit down for one of our meals. He talks about how it feels to have a piece of meat you cut with a fork and a knife, to have a dessert you look forward to and a hot breakfast to wake up to. These two perspectives meet in our kitchen, and together create a menu that is meticulously calculated for nutritional value, and crafted to be delicious, appealing, and fulfilling. Sitting down to a MANNA meal doesn’t feel like another step of treatment. It feels like the reprieve, a treat and a comfort in a challenging time. Our new menu makes sure of that.

To begin the process of creating the new menu, our nutrition staff, led by Nicole Laverty, RD, LDN, Senior Manager of Nutrition and Client Services, performed a comprehensive review of our previous menu. They calculated the daily caloric intake of a client who eats every meal MANNA brings each week, reviewed the amount of fat, protein, sodium, potassium, and calcium in the diet, and set goals for an optimal balance of nutrients.

On the other side of MANNA’s kitchen from the nutrition wing is Eric’s office, where a very different planning process was under way. Eric took clients’ feedback to heart, and sought to create the menu that our clients would take comfort in and enjoy. He wanted more of what he calls “center of the plate options,” which are those hearty, fork-and-knife meals that just make you feel good. If you listen to Eric talk about MANNA’s meals, you’ll notice that he’s the only one at MANNA who doesn’t always use the word “clients” to refer to the people we serve. He often refers to them as “guests,” a subtle hint at the way he thinks of our food; as a long-time restaurant chef and owner, Eric writes MANNA’s recipes as he would for patrons. In fact, every new MANNA recipe has been on the menu of a restaurant of his. Each meal that MANNA delivers begins with this care, with this pride, of a chef who values above all else providing a delicious meal to guests.
MANNA’s menu is on a six-week cycle, with no entrée appearing more than once. After meeting with the nutrition team and taking stock of the improvements they wanted to see, Eric wrote the menu by putting together recipes for each meal type (breakfast, lunch and dinner), in groups of 7 – for a week’s worth of meals – and adapting them in subtle ways that would help to meet nutrition standards.

This menu draft then went to the nutrition team. Using a program called Nutritionist Pro, MANNA dietitians and dietetic interns entered each recipe to assess nutritional qualities. This program evaluated each meal, and also each day’s meals and each week’s meals, to see the balance provided by the full menu. Then our dietitians relayed to Eric which meals were problematic and which weeks had balance issues, sending Eric back to the drawing board to make the necessary changes.

This evaluation and revision period was long and painstaking. The two sides of this process – nutrition and culinary – were uncompromising, in the best sense of the term. Neither would give up their commitment to creating the absolute best menu for our clients, and as a result, it took nearly a year to go through each individual meal, each day’s menu, and eventually the full six-week cycle. While at MANNA we like to say that everything fits, meaning that our nutrition and culinary teams can modify any recipe to fit our clients’ health needs, the reality is that there are some meals that simply wouldn’t work. Eric uses the example of an Asian inspired dish he wanted to include with a teriyaki sauce. There was just no way to create a teriyaki or soy-based sauce that could stay within our sodium guidelines, while still being proud of the taste of the meal. So rather than compromising the flavor, these unworkable meals were removed, and replaced with a different meal entirely. When this process finished, MANNA could almost call the menu ready.

The only remaining step was to create the modifications we use to tailor each clients’ diet to their health needs. Some of these modifications were easy; the pureed and soft food diets, for example, add a step to adjust texture but do not change recipes. On the other hand, the menu for a client with renal failure has more substantial changes. Using the nutrient profiles for each recipe already collected in Nutritionist Pro, MANNA’s nutrition team highlighted what needed to be changed from the standard diet to make it appropriate for a renal failure patient, and used substitutions or meal swaps to perfect it. After going through this process for the rest of our modifications, the menu was ready.

After more than a year of work, MANNA’s new menu is ready. Beginning with a gradual roll out, clients will begin to open their delivered meals to find the new, delicious recipes. As an added bonus, MANNA will now be able to print nutrition labels to be included with clients’ meals, so that clients can see the nutrient contents and learn how to use nutrition labels to make healthy choices. Each recipe, in its final form, is tested first in a batch for 250 servings, and then produced and packaged, as always, by the hundreds of caring volunteers who come to MANNA each week. They are then delivered by MANNA’s tireless distribution staff, with smiles and well wishes, to each client’s home, to provide nourishment, strength, health, and most of all, enjoyment and comfort.

Contributed by Kelly McGlynn

August is Family Meals Month

Studies show that when families eat together, meals are likely to be more nutritious.  In fact, kids who eat regularly with their families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Beyond health and nutrition, family meals provide a valuable opportunity for children and parents to reconnect. When adults, children and teenagers eat together children do better in school, have fewer behavioral problems, and communication improves. When is the last time you sat down and ate a meal with your family? If you cannot remember, August is a great time to start having a meal with your family as often as you can. Check out the following tips to make family meals happen at your house.

Tips on How to have more Family Meals:

  1. Schedule Family Meals – To plan more family meals, look over the calendar and choose a time when everyone can be there. Figure out which obstacles are getting in the way of family meals and see if there are ways to work around them.
  2. Even if it is only once a week, make it a habit to have family meals together. You can then work your way up to 2 to 3 times a week.
  3. Don’t forget that breakfast and lunch are meals as well; there are no rules that say family meals should only happen in the evening.
  4. Prepare Meals Ahead of Time (It is important to make a shopping list and make time to go to the grocery store so you have foods on hand to create meals.)
  5. Try doing some prep work for meals on the weekend to get ready for the week ahead. On a night when you have extra time, cook double and put one meal in the freezer so there is a backup plan for busy nights.
  6. Remember that a meal at home does not have to be complicated or take a long time!
  7. Involve Kids at Family Meals
  8. Younger kids can put plates on the table, pour beverages, or fold napkins.
  9. Older kids can get ingredients, wash produce, mix, and stir. You could even have your teens be the cook for a night and you could be their helper in the kitchen.

During mealtime, make your time at the table pleasant and enjoy being together as a family. Remember to keep your interactions positive at the table. Ask your kids about their days and tell them about yours. Give everyone a chance to talk. If you cannot remember the last time you sat down for a family meal, take the time this August to start a family tradition of eating together and eating better.


A Lesson in Leadership

In our continuing effort to be an institution for training future leaders in the field of nutrition, MANNA is hosting a fellow from the University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership Program.

Meet Sam Follansbee, a Senior at Penn. Sam is studying philosophy, politics, and economics, with concentrations in public policy and governance, and plans to attend law school after graduation. Sam, a linebacker for Penn’s varsity football team, serves as President of Penn’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee and heads the Penn chapter of Uplifting Athletes, a national nonprofit that uses the platform of athletics to raise money and awareness for rare disease research. We’ve been very grateful to Sam for all his hard work this summer and would like to share his experience in his words.

This past spring, the Fox Leadership Program offered me a summertime fellowship opportunity with MANNA. The Fox program engages in various civic initiatives, including the sponsorship of fellowships for Penn undergraduates and recent alumni. The program encourages students to consider the lessons in leadership and life modeled by Robert A. Fox: find your passions; put people first; and succeed the right way. After working for, and learning from MANNA and their staff, it has become clear to me that there is no greater embodiment of these lessons than the endeavor that is MANNA and their food as medicine movement.

Since I began my time with MANNA in June, I’ve had the privilege to work on projects ranging from drafting, disseminating and analyzing data from MANNA’s Client Satisfaction survey, to aggregating the number of meals and clients MANNA has served over the years based on their geographic location. The latter project led me to discover that, in the last decade, MANNA has cooked and delivered over 7.5 million meals to individuals fighting life-threatening diseases. I hope my time at MANNA will help them to continue to effectively improve the health of the communities they serve through their medically appropriate meals and nutrition services.

August’s Healthy Recipe

Spinach Lasagna

Just writing about this recipe makes me hungry! It is a tasty way to package nutrient-rich spinach between calcium-rich cheeses; lasagna noodles made with whole grains; and healthy, hearty tomato pasta sauce. Any extra lasagna keeps well; heat for another meal within the next 3 to 4 days. So, go ahead and make the whole recipe, even if you are cooking for just a few people. Serve with a crisp, mixed green salad.

  • 9 lasagna noodles, preferably made with whole grain
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6-8 cups fresh spinach (amount need not be exact)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 (16 oz.) carton fat-free or low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups shredded cheese (Mozzarella is nice — however other cheeses also will work. I used a Swiss cheese as this is what was in the house at the time)
  • 1 jar (24 oz.) spaghetti sauce, divided


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Prepare the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Don’t overcook them as they will cook more during the baking process. To keep them from sticking together while you’re getting the other ingredients ready, rinse them under cold water and lay on a cookie sheet, with layers separated by plastic wrap or foil.
  3. As you’re preparing the noodles, start assembling the other ingredients. Begin by heating olive oil over a medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add spinach to the pan in stages; turn leaves until they wilt. Add more spinach; repeat process until all of the spinach is added. Remove spinach from skillet, place in a bowl, and set aside to cool.
  4. Blend eggs and ricotta cheese in a food processor or blender until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in 2 cups of the shredded cheese. Then, mix in the spinach.
  5. Assemble the ingredients in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray:
    1. Layer 1: 1 cup of the spaghetti sauce, 3 lasagna noodles, and half the ricotta mixture.
    2. Layer 2: Repeat layer 1
    3. Layer 3: Top with remaining 3 noodles, spaghetti sauce and the remaining 1 cup shredded cheese.
  6. Bake about 35 to 45 minutes or until top is lightly browned and a food thermometer inserted into the lasagna registers 165 degrees F. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Cook’s Notes:

One 10-oz bag of fresh spinach equals approximately 5-6 cups of leaves. If you wish to use frozen spinach, substitute 1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, that has been thawed and well drained.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give this method for washing fresh spinach: “Spinach grows in sandy soil, so wash it thoroughly to get rid of the grainy, sandy particles. Make sure to tear off the stem. Separate the leaves, and place them in a large bowl of water. Gently wash leaves, and let the sand drift to the bottom of the bowl. Remove leaves from the water, and repeat the process with fresh water until the leaves are clean. If spinach is to be eaten raw, dry it completely by using a salad spinner or by blotting it with paper towels.”

Though this recipe is made without salt, as additional way to lower sodium is to use a no-salt-added spaghetti or pasta sauce or make your own. You can make a simple sauce by mixing together 1 (15 oz.) can no-salt-added tomato sauce, 1 (15 oz.) can no-salt added diced tomatoes; and 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning or to taste.