Meal Production Areas

A small footprint and the need to accommodate variable staffing levels presented challenges for the designers when developing the facility's meal production component. "There couldn't be any traffic or flow issues created even if Meals On Wheels decided to double its kitchen staff," Toska says. "Meals On Wheels also wanted all of the kitchen activity to be visible through windows from the flexible area. So we created two straight-line production areas right next to each other."

Fresh-Meals-On-Wheels-Bakery-AreaIn the bakery, mixers, a proofer and convection ovens support staff in their production of cakes, cookies and other desserts.On the far end, a small bakery contains a proofer holding cabinet, ingredient bins, 60-quart and 20-quart mixers, double-deck oven and a stacked convection oven. The bakery produces cookies and cakes. Staff frequently incorporate fruit and vegetables into baked goods.

Adjacent to the bakery, a main cooking line includes a five-foot charbroiler for burgers and bratwursts, a Sheboygan-area favorite. The line also features six heavy-duty induction ranges for heating sauces such as rhubarb sauce for pork tenderloin and honey mustard for chicken, and preparing quinoa. "We incorporated induction ranges in order to reduce overall energy usage," Toska says. "They are also far easier to clean than conventional rangetops, and they are safer to use."

The line also includes a combi oven stack for cooking poultry, meat, meatloaf, fish and pasta. Also in this area, staff steam vegetables such as potatoes and mashed them in the 60-quart mixer. The 30-gallon tilting skillet cooks casseroles, braises chicken, and occasionally sauces and soups.

Separating these two cooking areas is a passage to the dishroom where dirty dishes are brought in directly from the production area. "Dirty dishes from the kitchen flow through to the dishroom to the far end where they exit clean and can be redistributed into the kitchens," Toska says. Prep tables with double-sided access sit across from the cooking equipment. Walk-in coolers stand on the far side of the prep tables across from the cooking line.

Both the walk-in refrigerator and the walk-in freezer feature floor-to-ceiling glass doors with lighted shelves behind them, which eliminate the need for additional reach-in refrigerators. "This arrangement also facilitates first-in, first-out stock rotation and ensures that kitchen staff are not walking in and out of the walk-ins," Toska says. "This saves time, energy and creates a great lean visual for inventory control and ingredient placement of the daily menu."

A blast chiller sits near the line where staff package, label, cool and store meals for delivery on Fridays to recipients who need meals on weekends when there are no MOW deliveries.

A modular, bar-coded meal labeling system allows MOW to include each client's name and dietary needs on their meals. "In essence, each meal is custom packaged and labeled," Toska says.

Adding new clients to the program, a regular occurrence, is not a problem.

"We offer seven different diets. This system allows us to accommodate different diets and allergies while reducing cross-contamination and eliminating the risk of a client getting the wrong meal," Erdmann said. "Each day, staff make up to seven variations of the same menu."

Fresh-Meals-On-Wheels-Order-ScreensThe screens are part of a system to ensure meal recipients receive proper meals.Staff must assemble, package and label each meal according to route number and route position so volunteers can make their deliveries in a reasonable amount of time. In addition, staff must properly package all 400 meals in a 60-minute time frame. "To solve this we worked with a POS vendor, a software development team, and the Meals On Wheels staff," Toska says. "Together, we took the existing client database and wrote a program around it so we could easily identify clients, their route positions and particular nutritional needs. We then loaded the software onto various touch-screen computers mounted on the packaging line and we mounted bar-code scanners at strategic locations on the packaging line."

As a result, the system prints bar-code stickers in order according to route and route position. Staff then place the stickers onto the bottom of the serving trays, keeping them in order. A server scans the bottom of the trays, and a specific meal displays. After filling the order, the next server scans the tray again at the end of the serving line and places it onto the packaging machine. The second scan cues the label printer on the packaging machine in order of the tray placement on the conveyor."

Sustainable by Design

Sustainability features include a ventless dishwasher that collects steam and uses it to preheat the wash tank for the next washing cycle. "This saves us about $20,000 compared to having a traditional hood system," Erdmann says.

The garbage disposal system is also energy efficient. "It circulates water and anything water-soluble is washed down the drain and any solid objects, such as utensils or bones, get collected in a basket," Erdmann says. "It's a money saver because it reduces the amount of garbage as well as prevents the loss of kitchen utensils that would normally be destroyed in a traditional garbage disposal."

Solar tubes capture the sunlight and reduce the need for traditional lighting methods, which also helps reduce MOW's carbon footprint.

The Future

"After touring and researching many meal delivery programs, we believe ours will become a model for others around the country," says Erdmann. Architect Mentink echoes this hope. "If we get this right, it could be duplicated all over the country."

"FRESH Meals On Wheels kitchen has generated excitement in our food-savvy community and throughout the country," Heyn says. "Although relatively small, this local nonprofit organization has focused innovation and practicality on a true need in the community and throughout the country. Independent Meals on Wheels programs deliver more than a million meals every day in the United States, and the need is growing along with the country's aging demographic, creating opportunity for entrepreneurial organizations."

Facts of Note:

  • Ownership: Meals On Wheels of Sheboygan County Inc., a 501(c)(3)
  • Opened: November 2012 (the program was chartered in 1970)
  • Numbers of Meals Served/Day: 400 Monday - FridayScope of Project:
  • Size: 12,000 sq. ft.
  • Paying Clients Cost/Meal: $5.60
  • Total Annual Cost of the Meals: $750,000
  • Donations Received First Year: $1.65 million
  • Menu Specialties: Dishes incorporating fresh, locally grown and donated produce. Client favorites include pork tenderloin with rhubarb sauce, honey mustard chicken with fresh asparagus, bratwurst, and baked goods with local fruits and vegetables.
  • Hours of Operation: 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Staff: 12 FTEs, including 5 working in the kitchen
  • Volunteers: 1,100
  • Total Project Cost: $3.2 million
  • Equipment Investment: $309,161 purchased; $72,592 donated
  • Website:

Key Players

  • Executive Director: Kelly Heyn
  • Director of Foodservice: Scott Erdmann
  • Registered Dietitian, Part-time: Carrie DeRocher
  • Architects: Abacus Architects Inc., Sheboygan, Wis.; Paul Mentink, vice president
  • Foodservice Consultants: Lean System Solutions, LLC, Sheboygan; Thomas D. Ligocki, LEI, MS, owner (formerly owner, Lean Kitchen Solutions, LLC); Michael A. Toska, owner, Lean Kitchen Solutions, LLC, Sheboygan
  • General Contractor: Jos. Schmitt Construction, Sheboygan; Steven J. Schmitt, president
  • Foodservice Equipment Dealer: Streich Equipment Company, Wausau, Wis.