Sweet Pea Delivery delivers healthy, fun and fresh school lunches to the doorsteps of kids stuck at home during the pandemic.
By Allie Justis, Photo of Nicole Fabian courtesy of Nicole Fabian, Chicken Tortilla Soup photo by Violeta Alvarez
Nicole Fabian, the owner and founder of Sweet Pea Delivery, is pioneering a new frontier during the pandemic by bringing school lunches to doorsteps across Austin.
Since getting its start in the fall, Sweet Pea has helped working parents by taking the guesswork of making their kids’ lunches off their plates. When the pandemic saw an increase in homeschooled and distance-learning students, Fabian saw an opportunity to help struggling parents by bringing her extensive culinary knowledge to the table.
“I’ve been in the food industry since I was 15. It’s what I know,” says Fabian. “Parents are accustomed to sending their kids off to school and not having to handle making their lunches. So I figured there would be a good opportunity here to help out other parents.”
Before COVID-19, Fabian lived in Brooklyn. But when the pandemic hit she packed up shop and moved down to Austin to get into the city’s food scene. It was hard for her to find a job in the food industry because of the craziness, and her boyfriend’s kids were out of school, making it even harder for their household to cope. With the kids out of school and Fabian making all of their food, she thought about how working parents might also struggle to keep up.
“Wholesome food just tastes better…”
An important aspect of Sweet Pea is that it provides healthy food for kids to eat so they develop good eating habits from an early age. Fabian says the most important part of her job is making sure that kids are getting away from “factory food” that’s full of preservatives.
“That’s how they’re going to feed themselves when they get old enough to do so,” says Fabian. “Wholesome food just tastes better than highly processed, high-sodium, mystery-meat foods. We’re serving real food, avoiding allergens; we’re delivering directly to parents and to their doorsteps; it’s made fresh from scratch,” she continues.
“Definitely not factory food. It’s food specifically designed for children, like spaghetti and turkey meatballs, barbecue chicken. And we always make it fun.”
With Sweet Pea’s success in the fall, Fabian is hoping to launch a breakfast service for the spring semester as well.
“What makes us special is that no one else is doing this,” says Fabian. “No one else is delivering student lunches directly to their homes and to their doorstep. It’s incredibly convenient for parents and there’s no competition.”
Fabian chose to share her Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe because it is the most popular lunch they made during the fall semester.
Sweet Pea’s Chicken Tortilla Soup
“There’s definitely a good trick that we use in the Sweet Pea kitchen to make sure the chicken doesn’t dry out too quickly or overcook,” says Fabian. “We poach our chicken and add all the spices and seasonings into the water with it on high heat until it comes to a simmer and then immediately kill the heat. If you nail the poaching process, you’re going to end up with meat that is just falling apart tender.
“Cooking for me is more of an art rather than a science,” she says. “It’s definitely a labor of love. We like to do hidden vegetables in our meals for the kids. The soup is really tasty and really comforting, which is good for the season and good for the times.”
8 corn tortillas, cut into ¼-inch strips
2 tablespoons avocado oil
12 cups water or salt-free chicken stock
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 onion, diced into small cubes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
1 ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Pinch black pepper
2 limes, juiced
Avocado and queso fresco, to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Toss tortilla strips in 2 tablespoons avocado oil.
- Spread the tortilla strips on a large baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
- Put the water or stock in a pot with the chicken thighs over high heat. Bring to a boil and immediately lower the heat so it comes to a very gentle simmer. Skim any impurities off the surface, and then go jump on that conference call.
- After an hour (or whenever the call ends), pull a piece of chicken out of the pot with tongs. If it falls apart as you do so, the chicken is cooked and can be removed from the liquid. Otherwise, continue simmering the chicken until it is adequately tender.
- Once the chicken is removed from the pot and cool enough to handle, pull it apart into bite-size shreds. Add the chicken back to the pot along with the onion, garlic, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, oregano, cumin, chili powder and half of the baked tortilla strips. Turn the heat to medium and go check your email.
- After 1.5 hours (or whenever you’ve got your inbox under control), add the salt, pepper and lime juice to the soup. Taste and adjust seasonings as preferred. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the remaining tortilla strips, slices of avocado and queso fresco.