Little Miss Taco’s Farm-to-Fridge Meal-Prep Biz Makes Life Convenient | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Little Miss Taco’s Farm-to-Fridge Meal-Prep Biz Makes Life Convenient


Published June 18, 2024 at 1:55 p.m.
Updated June 19, 2024 at 10:58 a.m.

Clarina Cravins (right) showing Carley Cook how to prep bok choy - BEAR CIERI
  • Bear Cieri
  • Clarina Cravins (right) showing Carley Cook how to prep bok choy

Summertime presents a cooking conundrum: At the end of a long, hot day, the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven, but it's also peak vegetable season. I want the fridge stocked with produce-packed meals, but I don't really want to make them myself.

Enter Little Miss Taco, a meal-prep business based at Bristol's New Leaf Organics. With pickups there and on other area farms — as well as home delivery in Burlington — Clarina Cravins and her small team are keeping more than 70 customers per week fed with salmon bowls, basil Caesar salads, beet-dyed "Barbie pasta," pineapple-coconut curry, and Creole red beans and rice.

Cravins, 34, has worked in restaurant kitchens since she moved to Vermont from Wisconsin in high school. As a young mom — she had her first child at 18 and her second 18 months later — she stayed home, explored what she wanted to cook and built an early following for her food content on Instagram. After a divorce, she channeled that experience into five-plus years working as Learning Center coordinator at South Burlington's Healthy Living, teaching hands-on classes and hosting NBC5's "In the Kitchen" cooking show.

"But I kept thinking of this exact business," she said. Her brother had recently died, she was busy taking care of her kids, and she didn't feel like she was feeding her family well. She had access to local produce and knew how to cook it, "but it was rotting in my fridge," she said. "Before I could make kale chips, the kale dried out on its own. I wanted a service that makes health-focused, home-cooked food."

In order to make it happen, Cravins started cleaning houses, a surprisingly well-paid and flexible gig, she said. That freed her up to take on catering jobs, from small weddings to 700-person events.

She launched Little Miss Taco in March 2023 — less than a year after having her third baby — with just $1,600 and a used computer her new husband found for her. Her mom, who lives nearby, led her to the kitchen at New Leaf via a Front Porch Forum post.

"I'm not someone who frequently mentions when I'm shitting my pants," Cravins said, "but those first three weeks were brutal." She was learning how to manage her website, answer orders and understand inventory on the fly, while cooking in a new shared kitchen and packaging and delivering all the food herself. The fourth week, she hired Melissa Kunigis as her first employee.

Community interest has soared. On a recent Monday, Cravins and Kunigis — along with 2024 high school grad Carley Cook — spent three and a half hours packaging preordered salmon bowls. Two weeks ago, Cravins had to shut off ordering early because they sold out before the Thursday cutoff.

Little Miss Taco's dishes are all on the healthy side, but they don't fit neatly into a single cuisine beyond what Cravins calls "American food."

"I cook things that Americans like to eat, and I cook like I cook at home," she explained. She uses lots of whole grains, protein-rich and fiber-rich foods.

A prepared meal of a Spring Roll in a Bowl with poached shrimp - BEAR CIERI
  • Bear Cieri
  • A prepared meal of a Spring Roll in a Bowl with poached shrimp

Her dad's side of the family is French Creole — "a very large Black family in Louisiana with a lot of family food culture," she said. She frequently pulls from that background, especially while stewing her Maw Maw's red beans and rice with smoked beef sausage. But she'll just as soon try a new recipe for Vietnamese caramel ribs or make a bangin' Bolognese.

A few weeks ago, I placed an order for a chicken souvlaki kit; a basil Caesar; blue cheese dip with veggies to dunk; and dal tadka, an Indian lentil dish. The whole thing was $103 — taxes, tip and $10 delivery fee included. Packaged in compostable containers, the generous portions stretched to three lunches for me and a shared dinner, and they all tasted just as fresh the day I ate them as the initial bites I snuck when they arrived.

Little Miss Taco is order-as-you-go, not a subscription. Still, Cravins estimated that 95 percent of customers order weekly; they include individuals, young families and older couples.

Those customers pick up their orders — some as big as 20 items — on Monday evenings in farmstands at Shelburne's Killeen Crossroads Farm, Richmond's Farr Farms, Huntington's Jubilee Farm, Charlotte's Donegan Family Farm and Sweet Roots Farm, or right at New Leaf. Little Miss Taco also offers pickup at Hula in Burlington, where Cravins works on days she's not cooking.

The farmstand drop-offs came about because Cravins was already sourcing ingredients from those farms, she said. The morning of our interview, she picked up Hakurei turnips, baby kale and cilantro from Killeen Crossroads. If she forgets parsley or basil, she can text New Leaf owner Jill Kopel, who will bring it in from the fields.

Those relationships are expanding, as is Little Miss Taco's delivery range: Cravins is now looking to Stowe and Essex. Later this year, she plans to rebrand the biz as Preppi Meal Prep. The new name more accurately captures her goal, she said: "It's supposed to make your life convenient."

As I opened my fridge and scanned for a quick lunch in between meetings, I was certainly glad to have Little Miss Taco's richly spiced dal instead of a frozen pizza.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Farm to Fridge | Little Miss Taco's meal-prep biz makes life convenient"

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