By Sue Moore
Six days a week, Deb Oswalt Scheckel, a Vicksburg High School graduate, whips up lunch, dinner and snacks for the likes of Chicago Bears football players Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and many other luminaries on the team.
She plans their meals carefully, crafting a nutrition plan for each player, depending upon the position they play. She gathers the ingredients, fixes the meals and drives them from her commercial kitchen in Chicago to Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois. The six day food allotment arrives during the season as fresh as she can construct and package it so the players can eat nutritiously and thus attain their peak performance.
It all started with Tom Zbikowski when he played safety for Notre Dame and his doctor recommended that he seek out Scheckel. The doctor worked with college and professional athletes in Naperville, IL where Deb had started a business called “Dinners Together.” He thought that Zbi needed advice on the best way to eat in preparation for the National Football League “combine” where players try out for three days in front of scouts and coaches before they are drafted.
Scheckel had started a store-front business in 2003 for harried families who would come in once or twice a week. They could select from a cafeteria like offering of items they would take home and have ready in just a few minutes or store them for the week ahead. It was a novel idea that took off in large cities where time management is everything. Her food was particularly appealing because it was nutritious and seemed more like home cooking.
Husband Marty and their children Emily and Dan all pitched in to help Deb with the endeavor. Soon competitors were franchising the idea but she never chose to follow that route. When the economy fell apart in 2008/09 it was time to close the doors and start working as a chef for a financial firm involved with global trading in Chicago who needed to keep their 40 plus employees close to their desks for lunch. The firm now has expanded to 120 employees and she has hired 2 lunch coordinators to help. They offered her the commercial kitchen right in the building where she creates the lunch selections three days a week, puts it out and can then work on her meal plans for the Bears team members in the same place.
She likes to deliver the meals in person because she can then have face time with the athletes to get to know them personally. “I look at their position, customize the program to their needs, especially if they have been injured. That requires more protein or carbs sometimes. These are my ‘boys’ and once in while they will fall off the wagon but not very often as they are motivated and disciplined,” she says. “Sometimes I have to hide the vegetables so they don’t even know what they are eating. Others will call to ask if they can have mashed potatoes and maybe some cheddar cheese.
I’m a great fan of Jay Cutler who is no nonsense and all about results. Brandon Marshall, the wide receiver was one of my first customers when he came to the Bears with something of a “bad boy” reputation.
He and Cutler have teamed successfully for two seasons and with a new coaching staff the Bears are going to be in great shape to make the playoffs this season,” she predicts. These two take eating right, very seriously and have convinced at least ten other players to invest in Scheckel’s program. They include Tim Jennings, Julius Peppers, Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Henry Melton and Martellus Bennett.
In high school in Vicksburg, Deb participated in music and lots of stage performances. In college she majored in Public Relations, never dreaming that food preparation would be in her future.
“I loved good food and my mom Pat, was a great example as she was always experimenting and coming up with fantastic recipes. For a Christmas gift one year she gave us a collection of her recipes which I have often referred to in my work. My brother Mike went away to collage eating nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and graduated as a gourmet cook, with no formal training either. I don’t have a degree in dietetics but got interested in nutrition on my first job out of Michigan State as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company selling nutritional products,” she says.
“I have a passion for this work. It’s rewarding. These boys have a limited time in the NFL.Frequently their career will not end on their terms so anything I can do to help prolong their careers is important to me. As an added bonus, it’s helping put my two adult children through college. My husband Marty works as a sales manager for Tellabs but moonlights as my Human Resources and billing department,” she says appreciatively.