Since I'm one year into my business, I've taken a bit of time to reflect on how it all began. The following ten Aha! moments gently nudged, then jolted me into realizing that I'd better just go for it. Here's my Real Food 4 Kids story that's 15 years in the making:
10. Hot dogs: I started working for a major processed food company after MBA school. The job was great, but the products were so.darn.processed. The first Aha! moment - what is in the "food" that we eat?
9. Madison Farmer's Market: I was living in Madison, WI and started going to the Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. The beautiful setting lured me in, but as I learned that 100% of the produce sold at the Madison Farmers Market is required to be grown by the farmer, I was hooked. The second Aha! moment - local food is cool!
8. Carrageenan: I noticed the word carrageenan when it was in an ingredient statement that I was proofreading for work. For the first time, I started asking questions. I learned that carrageenan is derived from seaweed and is used as a binder, thickening agent, or stabilizer. It's found in many processed meats, and is widely used in many other foods. I was told that it was an industry standard and didn't think too much of it at the time. The third Aha! moment - Maybe I should start reading, and questioning, the ingredient list.
7. Flame Grilled Flavor: This time, I was reading an ingredient statement for a meatless burger. I was surprised to see something along the lines of "flame grilled flavor", and asked, "What is that?". Well, it's a flavor that is artificially developed in a laboratory, and added to the product to make it taste like it just came off the grill. The fourth Aha! moment - if I want to eat something that tastes like it was grilled, than it better be coming off the grill and not out of a lab.
6. My shopping cart: I recall being at the store one day, a few months after I had my first child. I remember looking in my cart and seeing fewer processed foods than in the past. The fifth Aha! moment - I'm not passionate about the products I'm marketing, and I'm no longer buying them for my family...it's time to find a new job.
5. Local foods and sustainable agriculture: I remembered how much I enjoyed the Madison Farmers Market, so I started frequenting the one in Pittsburgh and then in Des Moines. I began making more and more food from scratch. I took a job with the Des Moines Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign and started consulting with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The sixth Aha! moment - I want to learn more about where our food is coming from and how it's grown.
4. Organic Pop Tarts: I remember buying my kids yet another box of organic pop tarts at my beloved Trader Joe's store. Why? Because my kids liked them and I was in need of an easy snack to offer when I was too tired to bake the umpteenth batch of muffins. Because organic doesn't have all of those really unpronounceable ingredients. Duh! The seventh Aha! moment - just because it's organic doesn't mean that it's not processed and LOADED with sugar.
3. Tube feeds: My fourth child needed to be tube-fed until she was 4 years old. She didn't eat on her own as a baby due to her congenital heart defects and stomach problems. Teaching her to eat was slow-going and we had to supplement extensively. She constantly vomited the formulas that we put in her tube; we were all miserable. So I went out and bought a Vitamix and started making and feeding her whole food concoctions: kale and quinoa and veggies and fruits and rice: mostly unprocessed family leftovers went into her tube. The eighth Aha! moment - she tolerated REAL food so much better than processed formulas!
2. Misleading Marketing: One of my kids came home with a package of Strawberry Flavored Fruit Snacks. By now, I'm getting pretty good at reading labels. The word "flavored" always makes me raise an eyebrow. Sure enough, the first ingredient was apple puree. It's not bad, just misleading. The ninth Aha! moment - Don't assume...read the ingredient list!
1. The school lunch room: I volunteered for lunch duty at my kids school, as someone was needed to help open milks, clean up spills, etc. The proliferation of packages was eye-opening. Outside of school, I started asking my kids and their friends if they knew what their food was made from:
Cheetos? They said cheese (it's actually corn).
Peanut butter? They said peanuts, sugar, cream (I make it with just peanuts.)
Clif Bars? No clue (The main ingredient in many granola bars is oats.)
The tenth Aha! moment - there's an opportunity to teach kids about food, and this time, it's something I truly am passionate about.
So, I started Real Food 4 Kids with the mission to encourage kids to consider where food comes from, learn how it's produced, and use what they've learned to make educated choices. I spend about half of my time teaching 100% hands-on cooking classes for kids and the other half teaching food education classes in schools and other locations. It's a blast!