Baby Sprouts Baby Food Co.
Hail to the Chefs Series
She doesn’t live on a farm, but Ginger Robinson knows how green beans should taste. When it came time to introduce solid foods to her infant daughter, Robinson concluded that jar green beans don’t have the same color, smell or taste as vegetables fresh from the farm. "So, looking at that baby food, I decided this was not going to work," recalls Robinson. That’s when she started making her own
With a blender, ice cube trays and little advice from her dietician sister, Robinson produced colorful squares of single ingredient fruits and vegetables as a first food, prepared for the freezer until ready to serve. Then she experimented with combinations for older babies and finger food for toddlers. Friends were intrigued and asked for instruction. As she helped others make their own baby food, Robinson found her passion: Bridging the gap between what’s available to parents and what’s best for babies
Understanding that not all parents have the time or desire to make their own baby food, Robinson started Baby Sprouts Baby Food Co. in April 2012. Customers, who range from young moms to grandparents, can find bags of frozen foods, such as sweet potatoes and zucchini bread minis, at MaMa Jean’s Natural Market in Springfield. While Robinson is happy to provide this convenience, she insists that making baby food at home doesn’t take a lot of time, just planning. For example, baked sweet potatoes can be pureed and poured into ice cube trays in 30 minutes. "You get gobs of product," says Robinson, enough for the entire week.
All cooking involves trial and error as Robinson found out. White potatoes don’t freeze well, but she adds that her son would still eat them, grainy or not. Otherwise, anything you can dream up is "pretty much fair game." She loves creating combinations that you can’t find on grocery store shelves, like vegetables mixed with quinoa. Robinson believes that introducing babies to a broad range of foods and flavors grows their appetite for the natural taste of healthy foods. She reminds parents that building a foundation of healthy habits takes time, especially with toddlers who are notoriously picky eaters.
Robinson’s children are offered fruits and vegetables frequently, but that doesn’t mean they always eat them. Like all toddlers, they can be finicky. But in the Robinson house, the kids aren’t offered Jell-O if they refuse to eat their carrots. Before you believe this family’s example is unattainable, Robinson admits that crackers go in the car for the two-year-old. This is real life, after all, and Robinson says "I’m a real person" with two young children. Sometimes dinner is what she can quickly grab at Walmart,which may not be entirely organic. Robinson does read labels, however, and doesn’t buy a lot of processed foods.
The produce Robinson prepares for Baby Sprouts is always steamed or roasted to retain vitamins, and she uses ingredients that are either certified organic or grown without chemicals and pesticides.
Cooking this way for her business is a natural extension of Robinson’s upbringing. Robinson says her mother taught her that what we put into our bodies is very important. "Not only for our own health," says Robinson, "but being a good steward of what God has given us." She’s passing down that philosophy to her own children, who despite having most of their teeth now, still eat the purees. Robinson mixes them into all kinds of things including yogurt, oatmeal and noodles to get that extra punch of nutrition.
There are strict guidelines for making baby food, which turned out to be the biggest challenge in Robinson’s journey as an entrepreneur. Robinson didn’t anticipate everything she’d have to learn about inspections and having employees who are certified in food handling. She found support, advice and a place to cook at Your Commercial Kitchen, Inc., located on South Campbell Avenue in Springfield. Having a licensed and inspected kitchen to rent is critical for start-ups, says Robinson. "As a small business, your costs have to be minimal. I can’t afford to own a kitchen, just starting out."
That’s the idea behind Your Commercial Kitchen, says owner Carol Muldrow. Provide businesses a place to make their product without the expense of buying all the equipment. "We give them pretty much everything, except their ingredients," says Muldrow. The facility provides refrigeration, freezer space, locked pantries and 24-7 access. Businesses owners reserve the kitchen and pay for just the time they use
Muldrow always wanted to be a chef but never had the opportunity. Now she’s helping great local chefs and entrepreneurs sell their product and sometimes move into their own brick and mortar restaurants. If you have a special recipe for bread or pie, you can make it at Your Commercial Kitchen, sell it and save money. Then you can decide if you’re going to quit your day job. Muldrow proudly says, "We give people a chance to do what they love.
Robinson is doing what she loves, which is not only making healthy baby food, but being involved with the community and furthering local growers by using their products. "It has to be something you love, otherwise it’s not worth it," says Robinson. Judging by the care she takes to create those colorful squares of goodness, she feels it’s worth it.
Stage one "Oh My Squash"
One Butternut or Kabocha Squash
Preheat oven to 350 Degrees. Rinse squash. Cut squash down the center and scrape out the seeds. Place squash face down on baking pan. Add ¼" water to the pan. Bake about 45 min or until fork tender. Let cool. Scrape contents of squash out of the skin and place into blender or food processor. Add water while blending to make smooth consistency. Distribute puree into ice cube trays and freeze for future use.
Zucchini Bread Mini Muffins
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
3 cups zucchini (finely grated)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup wheat germ or ground flaxseed
Mix eggs, sugar, and oil until creamy. Add zucchini. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and flax in separate bowl. Slowly add dry ingredients into wet ingredients until moistened.
Bake in preheated oven at 350,15-20 minutes for regular muffins or 10-15 minutes for mini muffins
Super Mac & Cheese
1 8oz box brown rice macaroni pasta
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp brown rice flour
1 1/2 cups warmed milk
1 1/2 cups pureed butternut or kabocha squash
1 cup grated mild cheddar
*Note: this recipe is gluten-free.
In addition to writing for GREENE Magazine, Melissa Adler works for Springfield-Greene County Library District in community relations. For fun, she runs marathons and half marathons. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri.