I’m always looking for healthy products, something that will give me a bigger bang for my nutritional buck. I took a wild night out recently and strolled the aisles of Whole Foods, and found a litany of items I’ve never seen before. My main objective was to buy some milk, but I made a few other purchases. One of which was a cool product I saw online called, Garden Good, from Mama Jess. It’s a pasta sauce that has carrots and sweet potato listed as ingredients—being a nutrition geek, I thought that was awesome. We made some quinoa pasta, tossed the sauce on top, and really enjoyed it! The next step was to interview Mama Jess, a local health food expert. Our short phone call ran long and I learned a ton!
Tell us about your background:
I come from a food science background. I worked in food development, brokerage, and with ingredients. I developed a lot of food products, but never got to launch my own brand. My past experience was a big help. I always wanted to lunch my own product.
What was your inspiration for Garden Good and Bean Good?
My children were my inspiration, hands down. When my son suddenly stopped eating carrots and sweet potatoes. I worked on recipes to get more vegetables into both my sons’ diets. Garden Good was a family favorite. My husband once joked, you should sell this, and here we are.
I created Bean Good because I love beans. They are a great source of protein and fiber. And, most kids do not like beans so this is an easy way to get them into their diets.
This sounds a little like Jessica Seinfeld—did she influence you?
I really like what Jessica is doing. People often think that I’m her because of my products and first name, but these are all my recipes, and my ideas. I do like her cookbook and have made a few things. I thought it was a little time consuming for the average mom. I wanted a product that was easy for parents and nutritious.
What do you think of all the Fiber One bars and other products with Inulin and Chicory Root?
Real fiber from fruits, vegetables, and grains fills you up with less. The fiber, in Fiber One bars, is not natural, and I always prefer the natural route.
What about fiber powders?
I’m not against powders and fiber supplements; I prefer to get my fiber from food. There’s a connection when you chew your food that sends a message to your brain that you are getting full. It’s also important to read the labels and make sure you aren’t getting fillers or artificial ingredients added to your supplement.
What’s the biggest problem for children: portion control, food choices, or something else?
Hands down, the number one problem is advertising of junk food. With the dyes, artificial everything, they pull in children and it starts at a very early age. It is going to take years to change this, along with legislation. And it will be a very expensive battle. Everything falls on parents, and it’s hard when [advertisers have] basically brainwashed our children.
The number two issue is vegetables. Only four percent of kids are eating enough veggies. It’s one of the reasons I created my two current products.
The organic movement is gaining more and more steam, more products, like yours, are organic. Do we need all organic diets?
I don’t think everything needs to be organic, but I recommend using the dirty dozen list and buying those products organic. The only argument against organics is cost but for your family it might be worth it. There’s a study I recently read, where they gave children non-organic food, then all organic diets for a week, tested their urine, and after a week of organic eating, there were no pesticides in their urine.
Right now everyone has some vitamin-filled product. What’s your feeling on that?
In the industry, we refer to that, as “fairy dust.” It’s all marketing. Some companies use such a small amount that it really has no effect. It’s much better to eat whole foods and vegetables. You get much more out of it than a drink or even a smoothie.
If you did the Oprah favorite things episode, what foods would you list?
1. GoodBelly: Digestive health is very important and GoodBelly has great products that contain probiotics, which aid in digestion. If you are going to give your children a yogurt product, they have a great selection. During cold and flu season I make sure we eat more probiotics. I like their juice drink and their GoodBelly Shots.
2. Z-Bars: I buy these bars for my kids. My favorite flavor is the s’mores. These are great because they have no high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. And actually taste really good.
3. Lara Bars: They make my favorite granola bars. They are all natural and taste great.
4. Tinkyada Rice Pasta: I love their penne pasta. It has a great pasta taste and it fills you up a lot better than regular pasta. It’s also good for those with gluten allergies.
5. Quinoa: I love quinoa. I’ve been eating it for a while, and it’s great to see more people talking about it and using it.
What’s the future of Mama Jess?
Brown rice, snap, crackle, pop! I’ve been experimenting to try and get that same taste and sound, from brown rice cereal as Rice Crispy cereal. When something is fun to eat, kids like it, and that noise is definitely fun. The problem is that cereal turns right into sugar and your children get no nutrition. That might be my next product. You could also use it to make Rice Crispy Treats.
Even with a quick game of word association, Jess is a complex carb girl:
Cookie: Kashi makes my favorite
Carbs: Whole grain
Treadmill: The gym