68. Ep. 330 – Square Baby, 2 of 3: Early Allergen Introduction – Informed Pregnancy Podcast
Elliot: Welcome to the Informed Pregnancy and Parenting Podcast. I’m your host, pregnancy-focused chiropractor, Dr. Elliot Berlin. You’ve tuned in
Elliot: Welcome to the Informed Pregnancy and Parenting Podcast. I’m your host, pregnancy-focused chiropractor, Dr. Elliot Berlin.
You’ve tuned in to Part 2 of our “Square Baby” sponsored episode series. In this episode, we’re going to delve deeper into the process behind the food selection, as well as the important things to know when feeding your baby and how Square Baby addresses them. My returning guest is one of the co-founders of Square Baby, Katie Thompson. Welcome back to the podcast.
Katie: Thanks so much for having me again.
Elliot: I learned so much last time. Today, we’re going to get even deeper. I’m looking forward to learning more. The kind of things that probably would have been helpful to know when I had little ones.
Katie: That’s right. That’s how we all feel. It’s all in retrospect, right?
Elliot: Dang it! All right. Let’s talk about the research. You put a lot of research and effort into figuring out what makes a square meal for babies. How did you go about doing it?
Katie: Yeah, that’s right. Initially, being a mom myself and cruising through the baby food aisles, what I found was there were so many misleadingly marketed foods. I felt like many of them were fruit-heavy. I wanted to create a solution for parents that took all the guesswork out of feeding their baby, and I knew that that started with sound research and recommendations. So, I dove quickly into everything the AAP, USDA, and even WIC was talking about related to nutrition.
And then, even specifically more recently, following the research on food allergies with some of the landmark studies, like the LEAP study, and that shows that introducing allergens early and often can actually help to prevent allergies. And then, of course, like any entrepreneur, you have every conversation with anyone who’s willing to talk to you from allergist, to pediatricians, to other brands even sharing insights on common problems that we’re trying to solve.
Elliot: Okay. I think it’s challenging. I wanted to write a coffee table book where you have an issue, a topic, a question in health. And then, you have on one side, all of the research that you can quote that is pro that idea and on the other side of the research report, that’s anti that idea. I think that because there’s so much out there, I mean just even as you mentioned AAP, which is American Academy of Pediatrics, and USDA, and WIC, and then the other studies that you know. I mean, how does the person who doesn’t have an extensive background in research even wade through the piles to kind of see what’s trustworthy and what’s junk?
Katie: Yeah. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be up to the everyday consumer to have to dive that deep into research. Like certainly reading some blogs, or newsletters from AAP, or something. But as a dietitian — I got my master’s in nutrition. We spent a lot of time, most of our time, going through research, picking holes in certain studies, presenting research, and it certainly wasn’t the most fun thing for me, personally. But it was such a great discipline to learn to kind of understand how to sift through the BS that’s out there. Especially now, where everyone’s a nutrition expert that has a blog, or an Instagram post, or anything. There’s just information everywhere and there is a lot of stuff that’s conflicting, which is very confusing and frustrating for parents. But certainly, science evolves and that’s okay. But learning to just trust and certain resources, like the AAP, that’s always such a sound place to go because there are layers of individuals and researchers that are approving every word on that website.
Elliot: Yeah. Everything’s super scrutinized and peer-reviewed.
Katie: That’s right.
Elliot: Well, what you’re saying is I maybe shouldn’t be getting most of my nutritional information from TikTok.
Katie: I’m sure there’s some really good stuff there. I mean, definitely some recipe ideas and some entertainment, which is important.
Elliot: Yes. Recipes and entertainment are what I go to TikTok for, but not my trusted medical references. Okay. Getting back to you. You have — and also Kendall, your partner, have research background as well.
Katie: Yes. Kendall’s far smarter than me. She has a master’s in biophysics and molecular genetics, which I find hard to even say. She remembers everything she’s ever read and learned. She’s like an amazing trap of knowledge. It’s the best partner to have.
Elliot: Yeah. And then, you also worked at Starbucks.
Katie: I did, yeah. So, that really taught me kind of going from a very clinical-focused, research-focused, master’s degree, and then thinking I would end up in the clinical field, I got my first job at Starbucks, which is supposed to be this like three-week role where I came in and crunched the numbers, and told them all the calories, and all the different beverage iterations, and all that.
And then, ended up taking on a more strategic role. A big part of my job there was to, of course understand the recent research, but more so market insights, trends, what customers are looking for. Really think take myself a little bit out of just looking at science, science, science, and think about the customer. I think honestly like that’s what kind of brought the two things together for me for “Square Baby.” It’s here’s, all the science and nutrition over here. And here’s this customer with all these pain points. How do I simplify it so that they don’t have to read all the research or figure out which brand they can trust, but to really simplify it for the parent?
Elliot: How did your own parenting experiences influence your research?
Katie: Yeah. Definitely. I always tell the story of going down that baby food aisle for the first time. You’re so excited your baby’s made it to this next milestone. You’ve got your baby in the cart. Everybody starts to cry, and scream, and right away, you’re like, “This isn’t what I dreamed of.” But really, as a kind of food industry dietitian, at that point who was really always thinking about, “How do we solve this moment?’ Even at Starbucks, right? I was like — this is kind of a funny story. We created the “Skinny Latte” because people would have “line ordering anxiety,” as kind of how we termed it. It was their place in line, and they kind of forgot how to say, “Oh, I need a non-fat, and a sugar-free, and a no whip.” It’s so silly, but that’s how the “Skinny Latte” was born. Was because we were just trying to make that moment simpler for that customer who wanted that thing. So, always just kind of thinking about how we can create a solution. So, thinking through all of my own pain points on the last episode I told you about how I wanted to get protein in my kid and I felt like I was stuck with giving him these little Beanie Weenies in a jar. I was like, “This is not okay.” So, clearly, we’re looking for more protein. I wanted things beyond just the kind of the peas, and carrots, and sweet potatoes, more adventurous foods and flavors.
And then, of course, that balanced nutrition was really missing for me. I started to see more and more pouches come on the market. So, my oldest kid who inspired this company is 13. When we were feeding him, pouches were a new thing. It was like, this very cool like, “Oh, my gosh. There’s a pouch with kale in it and quinoa. This is so exciting!” But I started to become more and more frustrated when I saw that I would flip over that pouch, and very often see that applesauce was the first ingredient almost every time. And the sugar was much higher than those brands that have been out there for decades. So, really taking all those pain points as a parent really kind of led us to, “How do we solve this for them?” And then, as the science, nutrition part of me want to make sure that we could substantiate any claims. That’s kind of where all that kind of research and all the data comes in is like if we say, “It’s balanced;” if we say, “It’s 100% daily nutrition;” how are you going to back that up if you’re sick in court trying to back up your claims. That’s important too.
Elliot: I mean, it’s so interesting because how you package something, it’s the same thing like a novice trying to read through research. I have some background research. It’s very challenging for me to figure out sometimes what’s truth versus fact. Same thing here with the labels. Sometimes, you just look at how something is packaged or labeled, and it kind of tricks you into thinking, “Wow! I’m healthy. I’m going to be so healthy and good for your kid.” And, “I’m more expensive, so I must be healthy.” And then, if you look a bit deeper, if you know what you’re looking for, you all of a sudden realize you have some healthy things in there but your junk.
Katie: Yeah. When I started at Starbucks, I actually sat on the Regulatory Affairs team. After kind of doing all the crunching numbers and telling them how many calories were in their Venti Frappuccino or whatever, I was in charge of all the nutrition facts panels, all the ingredients, and all the claims. So, I very quickly learned how to kind of read your way down an aisle and see where certain words have no meaning. Like, you can say “nutritious” and it has zero meaning. Anyone could say it on anything, right? “Healthy” is a very specific definition. So, you can kind of see through products to be marketed, how pictures on a product as long as it has some avocado. Well, they can have a giant avocado on the picture, and then it’s mostly applesauce with just a teaspoon of avocado. So, you start to sift through that.
But I think what’s the most challenging for — not just in the baby food category is that yes, nutrition facts panels and ingredient statements are regulated and should be trust. But what do we do with that number? How do we know what amount of sugar, or what amount of fat, or what we should be looking for in each product, right? Like, those benchmarks aren’t as clear to us when we’re going down the aisle.
Elliot: Sure. And then, they also change over time. Why don’t we take a little break. When we come back, we’ll talk about the first 1,000 days. And during that time period, what kind of things babies need and what kind of things would be less good for them. Let’s take a little break. We’ll be right back.
Elliot: Welcome back. We’re talking to Katie Thompson of “Square Baby.” Let’s talk nutrition, and specifically, the first 1,000 days. What kind of things do babies need in the first 1,000 days for healthy growth and development?
Katie: Yeah. so there’s key nutrients that probably most people have heard about or are hearing from their pediatrician. Like calcium, and iron, zinc, vitamin D, choline is one people hear about a little bit less.
Elliot: What’s choline?
Katie: It’s a mineral that’s commonly found in eggs actually. One egg provides 100% of a baby’s daily amount of choline. Choline is an essential nutrient for brain development. Something, honestly, it wasn’t even on my radar honestly when I was feeding my babies, whether it’s kind of newer research or just something that’s talked about a bit more. That’s certainly a reason why we have eggs on our menu.
Elliot: Calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, choline.
Katie: Yep. Omega-3s. Again, all the things that you’re probably hearing from your pediatrician. But I think just as important and maybe talked about a little bit less is, in the first 1,000 days, you have this critical period for food allergy prevention. This is newer research that’s come out from the LEAP Petite eat studies — all very cutely named, of course. But have really changed the recommendation from instead of “Do not give your kid a peanut until they are 3;” now, it is “Give your kids peanuts as early as four to six months, and several times a week.” Because you can actually help prevent food allergies, like peanut by up to 80% through early allergen introduction. So, I would say that’s such a critical thing in this early, early time. As well as many parents are rightfully very, very scared about anaphylaxis and other very, scary reactions to a food allergy. But before 12 months of age is actually the safest time to introduce allergens as their reactions are going to be smaller than if you were to delay that introduction.
Elliot: I mean, when someone gives peanuts let’s say for the first time to get under 12 months, do you hold your breath or do you have to have anything ready?
Katie: Definitely. Well, first of all, I always say with any kind of medical advice, “Talk to your pediatrician or allergist.” But, generally, they say try these things at home, or whether you’re at a doctor’s office or at the pediatrician so often that first year, it might be a good idea to do it literally when you’re there for a well check or for some other vaccination or something. Why not be there? But, yeah.
Elliot: I mean, it’s not a bad idea. Like you said, you pretty much live there.
Katie: Yeah, totally. It’s true. The other thing I did want to note about this first 1,000 days and the importance of this window is palate development. What I mean by that is just really developing baby’s relationship with food, healthy eating habits, and making sure that in this kind of critical period, which they’ve actually shown that four to seven months, is a very critical window where an infant is most susceptible to liking new flavors. That these early days can really help shape their food preferences that, of course, then those healthy eating habits have a lasting impact over time of course.
Lastly, I would say motor development and overall development skills. Normally, I think we wouldn’t have had to talk about this a decade ago. But now, with pouches being so prevalent. Pouches are a great on the go. I’m in an airplane, I’m going to the park, whatever. I’ve been there. I’ve given my kid a pouch while driving, as like a kind of a pacifier. I totally understand the need for them. But from an every meal kind of perspective, the importance of food and feeding and finger foods for the oral and motor development skills are really important.
Elliot: As you’re talking about this, I’m not thinking about regrets. My kids are now older. They’re all like tween teenage kids. But I think that in terms of a healthy lifestyle, the sooner you get them outdoors, running around carrying a ball or whatever, the better off they’re going to be health-wise. What you’re saying here about food also rings true. Like, the sooner you get them eating, liking vegetables and things that have different tastes, rather than super picky kids. I mean, would you say that this has a chance of decreasing pickiness in the eaters?
Katie: Oh, a 100%. If you think about what we feed babies and their acceptance of like, “Here’s some straight green beans,” and “Here’s some straight broccoli,” and “Here’s some spinach in a jar,” and some of the more even kind of what we wouldn’t even want to touch because it looks so kind of muted, or unappetizing, or whatnot. They are much more susceptible to enjoying that new food. Because their taste buds have not grown to have a propensity or affinity for sweetness or craving salt. Like, all of our palettes have adjusted to the food we’ve been eating, right? So, some people can put a salt shaker like crazy on their meal because they have built up a tolerance to it. Whereas, infants are starting from scratch. They certainly have an affinity for sweetness from breast milk, but it’s not the same thing as trying to get a toddler, a strong-willed toddler, to try to eat something that they don’t think they like. Don’t want to eat, et cetera. So, this period of time and offering things often — and being adventurous, is really important.
I will also say when it comes to pickiness, it’s been interesting kind of having kids that have grown up and having so many families over and seeing so many eating situations or whatever. It’s very easy to kind of label your kid as a picky eater and have that be sort of the excuse or make that the easy reason why like, “Oh! My kid only eats plain pasta.” “Oh! My kid will not touch that.” It’s like it is a hard fight sometimes. It’s not the easy choice to say, “You know what? You’re going to try, in our house at least, you have to try one bite of each thing. If it’s not your favorite, cool. We’ll try again. We’re never going to make food a fight or a terrible time.” But this idea that your preferences can change, I think is important. But also letting a child know that if they start to win every food battle, that becomes a very slippery slope and that’s a hard thing to turn around when they get older.
Elliot: That’s really hard to turn around. I think also the same with the inactivity, the just sitting around. But in my office now, I see so many people for health and wellness care. You can tell immediately the ones who are turned on to healthier foods at an earlier age and the ones who are turned on to exercise at an earlier age. Someone who’s 30 like that, versus someone who’s 30 who’s been inactive and eats junk as the mainstay of their diet. It’s just two extremely different body types.
Katie: For sure.
Elliot: So, again, regrets in retrospect that I didn’t get into those things earlier. And also that — we did mediocre with the kids. My wife was really good that bring them healthy foods from an earlier age. But the picky ones, we didn’t push. I presume we didn’t push hard enough. You know, we’re that plain pasta family for one of our kids. For one of our kids.
Katie: There’s always time. I taught myself to like most vegetables in my 20s.
Elliot: Oh, it’s just time to catch up. She’s also vegetarian, but she doesn’t like vegetables. So, it’s kind of interesting. All right. We’re talking about the first 1,000 days and all these different reasons why it’s important to get kids on healthy food during that time.
Elliot: This is also the most critical time of development of all the different organ systems.
Katie: That’s right.
Elliot: The microbiome. Talk about that a little bit.
Katie: Yeah. Well, gosh, I feel like that’s something that when I got my master’s 15 years ago, or whatever it was, it was still a bit more of a mystery. I feel like I’ve learned so much more. Frankly, just chasing my own kind of health and nutrition, understanding my own body. But just how interconnected the microbiome is to the rest of the body when it comes to inflammation, or digestion, and growth, everything, mood. There’s so many things that are interconnected, which I know totally makes sense. But I feel like we’re learning a lot more about how early diet as well as, you know diet throughout your whole life. But, especially, early can really help strengthen and build that microbiome. So, all that good, healthy gut bacteria that will help you to digest your food and kind of get the most nutrients out of your body. Certainly, all the same foods that you know nutritionists and pediatricians have been telling you to eat with whole grains, and fruits, and vegetables, and lean proteins, and healthy fats. It’s all the same stuff that’s how important from an immune system, and brain and body development, but certainly, the microbiome benefits from a healthy diet.
Elliot: We’re just everyday learning so much more about it. It’s like we’re just scratching the surface and there’s already so much.
Katie: It’s a total puzzle.
Elliot: Yeah. It’s not just bacteria, it’s all the microorganisms and there’s gazillions of them. Okay. You have talked about how sometimes the baby food will have quinoa and something green in it. But then, it’s mostly applesauce. But, sometimes, those fruits are good for us.
Katie: Absolutely. That’s something that’s so important as I talk about balanced nutrition and I kind of tell the applesauce story because it’s something that I found to be so consistent across the category. It was like, “Oh, my God. Applesauce, applesauce.” Every single product I turn over, it said it was this four-food group meal, and it had this big picture of spinach on it. I would rather it just tell me that, “This is a fruity meal with a little bit of hidden veggies,” or something. At least, be transparent and honest to the customer. Because if they feel like they’ve made this really great decision, they’re giving their baby all the veggies they need. Then that’s where the rub is for me. But certainly, fruit is a huge part of a healthy diet from a nutrient perspective. Fiber, phytonutrients, and just enjoyment. It’s just obviously super delicious. Never would I say, “Cut fruit out of the diet,” but certainly looking at our square meals. All of our square meals are balanced with veggies, fruit, grains, and protein, healthy fats.
What’s amazing to me is we do have fruit in every meal. Though, sometimes, I’ll tell you the fruit is avocado so we get our super savory ones when avocado is the fruit. But you just don’t need that much sweetness. Babies don’t need an applesauce amount of sweetness. Applesauce is totally fine here and there. But if everything they eat and suck out of a pouch and consumed during the day is super sweet, it’s going to be real hard to get that earthiness, and bitterness, and savory food into them. Especially, if you’re going to switch from a baby food to table foods, and have them eat the things that the rest of the family is eating, you’re likely not eating fruity smoothies all day long and would like for them to continue to enjoy a variety of foods.
Elliot: You don’t know me very well. I didn’t realize, smoothies. You always think — this is the same exact thing for older kids and adults. You think smoothies are going to be healthy. You’re like, “Okay. I’ll have some of the strawberry, and banana, and apple.” And that’s not a healthy drink.
Katie: Well, here’s the deal. A lot of times, when you make a smoothie at home, I’ve noticed you can always throw — you know, spinach is like the magic ingredient. You can throw in like a stinking pound of spinach into a berry smoothie and no one knows the difference.
Elliot: They don’t taste it.
Katie: Yeah. Zucchini is another great one, squash. But there’s something to be said about like whether you’re hiding vegetables, right? Like, “Oh, we’re sneaking this in,” and that’s great. But also, teaching your baby to love veggie-forward, or just veggies, or veggie-forward meals, so we’re not hiding it.
But I’ve noticed my 10-year-old now, Nolan, who’s a total foodie. He really loves these smoothies. He’ll ask for them if we go out to a coffee shop or something. He’s like, “Can I get the smoothie?” Of course, his dietitian mom who definitely is focused on creating a healthy relationship with food, and nothing is shamed, and everything is a part of a healthy diet, but I’m trying to get him to understand. I go, “Well, look at the sugar grams on there.” He was like, “Ah!” He was like, “Fifty-five!” I was like, “That’s like a Coke and a half.” He’s like, “Ah! I get it.” I was like, “So, why don’t you have half the smoothie?” Because it was a very fruit-concentrated smoothie in a bottle. Very different from if we made one at home that probably had a bit more food groups. Anyway, that’s my whole dissertation.
Elliot: Now, my smoothie is a little bit of nut butter, unsweetened almond milk, no ice, some hemp seeds. Like you said, tons of spinach or power greens, and some protein powder.
Katie: [unin 22:46]
Elliot: Yeah. It’s amazing. I drink it more slowly. After I drink it, I’m not hungry at all for like three hours. It’s a game-changer. It’s totally different. Okay. Well, enough about me.
I want to find out because I keep hearing you talk about these “squarely balanced meals” from Square Baby. But I want to know more specifics about the meals and what’s in them. Let’s take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
Elliot: Welcome back. We are talking about Katie Thompson and Square Baby. I want to know about the food, Katie. Tell me about the food. What are some of your more popular products?
Katie: Yeah. When we launched, we had 20 different meals. I will say they sold pretty equally across the board, which is pretty exciting. I think people loved having the variety, and love to be able to fill up their freezer with a bunch of different meals, and have the whole rainbow. But, certainly, there’s some favorites. The “Apple Curry Chicken,” “Mango Coconut Chicken” have been some favorites amongst our families. I think partly because it’s really hard to find chicken in a fresh baby food company. You’ll see it in some of the jarred items. We have a really amazing chicken bone broth from local butchers, Roli Roti bone broth. Anyway. So, that’s bone broth. We’re really proud of those meals.
Elliot: How does it come?
Katie: They’re made fresh, and then immediately frozen right after making them. Then, they’re shipped to your doorstep frozen. Just like parents who you’re making their own baby food very often, will make a blender full and then put it in their freezer. We didn’t want parents to have that pressure of, “Oh, my gosh. This is going to go bad in four days,” or “I’m throwing away these nice meals because they had a short shelf life.” The meals come in a little container, and you just thaw them and serve them.
Elliot: Thaw and serve. But is it like baby food consistency?
Katie: Yeah, we have a range. I think it’s really important to not just have one texture. We have from the kind of first bites, which tend to be kind of on the thinner end, like a thin smoothie but really, really super smooth. And then, kind of ranging up to thicker and chunkier. So, that, again, even if babies having mostly purees, we think it’s important that they kind of graduate towards being ready for table food. As they grow and we have our more like 8-plus month meals, they’re getting more ready for chunky peas, and little bits of avocado, and sweet potato, and things like that, that really kind of get them ready for table foods.
Elliot: So, different textures for different ages?
Katie: Yeah. They’re all really spoonable. I think the last thing anyone really wants is a thin puree, right? You can always thin something out with breast milk or formula, that’s what we’re all used to doing at home. But just having something that kind of sits on the spoon nicely, but certainly, for each age and stage, there’s foods that most babies are more ready for and can tolerate different textures. Kind of a graduation process.
Elliot: Okay. Break down something for me. Like, “Apple Curry Chicken.” What’s in there?
Katie: Well, I love this one because, of course, it has apple, which has been my sticking point of the baby food industry. But I was like, “We’re going to put applesauce and baby food, and have it be super balanced.” So, the first ingredient is zucchini, and there’s green peas, there’s apple, quinoa, coconut milk, chicken bone broth, curry. I think I covered it all. Yep. It’s got kind of the healthy fats of coconut milk, gentle curry to help them start to enjoy different flavors. It’s not at all spicy or overwhelming, but just kind of a warm flavor and kind of mildly sweet.
Elliot: How do you come up with these — it’s one thing to come up with the balanced nutrition element of it, but how do you come up with these combinations and flavors?
Katie: Honestly, I’m definitely not a chef, but cooking enough for your family or just being interested in different recipes and combinations, you can think about like, “Oh gosh! That would make a really great baby food.” But certainly, like I started when I developed the whole square meal system, which is where all of our meals kind of ladder up to 100% daily nutrition. So, each of the meals is square and balanced with veggies, fruits, grains, and protein. And then, for example, an 8- to 12-month-old, any three of our meals is a 100% of their daily recommended veggies, grains, proteins, fruit, et cetera.
So, the whole recipe system is all math, right? For example, as we’ve been scaling up from our commercial kitchen into a larger kitchen facility, of course, these other RND people would be like, “You know what you should do is add a little bit more applesauce to this.” I’m like, “Nope! Can’t! I can’t do it. No, no, no.” That would be the easy solution, wouldn’t it? But we stick to that promise of 100% daily nutrition, which gave us parameters. But then, just thinking about flavors that taste good together. And then, honestly, we just made a whole bunch of blender baby foods and tasted them our ourselves.
Elliot: Do your kids have any favorites?
Katie: They do. I think I might have mentioned in the last episode that my 10-year-old loves the “Beet Berry.”
Elliot: “Beet Berry.”
Katie: What I loved about this was that I hated beets until I was 30. And now, they’re my favorite, one of my favorite foods. What I love, which is a great little anecdote for it, this “working” for Nolan, was that the first time we made strawberry shortcake, he asked to put beets on it. I happened to have fresh beets. I literally sliced them up on top of his strawberry shortcake.
Elliot: Oh, wow!
Katie: He was like, “Thank you.” Like this is exactly what this combination means. I was like, “Yes! Mom wins.” Because certainly, there are a thousand non-win moments as a mom, right? We were like, “Ah.” You know? But that was like a really great moment of that smoothie, like he would chug it as a smoothie, right? The “Beet Berry,” which has beet, strawberries, oats, and yogurt. Pretty simple, but each of the first ingredient. They’re not hidden in there. You definitely get the earthiness of it. But I loved that he didn’t shy away from that earthiness.
Elliot: Beet shortcake.
Katie: I know. And then, we use a lot of our purees as dips or sauces. I’ve literally served our avocado greens, which is like a guacamole at a Super Bowl party. I did add a little bit of jalapeno and some salt because we don’t salt our meals, but I thought that was pretty cool that nobody knew they were eating a big vat of baby food until.
Elliot: The reveal.
Elliot: Well, tell you what looks fantastic to me, “Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie.”
Katie: Yes. So, that’s my new favorite meal. We are so excited that’s a brand new meal, and it obviously includes hazelnut, which is a tree nut and an allergen. So, it’s great for earlier allergen introduction. Also, has a little bit of egg. But it just has these warm flavors of pie, and pumpkin forward, and super creamy and really delicious. Also, almond butter and banana is like you would probably have that as a smoothie.
Katie: Really yummy.
Elliot: Count me in. Count me in for that one. Thanks. I want that “Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie” though first.
Katie: Got it.
Elliot: For Thanksgiving. Do you have a turkey meal?
Katie: We do. We have a “Turkey Tacos” meal. We actually started this collaboration with “One Potato” a couple of years ago, and because they’re top selling meal was their “Turkey Tacos.” I’m like, “Well, I can turn that into baby food.” And so, it has the turkey bone broth, and avocado, and bell peppers, corn, cumin, lime. Super yummy. Also, kind of like a really yummy guacamole.
Elliot: I feel like we have the easiest Thanksgiving dinner. You’ve salted?
Katie: Yeah. I’ll send you an assortment.
Elliot: Okay. Rainbow. My nutritionist always said I have like lots of different colors in your fruit palette. I found out the hard way she wasn’t talking about the colored sprinkles.
Katie: No. That’s right. I know. My kids will be like, “Look, Mom. I’m eating the rainbow.” And it’s like a handful of Skittles, right? Ha-ha, funny.
Katie: No. I think that’s probably the easiest takeaway for any parent. None of us should have to look at every label and count, “Gosh. Has my kid got 100% of their iron today. Am I counting up the percent DVs on the back of the nutrition facts?” We don’t live like that. But what we can think about is, “What colors has my kid eaten today?” You’re not going to have a rainbow in every single meal. It’s great if you do. That’s amazing. But have they had enough green today, the purples and the reds?
The reason behind this is — obviously, it’s beautiful, but each color brings in a different phytonutrient, different cancer-fighting properties. And together, they really provide you with the nutrition you need. Even white vegetables, like white potatoes and cauliflower. Obviously, white and brown foods, like beans and whole grains, can be a part of that rainbow as well. But I think that’s a great takeaway for kind of one, balance your plate, try to get the food groups on there in some amount of balance, and try to get your kid as much of the rainbow as you can in a day.
Elliot: So, for me or for another parent who doesn’t have the background walking down the aisles, when we pick up a label, what are some of the things that we could look for to identify better foods for our kids?
Katie: I will say that the front of the pack can be a bit more deceiving, right? That’s where the pictures are, the product name. You can kind of name a product for the most part whatever you want to. And so, you’re not going to get a lot of information there. Where you’re going to get that information as ingredient statements, the nutrition facts panels, because those don’t lie. I don’t want to set any certain number and say, “Boy, if your baby has a meal that has over 8 grams of sugar, that’s terrible, and you’re a bad parent.” Because if you were to give them a meal of all mango or something, you really want them to try the mango, that’s just fine. As much as I kind of talk about the data and the science and this 100%, we’re doing that because what we wanted to do is try to take the guesswork out of it. But if you’re choosing other brands or you’re developing recipes or just feeding baby from what you have at home, all those things are totally fine. I think taking away some of that idea that needs to be so prescriptive and perfect is, for all things parenting, is a good idea. We don’t need to be perfect all the time.
But, in general, what I like to do is kind of see through the BS of potential marketing. So, if something is kind of touting green beans or whatever, and again, you see fruit as the first ingredient and it’s got over 9 or 10 grams of sugar, well that’s fine. You’re probably not giving them that many green beans. You’re probably giving them quite a bit of the first fruit ingredient. The other thing that kind of bothers me — this is my like personal rub, is that we have these avocado meals where avocado is the first ingredient. They’re like really lush and full of healthy fats and tons of avocado. And then, you’ll see these other products in the market. So, our meal has 6 grams of healthy fats from avocado. And then, you’ll look at some of the other ones, literally, “avocados” in the name and it has half of a gram of fat and like, “Oh, my gosh.”
Elliot: That’s avocado.
Katie: Right? And I get it. They’re doing that because they want the credit for avocado, but they don’t want to put the expensive ingredient in. It’s like a teaspoon of equivalent of avocado. Anyway, those are the kinds of things where you just sort of think through. Like, “Is this what I think I’m giving my baby?” and “Does this look balanced?” But it’s nice to have a balance between fiber, and protein, and some healthy fats, and more moderate on the sugar. If you can aim for 5 or 6 grams or less, that’s pretty great. But, again, if you want to give your kiddo an all-fruit and oatmeal meal, that’s fine. It’s all a part of the balance, right?
Elliot: Yeah. A lot of times, you see this exciting big words that say, “Allergen-free.” But as we’re learning, that may not be the best thing.
Elliot: Yeah. So, certainly, for infants, toddlers that have been diagnosed with a food allergy, that is incredibly important. One of my closest friends, my son’s best friend, has a severe food allergy. I obviously understand the absolute importance for allergen-free foods. But for an infant — again, unless your baby’s been diagnosed with an allergy, or you’ve been told by an allergist or pediatrician to avoid those foods, it really is important to look for those allergen introduction options. Of course, peanuts and tree nuts, but also milk, and eggs, and wheat, and fish, and shellfish. Yeah, I think I’ve got them all.
In general, this early period of their development is so key for helping to prevent food allergies, and it’s something that we just never knew before. So, we know that food allergies have increased 50% from 1997 to 2011. And while researchers don’t know the exact reasons behind this increase in food allergy, they do believe that it’s due to a lack of exposure. So, after decades of us parents being told, “Do not give your baby an allergen for the first year to three years of their life,” this means that babies have been growing up the last several years, decades, without this exposure which has led to an increased prevalence of food allergies.
Elliot: I love when a company takes a look at what there is and says, “We can do better.” And then, does a boatload of research and then comes up with creative ideas on how to make the improvements. And so, for Square Baby has addressed a whole bunch of things, including square balanced meals, veggies first. A lot of allergy information and early introduction, diversity of flavor and texture. The container, rather than the pouch, so that you can encourage babies to start spoon feeding and seeing and touching experiencing the food in other ways. And also, the fact that it’s freshly made and frozen, and delivered that way, so you optimize the nutrition that’s in there. Do you also have options for vegetarian or vegan?
Katie: Yeah. I’m so glad that you asked that. Yes, our square meal system has A, B, and C products. And we created them that way so that it made it very easy for difference, whether people are looking to avoid dairy, or opt to be vegan family, our B meals are all vegan. So, their protein comes from beans, and nuts, and seeds. Our A meals are vegetarians. So, they have yogurt as their protein. And then, our C meals have chicken bone broth or egg, fish, et cetera. So, animal protein. It’s really easy on our website to say, “Oh, my baby is dairy-free,” and vegetarian, or whatnot. We also have a bunch of different filters. Like, “I’m looking for extra iron, or herbs, and spices, or more adventurous textures.” You can kind of sift through and see which meals really fit for you, versus having to kind of go into every single meal details page, and read, and look at the picture. Because nobody got time for that, right? No. Just watch someone to tell you what to buy.
Elliot: So, thoughtful free to do all that. Make it so easy for us. All right, Katie, any final thoughts?
Katie: Yeah. It’s been interesting newer topics since I’ve had kids for sure is this “baby-led weaning,” and I get asked a lot about it. Certainly, we are a company that offers purees and a variety of textures. And so, we get asked a lot about, “What do you think about baby-led weaning?” What I’ve noticed, sadly, is there’s so much shaming around picking one path or the other, and/or parents feeling like there’s one right way to feed your baby. I think with all things parenting, there’s not one right way for anything, right? Whether it’s because this is just what works for you or because of your baby’s readiness, or whatever it is, I think it’s so important for us all to be more accepting and inclusive of what is right for each family. But I think that there is room for both. I see such a benefit, obviously, in the textures and why our purees have such a range of textures and not just an apple saucy texture but have a chunky guacamole or kind of more of a dip texture.
There’s a way to incorporate both of these “lifestyles,” right? So, you could use purees as a dip, or a sauce. Our “Apple Curry Chicken” is awesome over noodles or quinoa. If you think of the A-based meals, right? The yogurt-base, like “Peachy Oatmeal” or “Beet Berry,” they make great yogurt alternatives. Or what some of our parents will say, “Oh, I feed them as a froyo.” Like you just kind of think about the purees as something different. It’s not as though soft texture is not good for a baby’s development, but like how do we work these things. And you can also always add chunky food to a puree. You could add extra whole peas, or diced up sweet potatoes, or carrots, or meat, or whatever it is. But there’s a way in which both of these worlds can live together, the purees, the baby-led weaning. And most RDAs and pediatricians are going to recommend a mixture in a variety of foods, whether it’s whole, or finger foods, or purees. And that really what’s most important is to listen to your own baby’s readiness and cues. Some babies move on past purees super-fast. And some are hanging on to them, and you really need them and order to get the food into your little one.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly had like a lot of peas thrown at my face, which is fun. There’s such an important part about learning to experience food and pick it up and hold it. But especially, as I think about allergy and reduction and the importance of getting some of these nutrients and foods in them, oftentimes for parents, purees can be an easier thing to actually get your kiddo to eat and swallow. And then, they can also — as they’re ready, like play with the finger foods and learn to eat them. But perhaps, it just can be a different road for every parent. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.
Elliot: I wholeheartedly agree. It’s not only every family has their own way, but even each kid within a family.
Katie: So true.
Elliot: Sometimes has a completely different way than a different kid, and that’s okay, too.
Elliot: As always, your wealth of information and passion, and you can feel it in other conversations with you, how important this is to you. Not just a business, but a mission. And we’re in the receiving end of your passion. We appreciate it. We’re going to do another episode, Part 3 of 3. And so, there’s a lot more that we get to learn from you. Up until then, where can we find you online?
Katie: So, squarebaby.com, and on social media, @squarebabyfood.
Elliot: Amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing what you post up there and learning from you long after these episodes. Katie Thompson, thank you so much for joining us. And at home, thanks for listening to us. We look forward to seeing you on that Instagram as well, @doctorberlin, D-O-C- T-O-R-B-E-R-L-I-N.