We met Ashly for the first time at the Smyth Hotel, and I couldn’t even believe the timing when she started tell us about her postpartum delivery service for new moms, Barley + Oats. I was about to have my second baby any day, and it was like discovering an oasis right before getting thrown out of an airplane and into the desert. As my due date gets closer and closer, my anxiety about breastfeeding and milk production is already starting to grow! I’m thinking back in horror to my first baby and all the Thai delivery I ate, which definitely didn’t help with my milk production. Breastfeeding was really stressful for me, and I tried all kind of things like drinking Guinness to up my production, so I was beyond excited to try Ashly’s service.
Everything arrived via messenger in a cooler bag, all the containers were individually packed and labeled with ingredients and directions. Although the meals are made for lactation, everyone on our team ended up loving it and digging in. The Probiotic Cherry Almond Oat Smoothie, the Bone Broth Barley Risotto (recipe is below!!), and Chana Masala with Spinach & Brown Rice are our favorites!
Where did you get the idea for Barley + Oats?
I got the idea for Barley + Oats when my son, Aesop, was still in my belly. At the time, I was obtaining my health-supportive chef’s degree at the Natural Gourmet Institute. I have always been very passionate about food and health; with the pregnancy, I began to research and study pregnancy and postpartum nutrition. Because of some past history of mine, I was concerned I might have trouble with milk production. I started researching the basic processes behind lactation and the effects that food could have on it. One of several great resources I came upon was Mother Food written by lactation consultant, Hilary Jacobson. The book is well researched and explores postpartum diet and lifestyle from around the world as well as the effects of each on the postpartum healing process and especially, lactation. Turns out, there is a wealth of ancient knowledge and practices outside of the States surrounding the immediate months post birth. Different cultures utilize different herbs and foods for everything from boosting lactation, helping to prevent postpartum depression or allergy, aiding digestion or easing let-down. All of these are centered around traditional, whole foods (very in line with the NGI principals) with traditional (read: time consuming) preparations. I thought, “how great would it be to eat in a way that nourished my body the way that it needed to be nourished at this time of my life?” I wanted to eat to provide the best nutritional support both to my healing body and to my developing child. However, I knew there was no way in the first few weeks and months postpartum that I was going to be soaking nuts + grains, boiling barley for 2 hours or making bone broths and sitting down (yes, sitting down!) to at least one nice warm meal per day. Without even having the baby yet, I knew I was going to be lucky if I could slap together some almond butter on whole-grain toast. And so the idea for Barley + Oats was born. Research showed there was nothing like it on the market and market surveys I sent out showed that moms wanted this or wished they had had it when they gave birth. I founded the company just a few weeks before Aesop was born and the official launch came late September.
I wanted to eat to provide the best nutritional support both to my healing body and to my developing child. However, I knew there was no way in the first few weeks and months postpartum that I was going to be soaking nuts + grains, boiling barley for 2 hours or making bone broths
How does the Barley + Oats program work?
All of the Barley + Oats meals and snacks are wheat, dairy, soy, caffeine + refined sugar free for optimal health and digestion. They are prepared in the most digestive friendly ways and incorporate a lot of foods with specific micronutrient profiles meant to aid in postpartum healing, mood stabilization, allergy prevention or infant development. Each menu item highlights a key ingredient and explains why it is beneficial. We offer different meal plan options (offered for purchase in 5-day packages) to suit every need as well as a la carte lactation snacks and gift baskets. We are plant based, with a heavy focus on whole grains, nuts, seeds and veggies but do use high quality animal products as components in our dishes (like organic bone broth, free-range eggs and fish oil).
What’s your background?
I grew up in the rural farmlands of New Jersey (yes, they exist lol!) on a standard American diet of “semi-homemade” and processed foods. Despite this, I was extremely passionate about cooking and would read cookbooks for fun, watch the food network, and pick out recipes to make with my grandmother during our weekly visits. My mother moved to Arizona when I was 7 and became very involved in the health and wellness community (working for a vitamin company). I used to visit her several times per year and spent many days going around to different health food stores with her. By the time I was a teenager, I became very interested in how food could affect our overall health and well-being. I wasn’t quite sure yet how to interpret this though, and unfortunately ended up with a relatively serious eating disorder when I was 15. I had a nutritionist for the four years that followed and continued to be passionate about food but with a new focus on nurturing my womanly body for health, not aesthetics. It’s amazing how many women I meet in the health and wellness space who have very similar stories. After highschool, I studied buying and merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked in ecommerce for Macy’s and a large women’s fashion lifestyle brand afterwards. I would take culinary trips, work up new recipes and watch food documentaries in my free time until, after five years, I decided it was time to really go for it. I wanted to do something that I loved to be my best self for my son and to create something with flexibility so that I could spend more time with him. I also wanted to create a business that supported a local, sustainable food movement and helped to educate people about the impacts of food on health and happiness. I am so happy to be able to channel that passion into a concept that can help other moms and women nurture their bodies and babies in a truly healthful way at one of the most vulnerable and beautiful times of their life.
I wanted to create a business that supported a local, sustainable food movement and helped to educate people about the impacts of food on health and happiness. I am so happy to be able to channel that passion into a concept that can help other moms and women nurture their bodies and babies in a truly healthful way at one of the most vulnerable and beautiful times of their life.
What is the significance of the name?
Barley + Oats are two of the most known and effective galactagogues, or lactation promoting foods. These two grains contain the highest amounts of beta-glucans: long chain sugars that are utilized in the production of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk.
One of my favorite anecdotes that inspired the name is that Demeter, the greek goddess of grain, was believed to have been in charge of barley. Some scholars believe that barley (and other lactogenic foods) was cultivated often in the early agricultural societies because of its profound ability to increase milk production. People of that time relied on breastfeeding to further human survival and growth. They treated milk promoting herbs and foods as products of the gods and goddesses.
What is a lactogenic diet?
A lactogenic diet at its basic sense is one that promotes milk production. At Barley + Oats, our lactogenic diet encompasses a little more. In addition to promoting lactation, our lactogenic diet is easily digestible, it is micronutrient dense with a focus on developmental nutrients, it aids in a mom’s convalescence post birth and helps restore hormonal balance, it is high in Essential Fatty Acids, it promotes warming foods, it focuses on health, not weight loss, it promotes food that is delicious and should be enjoyed, savored and stress-free.
What do you see missing in the diets of new moms that they can benefit from adding?
Definitely Omega-3 essential fatty acids, specifically the derivatives EPA and DHA (which not everyone can breakdown from food so easily). These derivatives are responsible for so much healthy development including everything from allergy prevention to mood stabilization, mental health and neural connections. Traditional diets of our ancestors were much heavier in Omega-3s than the more commonly found Omega-6 (in plant based oils and processed foods). That has since been flipped and we’ve seen a huge rise in diet related diseases and allergy. Most of us don’t eat the things that are highest in Omega-3 (like animal organs or a lot of fatty fish) or we don’t eat them enough. Because these fatty acids are essential, we need to eat them to replenish them, our bodies don’t make them on their own. When we breastfeed, our bodies direct a lot of our stores to the baby because essential fatty acids are so crucial to their development. I highly recommend supplementing with a high quality DHA/EPA supplement (I use Nordic Naturals) or increasing foods with natural Omega-3.
I also think fermented foods and probiotics are super important to cultivating a healthy gut microbiome for the baby as well as easing digestive distress (helpful to both mom and baby in the postpartum). Studies have shown that the baby does get the mom’s bacteria through the milk. If you had to have a c-section, it’s even more important that some good bacteria containing foods are ingested.
Of course there are other big ones like vitamin-D and magnesium (which I touch on a little bit below).
I highly recommend supplementing with a high quality DHA/EPA supplement (I use Nordic Naturals) or increasing foods with natural Omega-3.
How is the hormonal balance of a new mom affected by her diet?
Well the hormonal balance of all women is greatly affected by diet, with each bodily function and hormone being affected by different foods and circumstances. When we are breastfeeding, we have higher levels of prolactin (responsible for milk production) and oxytocin (responsible for let down), the two work back and forth to create and release milk. When our other hormones (like estrogen, cortisol or testosterone) get too high, it can throw the balance off and inhibit the functions of our other hormones. Certain things, like refined-sugar (this includes refined carbs too!), affect us by messing with our insulin levels. In addition to just making us tired (through sugar spikes and crashes) high levels of insulin correlate with higher levels of testosterone and estrogen in the blood, which can lead to irritability, cravings and hormonal imbalance. Other things like caffeine, stress or just not eating enough, cause rises in our cortisol levels (the stress hormone). High levels of cortisol lead to weakened immunity, weight gain, depression and anxiety among other things. Cortisol also inhibits oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the let-down of breast milk. On the flip side of this, certain foods help with lactation. Many of our key breastfeeding superfoods (like sesame seeds and oats) are high in tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin which promotes prolactin production as well as a stable, elevated mood that can help prevent postpartum blues. Also along the lines of mood, we use a lot of foods rich in the mineral magnesium. Magnesium helps keep our hormones in check by regulating cortisol, activating vitamin D and keeping blood sugar stable. Magnesium is also responsible for the release and metabolism of many neurotransmitters and the depletion of it is often correlated with depression. Many studies have shown that mothers with PPD have lower levels of magnesium (which is often depleted in pregnancy) than those without.
Certain things, like refined-sugar (this includes refined carbs too!), affect us by messing with our insulin levels. In addition to just making us tired (through sugar spikes and crashes) high levels of insulin correlate with higher levels of testosterone and estrogen in the blood, which can lead to irritability, cravings and hormonal imbalance.
Any quick snacks you would suggest to aid in milk production?
Definitely! Instant oatmeal is one of the best and easiest. However, most instant oatmeals out there contain lots of refined sugar and other artificial ingredients. The first few months postpartum I craved a lot of oatmeal. I was craving flavors from my childhood like raisins + spice, bananas + cream, and maple brown sugar but didn’t want all the nasties that were in some of the big names. I started working on recipes for wholesome, healthier, organic versions of these classics with added nutritional benefits but all the same comforting flavor. We sell some of these awesome creations by the packet (like our organic “Sugar + Spice” made with coconut sugar, raisins, dates, chia seeds, and spices or our “Brewer’s Brown Sugar” made with maple crystals, brewer’s yeast, coconut sugar and oats). It’s great to have them on hand to prepare instantly with some hot water or to throw in a jar with some almond milk before bed for some yummy overnight oats.
Another great lactogenic snack to have on hand is hummus with flax crackers. Among many of their other benefits, chickpeas are rich in the micronutrient, choline, a precursor to acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter for memory and learning. Studies have shown that the amount of this beneficial developmental nutrient in a mother’s milk varies based on her personal consumption. At Barley + Oats we make a delicious roasted beet hummus for some extra beta-carotene and iron, served = with some homemade chia flax crackers, rich with Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
Who makes the menus and prepares all the food?
The menus are designed by myself and I also partake in most of the preparation with a little help from kitchen assistants when needed.
Does Barley + Oats make meals for the whole family or just for the mama?
While the program is designed for mama, the food is delicious and full of nutritional benefits for the whole family. We offer family plans containing a starter, dinner, side(s) and dessert for the week for up to 4 family members (or more on request). The lactation snacks and granolas also make healthy, wholesome options for kids in delicious and fun flavors. We seriously can’t keep the Buckwheat Honey Grahams in stock when we bring them to family friendly parties with mini attendees.
What is your dream for Barley and Oats?
I would love to expand Barley + Oats nationally to help more moms and families (and transitively, their babies) during a time when they really need to feel nurtured and supported. I would love to see our wholesome, healthy lactation snacks on the shelves of bigger retailers (and etailers) like Whole Body, Amazon or Abe’s Market. And stay tuned, there may be a Barley + Oats postpartum + lactation cookbook in the works!
What’s the best business advice you ever received?
“Share your ideas!” Sometimes we get nervous that if we share our idea someone might take it and use it for their own. When we share our ideas and collaborate with others the outcome is always better than when we’re on our own.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love introducing moms to healthy recipes and reinventions of their favorite comfort foods. Really, I love turning people onto vegetables. Sometimes healthy food can be associated with bland and boring or dairy-free wheat free can make it seem like so many foods are off the table. When we use plant-based foods in creative ways we really can come up with absolutely delicious, nutritious alternatives. I love hearing people say “wow, this is healthy?”
When we use plant-based foods in creative ways we really can come up with absolutely delicious, nutritious alternatives. I love hearing people say “wow, this is healthy?
Can you share a favorite recipe with us?
Sure! One of our client faves (as well as one of my personal ones) is our Bone Broth Barley Risotto w/Black Truffle. Bone broths are extremely mineral dense and healing in the postpartum (especially when made from organic, grass fed animals) and barley is one of the most lactogenic grains. The addition of black truffle makes the dish feel pampering at a time when we often put ourselves last.
Bone Broth Barley Risotto
1 cup whole grain hull-less barley, soaked overnight
2 cups organic, grass-fed beef bone broth w/collagen*
1 white onion
½ cup cremini or white button mushrooms, sliced
1 ear of fresh yellow corn, shucked or ½ cup frozen
fresh black pepper
black truffle oil (garnish)
black truffle salt (garnish)
Drain and rinse barley.
Bring barley and 4 cups of salted water to boil.
Simmer barley for 1 ½ – 2 hours until extremely tender and hulls crack open. The water should turn a cloudy white.
Drain barley (you can reserve this water to make soups or smoothies with, it is extremely lactogenic and taken as a tonic in other cultures).
Cut your onion into small dice.
Skim collagen off the top of your broth and use to sweat your onion, adding a little salt to season.
Once the onions are translucent (about 8-10 minutes), add your mushrooms.
Cook down your mushrooms until they release all their moisture adding more salt and broth as necessary.
Add your corn.
Add your cooked barley 1 cup at a time followed by ½ cup broth letting the liquid come to a simmer each time in between until all of the broth and barley is used.
Season with salt + pepper.
Garnish with truffle oil + truffle salt. If you have fresh black truffle and want to shave it on, it’s even more divine.
Bone Broth Ingredients:
2 pounds organic, grass-fed beef marrow bones
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups carrots, roll cut
2 cups white onion, large dice
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, whole
1 T apple cider vinegar
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Lay bones out on baking sheet and drizzle with half of olive oil.
Roast 10-15 minutes until browned.
Sweat your carrots and onion with remaining olive oil in a slow cooker (or large pot) on low until translucent.
Add bones, peppercorns and enough water to cover (about 2 ½ quarts).
Cook on low 8-12 hours (the longer the better).
Strain broth into containers. Feel free to scrape the marrow out of the bones if any is left inside and let it melt into the broth or spread it on toast with some salt, caramelized onions and fig jam.
What’s been your biggest challenge in setting up Barley + Oats so far?
By far the biggest challenge has been creating enough time with my family and son. I began this company to help moms feel better and get more precious, happy time to spend with their newborns. However, starting it when I did, I jeopardized my own time with my baby and family. I’ve been trying to keep my perspective in check and realize that sometimes we just have to do the best we can. And if that means I have to grow a little slower so that I don’t miss out on my little ones firsts, then that’s just what I’ll have to do.
Do you still cook for your family when you get home from a full day of cooking for Barley + Oats?
Ah, the dreaded question. Not nearly as much as I used to. My husband eats a lot of spare Barley + Oats samples. I can never go more than 1 day without itching to get back in the kitchen though and I still cook just for us at least 2 nights per week.
Have you always been into cooking? Is this something you shared with your family growing up?
100%. I have loved cooking and food for as long as I could remember. Cooking at home was mostly from boxes, but almost every weekend I would pick out a recipe to take to my grandmas that we could cook together. I remember as a little girl, when the family would gather there on the weekends, I would walk around with a little pad and pen asking everyone what they would like in their omelets for brunch. My grandpa would set out all the toppings in little dishes and put the eggs in a pancake pourer for me. Then him and my grandma would watch me as I stood on a chair to flip and fill omelettes.
Do you have any tips for how we can share the experience for cooking healthy foods with our kids?
I think allowing them to make choices (within boundaries) is huge. For example, when you take them to the farmer’s market, allow them to choose what vegetable they want to try to cook versus picking for them. Or if you do pick, perhaps let them choose how to prepare it (i.e. roast, saute, puree, etc.). I believe that they are much more apt to be interested in cooking and eating when they play a role in the decision making process. My son is only 6 months old though so we have yet to test this theory :).
A lot of kids are really picky eaters, do you think the way you eat when you’re breastfeeding affects their developing palates? Or is it just a natural stage? How can we help our kids to be more open to trying new foods?
I think it’s a little bit of both. Several studies (like this one here) have shown that breastfed babies are more apt to try new foods as children (and even enjoy vegetables!) due to their exposure to tastes from a mother’s milk. It is true that the taste profile of a mother’s milk does vary based on her food consumption. You don’t get this kind of flavor variation in formula (although that’s not a bad idea for a new product). That said, as kids get a little bit older and they start interacting with other kids and being exposed to media I think they shape some of their food ideas around what they see and experience. For example, if their friends say “broccoli’s gross” they may say it too just to “fit in.” Or if their friends are eating cookies and soda, they’ll want to do it too. I think we can help our kids be open to new foods by first and foremost, choosing the highest quality ingredients that we can afford and trying to prepare them in the most delicious way. There is a big difference between canned green beans heated in the microwave and farm fresh ones sauteed in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. I also believe in not forcing it. If your child doesn’t like something the first time move on, but try it again later, prepared a different way. Even adults take a few trys to like new tastes in most cases (I was this way with sushi and even my now favorite, truffle).