When we had our babes, we had our heart sets on making all of our baby food with nothing but the finest ingredients. At first, we felt like super heros. We peeled, we roasted, we pureed and we took photos of our littles with their faces covered in “baby’s first solids!”. But then, the second recipe wasn’t as well received, nor was the 3rd or 4th. We forgot to pre-make the meals for the following day and before you knew it, life moved in and we had lost momentum. Ugh. But, mamas today have another option that doesn’t involve buying food from the canned goods aisle. Hooray! Little Spoon is the first nationwide baby food meal delivery service that is organic, non-GMO and always fresh. With 25 pediatrician and nutritionist approved flavors available every week, it’s the busy mamas feeding dream. We caught up with Little Spoon Co-Founder, Michelle Muller to find out what inspired the business, the secrets of the baby food industry you don’t want to know but should and how she juggles life with 3 boys as a single mom. Read on…
Michelle, we are such big fans of Little Spoon! Tell us how it all started.
The idea for Little Spoon started way back when I had my first son and noticed how dismal the options for baby food were. Can you believe that the food that’s sold in grocery stores is designed to last for over 2 years on the shelf – that makes the food older than the baby that’s eating it. Gross! I just knew other moms out there were experiencing the same struggle, but I winged it by making my own food fresh. It was a real challenge – we all wear many roles as mothers, but throwing in “short order chef” wasn’t exactly easy.
Fast forward several years and I found out about how impactful nutrition is during the first 1000 days of a child’s life. The first 1000 days starts from conception so the food that mom eats is just as critical. Essentially, there is a window of opportunity to lay the strongest foundation for your child’s systems (brain, immunity, digestion, vision etc) through nutrition. Once this window closes at the end of 1000 days, the irreversible foundation has been laid. Literally nothing can be done going forward to impact those systems. Once I heard this information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, I knew it was time to do something about the problem – and here we are with Little Spoon. We are the first company offering complete nutrition plans for babies nationwide!
How does your baby food differ from others on the market?
First and foremost, our food is fresh and made to order. We are certified USDA organic, non-GMO project verified and do not include any preservatives or additives in our food. Most importantly, we offer customized meal plans for babies helping to optimize their development by giving them the cleanest, most nutrient dense meals for their needs at any moment in time. We collect information like their birthday, what developmental milestones they’ve accomplished as well as details like if your baby is an adventurous or picky eater. We then create their very own nutrition plan! You can customize it for preferences easily.
Since we are a subscription service, we ship direct to our families’ homes – eliminating the need for a time-consuming grocery store trip. The food is shipped cold and ready to eat, so all you have to do is move it to your refrigerator for storage. Our food stays fresh and delicious for 14 days starting from the day it arrives to your home. Comparing that to shelf-stable food you find on the baby food aisle which is designed to last up to three years on a shelf is an easy way to see how fresh and superior our food is.
You have 3 other business partners. What advice would you give to others wanting to start a business with friends?
Wow. That’s a great question! To be honest, I feel like my co-founders and I are a bit of an urban legend. We all bring very different personalities and tool sets to our team. Because of this, we almost never step on each others’ toes. Our relationships (and friendships) are very unique. That said, I would highly encourage anyone thinking about going into business with a friend to take a skill set or personality test (or both). I swear by the Meyers Briggs and Strengthsfinder tests. It is really important to launch a business with a partner or partners who have different personalities from your own – different perspectives. Having a variety of points of views for the most part, strengthens your business.
That’s such great advice! What has been the most impactful way you’ve spread the word about Little Spoon?
As I’m sure the HEYMAMA community knows all too well, the best way to spread the word is word-of-mouth, mom-to-mom. We all know that a Facebook ad is far less convincing than the advice of your best mom friend. That said, my partner Lisa who is also our CMO and I focus a lot of our attention on building communities around our most loyal customers whether it involves boots on the ground events or special gifting. As Chief Mom, I handle many different aspects of our business but I spend much of my time building out and supporting our customer care team. My team and I have daily interactions with our moms and really value their opinions. In fact, if we have thoughts around launching a new product line or making changes to a recipe, we won’t do that unless I’ve had personal calls with at least 25 of our customers.
What has been your biggest challenge in growing your business? Biggest win?
Our biggest challenge has probably been our nervousness around spending money. Being a bootstrapped start-up for quite some time wires your brain a certain way – spending money is scary! So when you raise money and all of a sudden have capital to afford a decent office, you kind of feel guilty! We’ve had to develop into more of the “leap and the net will appear” mentality as of late. I must say it’s a great challenge to have!
I’d have to say our biggest win is moving our whole team to New York. We were bicoastal for quite some time with part of the team in San Francisco. Now that we are all in NYC, it is such a different work environment and we get so much more accomplished. I love my team and being around them all day every day is truly the best move we have made to date.
You have some pretty heavy hitters backing your company. What advice would you give to others wanting to raise funds?
Think big! Investors are obviously interested in what you’ve built but they are also interested in investing in your creativity and ideas – where do you want to go next? They want to know what your plans are for expansion and how expansive you’re thinking so don’t be afraid to go bigger.
Was there anything that surprised you about traditional baby food that you learned while launching your business? What would you want other parents to know?
I could go on and on here. We have a great website called No More Old Baby Food that shows all the super gross and icky things about shelf-stable baby food that you don’t want to know but really should.
I think the thing that upsets me the most are the way that pouch baby food brands manipulate parents. They will label their flavors “Spinach Peas and Pears,” but when you turn around the pouch and look at the ingredient list, it says “Pears, Peas and Spinach.” By law, companies are required to list ingredients based on the percentage in the recipe. During my research, I recreated about 20 different pouch baby food recipes. It turns out that they are all around 80-90% fruit with a teaspoon or two of vegetables. No wonder documentaries are coming out like Fed Up (about the sugar addiction of Americans): eating habits start with the very first bite of food and set the foundation for the rest of a child’s life all the way into adulthood. The poor kids eating only pouched food are all addicted to sugar – 80% of their diet is fruit!
Those stats are alarming! Walk us through the development process of a new recipe. Do you taste everything that goes out the door?
My partner Angela and I play a big role in the recipes as well as our pediatricians and dietician. We are always looking to diversify the menu to include as many ingredients as possible (we have over 80 so far) because we know how critical it is to introduce children to new flavors during this window of opportunity. Angela and I are always bouncing ideas off each other. Usually around once a quarter, we meet up in our SoCal kitchen and have a two to three day long jam sesh coming up with new recipes. Once they are nutritionally balanced and taste fantastic, we send them off to our lab for testing to ensure the will stay fresh and delicious for our babies for two weeks. Last, we do a taste test with the whole Little Spoon team where we collectively decide which recipes to move forward with. Overall it’s a ton of fun!
Do you have any advice for mamas dealing with picky eaters?
Try, try again! As many parents may know, babies often need to be exposed to new foods multiple times before learning to accept them. If your baby doesn’t like a particular food, we encourage you to try a variety of other foods to see which one he likes best. Then, in a few days or weeks you can try that tricky one again, and chances are they will come to love it! Incorporating herbs and spices are great for palate development, and research shows that early and repeated exposure to variation in flavors increases the likelihood children will accept a wider range of foods later in life.
We’ve been known to make a cocktail or two using your mango puree (so good!). What is your favorite go-to recipe for the summer months ahead?
You can’t go wrong with our mango Bellini. I also love to make one with fresh pomegranate! In a large pitcher, add 4 containers of our Little Spoon beet banana mango Babyblend along with about 15 fresh mint leaves and 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds. Pour champagne into the pitcher and fill to the top. Stir gently with a wooden spoon and pour into champagne flutes to serve. You can also swap the champagne for sparkling elderflower lemonade for mocktails! Yields about 12-14 servings.
It’s seriously delicious! You are a single mama to three boys (aged 6, 8 and 10) so you are one busy mama! How do you make time with each of your kids when you have so much to juggle?
To be honest, I’m not really sure how I do it all, but women – especially mothers – are amazing. We get shit done! I’m laughing to myself as I type this because tonight when I walked in the door from work, I made dinner and ate as a family, then my 6 year old fell asleep on the couch. My 8 year old threw up about 30 minutes after that and came out after to tell me he accidentally dropped his retainer into the toilet and flushed it. Then about 45 minutes after that, my 10 year old’s loose tooth fell out. It’s never a dull moment in my house!
I think the way I choose to parent is a little different than the average mom especially after leaving an abusive marriage. Being a mother is one of the greatest things to ever happen to my life, but it’s a part of who I am. It is not everything that I am. Balance is very important to me, and I try to model that for my children. I bring my boys with me to dinner parties, I travel with them (we were just in London and Paris over spring break) and we go out to dinner often. I’m not going to stop doing all the things I love in life just because I have three kiddos in tow. It’s so much more fun to have them adventuring along with me!
Would you consider yourself a foodie? If so, what are you current favorite restaurants in NYC?
While I have never really loved the term “foodie,” I suppose I am one. When I travel, I build my itinerary around food and most certainly obsess over trying all the new restaurants that open in NYC on the regular. It is so difficult to narrow down to a short list, but I’ll try my best!
No matter what happens, everything is manageable - just take a big, deep breath before you act.
Listen to your intuition. Mother’s instincts are powerful and 9 times out of 10, they are spot on. Go with your gut and don’t listen to what the boring PTA moms at school tell you what they think you should do. You’ve got this!
Don’t blink and enjoy the journey. It all goes by so damn fast… soak it all up!