Women In Wellness: “Keep exposing children to new foods” With Jennifer Chow of Nurture Life
If your child is a picky eater, don’t settle for them being a picky eater. Children eat what they’re familiar with. Keep exposing them to new foods, repeatedly. According to research it can take 7–15 tries before a kid grows to like a new food. Don’t give up! By expanding your child’s palate early you are setting them up for increased food acceptance which encourages healthy eating for the rest of their lives — which we know is essential for chronic disease prevention.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Chow.
Jennifer Chow is the co-founder of Nurture Life — a provider of freshly made, nutritionally balanced meals for families, on a mission to deliver a healthier world through better nutrition for our kids. Jennifer is a lifelong foodie and mother of two little boys, passionate about helping families feed their children nutritious, delicious meals they’re proud to serve and creating a new standard for kids food in our industry. Jennifer’s work at Nurture Life is focused on new product development and innovation, customer experience and strategy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My mother was a registered dietitian and for as long as I can remember, we ate healthy, balanced meals, made from real ingredients. My parents were immigrants from China and growing up, we had Chinese food for all three of our daily meals. Our fridge was filled with fresh produce, meats, poultry and fish and all our meals were flavored with herbs and spices. From breakfast on we always had a mix of produce, proteins and grains in every meal. And fruit was our only dessert.
I didn’t realize how unusual this was, until I started school and saw what my classmates were eating for lunch. I was even more surprised when I would go over to their homes and see what they were eating for dinner. I didn’t realize until I was seven or eight, that a lot of my peers primarily ate “kids food” out of a box or can. I also didn’t realize how fortunate I was to always have fresh, nutritious meals from such an early age, until then. It was at this time that my passion for good, clean, healthy food started.
Throughout my career, I have always been involved with organizations focused on children’s causes, but it wasn’t until I started running marketing for a high growth tech start-up, that I struggled with balancing the pressures of being a new mom, and the job’s demanding long hours. When our son started eating solids, I looked at the available options and decided I didn’t want to feed him something that was older than him and started making all of his meals from scratch. When he was a baby, steaming and pureeing veggies and fruits was easy, but as he started eating whole meals, I found myself spending hours making mini adult meals for him– from the planning, shopping, prepping and cooking. I started talking to friends in a similar life stage as ours about how they fed their kids and found a common theme — a lot of guilt and compromise with shelf stable, frozen, fast food or take out. All the parents I talked to wanted to feed their kids fresh, nutritious food, but in the majority of cases, didn’t have the time to cook.
We created Nurture Life to give parents a new way to feed their families and tackle one of our country’s biggest challenges — the way our children eat. We’re providing freshly made, nutritionally balanced, ready-to-enjoy meals made from organic produce, antibiotic free meats and whole grains, giving parents meals they can be proud to serve that their kids love to eat. I feel so fortunate to have founded a company that brings together my early love of and exposure to real, nutritious food and passion for childhood nutrition.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
This isn’t really a story, moreso a learning. Early in my career I felt very insecure, even though I had the education and preparation to be in the positions that I was in. As a result, I didn’t assert myself nearly as much as I should have, even though I was consistently praised for my work and work ethic. My main lessons and takeaways from this is if you’re early in your career, have confidence in yourself, typically you are in the position you’re in for a reason. If you’re later in your career, always take the time to coach those early in their careers to assert for themselves, whether it’s for more responsibility, a raise or something entirely different, especially with those who have great potential but may lack the confidence to do so without encouragement. They are so worth the investment of your time and effort!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
By nature I’m a collaborative person. I constantly seek and want other people’s thoughts and opinions and believe if we have strong teams, by collaborating we’ll be able to achieve the best outcomes. In our early days one of the biggest mistakes I made was trying to be too collaborative. I wanted to create a culture of collaboration and inclusion but took it to an extreme. As much as I love to collaborate, I realized it should not be applied to everything and can create confusion and a lack of direction. There are times when a singular voice is critical to move something forward.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m most grateful to my mother who has been my guiding force for as long as I can remember. She came to the US as a student immigrant, moved through three universities depending on where she could get scholarships and work, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, became the first female graduate of the MBA program at Loyola University in Chicago, and then went on to start a dietary consulting practice when she was in her thirties (as you can tell, I’m also incredibly proud of her!). As a businesswoman in the 1960s through 1990s, she had many experiences that shaped her ideas of how to work. She taught me many things from these experiences, both through her words and the examples she set, the most memorable ones being, 1. Always be overprepared, 2. Have a strong work ethic, 3. Be humble, 4. Be kind to and take care of people and 4. Do something you’re really passionate about.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
For decades now, we’ve been led to believe by the large food companies that kids’ meals have to be a certain way — high in sugar, salt and fat for kids to love them. Because of this, many children growing up today have had limited exposure to whole foods that are real, clean and naturally delicious. It’s not our kids’ faults that they crave pancakes for breakfast, chicken tenders and french fries for lunch and pizza for dinner. And with so few healthy yet kid-friendly options available, parents really aren’t to blame either for resorting to these kinds of meals. As parents, we’re all doing the best we can with what we have available — which is why we thought, “Why not change what’s available?”
Our mission is to give families what they deserve: nutrient-dense, well-balanced, delicious meals that are based on nutritional research and appropriately portioned for the developmental needs of every age group. Most food companies don’t do this because, to be honest, it’s hard. It takes an incredible amount of work to achieve the high nutritional standards that we’ve set for ourselves — but we know that our kids are worth it.
This mission guides the development of all the meals we create. At every age, we’re raising the bar and giving parents the best way to feed their families.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- If your child is a picky eater, don’t settle for them being a picky eater. Children eat what they’re familiar with. Keep exposing them to new foods, repeatedly. According to research it can take 7–15 tries before a kid grows to like a new food. Don’t give up! By expanding your child’s palate early you are setting them up for increased food acceptance which encourages healthy eating for the rest of their lives — which we know is essential for chronic disease prevention.
- Balance in life should be extended to mealtime too. Keep it simple by focusing on a source of protein, a sensible carbohydrate (whole grain or starchy vegetable) and fiberful vegetables. With these three components involved, you can ensure a satisfying and nutritious meal for you and your kids.
- Veggie focus — wherever they fit is where they belong. If you can blend cauliflower in like we do in our mac and cheese sauce to ensure a full serving of veggies, why not? If you can incorporate zucchini into a meatball, go for it. Whatever veggies your kids accept is a win. Continue to keep trying new vegetables as well, but remember some is always better than none. Continued exposure on a regular basis will make it much easier over time.
- Make calories count. Aim to get something tangible out of every eating occasion, whether a snack or meal, make what you and your kids eat count. Snacking on refined grains will never leave you satisfied. Instead, focusing on fiber, protein and healthy fats will create a recipe for calories that count.
- Real food first. If the focus of the food is around making sure you understand where it came from, you’ll be more likely to avoid “the bad stuff” i.e. overly processed foods.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
My focus would be on setting children up with the healthiest foundation possible, from the very beginning of their eating journey. If we can prevent childhood obesity before it’s a problem, the impact would be monumental. Right now, per the most recent CHD report in 2017, we know that childhood obesity is currently affecting 13 million children in the US. Recently, we decided to join forces with A Partnership for a Healthier America, an organization who shares our same goal of positively influencing the food choices and food availability to our youth. I’m proud that we’re surrounded by other food companies who share the goal of positively impacting health through nutrition at an early age, right when children are first introduced to food. I’m really excited to see what this group will be able to collaborate on and accomplish in the coming years.
What are your “4 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- That it’s going to be so much harder than you expected, even if you’ve been in a start-up before, being fully responsible is very different. And it’s hard for different reasons at each phase of growth and development. But if you believe in what you’re doing, do everything you can to work through it, because what you’re trying to build, the customers you’re serving and the team you’re working with are all worth it.
- Consistently hiring great people is really hard — sometimes you’ll get it right and other times you won’t, even when you’ve done all your diligence. If someone is not working out, don’t wait to make a change. You owe it to the business, your team and yourself. Too often, we wait too long to let go of someone who is not working out. In a start-up, the opportunity cost of waiting too long is far too great.
- It is so easy to get distracted by the many ideas that will come your way as the founder of a start-up, from investors, partners, team members, your friend’s mother and more. Far too often, I’ve seen and experienced start-ups chasing ideas they should never chase. Your and all of your team members’ time and resources are very limited. Be ruthless about prioritizing and saying no to ideas that should not be pursued.
- Be flexible. For many start-ups, especially in emerging categories, things change very quickly: consumer demand and sentiments, markets, channels and much more. What works and what doesn’t, can also change very quickly. You have to be flexible and evolve your business. Always be moving forward!
- What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
The best way to follow me on social media is on Instagram @nurturelife and Facebook @nurturelife
Thank you for these fantastic insights!