Master ClassHealthy Eating Habits for Kids — By Yumi's Evelyn Rusli & Angela Sutherland
Here's a stat every new mother should know: By the age of two, studies show that 80% of the adult brain is formed, making this period in a child's life a crucial one when it comes to healthy eating. Now think about the baby food options out there, much of which is laden with high levels of sugar and salt, and not enough essential nutrients. Why would you ever gamble with your child's future like this?
Frustrated with this lack of wholesome, organic choices for her own daughter, Angela Sutherland, decided to do something about it. So she ditched her private equity career and teamed up with close friend Evelyn Rusli, a former former Wall Street Journal and The New York Times journalist, to launch Yumi, an online site that delivers healthy food for babies and toddlers, directly to parents’ doorsteps.
Yumi’s food offerings are not your average baby pouches; in fact, the startup’s purees are so delicious they've even garnered an adult following. Like the blueberry chia pudding with coconut milk and chia seeds (both great sources of fatty acids for brain development), plus sweet potatoes and blueberries (vitamin A and vitamin K for strong eyes, heart and skin). Or the minestrone soup, which blends kidney beans, carrots, and kale, for a power combination of protein, beta carotene, and iron.
The founders of some of today's hottest startups are now betting on Yumi’s future success as the next Gerber—the company just raised $8 million from the execs at Warby Parker, Sweetgreen, SoulCycle,, Uber, among others.
We sat down with Sutherland and Rusli to hear more about Yumi—and, of course, get tips on how to keep your kids healthy in 2020.
What was the inspiration behind Yumi?
Angela Sutherland: I was working in private equity when I had my first child, and I took to the internet to figure out what to feed my baby. I was shocked at what I found. I started looking at research around a child’s brain development, and learned that nutrition has an outsized impact on this—especially in the first 1000 days of their life. So much neural growth is happening at this time. I quickly realized that the majority of available baby food options were just pure sugar. Squeeze pouches, in particular, contain large amounts of fructose, with very little nutrient-dense ingredients. But cooking healthy foods is also a huge amount of work and most parents don't have the time to do this. I started talking to Evelyn about this problem, and we both felt really passionate that there was more there.
Most surprising thing you’ve learned about kids nutrition since launching?
AS: I realized how important nutrition is for prevention. Good nutrition in the first 1000 days of your life can also help prevent future illnesses. For example, if you have enough iron in your system as a child, and you are exposed to lead, you are less likely to have an unhealthy lead intake.
Evelyn Rusli: I grew up in a family that came to America in the Seventies. We believed that everything at the grocery store was healthy if it said it was low fat. We’ve now realized that these processed foods were a grand experiment that failed. I was also shocked at how critical certain nutrients are in the process of brain development. There are studies that if a child doesn’t get enough iron in the first 1000 days, that 14 years later, brain development is actually less.
What are your go-to tips for parents to encourage healthy living in their own children?
ER: Start with variety. Between the ages of three and four, taste preferences are being set, so during this 1000-day period, as kids move into eating solid food, it’s important to have exposure to different tastes, textures and spices. You are basically setting a baseline for the future.
AS: It’s so important to be mindful of avoiding high-fructose products, like juice. Also make sure you are looking carefully at everything you are buying. For example, teethings biscuits with rice have arsenic. It’s tough when kids are picky, but it’s also a period of time where you have more say in what they eat. So keep trying to introduce new, healthy foods. It will pay off in the long run.
How do you get older kids to embrace healthy eating?
AS: I would say gradual change. So if you give them a smoothie that’s mostly berries and a little bit of spinach, the next time, take out some of the sugar and add more spinach until the smoothie is mostly spinach. Another tip is to try to blend vegetables, like kale or spinach, into soups.
What’s a superfood that should be in every child’s diet right now?
AS: Cauliflower! It’s an underestimated food because it’s white, but it’s super rich in choline, which is an essential nutrient for brain development. It’s a great vegetable because you can do so many things with it like ricing it, roasting and more.
ER: Nutritional yeast! It’s great for both kids and adults. It has a lot of Vitamin B, and has a flavorful, cheesy taste. It’s perfect to put on mac and cheese or sprinkle on sweet potato fries.
Parents have to be able to afford the cost of eating healthy. How do you think of Yumi with this in mind?
ER: Yumi is so much more than a food product off the shelf. We really believe in empowering parents with valuable information and making this accessible to anyone. I think we have the ability to change people’s perspectives around food, like figuring out which organic product to buy vs. non-organic. The cornerstone of our mission is to support all parents with information they can use.
What are your New Year’s resolutions?
AS: Say something positive to my loved ones every day.
ER: Trying to have better habits when I go to bed. I have a hard time turning off my phone and I know that wind-down time is so important for the quality of my sleep. And I’m definitely guilty of not getting enough sleep.
AS: I think being prepared is always helpful. So I already wrote down a bunch of compliments I could give and am keeping a list of ways that I can be more positive to my loved ones.
ER: I try to set it up so I have some social pressure. My husband is aware of what I’m trying to do and I know he will needle me as I’m trying to create better habits. With Angela, she’s my work wife, so I know she will keep me accountable. For me, if I can keep something consistent over 30 days, I can make it a habit.
AS: It’s amazing having a co-founder and someone to go through it all with you. Being a founder can be so draining and unique with all the demands and responsibility. If you have someone else who is going through the same things as you, you can lean on that person in a different way than with loved ones.
ER: Because I’m a writer, I often write things out if I’m feeling frustrated or stressed out. Writing helps me deal with the stress and process it, and there’s a lot of relief for me in that exercise.
AS: I try to learn from a lot of different founders, whether it be Kim Kardashian or Bill Gates. I like studying entrepreneurs and figuring out the through-line of what made them successful. Did they make sacrifices, did they have grit? In particular, I’m loving the Bill Gates documentary on Netflix right now!
ER: We’ve been really lucky to attract a great group of mentors and entrepreneurs. One of the founders of Sweetgreen, Nic Jammet, has been an incredible resource on the food side of things. Also Bryan Meehan, the CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee, has been so helpful. Everyone has their ups and downs, and can relate to our pain points. It makes us realize we’re not so alone, and every great founder has their own war story!