Who’s going to care about folate? This was the type of question which pivoted Evelyn Rusli away from respected international journalist with The New York Times and Wall Street Journal to becoming the co-founder of the freshest and most nutrient dense baby and children’s food on the market. “My response to that question was always, ‘they have to.’ We have to move to a future where parents do care about folate or there are options for someone who cares about folate.”
Rusli, and her co-founder Angela Sutherland, have taken their children’s nutrition and food sciences company, Yumi, to the top of the proverbial food chain when it comes to feeding children and while Rusli may have left her former career behind, culture and content still drive her work today.
Inspired by the success of Yumi’s children’s books series narrated by celebrities such as Kristen Bell (Yumi’s celebrity following is deep), Rusli, along with co-author and Yumi’s VP of Content Arianna Schioldager, have released First Bites: A Science-Backed Guide to Nutrition for Baby’s First 1,000 Days. A hybrid of textbook-meets-cookbook, First Bites goes beyond recipes and offers up a book steeped with the deep, science-backed knowledge of nutrition for which Yumi is known. It encapsulates Rusli and Yumi’s values towards food and nutrition as a holistic endeavor which not only considers the quantitative importance of nutrition, but the qualitative importance of food and the societal implications of raising children with considered nutrition.
“When feeding a child there’s obviously a lot of responsibility ensuring that you check off the boxes around nourishment, but you should never forget how important it is to think about the societal and emotional space that food fills,” Rusli explains. “Food is a connective tissue for family, and this journey that will be a lifelong journey with food should be celebrated. It’s also a form of love for many. Food also creates moments of celebration and bonding.”
First Bites was devised as a resource for every stage of a child’s upbringing, for the time even before a baby enters the world. Indeed, Rusli believes this book to be a resource for even earlier stages of parenting, as early as when the thought of having a child is only consideration.
“You may be in the process of being pregnant. You may only be thinking about and preparing to be pregnant. Or you might be further along and about to introduce your child to solids,” says Rusli. “And if you are already pregnant–it’s a time when a lot of people fill up their personal libraries with books– and we thought it would be powerful to create content that would be exciting and interesting during a period when you might be consuming information the most.”
Divided into two sections, Part One of First Bites is a nutritional handbook for the first 1,000 days of a child’s life when development is at hyper-speed and the brain is the biggest consumer of calories, using about 60 percent of the body’s caloric intake towards its development. In addition to key nutrients and nutritional milestones, the first section of the book offers guidance on everything from how to deal with (and avoid creating altogether) a picky eater to understanding the signals and changes in baby’s digestion. Part Two of First Bites is a collection of over 60 simple recipes which are free of added sugars, dairy, and gluten and which have been strategically designed to introduce a child to 100 ingredients within the first two years of life.
“A big part of why I left journalism and co-founded Yumi was because this was the story I felt everyone should know about: the importance of nutrition during the first years and the ramifications that it will have on the rest of a life,” says Rusli.
Rusli goes on to share research findings which have influenced her passion and drive in understanding the long-term impact of poor nutrition and also inform the science-backed recipes which make up Yumi products. Findings such as brain scans of children with properly nourished brains and how much larger it is than one which is undernourished. She speaks of obesity and metabolic health issues, which are on the rise, or how to support a child’s proper neurological development. “All these things can affect a whether or not a person reaches their potential and to be the best members of society,” Rusli explains. “Education around these fundamental building blocks will allow us to create a more whole society. We thought if you could change people’s perspectives around food, and the way they were nourishing their kids, you could actually unlock an entire generation of health outcomes.”
Yumi products recently expanded from direct-to-consumer to retail as their products became available on Target shelves a few months back. Spending little on marketing, Yumi communicated the value of their product by emphasising the micronutrients and by using imagery.
“‘As much fiber as one cup of broccoli, as much iron as two cups of spinach’,” says Rusli , quoting the words they used to communicate Yumi product benefits for Target consumers. “We used illustrations in our packaging as to make it accessible and fun. At the same time, we also didn’t want to shy away from the ‘hero’ call-outs–the vegetables–because we believe consumers across the US are going to demand more from their child’s nutrition and that we don’t need to dumb it down. We want to empower parents, instead.”
The Target launch has seen strong sell-throughs and a quick rise to becoming one of the top-selling nutritional bars in the aisle, with many of the purchasing demographic being adults buying the product for themselves. It’s an outcome which has inspired Yumi’s founders towards the creation of nutrition-packed products for the whole family, including adults.
“We believe the time has come for a shift in the way we think about nutrition because, inevitably, this is the future our society needs in order to be able to navigate the challenges in health today,” Rusli explains. “As for First Bites, we’re excited about what this book means in terms of our ability to connect with families and provide support so far beyond being a maker of nutritious food and snack vitamin products.”
First Bites is currently in its pre-sale stage and available for pre-order on Amazon for $30.00. It will be released for general sale on January 31, 2023.