Little City Kitchen Co. Blog

My stories about local food, fermentation, and formerly organic baby food
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Basics of Fermentation: A Cooking Class at Whisk Carolina, August 10th at 2pm

Most of you guys know that I’m a little fermentation obsessed.  My kitchen counters are overrun with mason jars of various sizes and of various fillings.  I generally have 5-8 fermentation projects going at any given time.  For example, going right now I have:

  • Two types of sauerkraut (ruby red garlic jalapeno and a simple green cabbage one);
  • Carrot slices layered with red onion and jalapenos (for the class below);
  • Garlic scapes (little shoots that grow on garlic plants for a few weeks);
  • The first fermented chili paste of the season with green cayennes, serranos and banana peppers;
  • Blackberry vinegar with berries from Dr. Young’s Pond Farm;
  • A ginger bug to make naturally fermented soda;
  • And finally some good ole Blueberry green tea kombucha;

You can check out some of those pictures- and many more of my fermented goodies - here.

I’ve just moved back to my hometown of Cary, NC after spending 15 years in Boston and San Francisco.  I’d love to get people excited about fermentation here in the Triangle, so I hope you’ll join me on Sunday, August 10th from 2pm-4pm at Whisk Carolina for this hands-on cooking class.  We’ll be making some of my favorite live cultured items such as sauerkraut, spicy carrot slices and fermented chili paste, and you’ll get to take home two projects to ferment on your counter at home.

Only 12 spots available – reserve your spot today!  Details below.

If I had $1000 to Spend: A Post-Holiday Guide to My Favorite Local Businesses {the Little Locavore Blog Series}

I used to spend over $1000 on holiday presents each year, which is ironic considering Christmas is a holiday I didn’t celebrate until I was well into my 20’s.  Hanukkah is a perfectly good holiday, but it doesn’t have the same sparkly, festive, present-opening, pajama-wearing, mimosa-drinking appeal that I’ve come to enjoy from a cold, snowy Christmas.

Leaving corporate America (and a steady paycheck) meant big changes in my life, including saving my pennies.  This year’s Christmas gifts consisted of crochets scarves, and homemade goodies like fermented chili paste, tomato sauce & assorted jams I made over the summer.  These are great, but I miss the days of being able to give extravagant gifts to all the people I care about.

Which got me thinking…  If I had that same $1000 to spend on Christmas today, what would I buy?

Note: I had intended to publish this post in early December, but like many of us, procrastination got the best of me and I’m just getting around to doing it.  So while you may not choose these as Christmas gifts, consider these guys my *fav* local companies and support them when you can!

My $1000 Post-Holiday Gift List

($96): 1 month of fresh heirloom juice from Luisa & Derek at SoW
($64): 8 jars of organic hummus from Donna at Love & Hummus
($40): 4 jars of pickled fennel from Christian at the Uncommon Pickle
($66): Demi-Annual, seasonal jam subscription from Dafna at INNA Jam
($36): 6 jars of Pomegranate Parsley kombucha from Alex at Cultured
($35): Homemade Chai tea spice box from John at Oaktown Spice Shop
($50): Case of heirloom Gravenstein apple juice from Kendra at Nana Mae’s
($100): Gift certificate for nourishing, prepared food from Angie at MamaKai
($55): 5 tins of Petite Whisper’s classic inspiration cards from Alexis & Evon
($40): 4 jars of Strawberry Balsamic jam from Devereaux at Company Jam
($100): Gift certificate for Nourish Life & Business Coaching with Alexis
($65): For the ultimate Tower of Chocolate from Dennis at Coco Delice
($26): ½ gallon of fermented Kalamata olives from Good Faith Farm
($40): Preserved fruits & goodies from Anea at Valley Girl Foodstuffs
($20): Pasture-raised smoked bacon from Ted at Highland Hills Farm
($36): 2 lbs of Ethiopian Yergacheffe from Rich & Robert at Highwire coffee
($48): 4 quarts of beef bone broth from Jessica & team at Three Stone Hearth
($35): International Food of the Month box from Vijay at Hungry Globetrotter
($48): 2 Emergency Bloody Mary kits from Todd at Happy Girl Kitchen
$1000  Grand Total

Food is Personal

In a recent conversation with a fellow food entrepreneur, I was reminded that food is personal.   Each of the businesses listed above I have come to know personally – I’ve spoken with them at farmers markets, visited their farms, bellied up to their juice bars, watched them hand roll each truffle, and taken their cooking classes.  They share their struggles and successes willingly, transforming a regular food purchase into something much more emotional.

I’ve written before about knowing the people that make and grow your food, and this group of businesses are the ultimate examples of what I meant!  So consider this a post-Christmas wish list for each of you, chock-full of all the businesses (and people!) that I want to support in the coming year.  Help spread the word if you can…

Coming Soon!

A new blog and small business coaching company by Jill.  Excited!!  Stay tuned…

Related Posts:

A Guide to Supporting Local Food Makers
A Guide to Mindful Meat Consumption 
I’m Egg-stremely Confused – Part 1


A Bay Area Parent’s Guide to Local Food Makers: The Good Eggs Way {The Little Locavore Blog Series}

It’s no secret that I’m a local food lover.  My longtime readers know that I could talk about food for hours.  That being said, I’m under no illusion that the local & sustainable food I crave is easily accessible to the everyday person, and even less convenient for the busy Bay Area parent.

Enter my new company crush, Good Eggs, who are hoping to change the local food system with their new online marketplace aimed at connecting eaters and producers.

I recently spoke with Good Eggs co-founder, Rob Spiro, about their mission, and specifically about some of their producers that Little City parents will find most attractive.   Top of my list; some really incredible pasture-raised meat companies, my two favorite baby food companies, and for all the allergy-sensitive kiddos, the most delicious gluten free bread I’ve tasted.

A Chat with the Co-Founder, Rob Spiro

Jill: What are the biggest challenges in trying in connecting food makers with their local community?
Rob: Awareness & convenience.  First people have to know about all the great local food they can buy — including farm-fresh fruits and veggies, ranch-direct meats, fresh bread and other bakery goods, etc.  Then they have to actually get the food, and it’s that last-mile piece of the distribution chain, and the most difficult in many cases.

Jill: How can the average person support local food makers in a more meaningful way?
Rob: Make it a part of your weekly routine.  Find the producers that you want to be feeding your family, and then buy from them every week.  Becoming a “regular” is the best way to build a relationship with a food maker, help their business, and ultimately have a more rewarding experience.


I swear, it’s like he read our last blog about supporting local food makers.

To begin addressing these challenges, Good Eggs has established a few “food hubs” around the Bay Area where you can order items online from multiple producers and pick them all up at once.  Some of the locations include Good Eggs HQ (Mission), Food Craft Institute (Oakland), Berkeley Ironworks (Berkeley), among others.  It’s not a perfect system yet as every producer is not available at every food hub, but definitely a step in the right direction.

The Parent’s Guide to Producers

Now back to my fabulous Little City parents…  If you attended any of my cooking classes or demonstrations, you’ll know I’m a die-hard advocate of pasture-raised meats and eggs for the whole family.  Here are some Good Eggs producers that you’ll want to check out:

  • Round Valley Raised: $300-$400 pasture raised pork and beef share boxes.  Get some friends together to split if needed, that’s what I’m doing if anyone wants to get in for September, $100 portions.
  • Harley Richter meats: Founder John Richter does A-mazing things with sausage.  A tasty and relatively inexpensive way to get high quality pastured meat into your kiddo’s diet.
  • Pastoral Plate: has it all from pastured eggs & chicken to pork & beef.
  • Jablow’s Meats: Finding pastured lunch meat is always a challenge for me, but Dan’s got some incredible corned beef and pastrami coming out of his kitchen.
  • Bread Srsly: For all the gluten free kiddos, this GF sourdough bread is a must buy!  They have awesome muffins and other breads too, but Sadie’s sourdough seriously rocks.
  • i love blue sea: seafood caught using sustainable methods and sourced directly from local & trusted fisherman.  I heart their oysters.

And for the brand new mommies and daddies out there…

  • MamaKai: Prepared meals made for growing families and perfect for the busy parent.  I can tell you from personal experience, Angie’s food is nutrient-dense and amazing – the perfect way to nourish your family.
  • Big Dipper Baby Food and Fresh Baby Bites:  you guys already know about my two favorite baby food companies since Little City stopped making it ourselves.  They’re both available here too.

I asked Rob why he feels food is so personal.  His response: “Food is elemental.  It’s an expression of caring for the people around you, and being cared for.  It’s the centerpiece of the most important social rituals in our lives, as it has been throughout history.  It’s the most important contributing factor to our health.  It’s the fundamental way that we, as humans, participate in the natural cycles of the land.”  Well put.

So, check out these great producers, try out Good Eggs when you can, and tell your friends there’s a new way to get local food in town.

Related posts:


Jill Epner is a recovering food entrepreneur, advocate for early-stage food startups, and Bay Area food blogger. Follow her on Facebook, or sign up to receive her newsletter where she gives a candid peek  into the world of starting her own food company, Little City Kitchen Co.


A Guide to Supporting Local Food Makers: Knowing the People who Make & Grow Your Food {the Little Locavore Blog Series}

When I started my own baby food company, Little City Kitchen Co., I immersed myself completely into the local food world for the first time in my life. One of the most rewarding results was the relationship I developed with the people that make and grow my food.   Food, whether I’m learning, buying or eating it, is an experience for me, and I have endless curiosity about how it comes to be.

Somewhere over the last several years, I developed a driving need to uncover the story behind my food.  I could (and do!) spend hours talking to farmers and craft food producers about their experiences…what drove them to start their business, how long have they been making kombucha, when will their best pickling cucumbers arrive, and most importantly, how can I help support them?

And for the everyday person, therein lies the problem: Most people would never put the same energy that I do into selecting & buying food.

There’s just no getting around the fact that supporting local food makers is an intentional act; you almost have to go out of your way to do it.   It takes more time, energy, and lets face it, money, than we’re used to spending on this part of our life.  So why bother?

Make Food Personal

For me, there is something magical about knowing the person who makes my food.  Not only am I convinced that the food is healthier and tastes better, but I’m also emotionally drawn to supporting these types of businesses, and I get tremendous satisfaction when I contribute, even in a small way.

Because I’ve been there…  These guys eat, live & breathe their products, and it takes loyal supporters like us, people that are willing to go out of their way to make purchases, to keep these guys in business.  I assure you that local food businesses have the deck stacked against them almost every step of the way, so the $8 loaf of Bread Srsly or the $7 jar of Emmy’s pickles you buy really does make a difference.

Small changes to consider

So in typical Jill fashion, I’ve put together a few tips on how the everyday person can begin to re-establish the connection they have with the people that make & grow their food:

  • Visit your local farmers market and talk every week to the people selling…many of them are the owners and have all sorts of information & stories.
  • In San Francisco, check out my new company “crush”, the newly launched Good Eggs website (literally, they launched yesterday).  They’ve been called the new Esty of local food.
  • Seek out local products in your natural grocery stores, and choose (even if just occasionally) to pay a few bucks more for it than a less-expensive, larger brand.
  • Once you find local products you love, consider giving them as gifts. Look for opportunities to buy for more than just yourself, and introduce others to these foods in the process
  • Check out a Slow Money collaboration called Credibles where you can pre-purchase from your favorite local businesses.  Think of it like a really big gift certificate that you get to redeem over time.
  • Consider joining a CSA for a weekly delivery of produce, meat, jams, bread and even seafood.

When it comes down to it for me, I’d rather know that Donna made my Love & Hummus, or that Deveraux chopped up the apricots for my jar of Company Jam, or that Charlie gathered my eggs from Rolling Oaks Ranch.  I’ll seek out Bledsoe pork because the rancher, John Bledsoe, is a riot.  And soon on a Saturday, I’ll trek into San Francisco for a fresh juice “flight” from a new pop-up juice bar called SoW, for no other reason than to support the co-founder and my friend, Luisa.

This is what the local food community is all about.  Come join us!!

Giving Power to your Fear: Who is Driving Your Car?

Over the last few months, I’ve gone through what can be described as a normal grieving process: respectfully mourning the death of my first entrepreneurial dream.  I have no doubt that shutting down Little City Kitchen Co. was the right decision, but the occasional pocket of sadness still pops up, and it catches me off guard every time.

The pragmatic part of me knows that at some point I need to make some money and start supporting myself again, so I’ve started getting comfortable with the idea of going back to work.

Without really even looking, an unexpected opening at a local & sustainable food company came across my desk.  It was the perfect position on paper, so I had been exploring it, quite seriously, for the last few weeks.  Somewhere in between negotiating salary and start dates, the gentle nagging in my gut, that until this point I chalked it up to normal apprehension about going back to work, turned into a full-blown freak out.

It became clear that something else, something bigger, was actually going on for me, so I started examining my real motivations for wanting this job.  The answer hit me like a ton of bricks:  I was terrified of running out of money, and this job was the safest and most practical solution.

After sitting with that thought for a few minutes, I realized the deeper implication…

I was letting my fear make decisions for me.

Even now, seeing those words on the screen disturbs me.  It seems like such a yucky place to come from when making life’s big decisions, sort of the anti-Jill approach.  Yet I can’t help but wonder how prevalent fear has been in other aspects of my life (and for the record Mom, that’s a rhetorical question!).

This new awareness, however seemingly small, is already impacting my life in big ways.  Fear can be very powerful, but only if you allow it to be.

Don’t Make Me Pull This Car Over…

I equate it to taking a road trip with several very loud passengers in a car.  Each of your motivations wants a turn in the drivers seat, but ultimately, you get to choose which one of them drives, for how long, and in which direction.

I’m reminded now of a previous blog where I talked about the opposite of fear being trust. In the case of my almost-job, my trust finally took over the driving and put my fear in its place…on a much-needed time out in the backseat.  Whew!

So in the end, I listened to my intuition and politely turned down that job knowing there must be another even better one is out there for me.  Although the final conversation with them was not an easy one, I’m left knowing, yet again, that this is the right decision for me.

On that note, I will sign off and leave you to ponder…  How much power do you give YOUR fear?

Mastering the Art of Transition: A Guide to Making Big Changes

Two years ago, when I walked away from the corporate world, I knew that my life was going to change.  On some level, I expected the twists and turns associated with being a first-time entrepreneur, but like anything, you never know what to expect until you really get in there and do it.

There have been three significant transitions I’ve made in the last few years: (1) Leaving the corporate world to start Little City Kitchen Co, (2) shutting down the business, and most recently, (3) embracing the idea of looking for full-time work after being an entrepreneur.

I could dedicate a blog to each of these, but instead I wanted to focus on my personal process for making big transitions in hopes it will inspire some of you to do the same.

A Guide to Making Big Changes

Be honest with yourself: Everything starts with awareness, and to have that, you need to ask yourself (or have a coach/counselor ask you) the really hard questions.  Once you’ve uncovered the truth about something, just sit with it for a while and get comfortable.

Don’t judge your answers: In other words, separate the answer from the implications. When I came to realization that I didn’t want to make baby food anymore, I tried to avoid the onslaught of “what does that mean” questions which tend to be negative and paralyzing.  I just stayed focused on what I knew was true, baby food wasn’t right for me anymore, until I made peace with that thought.

Consider the options: Once you’ve gotten a little more comfortable with your new realization, start to consider the changes needed or solutions that are possible.  This is sometimes where I get stuck.  I want to consider every possibility so I can make the “right” decision…it’s a fear of failure thing.  I could set up camp at this point, so I’m careful not to live here for too long!

Make bold decisions: My dear friend Emily and I call this part “putting on the bold shoes”.  Once you have awareness and you’ve considered the options, take a risk and make a bold decision; shut down a company, leave your relationship, move to India…  Making the decision is usually the hardest part, but I’ve found the details always fall into place afterward.

Take action in your new direction: The change becomes real when you start taking action.  For me, I’m usually so “ready” by this point that the action follows quickly.  This was resigning from my corporate career, blogging about shutting down Little City, and most recently, sending out my resume for the first time in nearly 12 years.  Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but it’s also the most empowering.

Roll with the changes:  Flexibility, I have discovered, is the key to everything. Once the changes started coming (and they come fast and frequently!), the ability to adjust quickly became one of the most important skills I developed along the way.  When I stumble in this area (and I do often), I just try to stay focused on the reasons I made the transition in the first place.

Once I went public with my intention to leave corporate America and start a business, people started to share their own pipedreams with me; starting a pet clothing company, opening a bait shop, moving to Italy for a year…

I’ve grown more in the last two years than perhaps any other period of my life, so I hope that by sharing my own experience and perhaps even by writing this blog, it inspires you in even the smallest way to make changes in your life.

The New E-Factors: How to Maintain and Spend your Energy in a Mindful Way

I am 35, and although that’s far from ancient, I find myself wishing I had bottled the seemingly unlimited amount of energy I had in my early 20’s.  Until now, I haven’t had much of a reason to be aware of how much energy I had or how I spent it.  It wasn’t until I experienced total and utter burnout with Little City Kitchen Co. that I realized how precious it really is to me, in both my entrepreneurial and personal life.

One of the highlights for me in the last month was the class I taught at the newly launched Food Craft Institute, an incubator-style program for budding food entrepreneurs.  (Shout out to all my new friends from there!!).  As we talked about being mindful about how you spend your energy, a concept from Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited came up in the conversation.

A Tale of Three Roles

Gerber talks about how every entrepreneur juggles three main roles throughout the process of running a business:

  • Entrepreneur: the visionary, creative & innovative force
  • Manager:  manages people & creates processes
  • Technician: the one who does the everyday, physical work

In the beginning, I spent much of my time floating between the entrepreneur and the manager roles, dreaming up ideas and figuring out how to make them work.  Towards the end, however, I spent the majority of my days dealing with the everyday technician tasks like cooking and selling at the markets, both of which greatly zapped my energy and didn’t inspire a lot of motivation & creativity.

One thing became very clear to me:

The more I was the technician, the less time I spent as the entrepreneur.

In economics, it’s considered an “opportunity cost”.  Unfortunately for me, I learned this lesson a little too late in the baby food world, but I’m finding that it has even greater implications in my personal life.

The Two E-Factors

There are two energy factors (I’m calling them e-factors) I now consider at any given moment: the amount of energy I have, and the activities I choose to spend my energy on at that time.

For me, the total amount of energy I have can fluctuate greatly throughout the day.  It’s sometimes a function of how much I slept the night before, whether I’ve been around invigorating (or draining) people that day, my overall health, etc…  Think about the difference in your energy level when you’re enjoying a relaxing vacation compared to being sick at home on the couch.

That way I choose to spend my energy is equally important.  Very recently, I turned down a small consulting project after a 30-minute conversation with a personality that I found extremely draining.  To the best of my ability, I’m trying to choose situations (and people) that enhance my energy, not deplete it.

So on that note, here are few suggestions:

  • Surround yourself with people & relationships that energize you
  • Become aware of people in your life that drain your energy, choose your time with them carefully
  • Hire help whenever possible for the tasks that drain you (love me some
  • Stay healthy: sleep well, eat well & exercise
  • If able, choose a work situation that is positive and drama-free
  • Get comfortable saying “no” to situations or people that will drain you

The best scenario seems pretty obvious to me, whether you are an entrepreneur or not: build up as much energy as you can, and spend it in the most invigorating way you know.  I’m nowhere close to that, but definitely headed in the right direction!

The Next Chapter for Little City Kitchen: The Story of Five “Singles”

Many of you read last week’s blog about the decision to stop baby food altogether and to not write the baby food cookbook that I had been considering.  Through this process, I’ve realized that my own entrepreneurial path is extremely fluid.  I tend to be one who likes some amount of consistency, so I work hard to embrace the changes and adapt quickly to them.  Flexibility, I’m learning, is one of the most critical skills that an entrepreneur should master.

After I came to the conclusion not to write the baby food cookbook, I sent an email to the editor-in-chief of No Limit Publishing explaining my reasons and figured that would be the end of that.  Imagine my surprise when I received call from him a mere five days later with a new idea: why not continue with the eBooks as planned, but come up with different content?

I should admit here that my initial instinct was “no”.  It took me about a minute to realize that was a knee-jerk reaction, and so instead I chose to listen and start thinking of the possibilities.  The wheels in my head started turning, and in the middle of that conversation, I got a really surprising text message from my dear friend…

“Arnaud <her husband> had a dream you wrote a book and it was a best seller.  It was a super vivid dream, and you were happy….”

Wow.  My belief is that the universe sends you little signs when you’re on the right path, and the timing on this text was just a little too perfect.  After my conversation with No Limit, I grew more and more excited about this project, and a few days later I signed our original contract – with no hesitation this time – and took my first step towards becoming a publish author.

The Scoop on “Singles”

I’ll be writing five eBooks, known in the publishing world as “singles”.  They’ll be about 60-70 pages each and will be available via download on all the major e-retailers: Kindle, Amazon, Nook, iTunes, etc… Each eBook will cover a separate topic, but they will all be tied together under a common theme.

Which brings us to content; what the heck will I be writing about?  Prior to my first call with the publishing team, I brainstormed two pages of ideas.  As I was reviewing the possible topics, three very obvious themes started to emerge:

  1. The content will be advice geared towards the first-time entrepreneur
  2. Points will be illustrated through my own experiences, i.e. I will only write what I know and have experienced first hand
  3. It will be brutally honest and come from a place of self-awareness & introspection

I’m calling this my “Trifecta”.  The Trifecta has become a litmus test of sorts to quickly determine which topics should be considered for the books.  If it fails any of the three criteria, then the answer is pretty obvious.

Being a first-time author, and in typical “Jill fashion”, I intend to share much of my process with you in an unvarnished way.  I’m sure I’ll have setbacks and writers block and several other speed bumps along the way.  But I expect to also have bursts of creativity and inspiration, so hopefully the good weeks will outnumber the frustrating ones!

As always, stay tuned….

The Changes Keep on Coming: The Next Chapter for Little City Kitchen

You may have noticed the radio silence over the last few weeks.  The last four weeks have been monumental for me.  First came the announcement that Little City Kitchen Co. will stop producing baby food.  And now the next bit of big news that may come as a disappointment to some: I’ve decided to stop baby food altogether, which includes the education and cooking class components.

It all began three weeks ago with a potential publishing deal.  After the decision to get out of the kitchen, I moved the idea of writing a cookbook to the front of my mind and started researching my options.  Readers & customers had been asking for a cookbook for a while, and considering all the blogging I had already done, and the 60+ recipes I had already developed, publishing was an obvious next step.

I was introduced to No Limit Publishing through a trusted friend.  They’re a unique & innovative middle step between self-publishing and a full service publishing house. After several phone conversations with their Editor-in-Chief, I found myself staring at a six-page legal agreement that, if signed, would be my first step towards being a published author.  Yipee!

I called them on a Friday evening, gave them a verbal “yes”, and went home to sign the contract.

Then – an interesting thing happened.  I stared at the unsigned contract on my desk for the entire weekend.  Every time I would pick it up to sign, my entire body would rebel.  Literally, it would recoil. Those who know me well know that I’d never give a verbal agreement without intending to move forward, so what the heck was going on?

I originally thought that my disconnect with baby food came from the making of it (hence my decision to stop production), but what I realized in that moment was that baby food industry didn’t feel like the right path to me anymore.  I could no longer see myself being a baby food educator in the future, so why would I commit to writing a cookbook that took me further in that direction?

So while that revelation may seem sudden and shocking to some, I know in my heart of hearts that it’s the right one for me now.

My long-time readers are used to me sharing changes without having worked out all the logistical details, and this is certainly no different.  I have not decided what this means for the Little City Kitchen Co. brand per se, but it does mean that moving forward, we’re no longer going to be a baby food company.

And on a side note…I DID end up signing a publishing agreement, but not for a baby food cookbook!  Read on for more details…

Existing Customers…Still Interested in Baby Food?

If you are still interested in ordering baby food, there are two great businesses that I am recommending, and both are offering 20% off the first order to all Little City customers:

Big Dipper Baby Food offers in-store pickup in Bernal Heights, delivery options & a few store locations including Three Stone Hearth in the East Bay.  They offer lots of nutrient dense foods such as duck liver and beef marrow, blended with fresh fruits, veggies & spices to make them easy for the kiddos to enjoy.  Flavors are listed here.

Fresh Baby Bites offers a CSA-style delivery of fresh baby food weekly. They have 3 different kinds of baby food: Simple Purees, Spiced Up, and Spices & Grains depending on the texture your little one prefers.  Their recent menu is listed here.

I will be sending existing customers a separate email with more details on both companies and how to redeem your 20% off discounts.  And if you purchased a gift certificate for baby food or a cooking class that hasn’t been redeemed, please email me and I will issue you a full refund.


Jill Epner is a recovering food entrepreneur, advocate for early-stage food startups, and Bay Area food blogger. Follow her on Facebook, or sign up to receive her newsletter where she gives a candid peek  into the world of starting her own food company, Little City Kitchen Co.

True or False: Frozen Baby Food is Dead? Scoop on Starting Solids Blog Series

Many months ago, I was speaking with the buyer of a well-known natural foods grocery store about carrying frozen baby food from Little City Kitchen Co.  I figured if anyone would appreciate the value of “real” baby food, it would be this person.  After a minute, he looked me in the eye and said, “frozen baby food is dead”.

I must admit, I’m typically prepared to respond to just about anything in a business setting, but I was so stunned by his words that I sat there looking dumbfounded for about five seconds.  In classic Jill fashion, I then spent the next day replaying that conversation in my head and coming up with a better response.

Fresh or frozen baby food isn’t a product you can just put on the shelves and expect it to sell.  You have to educate parents about why frozen baby food is a better option, but once you have, they not only turn into loyal customers, they become advocates for real food within their respective communities.  Which begs the question…

Why aren’t parents already insisting on real food for their babies?

I have a few theories.

History, Culture & Marketing…Oh My.

First, feeding babies food from a jar is the accepted practice in this country.  It’s what you do, right?  I think it never occurs to most parents that there is any other option.  So why is it that in every other country in the world, baby eats what parents eat?  In Italy, a well-known first food is hard boiled egg yolk mashed with Parmesan cheese and olive oil.  Yummy, right!!

Like it or not, we are all susceptible to marketing messages.  Most people don’t realize that up until about 70 years ago, babies in this country didn’t eat food from a jar; they ate a pureed version of the family meal.   It wasn’t until Gerber developed baby food in late 1920’s and launched an aggressive marketing campaign that baby food started to take hold.

Parents seem generally intimidated and scared about introducing solids.  Don’t be!!  There seems to be a perception that baby food from a jar is the “safest” thing for your baby, but to me there is nothing as healthy as a real banana, or cooked apple, sweet potato.

The first 4-6 months of introducing solids is the one of the most formative time in a child’s life.  It’s a small, but definite window of opportunity to teach them what food should taste like, so why not pack in as much flavor, texture & spice as you can!  More and more research shows that kids will grow up to be adventurous eaters and make healthier lifestyle choices when you start with an array of foods from the beginning.  Check out How to Grow A Broccoli Lover if this topic interests you.

Let’s be Realistic, Shall We

I realize that there is a big time & convenience factor that shelf-stable baby food addresses, and I’m always an advocate for doing the best that you can with the time and resources that you have.  Making your own baby food may not be realistic for you, but if there is a company in your area that offers this product, consider incorporating their food into your baby’s menu, even in just the smallest way.

My prediction: you’re going to see more baby food companies popping up all over the country.  Some of them will offer fresh, some frozen.  Some will deliver, some won’t. I’ve even heard of a few CSA and cooperative models in the works as well.  I think that slowly people are coming around to the concept of offering fresh food to babies, and I just hope that the grocery stores can jump on that bandwagon to support that movement sooner rather than later.

And on a personal note, I’d love nothing more than to prove that buyer wrong!  Frozen baby food isn’t dead…it’s just new.

Note to Readers: I’d particularly love to hear your thoughts or comments on this subject.  What went into your food decisions for your child(ren)?  What more could baby food companies similar to Little City Kitchen Co. be doing to make this product more available for you?

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.

How to Start a Baby Food Company: Lessons From a (Failed) Food Entrepreneur – Part 1

An interesting thing has happened since the last blog came out (where I announced my decision to stop making baby food); I’ve received several calls from startup baby food companies around the country showing their support for my decision and asking for suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls I experienced.  Early on, I made the decision to be extremely transparent with my blog in hopes other aspiring food entrepreneurs would find the information it helpful.  It’s inspiring to realize that they have.

So on that note, I’ve assembled a short list of things I’d do differently knowing what I know now.  Some make call it mistakes I’ve made, but I heard a quote recently that resonates with me even more:  You don’t know what you don’t know.

Surround yourself with a qualified team

I’m talking about a formal group of trained specialist that are there to help you succeed, not just your friends & family that you rely on for emotional support. This could be a formal incubator program (like La Cocina or the newly-launched Food Craft Institute), it could be through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or the Youth Business Association (YBA), or it could be your own steering committee of highly trained experts. Experts being the key word here.

In my perfect food world, I would have liked to have: a graphic designer, a food lawyer, a product development & packaging expert, a public relations specialist, a commercial kitchen consultant, a CFO, a business strategist, a food distributor, and about a hundred other roles that I found myself in throughout starting this company.

Looking back, I would have been willing to pay several thousand dollars to surround myself with this type of talent, but again, at the time, you don’t know that.  It really (really) does take a village…

Find a business partner

I was not looking for a business partner in the beginning, and in fact, had adamantly insisted I didn’t need one.  While the ease (and control) of being a solo-preneur is nice, eventually it worked against me and may have been the biggest mistake I made along the way.

You need to share the burden, the successes, the motivation, and the workload.  You need someone to keep you both creative and accountable, and you definitely need someone call you out on being a jackass!  Looking back, I could have hit the breaks six months ago and put energy into finding the right business partner, but by the time I realized this, it was too late.

Advice: Look for someone who has a skill set complimentary to yours and shares the same basic vision and philosophy as you do.  Sign a mutually beneficial NDA (non-disclosure agreement) so you can speak freely about your ideas, and start exploring potential scenarios.  Brainstorm first; figure out the numbers next.  This could take years, and (I think) to my detriment, I was too impatient.

Prioritize raising investment money

Your business growth depends on having money.  If you have no money, you end up doing everything yourself.  If you do everything yourself, you waste precious time, and you get tired.  If you get tired, then you don’t have the mental or physical energy to stay in an entrepreneurial frame of mind.  And that’s the kiss of death.

Four small hints:

  1. Expect to invest three times as much as you originally intend.
  2. Institutions don’t like lending to startups with no sales history; it becomes a little easier to gain access to capital after one year of revenues.  If under one year, be prepared to have a co-signer or prove to them that you are able pay the money back if your business isn’t successful.
  3. It can take upwards of six months to secure a small business loan (for small food startups, this is generally in the 25k range).  Start the process earlier than you need, even if you think you won’t need it.
  4. Every successful entrepreneur I’ve met says the same thing: Raising capital becomes an ongoing, and everyday part of the process.  It’s always on their mind and on their radar.

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!  And a heartfelt thanks to all the customers, friends & family that have shown their support in the last few weeks…

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.


A Change in Direction for Little City Kitchen: Food Entrepreneur Blog Series

As many of you know, this has been a tumultuous few months for me and for Little City Kitchen Co.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the struggle to make this a profitable venture, and after several months of weighing my options, I’ve finally come to a decision: it’s time to stop baby food production.

There will be additional details with logistics coming out for customers (some are at the bottom of this post), but in the spirit in which I started this blog, I wanted to share why I’ve come to this decision, and my process to get here.

Although I have been hesitant to share my doubts publicly, I’ve grappled for several months with where to take Little City Kitchen Co.  I’ve learned through this process that commercial-scale cooking isn’t for me.  Give me the microphone for a 200-person cooking demo any day, but keep me out of the kitchen!  Not only was the cooking physically (and mentally) draining, but to my detriment, it took me out of my entrepreneurial frame of mind.

Let me be clear, I do still believe that this type of baby food business can be profitable, and given the proper amount of motivation and support (both financially and with collaborative partners), this could still be a hugely successful venture.

It boiled down into two simple options for me: grow, or die.  And I decided that I didn’t have the infrastructure or the motivation in place at this time to grow.  There is certainly the possibility that I will re-launch the baby food at a later date, but not in the short-term.

A Little Heartbreak

The part that breaks my heart (just a little) is that I’m still convinced that 1) I’ve created a great product, both in look and in flavor, and 2) there is a dire need for this type of baby food on the market today, and 3) it’s not a product you can just put on the shelf and expect to sell; there is a large amount of education that needs to take place first.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my ego has taken a big hit.  I’ve always prided myself on being the one that can make anything work, so it’s hard to make such a dramatic change without some crap bubbling to the surface.  However, I’ve come to the conclusion that maintaining the “status quo” by continuing on this path is actually the weaker move.  The stronger move is to admit this isn’t working and to make a change.  So that’s what I’m doing.

My New Outlook

Somewhat surprisingly, I feel really good.  I still feel like I’m in the right place, surrounded by the right people, and have no regrets about any choice I’ve made to get me here.  My hope is that by not putting my energy towards that part of the business, I’ve made more space in my life to attract other, even better, opportunities.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself…over and over and over.

So, what’s next?  Don’t worry, I’m not out of the baby food business entirely!  I’m going to keep on writing and teaching, two parts of the business I’ve always loved.  Stay tuned for a four-part baby food cooking series in the next couple of months with more hands-on instruction.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of writing a book, baby food or otherwise.  I wonder if the title ‘Confessions of a Failed Food Entrepreneur’ is available??   In the meantime, there will be blog posts dedicated to lessons I’ve learned, and hopefully it will help both inspire and provide a realistic picture for other food entrepreneurs out there.

Read more about Little City’s direction…

Baby Food Orders for Customers

The next baby food pickup/delivery date will be Saturday, March 10 as you know.  The order form will be coming out in the next few days.  I don’t want to leave all my best customers high-and-dry, so there will be opportunities to continue ordering in April and May, but they will be limited to existing customers only.  So those of you who have just started ordering through Little City Kitchen Co., you should have plenty of opportunity to stock up on food if needed.

So there you have it.  Big news.  I don’t want to get too mushy here, but I do want to take a moment to thanks all my friends, family & customers for their amazing support over the last two years.  I’ve received so many incredible calls, texts, emails, etc… with kind words throughout this process.  It really has meant so much – thank you thank you!!

Wait, this is starting to sound like a goodbye.  I assure you, it’s not.  You don’t think you can get rid of me that easily, do you?

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Make Your Own Baby Food: Scoop on Starting Solids Blog Series by Little City Kitchen Co.

People always ask why I bother teaching parents how to make their own baby food when I’m selling my own.  My answer is always the same: whether they buy some from me, or make their own, the goal is getting kids to eat more “real” food.  I feel there is a (very big) difference between roasting & pureeing your own sweet potatoes and buying them in a jar that is shelf stable for two years.  I don’t think they qualify as sweet potatoes anymore.  So here’s why you should consider making your own…

Reason #5) Teach baby to like a variety of flavors

Here is your opportunity (your first and one of the best) to expose baby to a variety of flavors that will set the stage for a lifetime of healthy food choices.  Pack as many flavors, spices, and textures you can into the first few months.  Take advantage of this stage, because it starts to diminish the moment they start walking.  For more on this, check out: How to Grow a Broccoli Lover.

Reason #4) Better control what baby eats

There is no better way to know where you food comes from than when you make your own.  (I don’t know who grew those peaches in a jar?). Chose organic food whenever possible (see the Dirty Dozen) and support your local farmers if that’s an option in your area.  We live in a toxic world, so if you have access to good, clean food for your baby, then everyone wins.

Reason #3) Taste varieties that aren’t available on the shelf

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen baby food with roasted kohlrabi, blood oranges or Chioggia beets on the supermarket shelves before.  Whether you’re in the Bay Area or not, hopefully have access to heirloom varieties of foods that you can introduce to baby, and most likely these are not foods available in any pouch or jar.  And if you refer to reason #5, you’ll understand why it’s so critical to introduce them to so many flavors from the beginning.

Reason #2) Teach your kids what food should taste like

There’s something a little unnatural about the baby foods on the shelves.  The flavors are bland, the colors are muted, and the texture is super (super) smooth.  The bright flavors are lost during the high-heat processing method or from sitting on the grocery shelf for extended periods of time.  Set up your own baby food tasting experiment.  Sauté up some carrots and compare them to three different jarred varieties.  Which one tastes more like a real carrot?  This is your chance to teach kids what real food should taste like.

Reason #1) Re-establish a connection to food

I’ve saved the most important reason (from my perspective at least) for last.  As a culture, we’ve lost our connection to food.  Most people think food comes from the grocery store and have no concept of how it came to be there.  Take this opportunity to involve baby in the whole process: have them watch you roast sweet potatoes, smear it all over their face so they can taste the flavor, give them a cooked chunk to squish in their hands, and do anything to involve them in the process of transforming raw ingredients into their food.  Take this time to teach them that real food something to appreciate.

You’ll see from this list that nowhere have I mentioned saving money.  Some companies have taken the position that making your own baby food is less expensive, and while that may be the case with some ingredients, most parents I speak with aren’t drawn to making their own baby food for that reason.

They just want to feed their kids the healthiest food possible, and on some level, they know the answer doesn’t come from a jar.

Interested in reading more?  Check out a Few of My Favorite Posts which has information on best baby food equipment, making your own grain cereals, healthy fats for babies, and more…

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.

Straddling the Line Between Inspiration and Reality: My Quest for Profitability

I’ve been delaying writing this blog post.  Well, not really delaying, just reluctant to commit to words the biggest struggle I’ve faced throughout this process: building a business that is financially sustainable.

For those new Little City Kitchen readers out there, I went on record saying this would be the most honest food blog you’ve ever read.  This week’s blog is a departure from the usual baby food-related topic and is more of a “day-in-the-life” of a food entrepreneur.

There’s a delicate balance that every entrepreneur needs to find between inspiration and reality.  You need enough inspiration and creativity to stay motivated, but not so much that you spend all day with your head in the clouds.  You need enough reality to stay grounded, but not so much that you become bogged down with everyday issues.  And straddling that line is tricky…

So where does that leave me now?  This leaves me in a precarious position, because <gulp> I haven’t figured out how to make this business profitable…

The Most Common of All Traps

I’ve fallen into the most common trap for new entrepreneurs: trying to do everything yourself in the beginning, getting burnt out in the process, and losing sight of your original purpose as a result.  Totally, and utterly, classic.  How annoying.

I came into this knowing that it takes a while for businesses, especially food businesses, to become profitable.  Becoming profitable (to the point of being able to support myself) is still certainly possible, but it requires a lot of growth, and I’m not sure that I’m motivated enough anymore to fully commit to that.

I’ve spent the last several months in a state of self-reflection trying to identify what I love about the business (and what I do really well), and what I don’t love about the business (and what I don’t do really well).  I’ve done everything from flip charts to spreadsheets, brainstorms to meditations.  My typical “Jill” approach.

The Result

The result: I love teaching and inspiring parents & other food entrepreneurs, building relationships with my customers, developing the recipes, and writing this blog.  Everything I don’t love (and therefore don’t do very well) has to do with manufacturing the baby food, and particularly cooking in large quantities.

In theory, that’s the easiest component to delegate, and while I’m working on some potential solutions for the production, it still doesn’t solve the bigger question I keep asking myself: is this still the right path & direction for me?

How’s that for honest?

I think it’s normal (healthy, in fact) for entrepreneurs to question their direction along the way.  You’re constantly making decisions, evaluating how well those decisions worked, and then comes the ongoing “tweaking”.  However, I’ve reached a point where this goes beyond needing small changes, and I’m faced with the larger question of where to go from here.

Here is what I know: something big has to change.  This could mean I develop a business partnership with someone who would manage the production, or possibly even stop the baby food production all together to focus on teaching.  It may mean that I go back to work in some capacity, or work more on another idea I have to help budding food entrepreneurs.  I’m considering it all.  The idea of stopping production is a tough pill for me to swallow.  Parents tell me all the time how much their kids love the food, and how good they feel about giving it to them.  The idea of disappointing my customers weighs on me constantly.

Part of the reason I write blogs like this is to provide a very real picture of what it’s like to start a new business.  Nobody talks about these things, which is a shame considering these are the realities that every entrepreneur faces along the way.  I wish more people shared this type of information with me when I was getting started!

In spite of all the struggles, and although I would do things differently now based on what I’ve learned throughout this process, this has been one of the best decisions and experiences of my life and one that I’m proud to have gone through.  I’m still actively working on a solution that will both personally & financially work for me, so continue reading about the recent changes in direction for Little City Kitchen Co.

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.



A Guide to Mindful Meat Consumption: The Little Locavore Blog Series by Little City Kitchen Co.

I have a confession to make… For as much of a local foodie as I have become, I intentionally delayed reading Michael Pollan’s, The Omnivores Dilemma, for about two years.  You could say that I wanted to bury my head in the sand, but I was just convinced that I would turn into a vegetarian if I really learned about where my meat comes from.

Eventually I opened the book, and while I can proudly say that I’m still an avid meat eater, I’ve become highly selective about the type and quality of meat I consume.  I haven’t decided whether I’m a butchers’ greatest customer or worst enemy, but before I make any meat purchase, I need to know how it was raised, what it was fed, how it was processed (a very pretty industry word that means how it was killed), and how it gets to my plate.   Yup, I’m THAT girl…

Which brings me to today’s blog.  What does the average person need to consider when buying meat, and where are some reliable sources for the good quality stuff?

Defining “Mindful” Meat

I could dedicate pages and pages to this topic, but today we’ll keep it short and sweet.  Here is what you should consider when purchasing meat:

How It’s Raised: The best quality stuff you can buy is pasture-raised from small farms (remember those words from our last egg blog?), not from conventional feeding facilities.  For beef, “happy cows” are meant to eat grass, so opt for a grass-fed variety if you can.  For pork, chicken & duck, look for pastured varieties.

What It’s Fed:  For cows, grass is the best option, with organic grains as the second-best option.  Feeding animals organic grains can be an expensive proposition, so some farmers opt for a high-quality conventional feed that doesn’t include any genetically modified grains.  Talk to your farmers…the better quality their food, the better quality the meat.

By asking these questions to your meat purveyor, it will be clear that you’re looking for meat with high nutritional quality that has been raised in an ethical environment.

Where to Buy:

Farmers Markets: Most established farmers markets have grass-fed beef or pastured meats available now.   Buying from them allows to you establish a relationship with the farmer and only purchase the cuts or amounts that you need.  And if you have a big freezer, you could consider another great option: buying a ¼, ½ or whole cow!  They cut it up for you and you get everything in small, vacuum-sealed packages.

Meat-focused CSA:  If you don’t make it to the farmers market, consider subscribing to a meat CSA.  This is another way to buy directly from the farm, and just like a veggie/fruit CSA, you get a box of fresh meat cuts delivered directly to your front door (or to the pickup location near you).  Check out LocalHarvest or EatWild to locate a meat CSA in your area. These sites are a little confusing, so when in doubt, just start calling the farms!   I know that Tara Firma Farms and Marin Sun Farms both have great meat CSA’s pickup spots throughout the Bay Area.

Butcher Shops: The next best option is to buy from a local butcher shop that practices “whole animal butchery”.  Instead of getting boxes of specific cuts in Cryovac bags, these butcher shops buy the whole animal and butcher up everything themselves.  It means that every part of the animal is used and nothing is wasted…the way is should be!

I still haven’t found a great listing of high quality butcher shops in the Bay Area, but here’s the best I could compile, and many of these practice whole animal butchery.  If you know of others near you, please email me so I can add to this list.

Avedanos (SF, Bernal Heights)
Marina Meats (SF, Marina)
Fatted Calf (SF, Hayes Valley
Star Meats (Berkeley)
Marin Sun Farms (Oakland/Rockridge, Point Reyes and more)
The Local Butcher Shop (Berkeley)
4505 Meats (SF, Hayes Valley, Ferry Building Farmers Market)
Bi-Rite (SF, Mission District)
Oliver’s (SF, Dogpatch)
Harley Richter Meats (pickup & delivery,
Canyon Market (Glen Park, carries BN Ranch meat…)

A Guide to Legumes: Incorporating Beans into Baby Food – Scoop on Starting Solids blog series

Let’s face it, cooking dried beans can be a daunting task, and it’s certainly not the first food you would associate with baby food.  You have to soak them ahead of time, cooking times are unpredictable, and we all know what property helped them to become notoriously known as the “musical fruit”.  How do you easily incorporate these nutrient-packed little legumes into your baby food, and can you do it in a way that’s easily digestible?

This is not a blog about how to cook dried beans (I’ll leave that to you & Google).  It’s about how to make them beans digestible for baby and to give you some recipe inspirations for baby food that you can use when you’re making your own.

And for those who have no interest in cooking dried beans from scratch, we’ll even talk about a specific brand of canned beans…one of the few canned items that I recommend for parents.

Behold the Bean

What makes them good for baby?  From a nutritional standpoint, beans are packed with fiber and protein, about 8g of each in ½ cup.  They’re digested and absorbed slowly, making baby (and us) feel fuller for a longer period of time.  Beans are also very low on the glycemic index, which means there’s no dramatic spike in insulin.  They’re great for maintaining consistent blood sugar levels and are typically a very satiating food.

And now we come to the word on everyone’s mind: digestion.  Here are some suggestions on how to make dried beans more digestible…for baby and for your entire family.

Tip #1) Soak dried beans for 2 whole days – This is a process called “sprouting”, but you drain the beans before they actually sprout.  Change the water 1-2 times per day and keep the soaking beans in the refrigerator, not on your kitchen counter!  Most of the gas-causing agents are in the skins, so a 2-day soak with several water changes usually takes care of 80% of the gas problem.

Tip #2) Add kombu or other sea vegetables when you cook the beansKombu has enzymes that further break down the beans making them more digestible.  Add a 2-3 inch strip to the beans to the pot during cooking.  Available at most natural food stores.

Tip #3) Ease babies into beans the first time – start small if little ones are new to legumes.  Give a few spoonfuls of your bean-based baby food to start, and feel free to combine with your favorite fruit, veggie or meat.  If you use the two methods above (like I do at Little City Kitchen for all our bean flavors), then the chances are baby will be able to digest them easily.

Canned beans

I don’t generally recommend canned items, but there are occasionally some items that are good compromises.  Native Forest coconut milk is one of them (the brand we use exclusively at Little City Kitchen), as are canned beans, specifically the Eden Organic brand.  Most canned goods have BPA in the lining, but the Eden Organic brand are both organic and come in BPA-free cans.  If you’re going for a canned bean, then this is the brand to buy.

Recipe ideas

Once your beans are cooked (or drained and rinsed if you’ve gone the can route), just throw them in your food processor with water or coconut milk, add any other fun ingredients and buzz away.

  • Red beans: wonderful source of iron, go “Cajun” style with some okra, celery and green pepper, or sweet with some cinnamon and coconut milk
  • Black beans: for savory, saute up some onions, mushrooms & garlic or for sweet, add some fruit like mangos or peaches and coconut milk
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas): think hummus here…lemon, basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese
  • White cannellini beans: go savory with some roasted carrot, parsnip and orange zest

Go forth to the bulk bins at Whole Foods and report back with your own bean adventures!

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.

The Scoop on Nitrates & Baby Food: Dig into the Carrots, Beets & Spinach…

For those of you who have attended one of the Little City kitchen baby food cooking classes or demonstrations, you’ll know that I love an interactive class. I watch everyone around get inspired by the questions and conversation, which inspires me as well.  There are always common themes, but one topic that seems to be coming up frequently is concern about nitrates.  Should you be concerned with nitrate levels and avoid baby foods like beets, carrots & spinach?

I asked our favorite pediatrician, Dr. Julia Getzelman, founder of GetzWell Pediatrics for her perspective.  She said that by six months old (when most babies start eating solid food), babies have enough stomach acid to digest just about anything you could throw at it, including nitrates.  In fact, she goes on to say that “kids would have to eat more than is almost humanly possible for nitrates to even be in the toxic range.  Whew!

The AAP has only issues some cautions around nitrates if you’re dealing with a baby under the age of three months old.  This doesn’t apply to 99.9% of the parents I speak with throughout the day, but see the full statement here if you’d like to read more.

Common Causes of High Nitrate Levels

Just to put your mind even more at ease, let’s talk about three common causes of high nitrate levels, and some suggestions that the everyday parent can use if they’re still concerned:

Cause: Unregulated well water – not too common here in the city
Solution: Use tap or filtered water in formula or if you’re making your own baby food
(Note – we use reverse osmosis water at Little City kitchen for all baby food)

Cause:  Conventional/synthetic fertilizers
Solution: Buy organic fruit & veggies, which are grown without synthetic fertilizers

Cause: Long storage times
Solution: Buy fruit & veggies from a local source.  Spinach from the farmers market is better than spinach from the grocery store.

In our cooking demos and classes, I talk a lot about giving kids a variety of foods.  Veggies such as carrots, beets and in particularly dark, leafy greens like spinach are all healthy foods to introduce early.  Don’t let your concern about nitrates get in the way of feeding your kiddos these great items!

So the short version: don’t be too concerned about nitrates, but if you still are, use local & organic produce and tap water to make your baby food…or buy some of ours!

Since the Burlingame farmers market is closed until April, we’re doing special orders every few weeks.  Next pickup/delivery date will be Sunday, February 5, so stay tuned for our flavors of the week.

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.

I’m Egg-stremely Confused – Part 2: Behold the Pasture Raised Egg

You read Part 1 last week about the differences between free range, organic and cage free eggs.  Now that you’ve got your background information down, let’s talk about the very best of all egg options: the pasture-raised egg…

Behold the Pasture-Raised Egg:

These little guys live a great life.  While pasture-raised hens have little cubbies to lay eggs in, they spend most of the time pecking around outside as they have for thousands of years.  They nibble on all the bugs, earthworms and other critters that enhance their nutritional content and flavor along the way.  The better quality food the hens eats, the better their eggs become.  In fact, you’ll find that to be true in general with all food.

As a result, the yolks are usually a gorgeous golden orange color, the whites are crystal clear, and when cooked, the whites are soft instead of the normal rubbery texture we’re use to from conventional eggs.  I eat at least two a day.

From a nutritional standpoint, although the USDA maintains the position that “all eggs are equal”, there is much independent research that proves otherwise.  In pastured eggs, the levels of betacarotene can be 7 times higher (which gives the yolk that rich golden color instead of the normal pale yellow), Omega 3′s are at up to 21 times higher, and levels of vitamins A, E & D are also significantly increased as compared to conventional eggs.

Check out the chart at the bottom of this Mother Earth News article with nutritional statistics.  The levels of each nutrient may vary from farm to farm depending on breed and diet, but however you slice it, they’re packed with better things for your body compared to a factory-farmed egg.

Why isn’t everyone eating pastured eggs?

Well, there are a few hurdles…

Let’s the get shock-and-awe part over with here: pastured eggs should cost between $7.00 and $8.00 a dozen.  This seems expensive, but after what you’ve just learned about how they’re raised, it’s no surprise that why we are used to paying closer to $3.00 a dozen.  I believe that you get what you pay for, and if eggs are under $5.00 a dozen, I always have to wonder why.

There’s another problem with pastured eggs…they’re a little hard to find, and they go through ups and downs with production based on the weather.  Finicky little girls…they don’t like the extreme heat or the extreme cold, so they sorta go on strike during these times!

In a commercial large egg facility, you can control the lighting and temperature…giving you predictable results: consistency, but not in a natural way.  Yesterday, the farmers market opened at 2pm sold out of pastured eggs at 2:15.  Just be prepared for shortages.  Pastured eggs usually last at least 4-6 weeks, so buy a few dozen at a time when you can find them.  

Egg-cellent Locator

Here are some suggestions on how to get your hands on pastured eggs:

  • Local farmers markets:  The best place to find them!  One word of caution: don’t assume that they’re pastured-raised just because they’re at the market; ask the farmer about how they’re raised and what they’re fed.
  • Natural food stores:  Check natural grocers near you.  In the East Bay, my Whole Foods here in Oakland just started carrying my favorite Rolling Oaks Ranch eggs (Yay!), Berkeley Bowl, Three Stone Hearth, Berkeley & Alameda Natural Grocery usually have a steady supply.  In the city, check places like Bi-Right or Rainbow Grocery or your neighborhood natural grocer.
  • Local butcher shops: pick up some of your grass-fed beef or pastured pork while you’re there!
  • CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture): those great veggie delivery boxes that I talk about.  There are several CSA’s that sell pasture-raised meats and offer pastured eggs as an option.
  • The best site I’ve found so far to find pastured eggs in your area is Local Harvest.  Just type your zip code on the right hit search.  You can also narrow it down to just CSA’s or farms, and give them a call to find out more information.

So to summarize, if pastured eggs are hard for you to find (or not financially viable), then organic, free range eggs are the next best thing.  If you can find them from a somewhat-local source, than all the better.  And remember guys, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Buy a dozen pastured eggs once a month if that’s all you can do…it’s still a great step in the right direction.

Happy Eating!

I’m Egg-stremely Confused – Part 1: Free Range, Cage Free, Organic…What’s the Difference?

Introducing the first post of a new blog series from Little City Kitchen Co. called The Little Locavore.  Many of you know that I’m pretty passionate about the local food movement and am always encouraging people to eat in a more mindful and informed way.  The first topic we’re going to cover is eggs…

In a recent Skype conversation with a dear friend, the subject of eggs came up.  She proudly held up her organic, cage-free container and said, “These are good, right?”  My response was that they’re certainly a step up from conventional supermarket eggs, but to beware of terms like cage-free, free range, etc…

Many of the egg-related terms are misleading, so I thought we could start with some definitions and explanations, and then we can talk about the better options…

Conventional/Supermarket style:

Sorry guys…there’s just no way to really soften this part of the message.  Eggs that are mass-produced are typically raised in little cages, sometimes as small as ½ square foot (the size of a sheet of paper) with little or no room to turn around.   They’re fed conventional feed which is generally commodity-driven, mostly animal byproducts and genetically-modified grains.

It’s not a pretty life and the eggs are lack in the nutrition department due to their conditions and diet.  If you’re a die-hard egg eater like me, any of the next categories are better options!

Cage Free:

Instead of being confined in little cages, the hens are kept in large facilities where they can walk around.  Certainly a step up from conventional practices, but be a little cautious because these facilities are often very crowded and moving around is hard (think Times Square during New Years Eve). This is definitely better than having the hens confined, but there can still be concerns with sanitation and overcrowding.

Free Range:

As we continue up the chain, free range gives us the idea that the hens are raised mainly outside in a large sprawling pasture.  But again, be a little careful, because it can be a bit of a misnomer.  It’s similar to cage-free in the sense that the hens aren’t confined in cages, but as an added bonus, free range hens get a little access to the outdoors.

The US Department of Agriculture defines free range hens as “spending part of the time outside”.  Nice and vague…  This could literally be a small door for 1000 hens that’s open for an hour a day, which the hens may or may not choose to use (hey – they’re creatures of habit, just like us).

Again, it’s certainly another step up from cage free, but I’d encourage you to do some research on what free-range actually means to the company that provides your eggs.  Sometimes it’s many doors open for many hours a day.  Sometimes it’s not.


Labeling eggs as organic is entirely referring to their feed.  As mentioned above, most free-range and cage free hens are fed the cheapest stuff on the commodity scale.  Organic means that the chicken feed comes from certified organic non-GMO grains, and contains no animal by-products.  This is yet another big step up…the better you feed your hens, the better quality (nutritional and taste) the eggs will be.

Ahhh, behold the Pasture-Raised Egg:

Which brings us to the very best of all options: the pasture-raised egg.  In Part 2 of this post, we’ll discuss how pastured hens are raised different than all the other kinds, why they’re better for you, and where you can get your hands on some.

I could dedicate a whole book to the pasture-rasied egg, so trust me, it’s more than worthy of a separate post!

Click here to read Part 2…

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.


Common Mistakes with Homemade Baby Food…and How to Avoid Them

There is a lot to worry about when you’re a new mom or dad, and even more so once you enter the great big world of “what am I going to feed the little one”. If you’ve made the choice to make your own baby food, there seems to be a whole other set of concerns that parents experience: What equipment do I need, what foods should I use, how do I store it, etc…

After a year of making baby food nearly ever week as Little City Kitchen Co. has grown, I feel like I’ve learned a lot of shortcuts and tips along the way. So here are some of the most common mistakes one can make as they embark on homemade baby food, and some suggestions on how to avoid making them.

Mistake #1) Buying expensive specialty equipment:

So you’ve been eyeing the $150 Babycook at Williams-Sonoma or any of the other cook & puree baby food appliances. In general, I’m not a fan of buying any piece of equipment that only serves one purpose (especially one that you’re not going to need after six months of use). If you were ready to spend $150 for the Babycook, consider adding $100 more and buying a food processor that you’ll use for the next 15 years.

Those baby food makers have one thing in common: they steam and puree the food. Which brings me to my next mistake…

Mistake #2) Thinking you have to steam everything

You’ve heard me say it several times before, and I’ll keep saying it…There’s a whole world outside of steaming baby food! Remember what I said in a past blog about flavorful cooking methods. I do a ton of roasting, sautéing and braising, so don’t forget about these other cooking methods to get lots of flavor into the baby food.

Mistake #3) Waiting to stock up on the basics

One of the biggest joys for me is to hear how inspired people get after taking one of my baby food cooking demos. But…then they have to spend the day buying a few supplies that I recommend (I’m working on a solution for that by the way, so stay tuned).

There are some things you can buy ahead of time (say when the little one is between 3 and 4 months old) that you’ll need:

  1. Cans of Native Forest Classic Coconut Milk
  2. Either Ice cube trays or 4 oz glass Ball canning jars
  3. Different kinds of whole grains (black rice, quinoa, farro, etc…)
  4. $20.00 coffee grinder if making your own baby cereals is on your list
  5. Various dried herbs and spices, maybe 2 tablespoons of each

Mistake #4) Cooking separate food for baby

I always tell people, the time consuming part of making your own baby food is the cooking of it, not the making of it. If you want to spend a couple hours in the kitchen making special food for baby, then that’s fine, but there’s a better way.

I recommend that you incorporate cooking for baby into your normal family cooking. Within the first couple of months of eating, they can and should be eating just about everything you do, so just hold the salt and puree it up. Roast up four sweet potatoes: two for your dinner, two for baby food. Sautee up zucchini and onions with olive oil and parmesan cheese: half for your dinner, half for baby food. This will not only save you time, but (hopefully) it will also encourage you to continue cooking healthy family meals.

Interested in More?

If you’re interested in reading more about making your own baby food, check out a few of my favorite posts for information on baby food storage containers, cooking methods, equipment reviews and more…

Happy cooking!

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.