A Solid Start: Sara Hurst on Raising Healthy Eaters
Right before the quarantine began, Little Rock Family publisher Mandy Richardson and I had lunch with Sara Hurst. Not only am I indebted to Sara for introducing me to the chopped salmon salad at Samantha’s Tap Room, I’m also thoroughly impressed by her hustle. She has a day job, a part-time job and, as of April, her own small business. On top of all that, she’s a mom. As we talked, I learned how her experience as a new parent inspired her to create Bella’s Kitchen, a meal subscription service for babies, kids and families.
“At Bella’s 4-month checkup, our pediatrician told us it was time to introduce solids,” Sara remembers. “We didn’t get a real game plan — just a box of Gerber cereal and a placemat that had a solids infographic.” As a food lover and new mom, Sara was overwhelmed — that placemat just wasn’t cutting it. Soon, she discovered a method that matched her love of cooking, fresh ingredients and interesting flavors: baby-led feeding.
The baby-led feeding method mostly skips purees and focuses on introducing babies to a wide variety of wholesome, solid foods. The benefits are thought to include everything from better motor skills to a lifelong love of healthy eating.
“However, I realized that there were no ready-to-eat meals available for babies who utilized this method. It was a lot of meal prep cooking!” While Sara loves to be in the kitchen, she realized that not all parents share her passion for cooking. “I wanted to make it convenient to feed your little ones a healthy, wholesome meal that introduced them to a variety of foods and flavors without breaking the bank.” And that’s how Bella inspired Bella’s Kitchen.
Welcome to Bella's Kitchen
Since launching in April, Sara’s goal has been twofold: introducing babies and kids to healthy and delicious food and keeping things super convenient for parents.
“Let me start by sharing that Bella’s Kitchen meals are all made at a commercial kitchen. We have a permit by the Arkansas Health Department and I am also ServSafe Manager certified.”
Beyond ensuring safe prep, Sara and her team are dedicated to creating nutritious and delicious meals through thoughtful planning:
Quality: “The better quality of ingredients means a meal worth remembering.”
Seasonality: Fresh fruits and vegetables provide the best taste.
Playfulness: “I also try to pick some potentially less common, but fun ingredients and combinations that parents wouldn’t necessarily cook with.”
To get started, you order everything through BellasKitchenUS.com. Just pick your meal size — toddler, big kid or family — and your frequency. Orders must be placed by Wednesday for delivery on the following Sunday afternoon or for pick up at The Toggery in the Heights on Mondays.
Meals are fully prepared and on the table within minutes and each dish is designed to be easy to grab and easy to eat.
"I wanted to make it convenient to feed your little ones a healthy, wholesome meal that introduced them to a variety of foods and flavors without breaking the bank." — Sara Hurst
Raising a Little Foodie:
Sara offered her top tips for new parents as they introduce solids:
• Watch your baby's cues, and never force her to eat if she doesn't want to. If she closes her mouth or turns her head, just move on.
• Just because your baby doesn't like a food, don't stop serving it. Babies often need to be exposed to a new food up to 15 times before they'll accept it. Try mixing it with a puree you know your baby enjoys.
• Aim to introduce your little one to as many new foods as possible in his first year of life. This will help prime his palate and hopefully make him a more adventurous eater.
• Don't stay in the smooth puree stage for too long. Once your baby swallows easily, transition to chunkier meals.
• It’s normal for a baby's appetite to vary from one day to the next.
Sara’s biggest advice: “Don’t be too hard on yourself! You don’t have to cook an elaborate meal for baby, and also, don’t feel bad if you keep feeding him bananas or sweet potatoes. Have fun, be patient and enjoy your little one's (often hilarious!) reactions to the new flavors.”
Raising a Growing Foodie:
I also asked Sara for tips beyond the baby stage.
Recommendation 1: Turn mealtime into family time.
“Toddlers and kids really benefit from shared mealtimes; they are more likely to try and eat new foods when they see their parents and siblings eating them. I even see this with our 18-year-old. He’s more apt to try new things if we are sitting at the table and the food is presented to him.” Bella’s Kitchen recently added a Family Style meal option to help parents try this method out.
Recommendation 2: Give your little ones some choice (or control!) over what they eat.
“Give them options to choose from, or involve them in the selection and preparation of what ends up on the menu. The more involved your child is in mealtime, from picking to prepping to fully experiencing their food, the more likely they are to try it.”
Bella’s Favorite Orange Smoothie
Rise and shine with this easy (and crowd-pleasing) recipe. Serves 3
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup ice
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup frozen mango chunks
- 1/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 1 teaspoon raw honey
- 3 scoops of Amazing Grass
- Green Superfood (Original Flavor) or 3 cups of spinach
Add all ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth.