St. Paul, Minn. — Lori Karis is helping babies develop better taste.

The St. Paul entrepreneur is drawing on her two decades of experience as a professional nanny to produce Sweet Cheeks baby food made with local, organic ingredients.

“I’ve always made food for the babies I’ve cared for,” Karis says. “I do a lot of research to make sure a child in my care gets proper nutrition.”

With her passion for children’s health and a little encouragement from her clients, Karis started marketing Sweet Cheeks baby food this past summer. She makes the food fresh, with fruits, vegetables and grains direct from Minnesota farms, then she freezes individual portions to preserve the nutrition and taste.

Sweet Cheeks dinners come in three categories: Newbies, for introducing babies to solid foods including squash, sweet potatoes and apples; Combos, blends of vegetables and whole grains for babies eight months and up; and Baby ’roles, chunky casseroles for toddlers moving off baby food.

“People have been conditioned to buy canned baby food,” Karis says, but she’s hoping Sweet Cheeks will help train babies’ palates so they appreciate better food. “This tastes like real people food.”

Karis says children today are the first generation predicted to have a shorter life span than their parents because of increases in ailments such as heart disease and diabetes. Karis hopes early introduction to healthy, whole foods will condition babies to crave healthier options as they age, reducing some preventable health concerns.

Karis took advantage of AURI scientist Charan Wadhawan’s expertise to help with FDA compliance, nutritional analysis, labeling and nutrition facts.

“Using fresh ingredients and preserving them in a more natural form retains more of the nutrients because it’s not treated with extremely high temperatures,” Wadhawan says, adding that Karis’ product may be an AURI first. “I don’t believe we’ve ever had a baby food project before.”

 

Karis first marketed Sweet Cheeks at the St. Paul Farmers Market, using the venue to expose consumers to her products. She now markets her baby meals at several metro food co-ops, delis and natural food outlets. Karis is forgoing nanny work to devote fulltime attention to the venture.

“I believe in what I’m doing,” Karis says. “It’s what’s right for babies.”