A Long Island mom is redefining the term “healthy lunch.” From a commercial kitchen in Bethpage, Jennifer Ross and her team of are preparing and delivering nutritious lunches for adults and kids alike, through her company, Heart Beet Cafe.
The company offers lunches that are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors, colors, dyes, preservatives and sweeteners.
“It’s a healthy lunch option,” said Ross, a Farmingville mother of three and the company’s creator and marketing strategist.
Steering the venture forward with Ross are Chris Ivers, a Sea Cliff resident who grew up in Port Washington and served as a former Whole Foods marketing team leader in Manhasset and Jericho, and Carla Trigo, a Northport-based chef.
On Sept. 4, the company began delivering boxed lunches – multigrain wraps with antibiotic-free chicken or tofu, an array of salads, complete with chocolate chip cookie, bottled water, and a fortune-cookie-style nutritional message. The service is geared for adults living or working in Plainview, Syosset, Woodbury, Farmingdale, Bethpage, Plainedge, Hicksville, Levittown and East Meadow.
The company is now also taking online orders for ready-to-go lunches – with a minimum of five orders – that kids can take to school. Beginning in October, Heart Beet Café will deliver meals twice a week, so the food stays fresh, to homes in Nassau and most of Suffolk.
The kids’ menu options include hearty nuggets, pasta, hummus and more. All meals come with North Fork Potato Chips, homemade applesauce, chocolate chip cookie, veggie slices, water and an eat-healthy message.
Ross is a marketing veteran who worked in banking and then did a stint at Whole Foods where she met Ivers. She did not specify startup costs for the café. But, she noted, she had the company’s mission and logo established back in 2010, when she began working with school districts to educate families about nutritional choices.
Ross said, most local parents opting not to purchase cafeteria meals either pack lunch, or purchase pre-packed lunches, which sometimes prompt concerns about sodium and fat content.
And while kids may turn their noses at food that’s supposed to be good for them, Ross said she isn’t concerned.
“I know what kids like to eat,” Ross said, referring to her experience educating children.
Working with kids about food choices comes naturally to Ross, said Rosa Petrozzella, who for five years chaired the health and wellness committee at Branch Brook Elementary in Smithtown, where Ross visited to explain food labels. “The kids totally understood it,” Petrozzella said. And after Ross’ presentations, students selected healthier options – sweet potato chips over potato chips, and water without added sweeteners over sugary drinks, she said.
The biggest challenge in launching the kids lunch line was lab-testing the packages to ensure the products’ shelf life and to rule out the presence of bacteria, Ross said.
Dr. Danielle DeLorenzo, principal at Lynwood Avenue Elementary School where Ross has given numerous workshops, said she isn’t surprised at Ross’ entrepreneurial spirit.
“Jennifer is a persevering, reliable person,” DeLorenzo said.
Moving forward, Ross said the company would work with PTAs, if enough families signed up, and regularly deliver to a PTA member who would in turn distribute food to the kids without interfering with the school’s lunch program. In turn, the company would support some PTA fundraising efforts.
Ross said she and her partners aim to meet market needs.
“Our approach is allowing this to evolve and up with what we think makes sense,” she said.