Packaged, processed snacks sure are easy to eat -- they're tasty, they require no preparation and they tend to appeal to kids -- but everyone knows they're not the healthiest option.
For Mountain View resident Andy Kavanagh, that simple fact inspired a business: healthy, kid-friendly cooking projects delivered once a month, right to your door.
Kavanaugh is a health-food and fitness enthusiast and self-proclaimed "snackaholic" from Ireland who moved to the Bay Area last year.
"Our goal is to make it easier for you to raise a happy, healthy and food-educated family by making baking fun," he said. "But sometimes people need a little help and guidance."
Kavanagh's passion for healthy eating inspired him to create Cub Snacks, a subscription-based service that delivers Healthy Snack Project Kits to families' doors every month. Each kit is each based on a healthy, kid-friendly snack recipe and includes all the components necessary to prepare the snack. In addition to ingredients, there are colorful aprons and chef hats for the kids, an instruction card and a "Fun Food Facts" sheet with educational information about the ingredients. The kits are available for a one-time purchase or by subscriptions of varying lengths (monthly, three months or six months).
The goal, said Kavanagh, is for parents to share a fun project with their children while simultaneously instilling healthy eating habits.
"If you want to teach kids from an early age about diet and nutrition, it's extremely important to get them involved in cooking," Kavanagh said. "When kids get more hands-on in the kitchen, it's more enjoyable for them to learn, and it's easier for the parents, too."
While Kavanagh now identifies as a health-food enthusiast, it wasn't always that way.
After his mother died of cancer when he was 11 years old, Kavanagh was known to turn to junk food when hunger struck. Since his father was not particularly handy in the kitchen, he said, eating six bags of potato chips in one sitting was not unheard of. The only family interaction he had in the kitchen was eating breakfast cereal and microwaved fries at the table, he said.
A humble school cafeteria would end up changing his life and steering him in the direction of a healthy diet. When he turned 14, Kavanagh enrolled in a school where the cafeteria "occasionally served some real food." He describes the school meals as sometimes being so unappealing that he would choose a salad instead to fend off certain starvation. Slowly and steadily, Kavanagh's palate of sugar, sodium and artificial additives matured and sparked a lifetime of interest in food and culinary experimentation.
Since then, Kavanagh has pursued several avenues in the world of food entrepreneurship. Prior to starting Cub Snacks, he founded Revolve Foods, a food vendor serving up locally sourced, nutritious food for delivery, catering and wholesale. He also made snacks like baked muesli, bowls of organic steel-cut oatmeal and fruit parfaits for Chromatic Coffee in Santa Clara.
While Cub Snacks occupies a niche market, meal kit subscription services for adults are on the rise, particularly in the Bay Area. Consumers can subscribe to numerous services that deliver recipes along with pre-portioned, fresh ingredients to their doorsteps on a daily or weekly basis. Kavanagh said two such companies, Blue Apron and Plated, inspired his own kits.
Cub Snacks did not, however, start out as an interactive product. Kavanagh's initial business plan focused on helping families pick out healthy snacks from grocery store shelves stocked with fat-, sugar- and salt-laden products designed to appeal to customers.
"It can be very overwhelming for parents to find healthy snacks for their children," he explained. "People do want to eat healthy. The desire is there, but sometimes people don't have the means or time or knowledge of what is truly good for you."
Originally, Cub Snacks was a monthly service that delivered a box filled with 30 healthy snacks to subscribers, with a target age group of children aged 3 to 10 years old. The snack selection included fruit drinks, fruit and granola bars, dried fruit and vegetable strips, trail mix and fruit chips. All of the snacks were carefully screened by Kavanagh to ensure that they were free of refined and added sugars, artificial colors and flavors, trans fats and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
To avoid common allergens, he also chose snacks that were gluten-free and contained no traces of shellfish.
Cub Snacks launched in April with 78 orders. By July, Cub Snacks had grown to about 380 monthly orders nationwide.
So why scratch the snack boxes and replace them with the Healthy Snack Project Kits? For one thing, Kavanagh said, he ran into a the unique challenge that comes with running a business targeted to young children.
"I underestimated the role of the kids -- they can be picky!" he said with a laugh. But that wasn't the only reason to switch to a new model.
"I wanted to offer something more to people," Kavanagh said. "My goal is to educate people about health and nutrition, but also make it fun. Healthy snacks are important, of course, but nothing tops early education."
With Cub Snacks, Kavanagh has been able to work on developing recipes and experimenting with food. For the first Healthy Snack Project Kit, he created his own recipe for healthier Rice Krispies Treats, which he named Nice Crispy Bars. Like the healthy snacks he selected for his original boxes, the recipes in the new kits are also free of artificial colors and flavors, trans fats, gluten, dairy, soy and GMOs. The ingredient lists include healthy substitutes like coconut oil, honey and dairy-free chocolate.
"I looked at traditional American snacks and tried to come up with healthier ways for parents and kids to enjoy them," Kavanagh said. "Reducing sugar and bad fats can go a very long way in the long run."
The recipes are all taste-tested and kid-approved by friends' children, Kavanagh said. This screening process is designed to ensure that the kits hold up to their claim of being kid-friendly.
So far, Kavanagh has stuck to his original target audience, but his plans for the future of Cub Snacks do not end with elementary school-aged consumers. He hopes to eventually develop similar kits for adults and is open to experimenting with recipes for full meals as well.
"You can eat well if you want to eat well," he said. "Sometimes people just need a gentle nudge in the right direction."
Shannon Chai is an editorial intern with Mountain View Voice.