7 Companies Striving To Make Healthier Foods For Kids (And Grownups)

Kids these days are getting more of their daily calories than ever – about two-thirds of their total – from “ultra-processed foods.” Ready-to-eat packaged foods typically are filled with additives such as synthetic dyes, artificial sweeteners, and emulsifiers, which aren’t good for our bodies. They are linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Examples of ultra-processed foods include pizza, ice cream, cereal, baked goods, candy, fast food and burgers.

Fortunately, a growing number of companies are striving to make their packaged foods healthier – while still appealing to kids (and adults) through classically appealing products and great taste. Here are seven of them: SkinnyDipped, Nowadays, Goodles, Nuttzo, Zevia, REAL Cookies and Freestyle.

1. SkinnyDipped

SkinnyDipped is one of the fastest growing female-founded companies in America. Created by mother-daughter team Val and Breezy Griffith in the wake of losing a young friend, the Seattle-based company makes snacks with less sugar and non-GMO ingredients that are also gluten-free and contain no artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors. Their signature nuts are coated in just a thin layer of chocolate. Recently, the company expanded its product line to include low-sugar peanut butter cups.

In addition to healthier snacking, the brand is committed to supporting women and the children they care for. Their give-back program, Brick by Brick, helps fund a female-led recycling program that turns plastic waste into bricks used to build schools for children in Ivory Coast, where the majority of the world’s cacao is grown.

SkinnyDipped’s latest release, Unicorn Nuts, are cashews thin-dipped in vanilla frosting and topped with colorful sprinkles. They look and taste a lot like the frosted animal cookies you enjoyed as a child, only with plant protein and without all the junk. SkinnyDipped products are sold on Amazon and in Target, Walmart, and other grocers nationwide.

Breezy Griffith is CEO and cofounder of SkinnyDipped and a lifelong entrepreneur. As a kid, she would set up a stand in front of the house and sell pretty much anything she could get her hands on, including rocks. Founding SkinnyDipped, she says, was never really a choice. “It was just what I was destined to do.”

And yet it was grief at the loss of a young friend that gave Griffith the push she needed to start SkinneyDipped with her mother Val. “The tragedy reminded us not be afraid to fail and to strive to leave the world a better place than we found it. Something small, an almond for example, can lead to very big things. Our goal? Change the world one nut at a time,” she says.

“Being an entrepreneur is to color outside of the lines; it sounds fun but it’s actually quite uncomfortable at times,” says Griffith to aspiring business founders. “It requires being a risk-taker. It means being uncomfortably comfortable with not knowing. You need to trust your gut, trust your vision, seek counsel from your team and then make an intuitive call. Our team comes from diverse experiences and backgrounds and we are stronger for it. Make sure your team feels your love and respect.”

2. Nowadays

Nowadays makes the only plant-based “chicken” nuggets that are animal-free but also focused on health, made with just seven simple ingredients. While most plant-based meat alternatives are packed with fillers and other mysterious items, Nowadays’ proprietary vegan blend includes organic yellow peas grown sustainably by American farmers, whole wheat flour, sunflower oil, yeast and mushroom extract for rich umami flavor.

Sold frozen in stores across the U.S., Nowadays nuggets are currently available for direct shipping. The company recently expanded its product offerings to include “whole cut” cutlets and tenders. Soon, they will be launching gluten-free options.

“Nowadays was born out of a desire to make mindful foods delicious and convenient for children and adults alike,” says Max Elder, who cofounded Nowadays with Dominik Grabinski. “There is no better opportunity for a positive impact on human and planetary health than reimagining meat.”

From major supply chain disruptions and year-long equipment delays to dry ice shortages and malicious phishing attacks, Nowadays runs into challenges every week. Running an early-stage manufacturing startup in a low-margin industry of regulated, perishable goods is challenging in and of itself, says Elder. “Our most effective strategy in overcoming these challenges has been hiring the best people in the world.”

To aspiring change makers Elder says, “Do not listen to any advice from me or anyone else. Entrepreneurship isn’t a book anyone can summarize for you; it’s a blank page for your own storytelling. The best entrepreneurs I’ve met trust their instincts, stand true to their values, and work tirelessly to create a future they know the world needs. That often involves not listening to others – especially those who say no. Advice is ubiquitous and easy; building is rare and hard. Stop reading this and go build!”

3. Goodles

Goodles are “good noodles” – noodles made better for you. The boxed mac ‘n cheese products are delicious yet packed with nutrients including real cheese, protein, fiber, prebiotics, and 21 nutrients from plants. Goodles also have fewer calories than regular mac ‘n cheese and have been rated a low glycemic index food.

The company was founded just a year ago by award-winning actress Gal Gadot, former Annie’s president Deb Luster, and others. Goodles donates one percent of all products sold to organizations that feed families and communities in need. Products can be purchased online and at stores including Whole Foods and Target in a variety of flavors.

The “darkness of the Covid pandemic” is what inspired CEO and cofounder Jen Zeszut to help create Goodles. “It is a weird and joyful brand, a healthy but decadently delicious boxed mac and cheese that is bringing joy to so many. It honestly feels like all the twists and turns of my life and career have led me here to this moment, leading Goodles!”

The biggest challenge Zeszut faces comes from her desire to be “all-in” both as an entrepreneur and as a wife and mom to three kids. “Love is infinite, but time is not. You have to choose how to spend your minutes,” she says. “I used to feel so much guilt when I gave work my all. But over the years and as they have grown, I have seen my kids reflect back to me gratitude for being such a powerful role model for doing passionate, committed work that brings me joy. They say they hope to find work one day that brings them as much joy as Goodles brings me.”

To aspiring change makers, Zeszut says, “If you are a disruptor who is creating something new and going up against the old guard, you can’t out-spend them. I wouldn’t even want to if I could. Because if I am playing their game, I’ve already lost. You have to change the game. Go somewhere that the old guard can’t follow. Do something weirder, more authentic, more joyful, more surprising. It’s not only the business-winning move, but a much more personally fulfilling way to live this one beautiful life we’ve been given.”

4. Nuttzo

Danielle Dietz-Livolsi founded NuttZo after adopting her son Greg from Ukraine. Greg had a hard time eating solids, so Dietz-Livolsi began making multi-nut and seed butters in her blender at home to ensure he was getting enough protein and healthy fat. After one too many times cleaning out her blender, she decided life would be much easier if she could just buy her creation at the grocery store.

Fast forward to today. NuttZo seven nut and seed butter is being sold in Walmart, Costco and most major grocers nationwide. It contains nothing but organic cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds, with a sprinkling of Celtic sea salt. In a nod to its heritage, NuttZo donates a portion of all proceeds to the nonprofit Dietz-Livolsi also founded, Project Left Behind, which benefits underserved and orphaned children around the world.

Although Dietz-Livolsi has struggled with work-life balance – running a company and a nonprofit while raising three children – she has learned how to take care of her physical and mental wellbeing. She recommends that other aspiring entrepreneurs find a mentor or business coach to hold them accountable as they start their business. Also, she says, “Be prepared to make mistakes. They become the greatest lessons and teachers!”

5. Zevia

Zevia is a certified B-Corp focused on addressing the global health challenges resulting from excess sugar consumption by offering zero sugar, zero calorie beverages sweetened only with the all-natural stevia plant. By substituting Zevia for a daily sugary beverage, a family can affordably reduce its sugar intake by up to half. The beverages, which include sodas, teas and energy drinks, all contain no artificial sweeteners or coloring, are non-GMO, gluten-free, Kosher, vegan and have zero sodium. Zevia is available at most major retailers in the food, drug and ecommerce channels.

Amy Taylor has served as the CEO of Zevia since August 2022, previously acting as president and as a member of the board of directors since March 2021. Previously, she worked at energy drink company Red Bull, where she drove sales and marketing collaborations across twelve regions to deliver record-level growth and market share.

“Joining Zevia was a clear choice for me because I was drawn to the mission, which is focused on improving global health in a really simple way – by making great-tasting plant-based beverages with zero sugar available and affordable for people at almost all income levels,” says Taylor. “We are removing metric tons of sugar from the diets of the communities we serve and doing so without putting any plastic into the world.”

To aspiring change makers, Taylor says, “Start with humility and the desire to learn. Leaders have the option to make the choice to listen to young people, or to otherwise stand still on their platitudes and let the world pass them by. If we as leaders rest on our own lived experiences and fail to surround ourselves with people truly different from ourselves, we are missing our opportunity to make an impact.”

6. REAL Cookies

REAL Cookies are plant-based, gluten, and grain-free cookies made with only clean, real ingredients such as almond and coconut flour, pure maple syrup, vanilla, real fruit and dark chocolate. They’re also dairy-free, vegan, kosher, and paleo-friendly. Flavors include chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate chip, and fresh lemon blueberry.

Best friends Lauren Berger and Marla Felton are the founders of REAL Cookies. They were motivated to bring more healthy, wholesome and clean foods into people’s lives by having kids of their own – especially ones with food sensitivities. “We decided to create an anytime treat that would be satisfying and indulgent for those with or without dietary restrictions and made with only clean, sustaining, and thoughtfully sourced ingredients,” they say.

Berger and Felton have three main tips for people looking to start, run and grow a business today. First, love your product. You need to be passionate! Second, build a great team. Surround yourself with people who work hard, are reliable and love to laugh. And third, know your own strengths and weaknesses so you can seek help where you need it.

“We also want to emphasize the importance of community,” say Berger and Felton. “We should all work to lift each other up. It is very fulfilling to give a helping hand when you can. At some point, we all need it. Pay it forward when life allows.”

7. Freestyle

Freestyle is a snack company that has reimagined healthy snacking to include… olives! The liquid-free pouch packaging makes for healthy, mess-free olive snacking on the go. Olives are naturally low-calorie, gluten-free, plant-based, sugar-free, and filled with heart-healthy fats and antioxidants. Freestyle offers three flavors: Kalamata, green olives in lemon garlic, and hot and spicy green olives.

At just 26 years old, founder and CEO Nikki Seaman is a University of Pennsylvania graduate who started her career in management consulting, working with PepsiCo, Whisps, and Bain & Co before venturing out on her own. As an avid olive lover, she wanted to bring the innovation she saw with cheese, salami, and tuna fish to a category with untapped potential. She sees olives as only the beginning for Freestyle.

“Growing up, I was a huge snacker. I would even eat cookies in my sleep!” says Seaman. “As I got older, I realized that a lot of the pre-packaged snacks weren’t good for me, yet eating whole foods felt like a time burden. Olives had become one of my favorite snacks, yet eating them straight out of the jar was both bland and messy. Freestyle Snacks are delicious whole foods that are easy to eat anywhere and anytime.”

Seaman has this advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Just keep going. “There will be countless moments when it feels all too easy to throw in the towel, give up, move on. So many people will tell you no. My advice is to keep your head up and keep going. Passion and perseverance are critical in starting your own company. One day, eventually, you will succeed!”