August 12, 2013 // Franchising.com // Orlando, Fl. - Debbie Blacher is a woman on a mission. The Orlando-based mom of three is the founder of Wholesome Tummies, the country's first and only kids' food franchise that distributes healthy, fresh and delicious meals to schools across the country.
Her goal is clear: to make sure kids everywhere have access to fresh, nutritious food. In the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed – right now, one-third of American kids are overweight or obese, and 50 percent of Americans are projected to be obese by 2030 if current trends continue. And since most of America's 60 million school-age kids consume half of their daily calories at school, healthy eating habits must be addressed both at home and in the classroom.
But that's easier said than done because most school lunches are less than ideal. Greasy pizza, tater tots and cookies are the norm and healthy options like fruits and vegetables are often so overcooked and unappetizing that most kids just throw them away. And that's just at public schools. Private schools, which are exempt from government-mandated lunch guidelines, often outsource meals to fast-food restaurants because it's the easiest option. That means a lot of fatty, processed foods – not the balanced nutrition kids need to develop healthy bodies and minds.
Blacher, a former HR executive who worked in leadership development before founding Wholesome Tummies, knows how hard it is for parents to strike a balance between health and convenience.
"As a busy mom, I was tired of preparing three fresh meals a day from scratch and was frustrated that easy yet healthy options didn't exist," Blacher said. "I wanted my kids to eat right, but I was working and pregnant with my third boy at the time, so my frustration quickly mounted."
That's how Blacher came up with Wholesome Tummies. It's a flexible program that makes it simple and affordable to provide students with fresh, healthy and kid-friendly lunches while satisfying parents' concerns about their children's nutrition. By delivering a "Healthy School Solution" to schools around the country, she hopes to change the way American kids eat – and make nutrition fun.
Each month, Blacher and her team of nutritionists and chefs develop unique (and kid-tested!) menus. Recipes are designed with the ideal portions and maximized nutritional content for growing children, and they include crowd pleasers like pizza, macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders and baked French toast. The team creates two new items each month to keep things interesting.
"After healthfulness, taste is our biggest priority. It's not nutrition unless the kids eat it, and if they don't eat it we don't have a business!" Blacher said.
The process is simple. Wholesome Tummies franchisees contract with schools, and just like with any outsourced school meal, parents can choose to opt in to the service and place orders for their kids through Wholesome Tummies' website. The franchisee receives orders and prepares meals fresh each day in a commercial kitchen. Meals are then delivered to school in time for lunch or served right on campus in schools with on-site kitchens.
Wholesome Tummies also strives to provide education on healthy eating via the company's social media channels:
And so far, the Wholesome Tummies model has been a success: the corporate location opened in 2007 and franchising began in 2010. Since then, Wholesome Tummies has expanded to nearly 20 locations throughout the country, with plans to reach 25 units by the end of the year. Long-term goals call for 250 locations within the next five years.
Each franchise is independently owned and operated, and all owners are community-active parents who are committed to improving kids' nutrition. In fact, Blacher says many franchisees prefer the title "Business Owner and Kid Advocate."
"Our ideal franchisee has a business background and is sales-oriented with a passion for customer service," Blacher said. "But there's no one perfect fit – a wide variety of backgrounds can be useful when joining Wholesome Tummies. What matters most is a passion for the cause."
It's no secret that Wholesome Tummies' current model – providing convenient, nutritious fare to school kids at a reasonable cost – is effective on its own. But that's not enough for Blacher, who quickly realized lunch is just the tip of the iceberg.
"Too often, we see kids getting inconsistent messages about food: teachers reward good behavior with candy, parents bring in fast food for their kids, and vending machines are filled with empty calories," Blacher says. "We realized in order to make a lasting impact we needed to provide fresh food not just at lunchtime, but all the time."
That's why starting this year, Wholesome Tummies is launching Join The Movement, a three-step approach to changing the message kids get about food and nutrition. Step one is access: making fresh food available to all kids through lunch, catering and healthy vending snacks. Step two is education: encouraging a dialogue about real food through Wholesome Tummies' blog as well as workshops and classes offered by each franchisee. The final step is involvement: keeping kids, families and schools engaged with fundraisers, scholarships and Farm to School initiatives, which encourage schools to develop relationships with local farms and build produce gardens right on campus.
Wholesome Tummies is a big solution to an even bigger problem, and Blacher is confident her movement will encourage schools to think critically about the food choices they offer their students. By getting kids, parents and schools committed to the process, Blacher is sure she can incite lasting change – and maybe, just maybe, get kids to finally enjoy eating their vegetables.
To tweet this release: @WholesomeTum stands alone as 1st franchise to offer healthy and tasty school meals.
SOURCE Wholesome Tummies
Sanderson & Associates