Oh baby: East Dallas mom’s make-your-own-baby-food kits are right on trend

Karen Salerno founded Lilly & Bella. Photo by Rasy Ran
Karen Salerno founded Lilly & Bella. Photo by Rasy Ran

Alot of people talk about quitting their 9-to-5 job to follow a dream, but a scarce few actually make good on the threat.

Karen Salerno is one, with a passion that bloomed a successful business.

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The wife and mother of a baby girl, the inspiration for her business, has taken the simple idea of meal-prep delivery and catered it to parents. Enter Lilly & Bella, a meal-kit service that works like the popular online retailer Blue Apron, in which the company sends out recipes and precisely measured ingredients to be whipped up at home. In this case, whole produce, always organic, is transformed into healthy baby food options.

Fresh squash may come mixed with pears to create one puree while another package could include broccoli, bananas and yams. It’s a way to alleviate some stress from parents and ensure healthier options for their infants while keeping it simple for busy parents. There’s a complete set of instructions on how to combine each ingredient as well as a guide for the best meals based on the child’s age.

Salerno says when her daughter, Bella, was born in March 2015, she faced the challenge of balancing limited time with wholesome meals. Salerno had to return to work less than five weeks after giving birth, but she began thinking of an idea that would change the way some parents feed their children. Already a fan of pre-planned food delivery services, Salerno was on trend.

It began with a website, and eventually Salerno brought in a pediatrician to consult on what foods should be included in the menu that would be best for babies from 4 to 12 months.

“We knew we wanted to make it 100-percent plant based, 100-percent organic,” Salerno says. “My daughter does eat meat sparingly but we try to focus on fresh vegetables, and organic is critical because we just want to protect them from the kinds of things they are exposed to if they’re not eating that.”

Of course, the company name was partially inspired by Salerno’s daughter but she also has a niece and aunt both named Lilly that filled in the other half.

The company piloted its service with a few friends and family members, and grew from there. They, or more appropriately their children, liked what they tasted.

Salerno adds that she, her daughter and her husband “ate a lot of baby food” throughout the process. As the word got out about Lilly & Bella, demand grew. In July, she quit her job to dedicate all of her time to the new endeavor.

“I love startups and I love to set a vision and sort of work toward it,” Salerno says.

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The company, which ships packages weekly, first began in Dallas before expanding across the state. She hired two people to help with the growing demand in Texas, with plans to eventually take Lilly & Bella nationwide.

In the meantime, Salerno is using her business as a means to reach families throughout the Dallas-Forth Worth area who don’t have easy access to healthy or organic food, specifically produce.

Salerno and her team recently formed a partnership with Mosaic Family Service in Dallas and will be working to send Lilly & Bella packages to families in need throughout the city. The organization provides services to a wide range of people in need, meaning the food could go to a refugee family or victims of domestic violence.

According to Salerno, they are now serving 50 families in need across DFW and hope to expand this to additional people in the future.

“We’re extremely fortunate in our lives, we’ve had a lot of blessings and we have amazing families and friends, a huge network in Dallas,” Salerno says. “I feel very strongly about community service and our responsibility to pay it forward. I do think being a small business owner gives you a huge opportunity to do that.”

Fresh organic produce is delivered to homes weekly with 2-3 recipes for parents with busy schedules. Photo by Rasy Ran
Fresh organic produce is delivered to homes weekly with 2-3 recipes for parents with busy schedules. Photo by Rasy Ran

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