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Enterprising Mothers Create TV Dinners For Tots

July 29, 1989

SEATTLE (AP) _ It’s nearly dinner time, the baby is crying and Mister Rogers comes on in five minutes. What’s a parent to do?

Two Seattle entrepreneurs hope the answer is the tot-sized TV dinner. Pop it in the microwave and presto: cod with creamed peas and squash.

″Babies love it and so do grown-ups. It tastes like real food,″ said Linda Dootson Pigott, vice president of the Starting Right Co. and the mother of a 7-year-old.

She and company President Cameon Ivarsson said the idea behind the frozen dinners is to start toddlers at 4 months with a balanced and nutritional diet, without exhausting their mothers in the process.

The frozen minimeals are being produced and packaged in a Seattle specialty-food factory while the entrepreneurs await specially adapted machinery.

The meals, being test-marketed in Seattle-area groceries, contain items from the Pacific Northwest ranging from cod to vegetables. The only additive is a little water for consistency, Ms. Pigott said.

The company is starting with four menus in three textures, from smooth to chunky with offerings such as semolina pasta and brown rice, Ms. Pigott said. There is also a vegetarian menu.

Each bowl has a cartoon beneath the food to help encourage kids to finish the food so they can see the picture. In each tub, the foods are separate to allow mothers to introduce each item separately to the child.

″It’s exactly as if a mom made her own baby food. ... We’re not doing weird things, we’re doing plain, simple things,″ said Ms. Ivarsson, a Swiss- trained neurophysiologist.

In Switzerland, she fed two boys, now 5 and 8, her homemade baby food. She spent every other weekend cooking and freezing 40 mini-TV dinners.

When she moved to the United States and gave birth to Margaux, now 15 months old, Ms. Ivarsson ″decided to do what every American mother does″ and bought a jar of commercial baby food.

The strained carrots, she said, were flavorless. Margaux wasn’t enthusiastic about the food either, she said.

So, Ms. Ivarsson formed Starting Right with Ms. Pigott, who has a degree in finance and once owned and operated a restaurant.

Doctor friends gave advice about nutrition, and Ms. Ivarsson’s husband, who runs a restaurant helped with business tips.

If the frozen dinners catch on, the company plans to incorporate regional foods, depending on where the meals are distributed, so babies start out eating foods they’ll be served as they grow up. Suggested retail prices range from about $1.35 to $1.49.

Ms. Pigot and Ms. Ivarsson said they’re trying to help women who get involved in the business. The board members are women and the majority of the company stockholders are women.

″I don’t know if you’d call it feminist, but our philosophy was that if we have the opportunity to help women, good,″ Ms. Pigott said.

The company faces tough competition from other baby food manufacturers, particularly the Fremont, Mich.-based Gerber Product Co., which controls 70 percent of the baby food market, said Gerber spokeswoman Barbara Ivens.

Gerber’s baby foods have no additives except water for making puree, Ms. Ivens said. Only the desserts have sugar added and some of the fruits have added vitamin C, she said.

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