Two Moms Bring Zen To Slow Cooking

When life adds special burdens to a mother, she sometimes finds a solution that becomes a business.
Such is the case with Meg Barnhart, an Illinois mother in need of extra time for her children, one whom had special needs.
She began using a slow-cooker to prepare family meals.
As she developed spices to add flavor to her offerings, Barnhart thought there might be a wider appeal for her thoughts on seasonings.
In 2012, she partnered with Jane McKay, a young mom with a background in food science and recipe development.
Together they created a slow cooking food blog called the ten o slow sooking (sic).Quickly, what started as a recipe/lifestyle blog quickly grew into a promising business.
They started mixing and packaging spice blends to go with their recipes. When they debuted their products at a local farmer’s market, they sold out immediately. They started expanding and haven’t stopped.
The result is a complete line of products awarded a prize at the National Fancy Food Show this past January. The products are available on line. 
Barnhart and McKay source their ingredients very carefully, starting with whole spices that release their oils more slowly than ground spices, lending themselves to slow cooking.
Their premium spice blends feature non-irradiated spices that are free of additives, chemicals and salt (with the exception of Smoky BBQ, which contains a pinch of smoked sea salt). Reflecting their commitment to operate transparently, all ingredients are listed on the packaging. 
They currently offer 9 spice blends, including Coq au Vin (their best-seller), Daube Provençale (beef stew), Southwest Fiesta (chicken tortilla soup) and Smoky BBQ (pulled pork).
They also offer seasonal Mulled Spices for wine and cider, plus a Sweet & Spicy cinnamon-based blend that’s ideal for breakfasts and desserts.
Today, their spice blends are sold at specialty grocers like Whole Foods and Peapod Online (where they’re packaged in popular meal kits) as well as on
The “Zen Blends” are sold in two spice packets per pouch for $7.00 online. In addition to the recipe and shopping list provided on each pouch, their website features additional recipes and ideas for every spice blend.
“Life is busy,” says McKay, “One of our goals has always been to make it easier for the home cook to prepare delicious, clean food from scratch.”
Providing Opportunities for Adults with Special Needs
But that isn’t their only goal. Inspired by Barnhart’s son, the intent from the beginning was to build a business that would provide job opportunities for adults with special needs.
That led them to outsource their packaging to Planet Access Company (PAC), a packaging, shipping and warehousing company that employs adults with developmental disabilities. PAC is an enterprise of Search, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that serves adults with special needs.
“Our PAC employees do beautiful work,” says Production Coordinator, Jackie Alfirevic.  “Our customers aren’t just getting a premium spice blend, they’re helping young adults move toward independence.  If fact, a note card signed by the employee who packs an order is placed in every spice shipment.”  Alfirevic continues, “The spices were originally packed in lovely tins with a ribbon, but when Barnhart and McKay realized these were hard for our employees to pack, they changed the packaging to pouches.”
Savoring the Future
Poised for growth, Barnhart and McKay have a big year ahead. They’ll be launching several new blends—including Szechuan and Peruvian—later this year. They’ll begin selling their products on Amazon, while building their retail presence. They are committed to keeping all five of their children—ranging from seven to 23—active in the business in some way.
In addition, they’re determined to help people spend less time in the kitchen and more time gathered round the table.
“83% of American households have a slow cooker, but rarely use it,” says Barnhart. “Our dream is to inspire every family to slow cook one day a week—to slow down and savor their time together.”
By JoAnn M. Laing