Lunchbox September Hero: Toni Antonellis of Green Bellies!
Submitted and Written by our August hero Sara Vance, C.N. of Rebalance Life™
Toni Antonellis is co-founder of Green Bellies™, a company that is committed to partnering with schools, families and communities to provide school children with great tasting, nutritious foods made from all natural ingredients.
For Toni, all roads lead to food. As a first generation Italian American, food is a life force. Creating in the kitchen became a favorite past time at an early age. Years later, pregnant with her daughter and future co-founder, Nicole Derrick, Toni became hypoglycemic. Determined to have a healthy life and baby she began to study the impact foods have on health. Her interest in the food - health connection became more intense after her father was diagnosed with diabetes. It was the beginning of what she likes to call “the refurbishing of mom’s meals”.
Twenty-five years later, having built a successful corporate consulting firm, Toni was having dinner with her daughter. Ironically, both were feeling the need to step out of their careers and do something that better aligned with their passions, food and nutrition.
The galvanizing moment for Toni was hearing her daughter say, “Mom, I want to do something that makes a difference”. It resonated deeply. While Nicole went off to get a certification in Integrated Nutrition and then a second degree in Culinary Arts, Toni began to research the “health food” industry.
The idea of Green Bellies crystallized the day Toni read a CDC report stating that children born after the year 2000 were the first generation of children predicted to not to out- live their parents. Numerous studies of horrifying statistics and trends on the increases in childhood obesity and early onset diabetes spurred Toni to develop a business that could bring healthy, affordable foods to schools that kids would love to eat.
“Too many children either don’t have access to high-quality food options and/or don’t know that eating poor quality foods can impact the rest of their lives. Having watched my father lose his battle with diabetes reinforced the need to provide children with the healthiest foods possible at the earliest age possible”. – Toni Antonellis
School meals are a great opportunity to nourish, and enlighten children, many of whom are on subsidized (government-funded) meal programs. Unfortunately, the reimbursements levels for subsidized meals are very low. It is a challenge for even the most dedicated Food Directors, to find affordable, healthy options.
That became Green Bellies’™ mission. It took this determined mother and daughter team two years to do what many said was impossible. Green Bellies™ now provides all natural, kid taste-tested and approved meals to California schools at prices they can afford.
Toni attributes the company’s successful launch to hard work and great partnerships. “We know food and we’re creative, but it still took some long days and many nights to develop formulas that were healthy and appealing to kids. Equally important for us was establishing the right relationships. Bring on our partner Craig Park, our ingredient suppliers, our manufacturers, Food Directors, and children, are all invaluable partners. Without them, we would still be a good idea.” – Toni Antonellis
“Our company has two tag lines. Because it matters… and Everything is possible with a full belly… The first to remind us of that life-changing dinner and why we started Green Bellies™, the second is to hopefully remind the greater “us” that a well nourished; healthy child has a much greater chance of fulfilling his or her unique potential. What could matter more?” – Toni Antonellis
My kids’ school received the Salad Bar grant last year - which vastly improved the nutrition of their school lunch. But alongside the salad are still the corn dogs and chicken nuggets that make better bouncy balls than food. Our school and so many others around the country need Green Bellies to improve the nutrition school children are getting at lunch. Green Bellies is the good fuel kids need to get through their day. If our school offered Green Bellies, I would gladly let my kids order hot lunch any day!
Toni is a true hero in my mind. With people like Toni and companies like Green Bellies, I firmly believe that we can change the trajectory of the health of our children. It can be done - when we all put our hearts, souls and energy together!