Zoi Maroudas

Zoi Maroudas-Tziolas worked as a geriatric intern at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center when she tried her hand at preparing food for patients who wouldn’t eat the hospital’s usual meals. She returns to Waco to present “Essential Nutrition from Infancy through Adulthood” at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 2 at the Baylor Club. Lunch will be served.

When Zoi Maroudas-Tziolas was working as a geriatric intern at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center after completing her pre-medicine program at Baylor University in 2001, she came face to face with what would later be the basis of her revolutionary idea for Bambino’s Baby Food.

“There were patients who wouldn’t eat because they weren’t enjoying their bland hospital diets” she told me. “I saw an opportunity to help, so I asked the dietician if I could prepare something for the patients who weren’t eating.” She had confidence in her ability to help because she had a lifelong love of science and knew if she combined knowledge from her science and medicine studies at Baylor with her expertise about healthy Mediterranean diets, acquired from working in her family’s business, Pizza Olympia Restaurant, she could prepare healthy, tasty meals patients would eat.

Her initiative proved brilliantly successful. Since then, Zoi has also worked with disabled children, introducing them to similarly delicious and nutritious diets.

A splendid example of how immigrants enrich lives in America and benefit the lives of young and old, Zoi Maroudas came to Baylor from Anchorage, Alaska, where she and her family migrated from Zante, Zaknythos, Greece, when she was just 4. I met Zoi sometime between 2000 and 2001 and I was immediately impressed. Her personality fills a room with sunshine. After learning Zoi was an excellent cook, I was beyond impressed. I mean, what young college girl has time to make baklava from scratch, prepare a variety of made-from-scratch pizzas or roast legs of lamb with all kinds of delectable herbs and spices? Zoi was no ordinary cook.

When Zoi graduated, she moved back home to Alaska. It wasn’t till 2012 that she and I reconnected. By then, Zoi was married and running the family business, Olympia’s Pizza, and had founded two businesses of her own, Zoi Food 4 Life and Bambino’s Baby Food. Zoi and her husband Andreas had a son, Constantine, who was raised on Bambino’s Baby Food. It’s his face that appears on the packaging. When their daughter Athina was born two years ago, she too became a Bambino baby.

As I followed her progress over the next several years, I saw Zoi had a total commitment to impacting the world with nutritious and tasty food for babies and others. After Bambino’s Baby Food won three awards in the annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood, which focuses on new products made from Alaska seafood, I knew Zoi would one day be a game-changer for parenting and healthy living. She focuses on a variety of health conditions with her baby food, which originates from a Mediterranean diet. I was both proud of Zoi and impressed to see Bambino’s Baby Food win first place in retail, the Juneau People’s Choice Award and the Grand Prize at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood.

I recently contacted Zoi because I wanted to share news of her success with the Waco community, which she still loves. After telling me of her experience as an intern at Hillcrest, Zoi told me how she worked from an early age in her parents’ restaurant. This was because her parents still had an olive oil business in Greece. They wanted her to learn the business from the ground up so that, when they had to be away, she would know how to do everything from baking the breads and pastries, to preparing varied Mediterranean dishes, to understanding the management end of the business.

Zoi said her grandfather lived with them from the time she was 5 till she was 18. He was in and out of the hospital numerous times and her love for her grandfather contributed to her interest in geriatrics. Although she left Baylor to return to Anchorage after graduating rather than enrolling in Baylor Medical School in Houston as planned, she gained additional knowledge during subsequent years of traveling to other countries, learning how nutrition for children could contribute to health in positive or negative ways.

During the planning phase of her business, Zoi researched statistics for obesity in Alaska and found more than 40 percent of Alaskan infants were already overweight by age 2. (The International Obesity Task Force provides staggering numbers on increases in obesity around the world. The United States has one of the highest increases with 34.2 percent of Americans overweight.) This coupled with her desire to improve health conditions for all people convinced her to start Zoi Food 4 Life and Bambino’s Baby Food.

It’s evident Zoi has done her research. She touched on the history of manufactured baby food: “When baby food first came out in jars, it was simply for convenience, but it remained in a time capsule for years . . . things just did not evolve.” She speaks of how manufacturing the product eventually went from jars to pouches. Now she has a more nutritious way of getting the food from certified organic gardens in Alaska to the table without losing any nutrient values of the foods.

Because nutrition is directly related to many health conditions, Zoi’s research ensures Bambino’s Baby Food contributes to the health of infants, children, older people and adults with health conditions that warrant a soft diet. Health conditions such as asthma, obesity and related depression, allergies, autism, etc. are affected by diet and Zoi is determined to provide savory, balanced, all-natural organic diets that can revolutionize the baby food industry and positively impact the health of America. She has forged relationships with legislators, pediatricians, allergy specialists, psychiatrists, oncologists, gastroenterologists, National Institute of Health members and the World Health Organization among others.

Zoi’s concern about providing access to healthy food for everyone led Bambino’s Baby Food to petition for their products to be made available for the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) and many from the aforementioned supporters are behind her. In addition, after a long and complex process, Zoi Food 4 Life and Bambino’s Baby Food are now FDA and USDA approved.

Not long ago Zoi even had an opportunity to talk with Lara Trump about healthy nutrition for babies. Lara and her husband Eric Trump were expecting their baby last month and I can just imagine Zoi telling the president’s daughter-in-law how Bambino’s tasty, star-shaped food is so soothing to the gums of teething babies — and tasty enough for Mom to share a snack with her baby. The Trumps’ son “Luke” was born Sept. 12.

All this keeps Zoi busy. Her days are sometimes 14 to 16 hours long. She still works at the restaurant, prepares food for farmers’ markets, travels, promotes and does everything necessary in between to get her businesses where they need to be. All of Bambino’s Baby Food comes from farms and fisheries in Alaska, what she calls “a great collaboration.” She adds: “While many are not following where ingredients are coming from, Bambino’s Baby Food brings in that overlay ensuring that all food products used are certified organic and healthy.”

In short, they look at where the food comes from, how the soil is tested to ensure that it is not contaminated and how food is farmed in general.

Bambino’s Baby Food petitioned for their products to be made available for the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC). It was a difficult and long road but Zoi Food 4 Life and Bambino’s Baby Food are now FDA and USDA approved. Bambino’s Baby Food right now is in a class of its own. Babies are introduced to a variety of vegetables, grains, fish and peanuts during their first year of life, Zoi said. The foods are shipped in pouches with 15 frozen stars in each pouch and they can be shipped to all states. They come in such fun names as Hali–Halibut, Hungry Munchkin, Salmon Basket, Happy Peas and Yummy Yams.

Bambino’s Baby Food held a grand opening for its new manufacturing plant and storefront in Anchorage with VIPs such as Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and first lady Donna Walker. Without a doubt, Zoi and Bambino’s Baby Food are about to get busier than ever. That makes her offer to come and give a presentation on essential nutrition in Waco next month even more special.

On Nov. 2, Zoi will give a presentation on “Essential Nutrition from Infancy through Adulthood” at the Baylor Club. And she’ll be at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, 500 Washington Avenue, on Nov. 4. She looks forward to seeing some of her Baylor family and meeting health-care professionals and others who share her interest in nutrition and health: “I look forward to … coming and giving back to the Baylor and Waco community as a proud Baylor alumni!”

Civic leader Bettie V. Beard is a freelance writer with a background in social work and gerontology.