SAN DIEGO — Hiding healthy in great tasting food is Hidden Foods Co.’s mantra.

Owner and founder Kendra Matthews created Hidden Foods Co. out of her kitchen after realizing her children were picky eaters.

“My picky eaters do not dictate what we eat at the table; they have to eat the same thing as the rest of the family,” Ms. Matthews said. “As moms it’s our job to get them to take food and understand good taste, but there are those times when at the end of a long day of working you just don’t have the time to cook a healthy meal. So, usually, we say here’s this ready-to-go jar of pasta sauce and make something quick. That guilted me into thinking that’s still an opportunity to give nutrients to my sons.”

Hidden Foods’ line of products features pasta sauces, pancake mixes and cookies. Ms. Matthews wanted her products to be a one-stop shop for families while packing in as many nutrients as possible.

“I picked the foods that were no brainers for families and kids that were going to be quick and easy,” she said. “Over time I slowly started to incorporate vegetables into my pasta sauces and other products making sure you couldn’t taste them otherwise they (her children) weren’t going to eat it.”

Her products must get her two sons’ approval before heading to her co-manufacturer and hitting store shelves.

“My sons are my taste testers,” Ms. Matthews said. “It has to go through both of them and when it goes through both of them I know I have a wKendra Matthews with Hidden Foods Co. Products.jpgKendra Matthews, founder of Hidden Foods Co. Photo: Hidden Foods Co.  inner. Once it passes them it goes to friends and some other friends who have some picky eaters. I don’t need to hear from the kids that’s the best pasta sauce they’ve ever had, but my goal is they can eat it and don’t say anything and carry on their way that’s a huge win.”

Hidden Food Co.’s pasta sauces and products are formulated with vegetables, vitamins, and proteins, creating products for a variety of audiences.

“It’s not just families and picky eaters that we target,” Ms. Matthews said. “We also cater to the elderly population because I get a lot of people saying, ‘oh I need this for my dad because he doesn’t want to eat vegetables anymore.’ Fitness minded people also enjoy the products because they have a good macro count and are high in protein.

“We’ve had to go through a lot of testing to make sure we could provide the safest product possible,” she said.

Ms. Matthews prefers to use preservatives that are perceived as better-for-you such as citric acid, lemon juices and apple cider vinegar. Ms. Matthews also uses a hot filling to process products.

While her products are available at local retailers in Southern California and Amazon, she hopes to be in pantries nationwide in the future.

“My goal is to make this massively available for everyone — not everyone shops at Sprouts,” she said. “I know our product is going to be on the higher (priced) side because of the ingredients. But the goal is to compete with the stuff already on the shelf.

“My product will be sitting next to the commonly known marinara sauce or pancake mix that you typically gravitate toward or what people know. But I hope people take an extra five seconds and look at what’s on the label, my goal is to feed families better and I want them to gravitate toward that.”