Every now and then I am lucky enough to interview a mum who has some interesting insights into how she feeds her children. To date I’ve interviewed Great British Bake Off winner, Jo Wheatley, Health Editor of Red magazine, Brigid Moss and my friend – and baby-led weaning fan – Camilla. Last week I was delighted to get the chance to talk to local south-east London mum and entrepreneur, Meriel Kehoe (pictured, right).
Meriel, together with her business partner, Lucy Woodhouse (left), started Claudi & Fin, a children’s food brand, in 2012 after meeting at a playgroup. They started selling their delicious fruity Greek style yogurt ice lollies in May this year. Their lollies are absolutely delicious, beautifully packaged, and make the perfect dessert or treat suggestion for busy parents who want to give their children something refreshing that isn’t laden with sugar. (They’re also pretty good when the kids are in bed and you want a little treat as they are super-low in calories!)
Before launching Claudi & Fin, Meriel worked as a TV Producer and Director on programmes like Location, Location, Location, Gardener’s World, Gok’s Fashion Fix, Kirstie’s Homemade Home and Yottam Ottolenghi’s Meditteranean Island Feast. Meriel lives in south-east London with her husband and son, Fin, who is 3½.
Read on for some great insights into how she encourages her son to eat healthily and tips on how to launch a successful children’s food brand!
Q Meriel, you’re a busy mum who’s recently launched a business from home. How do you juggle work and family time?
Badly! I’d love to say that I move seamlessly from one role to the other but the reality is somewhat different. There are definite plusses to running your own business, and because both Lucy and I work from home, we are flexible and can be around for the children if and when we are needed. However, the flipside is because there are only two of us doing pretty much everything, work inevitably creeps into leisure or family time, try as we might to stop it!
Q What do you like to cook at home? Do you and your partner share the cooking?
I love cooking and am fortunate because my husband loves it as well. I don’t bake much, but I love cooking for other people and for the family – healthy, hearty food – anything from 80s classics like Coq au Vin, through to Stuffed Aubergines and Roasted Garlic Tart (trust me, the latter is amazing – thanks Yottam Ottolenghi).
Q What is your go-to quick meal for the family?
Omelette with tomato, onion and ham. Fin loves it!
Q What snacks and treats does Fin enjoy?
He loves yoghurt, (frozen or otherwise – he’s literally been weaned on the stuff) fruit and – given half the chance – any sort of chocolate. He’s not allowed it very often, so when he gets his hands on some, he goes wild.
Q How do you encourage Fin to eat healthily?
I try to lead by example. I firmly believe that as in all areas of life, children mimic what they see around them, so I try to make sure we eat healthily around him. I also talk to him about making healthy choices by telling him which foods will help him grow big and strong.
Q Do you worry about the amount of sugar in kids’ food?
Yes. You only need to switch on the TV or pick up a newspaper to realize that childhood obesity is a huge issue, with sugar being the biggest culprit. Because of this, we tried to make our lollies using no sugar but I’m afraid to say, they really didn’t taste good. Instead, we’ve kept sugar to an absolute minimum – less in fact than 79% of the best-selling chilled yoghurts and lollies on the market.
Q How did you come up with the idea for your frozen yogurt lollies?
Lucy came up with the idea when she was weaning her daughter, Claudia. It was the height of summer and she wanted to give her a healthy ice-lolly but quickly discovered there was nothing that fitted the bill. She started making yoghurt lollies at home and thought ‘if Claudia likes them, maybe other children will too…’ She told me about her idea and I loved it. From that point on, every spare moment we had was spent mixing and whizzing up ingredients, trying to come up with an amazing recipe. Our chief taste testers were our children, Claudi & Fin, who went crazy for the flavours we dreamt up, which is why we named our company after them.
Q Tell me about your products and future plans.
Our lollies are the UK’s first Greek-style frozen yoghurt pops for children. Packed with creamy yoghurt, full-fat milk and tons of fruit, our low-sugar, low-calorie lollies are a treat for tiny taste buds (and parents love them too!). We’ve enriched them with Vitamin D, because an astonishing one in four British children is now deficient and doctors are recommending supplementation for all under 5’s.
Claudi & Fin lollies are currently stocked in 320 Sainsburys stores nationwide and available in two flavours; strawberry and mango. We’re working on new flavours and looking into all sorts of new ideas. I can’t say anything too specific just yet, but watch this space!
Q Do you have any advice for any entrepreneurial mums (and dads) out there?
If you have a great idea, take the leap and give it a go, but make sure you do your research first! It’s not enough if your Aunty Betty thinks you’ve got a great product, you’ll need test it out on your potential consumers too. You can back this up by accessing market research data. We found out that reports from big research companies like Mintel are available for free at the Business Centre in the British Library in London, and these stats and insights proved invaluable when we were preparing for pitches to supermarket buyers.
Q What inspires you and keeps you motivated?
It might sound like a cliché but I want to give Fin the best life I possibly can and that keeps me motivated. I’m also excited by the challenges of running a business and the fact that I’m learning new skills every day in a fast-paced environment.
Q What’s your vision for the Claudi & Fin in the future?
Lucy and I want to build a brand that parents can trust. We don’t put anything in our lollies that we wouldn’t give to our own children. We take a lot of time and care thinking about what goes into our products, and we want parents to feel confident that they can trust we will deliver for them on taste, and on nutritional benefits.
Thanks very much, Meriel, for these great insights, which I am sure my readers will love, and best of luck with the business! Claudi & Fin lollies are stocked in Sainsburys, and you can check out their website here: www.claudiandfin.co.uk
If you can think ahead when it comes to preparing meals –whether for the children, to eat together as a family, or for two invariably tired parents, then you have already won half the battle in the kitchen, I find. It’s taken a while, but I have learnt that cooking ‘stage by stage’ is a great way of helping me feel like I am (kind of) on top of things. By ‘stage by stage’ I mean using little windows of opportunity when the little ones are asleep/occupied in their high chair/at school to get ahead – so, for example washing and chopping vegetables in advance and storing in the fridge, or pre-roasting root veg to stir into a salad or pasta dish – this helps make prepping supper one-handed with baby on your hip a breeze!
Being a spontaneous kind of girl, at first this notion of planning and doing meal prep in advance really went against the grain, but I have persevered, and now I find it an incredibly useful approach to cooking, especially given the hours I work, and the precious weekend time that I want to spend with the family.
If you can get into the habit of being organized, planning meals, and cooking in stages you will feel calmer and more in control in the kitchen. You will also find you spend less time trying to rustle up meals on the fly and cooking when it’s reached ‘tipping point’, i.e. when the children are hungry and whiny, which can, let’s face it, be very stressful. And no-one likes to be stressed in the kitchen!
To help you feel less stressed and more calm and in control in the kitchen, here are my top time-saving tips for busy people:
- Use the windows of opportunity available to you throughout the day to get ahead: prepare vegetables, make a white sauce, prepare the couscous – even just 5 minutes used well can help you cut down on cooking time later on.
- Keep a well-stocked store cupboard – this is one of the secrets to success in the kitchen. If you have a selection of ingredients to hand then you will always be able to prepare something quick, easy and interesting.
- Put aside some time to plan the week’s meals. Having an overview of who is eating what and when will help you plan the shopping and reduce waste.
- Don’t be afraid to take shortcuts if you are pressed for time and your week is going to be madly busy: no-one else is going to know (or likely care) if you buy ready-prepared vegetables. Don’t judge yourself either – do it and move on.
- Stock your freezer with practical things (bags of frozen veg, homemade stock for later use, prawns etc.) and also interesting bits and bobs so that even the most unexciting prospect can be transformed. A tin of tuna and some sundried tomatoes can suddenly look quite interesting served with some posh bread from the freezer and a drizzle of olive oil. (A tub of fancy ice-cream can go a long way, too…)
- Make double and freeze half for another meal. Stocks, curries, stews, pasta sauces and soups all freeze really well. Feel smug as you get it out the freezer next time 🙂
Let me know your time-saving tips!
Hope these help.
With special thanks to Jenny at The Gingerbread House for letting me reproduce her wonderful Playmobil clock photo to illustrate this post!