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
It’s been a while since I wrote about a hero gadget of mine, so I started thinking about equipment in the kitchen I literally could not live without. It dawned on me that of course, I had to write about my freezer. Duh. It is singularly the most useful thing that any busy parent can own. Make friends with your freezer. Feed your freezer. Fill it with food. It will repay you with unimagined riches!
In my 20s my ‘freezer’ was a small box at the top of the fridge, in which we kept ice cubes for gin & tonics, a tub of Häagen-Dazs and maybe a small bag of peas. Fast-forward 15 years or so, and while ice cubes and the peas are still there, my relationship with my – much bigger – freezer has taken on a whole new dimension.
The joy of being able to reach into it and pull out a labelled container full of homemade soup, or a little tub of pasta sauce or a casserole, carefully divided into portions (some adult sized, some kid sized) is truly a thing of wonder. Of course, it requires some work in terms of stocking it, and labelling it all, but it still honestly feels like magic sometimes. You forget the time spent making the dish, and just feel a huge sense of gratitude that tonight’s dinner is already made. All you have to do is remember to take it out of the freezer in the morning. (It also gives me a reason to buy clip ‘n’ lock containers – hurrah!)
I don’t tend to batch cook specifically for the freezer, although I do sometimes if we have a glut of vegetables from the Riverford box, when I’ll make some butternut squash soup or a veg curry or whatever. But when I cook a one-pot dish, I’ll squirrel away a portion here, or a couple of portions there, knowing how handy they’ll be when we are late home from after-school and Biggest is ‘starving’.
The other thing I have learnt in recent years is that you can freeze practically anything. Between my freezer-obsessed mother-in-law (she has two) and this brilliantly practical book, How to Freeze by Carolyn Humphries, (I have the old edition) I have been merrily freezing all kinds of things. And so, I give you my Busy Person’s Top 5 Things to Freeze list. Wild.
1. Cheese. Can you freeze cheese? Of course you can. I have discovered that most cheeses freeze really well, particularly soft French ones (Brie, Camembert etc). They should be just ripe when you freeze them, and need to be really well wrapped. Defrost and bring to room temperature before serving. Cheddar cheese is best frozen grated. A handful or two is perfect for a quick cheese sauce for cauliflower or pasta – just use from frozen!
2. Soup. Don’t forget to leave a little headspace between the top of liquid foods and the rim of the container when you freeze liquids, as they expand by about 10% when frozen. Soup freezes really well – just cool it quickly and get it in the freezer as soon as you can.
3. Smoothie ice lollies. Make or buy 100% fruit smoothies and freeze in ice-lolly containers. Instant healthy frozen goodness. No added sugar.
4. Onions. Sometimes you get on an onion-chopping roll. Sometimes. If you’ve got to chop some for a dish you’re making, do a couple of extra ones, then blanch the chopped onion in boiling water for one minute, then drain and plunge immediately in a bowl of iced water. Drain again and dry on sheets of kitchen roll. Freeze in small portions in freezer bags. Next time you can’t face chopping onions, you don’t need to – just use straight from the freezer.
5. Purée for baby. Probably lots of you are doing this already, but it really is very simple. Cook if necessary (juicy fruit can be puréed raw), freeze in ice-cube trays, and once frozen, turn out into freezer bags and label. Defrost on the side or in the microwave.
I thank you *takes a bow*
I will soon be following this up with the Top 5 Things to Keep in Your Freezer.
Happy freezing, folks!
This week’s highlight was winning a ticket to the 2013 Mumsnet BlogFest (for more details, click here)! I really was in shock! I went last year when my blog was but a month old, and was bowled over by the amazing group of bloggers I met, and the quality of the panels for the various topics up for discussion, so I am thrilled to be going again this year. I am looking forward to catching up with blogging friends, and meeting some more lovely people (if you are going, let me know, so I can say hi!) and hearing speakers such as Tanya Byron, the inspirational Jack Monroe from A Girl Called Jack and a whole host of fellow bloggers. Yippee!
So, from BlogFest to, er, mince! (nice segue there…) I recently discovered that there are recipe books devoted entirely to mince. I kid you not. From Favourite Mince Recipes and Marvellous Meals with Mince (by cookery doyenne Josceline Dimbleby no less) to the imaginatively titled Mince! it would appear that us Brits genuinely love the stuff. Certainly, it’s versatile, and children do tend to love it. So is there life beyond spaghetti bolognaise, which I make quite often (i.e. all the time)? I felt compelled to try something different… and so, I bring you chile con carne! It is so easy to make, I hope this will fast become a tea-time hit in your house, too.
I was particularly keen to try chile on the children, because kidney beans are a great source of fibre, protein and B vitamins and provide slow-releasing energy – perfect for active kids (and super heroes…), and I want them to eat more pulses. But I was conscious that adding chilli would make it instantly spicy, and hence a risky option, so I just use cumin and coriander.
So, don’t panic, it’s not spicy – it just has a lovely rich, warming flavour, primarily from the cumin, which gives it that Mexican chile-style hit. Initially I was a bit nervous about the reaction I’d get to the kidney beans, so rather than serving the chile with rice, I served it in tortilla wraps to hide the kidney beans (I know, I know), with a bit of rice, grated cheese, cut-up avocado and a dollop of sour cream. No complaints about kidney beans. In no fact complaints about anything – they loved it. And, alongside the good old faithful spag bol, this has become a family favourite.
You do need time to make it – while it’s dead easy to throw together, and hence the perfect recipe for a busy parent, it needs 1½ hours in the oven so make sure you have a window of time available. You also need a decent pan which will transfer from the hob to the oven. It freezes really well and makes an easy meal when friends come to play.
Perfect for bonfire night, served with jacket potatoes, or boiled rice (with a dollop of sour cream and some grated cheddar), or go the whole hog and do the tortilla wrap option – it’s delicious, I promise. Oh, and for the grown-ups, add a nice glass of red. In fact, I even asked lovely Helen from The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club what wine she’d recommend, and she suggests La Posta Argentinian Malbec from Majestic or Tesco Finest Chilean Carmenere.
Don’t say I’m not good to you.
Chile con Carne
Makes 8–10 child-sized portions
You will need:
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped*
400g beef mince
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 x 400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 160C/140C Fan/320F
- Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed oven proof pan (I use my Le Creuset) and sauté the onions, peppers and mince allowing the meat to brown a little.
- Add the cumin and coriander and stir well.
- Add the kidney beans, tomatoes and water, season well, and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cover with a lid and put in the oven for 1½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so.
- Skim off any excess fat before serving.
* Note, if you don’t have a red pepper, I’ve also used courgette and carrot in its place, and it still worked a treat.
Enjoy round the bonfire 🙂
I have been making this recipe for years – it is so simple and so tasty that you can’t really go wrong. If you’ve never tried it on your children, I urge you to – in my experience, adults and children alike love it, and what’s more, it’s good for you – mackerel is an oily fish full of VIP Omega 3. Some recipes over-complicate mackerel pate, I think all you really need is mackerel, soft cheese and lemon juice. It really is that easy.
You’ll find smoked mackerel in shrink-wrapped packs in the chiller in the supermarket; I opt for the non-peppered one as it can be a bit strong, and the children prefer it without peppercorns. Once you’ve skinned the mackerel, this can be made pretty much one-handed as you just stick everything in the food processor. Which then goes in the dishwasher. Joy. The other great thing is that it freezes beautifully, so you could make double and keep some for next time. More joy.
Mackerel pate is great served on toast for lunch or a snacky tea, but it also works brilliantly as a dip; children (and dinosaurs) love dunking carrot batons, red pepper strips, cucumber sticks, breadsticks, strips of pitta bread and Kettle chips into it, too.
200g smoked mackerel
100g light cream cheese
Juice of half a lemon
Twist of black pepper (but not if you chose the peppered smoked mackerel)
What to do
1. Remove the skin and put the mackerel fillet in a food processor with the cream cheese and the lemon juice and a twist of black pepper.
2. Blitz until combined and taste; if you feel it needs a bit more lemon juice add another squeeze.
3. Serve as suggested (dinosaur optional).