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
This fruit salad came together by accident – I had a lime that needed eating up and having had lunch at Mexican eatery Wahaca earlier in the week I felt inspired to give my fruit salad a bit of a Mexican twist, and we all loved it. We had it for breakfast outside last week – super-healthy and so delicious. The colours are simply amazing – look!
Warm weather seems to make it easier to eat more simply than usual and I’ve been whizzing up smoothies, throwing together delicious salads and keeping family food simple, just using delicious ingredients such as these fresh strawberries and ripe mangoes.
We’ve also been enjoying some lovely al fresco food on local picnics here in our little corner of south-east London, as well as barbecues on our recent camping trip to the New Forest, when we also toasted marshmallows and ate ice-creams every day. We were very taken with the wild ponies – what a beautiful part of the world!
Much-needed holiday to Spain soon – life’s been so busy lately, and we need a break. Catch up when I’m back 🙂
Quick 3-Fruit Salad
Enjoy making this – it’s so quick and easy and an absolute winner!
1 ripe mango, diced
1 punnet strawberries, hulled and diced
1 punnet blueberries
Juice of ½ lime
1 tablespoon maple syrup
What to do:
This one couldn’t be easier: simply toss together the fruit, squeeze over the lime juice and stir in the maple syrup. Let it sit for 20 mins before eating, so the flavours combine really well. Stir again before serving.
Having read all the recent articles about how sugar is the devil and we must all give it up immediately, I started thinking about the amount of sugar I consume, and how much the children eat. Not only is it bad for their health (as sugar-laden foods tend to be low in nutrients in general), it’s so bad for their teeth.
I am aware that when checking your diet for ‘hidden sugar’ breakfast cereal is often the culprit, and I will admit that my kids do often eat Cheerios (or the own-brand equivalent), Special K (ditto) and granola, which I know are high in sugar. I am no saint! However, I do put my foot down when it comes to chocolatey cereals and Frosties. I console myself with the fact that every morning they also eat fresh fruit, wholemeal toast or ricecakes with homemade jam or peanut butter (the no-sugar variety) and in my book, this cancels out the evil cereal. And often, in fact, they will forego the cereal for porridge or scrambled eggs, which they adore. Whatever they eat, they brush their teeth pretty well afterwards.
I never buy fruit juice because it’s high in fructose, or fruit sugar (read Zoe Harcombe’s website if you’re interested in the effect of fructose on the body) and so they drink milk or water.
I also never buy fruit yogurts because they are invariably laden with extra sugar. When it comes to yogurt, from a very young age I only really gave the littles plain (natural) full-fat yogurt with a variety of toppings – yes, fruit, but also (tiny) swirls of honey, nuts and homemade compotes. I like knowing what they are eating. Without coming over all righteous mum I would simply never buy a children’s-character-branded yogurt or fromage frais. The second ingredient in the Peppa Pig fromage frais is sugar. Each tiny 45g pot contains approx. 1½ teaspoons of the stuff. Not an insignificant amount.
So if you are interested weaning your child off sweetened yogurts, or indeed weaning your baby onto plain yogurt, I thought it would be nice to suggest a few yogurt toppings. The best plain, natural yogurt is Yeo Valley, in my opinion, and I have tried them all. Sainsbury’s and Waitrose do a good own-brand Greek yogurt. Personally, I find Rachel’s and Total a bit chalky.
I asked food writer and author Bee Wilson, who recently wrote a piece about Greek yogurt in Stella magazine, about how she likes to eat yogurt, and she told me she once visited a primary school where they had yogurt toppings on offer – dried fruit, fresh fruit, compote and so on, rather like an ice-cream bar, so you could jazz up your yogurt, which is such a lovely, healthy image. Her favourite yogurt is whole milk yogurt, topped with blackcurrant jam, a dash of double cream and a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds. Sounds utterly divine!
With the ice-cream bar image in my mind, rather than simply plonking some cut-up banana on top of the kids’ pudding at tea-time tonight, I presented them with bowls of yogurt and a colourful ‘yogurt bar’, with pomegranate seeds, blueberries, toasted flaked almonds (I didn’t toast ‘em, Waitrose did) and cut-up dried mango. They absolutely LOVED it, and merrily sprinkled and chatted and devoured their pudding. Make healthy food fun for kids and everyone enjoys the experience!
Ideas for yogurt toppings:
– homemade fruit compote (apple, apple and blackberry, rhubarb)
– homemade or high fruit content shop-bought jam
– berries, cut-up apple, banana slices, chunk of orange
– cut-up dried fruit, or raisins/sultanas (go easy though, dried fruit high in sugar!)
– tiny swirls of runny honey (my children love it when I ‘draw’ their initial in honey on top)
– nuts and seeds (be careful with younger babies as these could be a choking hazard)
Have fun topping your yogurts!
So we had Harvest festival at Big One’s school last week. I confess, I am very fond of Harvest festival, I think primarily because it brings back such vivid memories of growing up in the countryside in Kent, and of the Harvest festival at my primary school which always entailed displays of gigantic plaited loaves, us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ at the tops of our voices, and taking baskets of produce round the village to the OAPs.
I decided to ask my son what Harvest actually means, and I have to confess, he looked at me blankly. Despite the celebration, he hadn’t really grasped that it was about bringing in the crops and the produce from the fields. This little city dweller didn’t know his orange pippins from his coxes. Something had to be done! And so we trundled off to pick apples and get back to nature at Pippins Farm in Kent. Raymond Blanc, who has been in the media recently, talking about how important it is to teach children where food comes from, would be proud of me. I was so pleased we did it – the children both picked and ate apples fresh from the tree and their enthusiasm was evident. It was such a success!
One supermarket that has a great awareness of the seasons and of local food is Waitrose. This spring they launched the national ‘Grow & Sell’ campaign with schools across the land to encourage schools to grow fruit and veg at school and help kids understand the journey from field to plate. And now British apples are in season – and this is apparently the best harvest season in years, making the apples even more delicious than usual – they are keen to celebrate apples with me and my readers.
So in honour of National Apple Day next Monday 21 October, Waitrose asked me to share my love of apples with you. They are stocking 50 apple varieties this year, of which 70% will be British. Hooray!
I made their wonderful Deep Filled Bramley Apple Pie using Waitrose Bramley apples and their Best of British apples. The pie was a rip-roaring success, with my husband declaring ‘Amazing pastry’ – high praise indeed from a man renowned for his homemade quiche (no, I am not kidding), and the children devouring it – they especially liked the addition of raisins . I served it with double cream, and for the time of year, it was just perfect.
The Deep Filled Bramley Apple Pie recipe is here – it works an absolute treat, and using the food processor meant the pastry was made in moments. The only thing that is a faff – and definitely cannot be done one-handed, folks, is peeling the apples. If only I had the miraculous apple peeler which the wonderful Margot Darling from Margot Tries the Good Life recently featured! Now, that would make life easier for this busy mama.
Waitrose.com is a magnificent source of recipes for everything under the sun, including apples, in fact they recently teamed up with some top food bloggers who contributed their own apple recipes,– they include recipes from the marvellous Becky from English Mum (Apple & Caramel Pie), Helen from Fuss Free Flavours (Estivale Apple & Blackberry Steamed Pudding) and Michelle from Utterly Scrummy (Michelle’s Utterly Scrummy Estivale Apple Cake). Take your pick! http://www.waitrose.com/content/waitrose/en/home/recipes/food_glossary/apple.html
Waitrose has even teamed up with online garden gurus Crocus, to sell apple trees online – they have a wonderful tree called ‘Scrumptious’ which is perfect for smaller gardens as it doesn’t need another apple to tree to pollinate it, and can even be grown in a pot! So, city dwellers with kids, there’s no excuse to not PYO apples next year J
What do you like making with apples? Pies? Cakes? Chutney? I’d love to hear!
Happy Apple Day everyone,
So, fruit. The packed-with-vitamins, portable, healthy snack of choice for parents … and, frustratingly, sometimes a tough sell, let’s face it. Compared with the unmatched appeal of a biscuit, it can be hard to convince little ones of the merits of fresh fruit sometimes. Although, I’ll be honest, having said that, some fruits take little persuasion for my two to devour by the ton. (I’m looking at you, Mr Punnet of Blueberries, and you Miss Bowl of Raspberries. You know who you are, costing me three quid a pop, or thereabouts…)
Nah, the tough sell is the humble apple.
‘Who fancies an apple?’ I say brightly, looking at the fruit bowl, which is overflowing with Braeburns or Coxes. Lips get turned up, heads get shaken. ‘I don’t like the pips. Have we got any strawberries, mummy?’ I remain upbeat – ‘No, no strawberries today. I’ve got lots of lovely apples though. Mmmm, jucy apples. Who wants an apple?’ No response. ‘Come on, you can have it whole!’ Tumbleweed. ‘I know, I can cut it up for you!’ A head twitches, a nostril flares, ‘No, mummy, I DON’T LIKE THEM CUT UP’ (that’s the scary three-year-old). Silence ensues.
I pause, and then, triumphantly, I pull my final rabbit out of the hat, ‘I know, what about … apple rings?’ Two heads swivel round and four blue eyes light up. ‘Yeah!!! We love apple rings!! Can we have them in a little bowl, mummy!’
And that, dear reader, is how to pitch an apple to a child.
To make apples instantly appealing, get an apple corer, remove the core, place the apple on its side, take a sharp knife, and slice into rings. Ta-da!
Apple rings can be presented on plates, in bowls, worn on small fingers, stacked, repurposed as comedy spectacles (see photo) and, if you pop a suitably sized grape in the middle of the hole, rebranded as a flying saucer (!) I know, I’m a genius *takes a bow*.
Ah, pudding. Who doesn’t love pudding? Especially when it’s fruit. And especially when it’s fruit in the shape of a loveable animal! My children love mango hedgehogs. And while I am not really one for making such things as miniature edible sailboats with cheese sails, or fruit faces with blueberries for eyes and grapes for the nose (you get the picture), these are so easy to do, and bring such joy I cannot resist sharing with you here, lovely blog readers.
Admittedly, mango hedgehogs most definitely cannot be created one-handed, however they are quick to do and will keep your child quiet and happy for between 5 and 15 minutes. For younger babies (9m+) remove the cubes of mango, and serve in a little plastic bowl, or – even easier – straight onto the tray of the high chair.
You will need
A very sharp knife. I have this Global knife (it was a gift, I had no idea it was this expensive) which is just wonderful because it has a sharp point so you can score into the mango flesh to make your lines.
A cutting board
What to do
Take your mango and, using your sharp knife, slice off one side. Turn it flesh side up, and using your sharp-pointed knife, score 5 or 6 lines in one direction (from top to bottom), and then the equivalent number from side to side, creating a criss-cross pattern in the flesh. Now press your thumbs into the skin side and push out the little ‘cubes’ created by your artful cutting. Add two raisins for eyes, and voila, a mango hedgehog.
Here is my daughter devouring her mango hedgehog. (She ate three that day.)
In other news, I have been nominated in the Mad Blog Awards Best Food Blog category for 2013, which I am completely thrilled about. I feel very honoured to have been put forward by some of you lovely people. I started this blog in October 2012, and it is an incredible feeling to have been recognized by my peers, some of whom are writing such incredible blogs, they put me to shame (I still don’t know what a linky is, and I am not on Facebook). But I am on Twitter! It’s a start.