Baby in one hand, wooden spoon in the other

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Lucy and Meriel

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.

Claudi & Fin lollies

Claudi & Fin lollies

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!

Yum!

Yum!

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

TOHC x


One of the things I will be offering on my blog is interviews with other busy parents, to help you feel inspired, give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at how other mums do things and to offer tips and advice across a range of issues and topics that will (I hope!) interest you.

Jo Wheatley impressed the nation with her amazing baking skills on BBC2’s The Great British Bake Off and after winning the competition in 2011 went on to write A Passion for Baking (Constable, 2012), which is an absolutely lovely book – the photographs are gorgeous, the recipes make you want to get baking immediately plus there really is something  for every occasion – I really recommend it (currently loving the Lemon Drizzle Traybake). She also writes a blog, Jo’s Blue Aga – www.josblueaga.com which features some show-stopping cakes.

I particularly love the introduction to Jo’s book, where she talks about what baking means for her. In it she says, ‘Baking is about memories, old ones and ones yet to be made: a favourite auntie’s bread pudding; a nan’s apple pie; eating the most amazing croissant with a loved one […] a birthday cake shaped like a fort for a four-year-old … I could go on forever!’

This is how I feel about food and cooking for my family, too, which is why we try to sit down to eat together as a family at weekends in particular. Simple rituals like dipping soldiers into soft-boiled eggs or tucking in to homemade scones and jam are the things family memories are made of, and I cherish the (relative) peace at weekends (however, let’s keep things in perspective here; things are never *actually* quiet with two kids!).

Jo Wheatley A Passion for Baking

Now over to Jo:

Q: As a busy mum, how have you adapted the way you cook since having your children?

To be totally honest it’s been such a long time since I wasn’t a mum I can’t actually remember! Billy, my eldest, is now 25.

Q: Can you share some of the snacks you give your children?

I think snacks with oats and fruit are always a packed lunch favourite and help keep children going throughout the day. But to be fair, I’m more of everything in moderation, to totally deny children any treat will only make them want it more.

Q: Breakfast is often cited as the most important meal of the day, particularly for growing children – what sorts of things do you and your family like to eat for breakfast?

At the weekends it was always pancakes for my lot, in the week it’s Weetabix or porridge, or fruit depending on the season.

Q: What kitchen gadget could you not live without?

My KitchenAid. I love how it frees me up to do something else and can whip up meringues in moments!

Q: Who are your favourite cookery writers?

I love all types of writers and books – cookery books are my guilty pleasure – I have a tower of them next to my bed and a whole length of kitchen worktop full of them…

Q: I am all about embracing shortcuts in the kitchen – what shortcuts do you do to make life run that little bit smoother? Any tips you’d like to share?

I have a Wednesday Top Tip on my Facebook page Jo’s Blue AGA  where every week I share tips. This week’s was melting small amounts of chocolate in a microwaveable bag, then snipping of a corner – perfect for drizzling without any mess of washing up! I also have bits and bobs in my book, A Passion for Baking where I give other helpful little tips.

Thanks, Jo!

I hope you all enjoyed reading my interview with Jo. Look out for more interviews with other interesting mums coming soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, so you don’t miss out.

The One-Handed Cook

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One of the things I will be offering on my blog is interviews with other busy parents, to help you feel inspired, give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at how other mums do things and to offer tips and advice across a range of issues and topics that will (I hope!) interest you.

So, without further ado, I’d like to invite you to settle down for five minutes – snuggle baby in your arm, put your toddler down for his nap, or send your older one upstairs to play Lego – and read my first interview with Brigid Moss, Health Director of Red magazine, who shares some wonderful foodie tips below (oh, and I can vouch for Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake – it’s to die for!)

Passionate about health, nutrition and wellbeing, Brigid has worked as a journalist across a range of women’s magazines, including Grazia and Zest. She is also the author of IVF: An Emotional Companion (Collins, £12.99), which features real fertility stories. In her free time she imagines her perfect house, shops at markets and cooks. She has a son who is five.

Q: As a busy mum, how have you adapted the way you cook  since having your son? 

When my son was younger, I found I couldn’t really cook at all when he was awake, there were too many interruptions and I like the relaxed side of cooking. Now I pretty much only do one-pot dishes; I’m very lazy! If it can’t go into the same casserole dish or oven dish, I’m not doing it. I like to chop, put in the oven, forget it for a bit. My husband, Adam, is the one who does elaborate three-dish curries or Thai food.

Q: I know you are into healthy eating and nutrition – can you share some of the quick, healthy snacks you and your son enjoy eating?

He loves popcorn, although it did take me a while to learn to make it without burning it – now I use the microwave. If I think he’s low on his five a day, I make him a fruit salad; kids seem much keener on fruit when it’s chopped up.

I also serve veggies first – that tip came from US author Jessica Seinfeld (see www.doitdelicious.com). I put chopped avocado with dressing, carrot and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes on the table before the main course, and it works really well.

The other things I rely on apart from fruit are: dried fruit, Nairn’s cheese oatcakes and Marks & Spencer multi popcorn packs. Of course, he has less healthy stuff too. Given the choice, he’d go for cheese and onion crisps, Haribo and a sugary juice drink in a flash.

Q: Breakfast is often cited as the most important meal of the day, particularly for growing children – what sorts of things do you and your family like to eat for breakfast?

The perfect breakfast for me is a boiled egg, but my son doesn’t agree. However, scrambled eggs often get eaten when boiled don’t. And I have to confess I gave him quail’s eggs when he was younger and in an egg-refusing stage, to make him start eating all eggs again. Extravagant, perhaps, but it worked!

He often has mushrooms with toast during the week, or Rice Krispies with chopped dried figs and desiccated coconut (his choice!). Our weekend treat is pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

Q: What kitchen gadget could you not live without?

My hand blender, for making soups, banana milkshakes (I do just milk and bananas) and smoothies.

Q: Who are your favourite cookery writers? Where do you find recipes?

I always go back to Delia and Nigella for cakes – Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake looks impressive and tastes amazing, and Delia’s Carrot Cake is the best. Otherwise, I cut out recipes from magazines, especially Red. We recently featured Margot Henderson and I’m going to buy her new book, You’re All Invited.

Q: I am all about embracing shortcuts in the kitchen – what shortcuts do you do to make life run that little bit smoother as a working mum? Any tips you’d like to share?

Not cooking! I eat something-on-rye-toast for supper at least twice a week (my son gets fed earlier). And we get a takeaway probably once a week. That’s three nights a week less washing up. I freeze anything leftover, even if it’ll only make a meal for one. I did used to buy ready made soups, until my husband and I got terrible food poisoning from one.

Q: How do you carve out time for your own personal writing projects?

A very obliging mum.

Q: And lastly, what’s the weirdest thing you learned to do one-handed when your son was a baby?

Writing emails.

I hope you all enjoyed reading my interview with Brigid and picked up a few ideas! Look out for more interviews with other interesting mums coming soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, so you don’t miss out.

The One-Handed Cook

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