It’s hard to catch founder of Little Dish Hillary Graves as, like most working mothers, she is a busy lady. Hillary is kind enough to give foodforkids.com an exclusive insight into Little Dish, maker of healthy, convenient food for little ones.
You founded Little Dish back in 2006 whilst you were expecting your first child, what was the inspiration behind the brand?
I set up Little Dish when I noticed no one was making fresh, healthy and convenient food for toddlers. We wanted to make proper food for kids, with interesting flavours and exciting textures, which busy families could feel good about serving their little ones.
We work closely with a leading nutritionist, Lucy Jones, to make sure our food is as healthy as it can be. All of our award-winning meals are made from 100% natural ingredients and adhere to strict nutritional guidelines. They are low in salt, contain no added sugar, and no additives or preservatives. Every meal provides at least one of a child’s recommended five-a-day, is a source of protein and we only use British meat and sustainably caught fish.
Little Dish meals are found in the chilled aisle in most major supermarkets. You can see what’s on our menu here.
How many meals do you make a week and what do your little fans love the most?
We feed over 100,000 children each week and our most popular meals are Fish Pie with Salmon and Pollock, Alphabet Pasta Bolognese and Chicken and Veg Risotto.
We’ve also just launched a healthy mini pizza range for toddlers. My First Pizza contains 35%* less salt than the average children’s chilled pizza and has carrot puree blended into the bases for added goodness and flavour. So far the Classic Margherita is proving very popular with little pizza fans.
How important is sourcing your ingredients?
Very important. We only use 100% natural ingredients that you would find in your kitchen at home, without any hidden colours, flavours or preservatives. All our beef, lamb, pork and chicken is British and all of our fish is sustainably sourced.
We often need to source bespoke ingredients e.g. the stock we use in some of our recipes. We were unable to use a standard stock as it would be too high in salt, so we developed our own Little Dish stock, suitable for 1 year olds.
Can you tell our readers a little more about the process to help create these little meals?
First we talk to families to understand what recipes they like to serve their little ones. Some families want traditional favourites such as fish pie or cottage pie. Other families are looking for help introducing their little ones to more unusual tastes and textures such as mild chicken curry or risotto. We ensure the Little Dish range offers variety and choice.
Every recipe we develop is created in line with strict nutritional rules and then needs to pass a ‘taste test’ by our panel of 100 Tiny Tasters across the UK. Once we get the seal of approval from Tiny Tasters, then we sell the meals into the supermarkets.
What was the inspiration behind the cookbook?
At Little Dish we are passionate about getting little ones excited about cooking and hands on with food from a young age. We wanted to write a cookbook to inspire families to cook together and help little ones grow in confidence in the kitchen. Learning to cook can be so helpful in laying the foundations for life-long healthy eating habits.
The Little Dish Family Cookbook available here on Amazon features 101 healthy, delicious and relatively simple family-friendly recipes.
Every recipe in the book suggests a fun task for little helpers and there is a special ‘Skills Chart’ that children can use to track their progress in the kitchen. Budding chefs receive a certificate, medal and apron when they reach important culinary milestones. You can download a free copy of the ‘Little Chef Skills Chart’ here.
Can you tell us any exciting projects you may be working on?
We are getting ready to launch an exciting new range of products at the end of January, which have been a big huge hit with our team of ‘Tiny Tasters’ and their parents. We will be making a big announcement in the New Year, so watch this space.
Can you share any of your favourite rain day activities with your kids?
We love to cook together. I’ve been cooking with my boys since they were toddlers and they really enjoy it.
Our favourite recipe to make together is Healthy Fruit Muffins. It’s a great one because there are lots of fun jobs for them to do such as measuring various ingredients, cracking eggs, adding fruit to the batter and stirring all the ingredients together. With my boys, now age 6 and 8, the most exciting part is using an ice cream scoop to drop the mixture into the muffin cases.
And you can smuggle in all kinds of good stuff such as flaxseed, chopped apple, and fresh berries. Plus the rolled oats provides extra fibre. I like to use spelt flour, but you can substitute for whatever flour you have on hand. You can find the recipe here.
Do you have any top tips on how to juggle being a working mum?
I definitely haven’t mastered it and there are ‘to do’ lists constantly running through my head. However, I find that a little forward planning can go a long way. For instance, laying everything out the evening before (uniforms, school bags, etc.) make the next morning run more smoothly. I also do my grocery shopping online or often from my phone when I am in transit between meetings, which is a huge time saver. And I buy children’s birthday presents in bulk. If there’s a great book my children have loved, I will buy several copies so we don’t have to scramble around for a gift before every birthday party.
Please can you share your top food and nutritional tips would you give mums who aren’t confident in the kitchen?
· Ask for tried and tested recommendations. When you need some inspiration, ask a few friends to share their favourite easy family-friendly recipe.
· Look for ways to add flavour to children’s food without adding salt. Sprinkle on some seeds (e.g. sesame, pumpkin or chia), mix in chopped, fresh or dried herbs, add crushed or chopped garlic to sauces and experiment with mild spices.
· Minimise sugar. When you are baking, you can often use less sugar than a recipe calls for and the end result will still taste good (especially to kids!)
· Get children involved in preparing the food they eat. Simple jobs are often the most fun for little ones. Put them in charge of finding ingredients or cooking utensils, rinsing vegetables, mashing potatoes, squeezing lemons and sprinkling herbs and spices. They’ll be much more willing to try new flavours if they’ve been involved in the preparation.
And there is always the Little Dish Family Cookbook if you are looking for simple, healthy ideas!
When you’re not busy working and on mummy-duty, what do like to do to unwind and relax?
Saturday mornings my husband takes the children to football and I book into a Pilates class. The classes are brutal, but in a good way.
A huge thank you to Hillary for talking exclusively to us and for sharing her brilliant ideas and top tips!
For more information on Little Dish please visit www.littledish.co.uk
*35% less salt when compared against the average salt content (per 100g) in all children’s chilled pizza found in UK supermarkets