We chat to the founder of Ella's Kitchen about foodie inspiration, weaning tricks and his kitchen nightmares...
Making the Ella's Kitchen Teeny Weeny muffins
What was the inspiration behind Ella's Kitchen?
I launched Ella’s Kitchen in 2006 to help babies and toddlers enjoy eating healthy food. I was initially inspired after my own experiences in weaning my daughter, Ella, and I passionately believe that all children should have the opportunity to discover that healthy food can be fun, tasty and cool.
At Ella’s Kitchen we believe that little ones eat using all of their senses, and therefore it was important for us to produce foods that not only taste great, but are colourful, tactile and fun.
Can you sum up Ella's Kitchen in one sentence?
Striving to develop healthy eating habits that last a lifetime by providing healthy foods that are good in every sense.
Getting children to eat healthy foods can be a hard task for parents, what are your top tips for dealing with fussy eaters?
Even from a young age, we encourage parents to help their little ones use all of their senses when exploring new foods to help them learn to love healthy food from the word go. We help by making sure all of our baby food comes in bright packaging which we know babies recognise and love to grab.
Also, be patient and persistent. It can take up to ten separate experiences of a new taste before it’s accepted so don’t give up after the first couple of times, keep going and your little one will eat up their vegetables in no time.
How can you encourage a healthy diet from a young age?
A great way to help develop healthy eating habits is to get your little one involved in food and one way to do this is through helping in cooking, even if it’s just a small role. At Ella’s Kitchen we have recently launched our first ever cook book, called The Cook Book – the Red One, which has lots of ideas for making mealtime fun for the whole family. The book also offers hints and tips for getting children hands on and messy in the kitchen from a young age to encourage a positive relationship with healthy foods, from digging out the squash seeds in our Brilliant Butternut Squash Soup to spotting the rainbow of colours in a stir-fry.
What is your favourite meal to make with your children and why?
Two of the recipes in the new cook book are my families own, including Ella’s Dad’s Sweet + Sour Prawns and Ella’s Mum’s Easy Chicken Curry. We first made the chicken curry when Ella was just three years old and she’s loved it ever since as it’s mild, sweet and creamy.
I loved making the sweet and sour prawns with Ella and her little brother Paddy when they young, as it was magical for them to watch the prawns change colour as they cooked.
What are your children's favourite foods and why?
Both Ella and Paddy like a wide variety of food and we all enjoy cooking and creating new meals for each other. Ella loves her mum’s chicken curry and my pancakes are another favourite for brekkie at the weekend. Paddy loves a good crumble! Alison, my wife, makes a fantastic forest fruit crumble for pudding sometimes. It’s packed full of juicy fruit and served warm just out of the oven it’s unbeatable. A little of what you fancy is fine as long as you’re eating balanced healthy meals.
Tell us about your funniest kitchen nightmare with your children...
Often for a family birthday we’ll each cook a course for a special meal. We like to add elements of surprise and plenty of fun. On one particular occasion I was preparing the dessert and I popped some chilli in one of the servings – the kids loved us going round the table as everyone tasted theirs to see if they had the surprise flavour shock. My son Paddy especially found it really funny – a trick that really appeals to a little boys’ sense of humour!
What are the best foods to start weaning with and the worst?
Gentle fruit purees and baby rice are great foods to start your little one on their tiny taste bud journey. For hungrier babies try mixing these purees with baby rice.
Some foods to avoid include:
· Yummy kiwi fruits as they can often cause allergies, so it’s a good idea to introduce these when your baby is a little bit older, one at a time, to check for any allergic reactions.
· Honey: Bears may like honey but your little one shouldn’t try it until they are a year old.
· Meat, fish and eggs: Great for when they are a bit older, but these can be introduced a little later.
How do you juggle your career and family life?
I’m lucky to have a very talented, passionate and committed team at Ella’s Kitchen, who each play their role in delivering our vision for Ella’s. Sometimes it’s hard to juggle as every working parent will understand. I try to always remember that I’m a dad and husband first – that helps me focus, prioritise and make the right choices for the family.
Do you hope your children will want to be part of the Ella's Kitchen team in the future? Do you want it to be a family business?
We often talk about Ella’s Kitchen at home as it’s a big part of our family. They are both too young to know what they want to do and be when they’re bigger – all Alison, my wife and I hope is that they find something they are passionate about and enjoy.
Tell us a food joke!
Q: Why shouldn't you tell an egg a joke?
A: Because it might crack up!
If you could do any other job than the one you actually do, what would it be and why?
I know it sounds cliché but I believe I am lucky to have the best job already – something I am passionate about, working with an incredibly fun and talented team who all care and are driven by our mission to create generations of good little eaters.
What is next for Ella's kitchen?
Ella’s Kitchen has lots of exciting plans for the year ahead! Our latest project is the launch of our first ever cook book. The Cook Book – the Red One, is more than just another recipe book launch as it features fun ideas and creative activities that allow little ones to experience healthy foods outside of mealtimes, from getting creative with vegetable prints to playing at a Cool Kiddie Café.
We’re also working on lots of new ideas for foods to tantalise those tiny taste buds. But that would be telling if I said anymore. Watch this space...
Don't miss... The Junior Meets hub of exclusive interviews, inside scoop interviews and quirky Q&As, with exciting interviewees including: Tommy Hilfiger, Sir Paul Smith, Stella McCartney and lots of other influential fashion designers, authors and illustrators including Quentin Blake and Jeff Kinney, great business minds including Lord Alan Sugar and, everyone's favourite fashionable frog, Kermit.