Cookham Mum, Helen Burgess is a powerhouse in kids cooking, with the simple principle of getting kids to cook healthy, yummy food and encouraging the family back to the table the business has grown and grown.
Just last week, The Giftware Association Highly Commended Little Cooks Co for Children's Gift of the Year!
Tell me about you, your background? How did the idea of Little Cooks Co come about?
I am a mum, registered nutritionist and pretty decent cook! I spent my earlier career in central Government working in strategy but I have always cared about the power of food and its complex relationship with health (my nickname at uni was Superfood Helen…why I chose to study philosophy over nutrition I don’t know, but, no regrets – I loved my degree and I got there in the end!). After having my son in 2013 my interest in childhood health and nutrition sharpened and I decided to take the plunge, quit my job and (finally) retrain for 3 years in nutrition. It was a pretty scary decision because I loved my job but I haven’t looked back.
I set up Little Cooks Co in my final year of training when I was fortunate enough to meet another lovely local mum who was on maternity leave and worked in innovation. Those early months of creating the concept and launching were so scary and exciting, and I can’t imagine having done it without Kate! To say I was scared to go it alone when she returned to work after maternity leave was an understatement but at around the same time I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the NatWest business accelerator programme which helped enormously. Being in an environment with 100 other startups is so inspiring and energising – there are some incredible people to learn from, there’s always someone who has experienced whatever problem you are facing and has advice and tips to help, and the coaching and mentoring is priceless.
How has Little Cooks Co evolved over the last year?
It has gone from a fledgling business done entirely from home to something that really feels like it is growing legs. We have partnered with some amazing companies – Yeo Valley, Abel and Cole, Great Ormond Street, and being asked by River Cottage to host kids cooking classes for them at their Food Festival was an absolute highlight! We also just won the Giftware Association’s highly commended award for Children’s Gift of the Year which we are over the moon about, especially as part of our strategy for 2019 is to do more in the gifting market!
Partnering with the wonderful charity Magic Breakfast has also been a defining moment – they are on a mission to ensure no child is too hungry to learn and offer healthy breakfasts to vulnerable school children across the UK. We now donate the cost of one of those breakfasts for every box we sell which means, with the help of our customers, we’ve helped thousands of children start the day ready to learn and get the most out of their school day. We are committed to giving back and using Little Cooks Co as a force for good wherever possible.
What do you enjoy the most?
I absolutely love how dynamic it is – we can have an idea and implement it the next day (which was unfortunately not my experience in Government!). But mostly I love knowing our boxes are making a difference – whether it’s through helping to create some happy memories in the kitchen or by hearing from customers how much more confident their kids are cooking and trying new foods. It is an absolute labour of love and hearing that families are enjoying our kits together makes it all worthwhile!
What is the most challenging aspect?
Outsourcing has been the biggest headache without question! It was so much easier when I was able to do it all myself! Being let down by a supplier with only 2 weeks to go before boxes need to be shipped is pretty stressful but I guess that’s just the nature of the game and the one hour of my week I never sacrifice is my yoga class with Shannon at Yoga Tonic….it keeps me sane!
What are your goals for the future of the business?
The subscription box market is such a fun and dynamic industry to be involved in (as well as booming at the moment) – there are so many opportunities for growth and diversity. A recipe box for fresh meals is something I’ve thought about for a while, as well as writing a cookbook. And ideally meeting Jamie Oliver at some stage! But my focus for the next 6-12 months is to continue scaling the current model further and part of this will involve hiring a part-time sales and marketing position so if anyone reading this is skilled in Facebook advertising and digital marketing, please get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org. I am keen for Little Cooks to be a positive example of a modern employer, making use of the amazing and often untapped resource in stay at home parents. We want to work flexibly and virtually and not stuck in an old-school 9-5 office based environment.
Where do you get your inspiration for recipes?
There are so many wonderful Instagram accounts which offer plenty of inspiration, and Jamie Oliver and Deliciously Ella continue to be high up there!
Why is cooking so important for young children?
It teaches them what is arguably the most important life-skill anyone can have – how to feed yourself. If children grow up feeling confident in the kitchen then it gives them choice when they are older. They won’t have to be dependent on processed food, takeaways and ready meals. But it also does so much more:
• HELPS WITH FUSSY EATING – kids are more likely to eat what they make - what’s more fun that eating your own art project? Cooking creates a sense of ownership. When kids help in the kitchen there are fewer meal-time battles and more willingness to try new foods.
• HAPPY MEMORIES - cooking with children when they are young offers an opportunity to communicate with them on a regular basis. Your time chatting and cooking in the kitchen together becomes even more important as they reach the adolescent and teenage years.
• DEVELOPS SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND CONFIDENCE - kids thrive on feeling accomplished. Cooking is an ideal way to boost self-worth and teach responsibility. There is nothing cuter than watching children proudly serving their food to others.
• HEALTHIER AND MORE NUTRITIOUS - meals prepared from scratch have more nutrition and less nasties than pre-packaged food and restaurant meals
• DEVELOPS CORE SKILLS - science, language, counting, fractions, budgeting, weighing, sequencing, measuring, problem-solving, sharing, fine motor skills, reader, and learning about other cultures - to name just a few important things!
• TEACHES THEM ABOUT FOOD AND WHERE IT COMES FROM - the more educated children are about food, the more likely they will appreciate your suggestions to eat something healthy. We often include seeds for things like runner beans in our kits so children can experience the wonder of growing their own food and eating it. There was some terrifying research which revealed that only a third of kids knew that milk came from a cow, and a lot of children thought vegetables were made in supermarkets.
Who is your idol, If you could work with any cook, who would it be and why?
It has to be Jamie Oliver. He has been a huge force for good in the children’s health space and uses his power to help create real change in society.
Do you have any other projects planned?
I will be teaming up with the lovely Shannon from Yoga Tonic to deliver more cooking and yoga retreats for children in the school holidays, and also delivering nutrition talks at the beautiful Collingwood and Raye retreats.
To see how great these little blue boxes are for yourself, visit littlecooksco.co.uk
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