This we we got to interview the amazing Sally Preston, mother of two, food scientist and founder of Kiddylicious. She started her career at M & S, so knows all about readymade meals – a lot of chilled baby food is pasteurised, apparently, so not nearly as fresh and healthy as it promises.
She didn’t just talk business, though. It’s important, she says, for mothers to take time for themselves rather than over-devoting their lives to their children – or working too hard…
How do you balance life with your children and a business?
I try to be disciplined. Technology allows us to work 24/7 so you must make sure you don’t and allow time with and for your family.
We have meals together, so I can find out what they’re up to and share their lives and what’s important to them.
Its good to have our friends and their friends round to the house, to take time out and stop occasionally, so the brain can rest and recharge so it can continue to work effectively.
I think it is also key to make time for myself – whether it’s having my nails done or having a massage or going out with their friends socially or doing exercise together.
I think it’s important not to over-devote your life to your children so that when your kids leave home, your life is empty, or work so hard that you miss the chance of getting to know your children.
What inspired you to become a food scientist?
I studied science A ‘levels and I wanted to be a doctor like my father but physics and me didn’t get on! So I looked at studying food science at university.
What was it like working at M&S?
It was one of the best graduate placements on offer. I worked in the pie and ready-meal department in the 80’s, when ready meals were exploding, a very exciting time. I saw how the meals were a copy of a recipe you might make at home.
There was effort and thought into the ingredients sourced and how it was cooked to ensure it was a copy of what you might cook at home. In the world of ready meals, I believe you get what you pay for.
What inspired you to set up Kiddylicious?
I left M&S when my kids were aged two and four. Having seen the ready meal market explode for adults I wondered why there was no similar home-cooked convenience food for babies. And what food did exist were sterilized jars within the health and beauty section of the supermarket, not even within food section? (This is still the same today).
So I applied my knowledge of ready meals to copy what mums cook at home to produce frozen baby food – Babylicious – convenient, healthy and trusted for parents. This was the start of the journey and we have followed on by introducing the first fruit snacking range, Kiddylicious.
What is your impression of pre-prepared kids food?
There are some good chilled products available. Although a slight lack of honesty about how fresh some things are! Shelf life should really be a week, just like at home, but often you find it can be as long as a month. This is only possible because the food has been pasteurised. This process of pasteurisation does not need to be declared on the packaging but it is therefore not the same as you would make at home.
How should parents navigate the kid snack minefield?
Sugar is the thing you need to look out for. If you add refined sugar to a product then it is 1/3rd cheaper than the cost of fruit, so if you want a really cheap snack, you replace the fruit with sugar. I think it is important to look at the back of the pack.
Here at Kiddylicious we could add sugar to make it cheaper but we don’t. We use fruit that has been concentrated so that all of the sugars present in our products are naturally occurring with the advantage of the minerals, fibre etc. that come with the fruit that are important to the diet.
Most products with no added sugar will say so on the front of the packet. For example, with our Smoothie Melts, Crispie Tiddlers and Fruit Wriggles the sugar is naturally occurring from concentrated fruit sugars – absolutely no added refined sucrose.
And importantly the portion size is controlled; a 6-gram pack of Melts or a 12-gram packet of Wriggles / tiddlers is enough for a toddler. It will give them some slow-release energy and they will benefit from the contents. Crucially, they get a sweet-tasting fruit and fibre snack but it is not too much.
Did you cook from scratch for your kids?
I did a combination. I cooked and froze when they were little (hence Babylicious), and I did a version of the adult meal. But sometimes I bought ready meals and also gave them fish fingers and pizza too. It’s all about a balance and making food fun but also convenient.
What frustrates you about motherhood?
Technology and its affect on children is my biggest concern. As a result of the rapid advance in technology kids are addicted to being in constant communication with everything and there is a real risk that they are being deprived of a childhood. Will this generation learn how to talk to people on the telephone or communicate effectively face to face?
Children that are addicted to their gadgets (and that is nearly all of them) play less outside, use their imagination less and are being robbed of the joys of childhood. I think it is tough being a kid now and I don’t have the answer but I do think it is a concern.
I also get frustrated about the lack of food science being taught in schools.
It is no surprise that with lack of knowledge of food and value and understanding of what we eat, that there is a huge rise in obesity. Fast food is so accessible and often outlets are located near to schools. It is full of fat, calories and has very little nutritional benefit.
Teaching basic skills such as chopping an onion and cooking a simple sauce is key. And there are children who are not sure where a carrot comes from. It is a disgrace that we have got to this stage. How can piercing the film on a microwave dish be considered ‘cooking’?
We need to go full circle and if we want a healthy nation that understands fat, calories, energy and exercise – we need food science, nutrition and cooking on the agenda and that’s for boys and girls. Education from an early stage is the key.
Any tips for working mothers?
Wine! Honestly, I think it’s best not to be a slave to the feeding or to become neurotic. Children will eat when they want to eat and what they want to eat. There is the current debate about baby-led versus spoon-fed feeding.
The advantage of spoon-fed is you can see what they’ve eaten. But baby-led feeding is good, as they will stop themselves when they’re full. So a combination makes most sense so long as they get to enjoy textures, flavours, colours in a positive environment and relaxed environment.