This month, all Jem + Bea customers shopping on our website will receive a free copy of Little Dish’s brand new Nutrition Guide along with a unique meal voucher to try out their fresh toddler meals.
The brand was founded by mum-of-two Hillary Graves. When her first son was born in 2006, Hillary was surprised to find a lack of healthy food products designed for toddlers on the supermarket shelves. What was available at the time was largely full of additives, or marketed as ‘long-life’, meaning it could have been sitting there for two years or more. So she decided to set up Little Dish, a business that offered fresh, nutrient-packed meals for little ones from her home kitchen. The family-run brand is now stocked in supermarkets across the UK and is about to launch in America.
We caught up with Hillary to find out more about how she juggles running a successful business with motherhood and get her top tips for weaning. Read more below.
What inspired you to start Little Dish?
No one was making healthy, freshly prepared meals for toddlers and young children. By ‘fresh’ I mean meals that are kept in the fridge. The choices at the time were limited to long life baby food which can sit on the shelf for two years or frozen convenience food. I wanted to create a range of fresh, nutritious, great tasting meals just like parents make in their own kitchen.
As a new mum, what was it like when you first started out?
Hectic! Juggling the business and a new baby was full on, however, one of the benefits of running your own business is that you can manage your schedule around your family. That meant working when my baby was sleeping, but I was grateful not to have to commute to a 9-5 job.
Was there a moment when you realised the business was going to be a success?
There have been many memorable milestones along the way. I remember when we got our first listing in 20 Waitrose stores, which was a big moment for Little Dish. And then a few months later we launched in Tesco. At that stage we could see sales building which gave us a proven model to bring to other supermarkets.
Today we are available in all the UK supermarkets and feed over 200,000 children a week. But it’s worth mentioning the first signs of success took time and patience. A lot of hard work and a bit of good luck.
We love the fact that you employed nutritionists from the beginning. How do you develop your meals and how are they made?
The first Little Dish recipes were made in my kitchen, working closely with our nutritionist. As we have grown the business, we now work with professional chefs in a large scale production kitchen. We only use the best quality ingredients and source our chicken and beef from local farms.
Each Little Dish meal meets strict guidelines to ensure it is perfectly nutritionally balanced for toddlers with the exact right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Also, before we launch any recipe, it goes to our toddler tasting panel for approval.
Your husband joined the team in 2014. What’s it like working together?
We have complementary skills, so it actually works quite well. It does blur the lines between work and home even more, but we don’t mind that. Little Dish is a big part of our family life and we love what we do.
Are your kids involved in the business too?
Yes! In the early days our sons, Monty and Ridley, were our ‘Chief Tasters’ and tried every Little Dish recipe before we let it out of the kitchen. Now that they are much older, they still love to eat Little Dish, but they need two meals to fill them up. They both love food and cooking which might have something to do with the fact that they have been involved from the beginning.
What have been the highs of your journey so far?
At the moment we are taking Little Dish to America which is an adventure for the whole family. When we started the company, we hoped that we could make a positive difference in children’s nutrition and bring healthy, convenient meals to families all over the UK. Now we are expanding that vision to include the US and hope our Little Dish range will help American families as well.
And have there been any real tough moments?
Many tough moments! Where to begin. In the early days it was challenging as a small company to navigate our way through negotiations with the big supermarkets. We met one supermarket buyer who told us he didn’t care about the ingredients in his children’s food range, only about his margin. That was a discouraging meeting. However, luckily, we have met more supermarket buyers who do care about bringing families truly nutritious fresh food, which is our core mission.
How do you juggle motherhood and running a successful business?
Little Dish is a family run business so it all blends together. My husband and I are lucky to have the flexibility to manage our schedule around the kids. We often work long hours, but for the most part we can attend school events and sports matches. We try to make a conscious effort to put laptops and phones away when we are home with the children, but that’s not always possible.
And how do you make time for yourself?
I try to schedule time to exercise a few times a week. It makes me feel better and I am more productive if I can squeeze in an exercise class or a walk in the park, even if I’m multitasking on a conference call.
Finally, what are your top five weaning tips for little ones?
1. Start with veggies before you introduce fruit. Carrots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes were all favourites with my boys. Also, it was easier to introduce green vegetables before they had tried apples and bananas.
2. Introduce a wide variety of flavours. Our Little Dish range includes nursery staples such as Fish Pie and Pasta Bolognese. However, one of our most popular recipes is a Mild Chicken Korma.
3. Don’t give up if your baby doesn’t like it the first time. It can often take several attempts before a particular food or flavour is accepted, so keep trying.
4. Try to eat together a few times a week. Your baby will learn from watching you and others around the table.
5. Avoid sugar completely for the first year. Babies don’t need sugar. As they get older and become toddlers, there are healthier ways to introduce ‘treats’ such as homemade banana bread or muffins which are sweetened with fruit.
Our signature nylon Snack Pouch is the perfect size for storing Little Dish’s healthy toddler snacks when you’re out and about. It’s designed to keep little ones’ snacks and meals warm or cool, with a practical wipe-clean PEVA lining.