Produce can play central role in allergen-free food for kids

When childminder Michele Budgen started catering for those children she cared for with food allergies, the seed was sown for an innovative business idea. The Sussex entrepreneur tells Produce Business UK all about her new venture Love Food 4 Kids

How did you start out?

Michele Budgen (MB): I began childminding in 2001 and because I had kids coming in with food allergies, I looked at how I could cook for them. I have four girls of my own so I thought I should be cooking the same meal for everyone. If we were having pasta, I made gluten-free pasta for everyone.

My childminding business outgrew our house so I started Kiddie Kare nursery and we now have two nurseries – both in Rustington in West Sussex. I run my own breakfast club and after-school club and since the nursery is term-time only, I run a holiday club for children up to the age of 14.

We have a number of children with different allergies and it’s difficult to cook different meals for all of them.

So how do you cater for the children with allergies?

MB: I feel that if I am providing a service for children, then I should provide that same service for all the children regardless of their allergies; my whole ethos is inclusive, so all my food is as allergen-free as it can be and I cover 11 of the Big 14 allergens.

Basically I unpick all the standard dishes such as shepherd’s pie, sausages, meatballs, swap out the ingredients with allergens and replace them with allergen-free alternatives.

And what led you to take this provision at Kiddie Kare to the next level?

MB: I hear so much from people with allergies about how hard it is to find allergen-free meals. I started talking to one of the parents from the after-school club who is a food manufacturer about trying to replicate the home-cooked meals I make for wider distribution. The idea has grown from there. There are more and more children with allergies and so one business has really been born out of the other.

How big a part do fruit and vegetables play in your offer?

MB: One of our most popular dishes that the children love is fajitas which consists of chicken, fresh peppers and sliced fresh onion served with a variety of salad ingredients. The children love this because it's finger food and everything is brightly coloured, which draws a child's eye to it.

We use a lot of frozen vegetables, for example frozen peas in our fish pie, but we also use fresh ingredients such as butternut squash and fresh courgettes, which we roast. And we hide some vegetables too, for example potato and swede mash which adds a different flavour and sweetness to ordinary potato mash.

I’m working on our winter recipes shortly and I’m looking at including a vegetable tagine that will feature fresh produce.

We also use fruit in our apple crumble, for example, and I am looking at apple and sultana muffins and banoffee muffins too.

What stage are you at now?

MB: Love Food 4 Kids was launched in October last year. My dishes are now being produced by hand at GF Foods in Worthing, which produces a lot of gluten-free foods for the UK and overseas.

The range covers 33 different, delicious nutritional meals, accompaniments and puddings such as fish pie, pasta bolognese, sweet and sour chicken, tuna pasta bake, fajitas, curries, roast dinners and fruit crumbles.

They are all cooked using high quality fresh and frozen ingredients and are then blast-frozen and can be distributed nationwide by Eden Farm.

Prices range from 90p for an infant portion and you don’t have to buy vast amounts either as the dishes come in cases of two 1.5kg foil trays. There is no minimum order and deliveries are made on a weekly basis. For example, a 1.5kg pasta bolognese is £8.70 and served to eight infants would cost as little as £1.09 per child.

I like to see my meals as being available to everyone and if all the children in your setting are eating the same meal, the price can be competitive.

So how do you source your produce and other ingredients?

MB: I work with the manufacturer GF Foods as the company already sources large volumes of some lines but I also do some of my own sourcing. For example, I use a local butcher, so we share the buying.

I want to look at the possibility of more fresh produce however, and I am definitely interested in the potential of local growers.

What’s next?

MB: Plenty! There is some interest from schools’ catering services and local authorities and I am working on bigger dishes. I will be at the Allergy & Free From Show in London in July and I am also working on developing an online shop.

For more information, visit Love Food 4 Kids


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