Mum-of-two Kate Finch knows all about the demands of hungry youngsters and how tempting it is to resort to the same range of fish fingers, sausages and pizza to provide a quick meal.
As a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, Kate has baulked at the quick fix culinary solutions for daughters Olivia 9, and Lucy 7, who have become used to mum's wholesome range of suppers.
So with this in mind one morning in 2011, while listening to BBC Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour' and a feature on women in business, the idea of Junior's Pantry was hatched. It was then that the Berkshire-based entrepreneur set about a mission to provide wholesome, convenient ready meals for busy mothers like herself.
"The idea for Junior's Pantry really was born out of circumstance, I wanted to have something like Junior's Pantry but there wasn't anything in the supermarkets so I created it myself!”
Using careful market research by speaking to families to understand their eating habits, Kate discovered many parents juggling the weekly family menus to cook twice a day – once at tea-time for the children, and then later for themselves.
Kate’s research revealed many parents did not use ready meals that are designed for adults as they felt they contained too much salt, fat and sugar. However, they would use a ready meal that had been specifically designed for children, with no ‘nasties’ or added salt.
The result was Junior's Pantry, a range of tasty nutritious meals for primary school age children. Here, Kate talks to FemaleFirst about her thoughts on school dinners, what best to give your kids to snack on and an admiration for the inspirational woman in her life, her mother.
What inspired you to start the Junior’s Pantry food range?
“I was inspired really out of my own situation. I had given up full time work and was a stay-at-home mum to my two girls for the first time. I found I was doing a constant round of cooking as my husband isn't home in time for us to eat as a family, so I was cooking for the girls and then later for us.
“I enjoy cooking but I was finding it very tiresome effectively running a canteen.”
What do your kids think of Junior’s Pantry?
"I have two girls aged 7 and 9. They have been involved in Junior's Pantry right from the start, from tasting food to coming to meetings with me during the school holidays. They do enjoy the dishes, though would like greater variety as they have been eating them for a long time now."
What are your views on school dinners in terms of the portion sizes and the type of food that schools serve?
“I know from the research I did that most parents do not rely on a school dinner as being the main meal of the day, which is why they cook a hot meal again in the evening.
“I'm sure it's very difficult for schools to create meals that can fit into the budgets they are given but I don't think there is any excuse for giving children a meal on a plastic tray with sections for each part of the meal, can anything look more unappetising, surely we can give children a plate?”
When was your interest in food sparked – did you always want to start up something like Junior’s Pantry or was the idea developed as a result of something else?
“I started cooking when I was 18 and started my career in kitchens. The idea for Junior's Pantry really was born out of circumstance, I wanted to have something like Junior's Pantry but there wasn't anything in the supermarkets so I created it myself!”