Q&A with Chef Alison from Ends+Stems
Alison Mountford (Chef Alison) is the Founder and CEO of Ends+Stems and has two goals in mind: to get families cooking again and to save the planet. Yes, just that! Ends+Stems is a meal planning service designed to reduce household food waste and stop the effects of climate change. It is also helping families to find inspiration in cooking healthy and easy meals, to eliminate weeknight dinner stress and ultimately make life easier.
This is where our visions came together. As she was building her business and working with families, Alison had identified that providing meal plans is one thing, but feeding kids is hard, at all ages and for a lot of reasons: fatigue, stress, picky eating, tastebuds… etc… This is how her digital course “Stress less family meals” came to life.
In this article, Chef Alison will talk to us about her reasons for focusing a part of her offer on children, what brought her there and will share some great tips to feel less stress at dinner time with your kiddos.
Can you tell us a bit more about your meal plans and what solutions they offer?
When I started Ends+Stems in 2017 the goal was to help people reduce food waste. I put up a poll on facebook and over 1100 busy families responded – 83% of them said that “Deciding what to buy and cook” was so overwhelming and exhausting it gets in the way of learning to reduce waste. So, Ends+Stems first membership product became a meal planning platform and email list where I will plan your meals, grocery lists, for you while considering food waste at the same time. If you follow along, you will not need to think about recipes, your grocery lists are done for you, and the food waste reduction strategies are baked in!
What made you start a specific course focusing on kids and family mealtimes?
After a few years, Ends+Stems meal plans were cruising along and I noticed that when I talked to customers and followers about how they were using the meal plans and which recipes were their favorites, etc, a new point of stress was being reported. Kids weren’t eating the gorgeous meals!! Parents were either: not cooking my recipes or cooking a separate meal entirely for their kids. I wanted to make a digital course that would help parents set their kids up for success in trying new foods, serving one meal for the whole family, strengthening conversations about food during meal times. Importantly, I also want to help the parents learn to cook dinner more quickly and confidently, and understand where they can safely draw boundaries at meal times that actually help their kids become stronger, happier eaters.
What would you recommend to get children to try new food?
Part One – be neutral about offering it. No pressure.
Part Two – keep offering it in multiple ways over a long period of time. Don’t give up.
Part Three – if they’re resistant to trying things, offer ridiculously small pieces
How can you get them to eat more veggies?
If your kids won’t eat many veggies, add more fruits. It’s not quite the same, but whole fruit (not juice or jam) is next best thing! Keep offering them a variety of veggies served in a different way. If they hit on one thing they like, don’t stress yourself out about variety. My kids will eat cucumbers daily and they’ll gobble up broccoli. We serve those things literally 6 days a week and offer new foods. Eventually, they’ll add new things to their repertoire.
What is your opinion on hiding vegetables in kids’ meals?
I am ok with “hiding” vegetables as long as you talk about the fact that they are there! This to me is the same as offering veggies in a new way. Spinach in a peanut butter banana smoothie? Just be honest about it being there. Did you mix cauliflower rice in with white rice, say it and be honest if asked. You can use this as a strength – “Oh Felix, this is great! Now we found a meal where you enjoy cauliflower. Today, you enjoy cauliflower with rice, and maybe as your taste buds grow, you’ll like whole cauliflower soon. Let me know when you’re ready to try it again.”
I’m not so much a fan of hiding them and concealing them because that will teach them to be wary of new things you’re offering and it also removes the ability to celebrate when they do like something.
What would be your top recommendations for parents that are not necessarily great in the kitchen or don’t have time to cook?
First and foremost (and I will die on this hill!) Give yourself a break. You don’t need to be a stellar cook or a foodie in order to serve your family well. Start small and use simple recipes to prepare meals. Use grocery store short cuts – like sauces, cooked rice, soup bases, etc – to save time and effort. You could easily prepare meals with just a few ingredients that will still taste great and be worthy because you made them from scratch and it will shine through. You’ll also build confidence and perhaps even start to enjoy it more. But it’s also ok if not.
If you’re short on time, try to cook things in bulk or do some meal prep when you do have time, perhaps on the weekend, or even throw tomorrow’s meal in the instant pot late at night, then just reheat it for the next day. Also learn to leverage your freezer so you have options on hand.
Bébé Foodie encourages parents to start introducing babies to a wide variety of food and inviting them to the table/kitchen as early as 4-6 months old. Would you agree that this is a great way to prevent “picky eating” and some of the issues you’ve identified in your course?
Absolutely! This is a great time to get started with variety and introducing your child to an array of foods. I will add that it’s somewhat common for older toddlers to revert back into a pickier phase, regardless of your incredible efforts and if they do, you should just keep on as you’ve been doing and not take it personally or panic. My own 4.5 year old was a good little eater and has become much less interested in trying new things. I’m confident that as we fall back on our history of how dinner looks, the variety we serve, and offering him the same foods as the rest of the family, he will eventually remember that eating is fun and tasty! I’m glad we have that foundation from when he was a baby.
Want to know more?
Lucie from Bébé Foodie and Chef Alison will go Live on IG on July 21st at 3PM EST about supporting your journey in feeding your littles, from infant to tweenger. Tune in and watch the Live to ask all your questions about baby + toddlers + kids all age feeding and follow us, and Chef Alison for more tips as we navigate parenthood together.
Exclusively for you
Chef Alison is giving away a free webinar about feeding kids and families with less stress. She will cover the 4 main areas in the kitchen and meal times that contribute to stress and give tips for setting up new systems in each area.
Join Lucie's newsletter and stay in touch
Sign up for new guides, recipes and special offers simply enter your email address below.