Cooking with your children doesn’t have to get messy, says Little Dish’s Hillary Graves

When Notting Hill local Hillary Graves had her first child, she was surprised by the lack of healthy food available to buy for toddlers. Instead, she found additive-heavy convenience food and long-life products on the supermarket shelves. In response, Hillary launched Little Dish in 2006, a business that offered fresh, user-friendly meals for young children, now widely available across the UK. And with help from her two sons, Hillary recently put together a series of child-appropriate recipes for her latest cookbook. We spoke to the Little Dish founder to find out how we can stop children staring at screens, and get them stirring the mixing bowl instead.

What was happening in your life when you came up with Little Dish?
I was pregnant and wanted to create a fresh range of children’s food made from 100% natural ingredients with no added salt or sugar, proper food like you would make at home in your own kitchen.We spent some time talking to mothers and developing the recipes. Our first listing was a Waitrose trial in 20 stores. I think when children are little they like to mimic what they see you doing. Mine loved to get out mixing bowls and a spoon and pretend they were helping. I would give them some dry pasta, which they would pour from one bowl to the other and then give it a stir. It was one of their favourite things to do. From an early age they would help add and stir ingredients in simple recipes such as muffins or pancakes. Over time our repertoire grew and so did their interest in cooking.

What are the best child-friendly restaurants/cafés in Notting Hill?
We love Mediterraneo – you can book an early table at the weekend and the food is delicious for both kids and grown-ups. Yashin Sushi has a great lunch special and they are very accommodating at making kid-friendly sushi rolls. Egg Break is a fantastic new addition to the neighbourhood and my kids love it.

Do you think the culture of cooking with children has changed?
Both of my parents love to cook so my brother and I grew up loving food and cooking. It was a mistake when cooking came off the national curriculum and it is great to see it being taught in schools again; it’s such an important life skill. I think more and more people are recognising the importance of cooking with children from a young age, in order to lay the foundations for lifelong healthy-eating habits. In fact, our research shows that 50% of mums are finding time to cook with their children at least once a week. I think this is pretty impressive considering the demands of work and family life these days.

What’s your favourite recipe to make with your children?
We have two favourites. Firstly, fruit muffins, we have made these together since they were very little. We vary the ingredients with whatever fruit we have on hand –berries, apples, bananas etc. And lasagne is my children’s all-time favourite supper.

Have you ever had any disasters in the kitchen?
One Father’s Day my children and I made a Victoria Sponge cake. I grabbed the wrong pack from the cupboard and we accidentally sifted cornstarch on top of the cake instead of icing sugar. We realised our mistake and were able to brush it off and start again. The kids thought it was hilarious.

Tell us your favourite Notting Hill secret…
I’m not sure I have any local secrets but there are a few neighbourhood gems that we love such as the greengrocer on Clarendon Road, the fish shop at Kensington Place and Huntsworth Wine on Kensington Church Street.

Tips to get children cooking:

1. A little preparation can help things go smoothly. Talk about the recipe and then divide up the jobs so everyone has something fun and age-appropriate to do.

2. Simple jobs are often the most fun for little ones. Put them in charge of finding ingredients or cooking utensils, rinsing vegetables, mashing potatoes, squeezing lemons and sprinkling spices.

3. Taste along the way. Trying new flavours and ingredients will keep energy levels high, as well as encourage children to eat the finished product.

4. It’s also fun to celebrate when children learn a new skill. Parents can download our Little Dish little chef’s skills chart at