When her sister developed cancer, Arabella Arkwright became obsessed with providing the healthiest meals possible. She then re-trained in nutrition and launched Piccolo Plates – delivering healthy kids’ meals to family homes in London…
Arabella Arkwright, 27, lives in Hammersmith. She co-founded Piccolo Plates with Eleanor Sampson in February. Here’s her story…
I wasn’t raised on quinoa and almond milk; it was spaghetti letters and eggy bread. At university, I relied on typical student uni grub (haute cuisine such as Marmite pasta) to get through a degree studying something completely unrelated to food.
When I left, I jumped straight into working in a job in finance. It’s fair to say that it wasn’t by any means obvious that I’d end up starting a company in nutrition. But in a more practical sense, it’s not entirely illogical: since I was a teenager, I had been the one cooking for my three younger sisters, and whilst getting through the day-to-day of a job I didn’t exactly love, I become more and more fascinated about food and what it means to people and their families.
This prompted me to start cooking healthier (and more delicious) food for my own family. A quest that was accelerated tenfold when one of my sisters became ill with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and making sure she was getting the best diet through her treatment and recovery became a personal mission of mine.
Next thing I knew, I was knees deep in nutrition, and I became so fascinated that – after much umming and ahhing - I decided to quit my job and go back to university to study my newly-found passion.
Luckily, I’d saved up a bit of money from my job, but doing a complete 360 two years after university and going back to study meant that I had to find a way to make ends meet. It was then that I started babysitting for families around London, and I subsequently became (and still am) extremely close to them.
Making healthy kids’ meals
Most of all, I loved cooking for the little ones. Well, love is perhaps not the right word; it could be, at times, pretty stressful cooking whilst also trying to make sure that the Frozen knife and fork came back out of the dirty dishwasher.
Cooking for multitudes of kids, who have - to put it mildly - differing concepts of taste, all whilst not burning down the kitchen, was a job in itself. And I was the fortunate one; I could leave it all behind when I jumped on my bike and headed home, whilst being a parent is very much a fulltime commitment.
It wasn’t long until I put two and two together and combined my studies with the fact that I was cooking for loads children every day. I found myself taking a keen interest in what they were eating: were they getting enough Omega3s? Enough protein? How was the food they were eating affecting their energy levels? Their health more generally? The list goes on and on, but I began to see that nutrition and eating the right things has been given a gross disservice in the context of kids.
I also saw that the quality of the current options for easy meals for children: full of preservatives, salt, and sugar, with some of the worst culprits being the ones that claim to be ‘healthy’. When I dug a little deeper, I was astonished at how bad some of it really was.
On the flip side, being thrown in at the deep end also gave me a more realistic estimation of what actually works for children. Whereas I might have previously thought that it would be great to casually throw in some chia seeds and goji berries, or whatever else was currently chic in the world of ‘healthy’, I realised that getting children to eat anything can be a struggle in itself.
Practically is king, and to guarantee happiness, I focused on trusted classics: fish and cottage pie, fish fingers, and chicken nuggets. Perhaps the biggest gift of all was that my housemate Eleanor was a goddess in the kitchen. She worked at Groupon by day, but in the evening Els was cooking up a storm for our entire house. This is a girl that collects vintage cookbooks that she buys from secondhand book shops.
Eleanor was also in a similar predicament as I had been: she was bored at work, and had always wanted to do something around food. After helping me cook up a few of the dishes, she joined as my co-founder and we launched Piccolo Plates.
It would be dishonest to say there wasn’t a certain degree of cunning in our Piccolo Plates: in the fish fingers we substituted batter for ground almonds; in the fish and cottage pie we make the mash from celeriac and cauliflower; the nuggets have yellow pepper, courgettes and carrots.
We understood that some kids get spooked by veg in abundance or as a side dish, and we thoroughly enjoyed developing dishes that incorporate maximum veg with minimum fright and fight to the parents! But the key component was that we knew exactly what was going in, and that meant no bad stuff, no preservatives, and everything they needed to be happy and healthy.
We were also lucky in that we had an entourage of expert child taste testers, always keen to offer (completely blunt) judgement or criticism on any dish. Children are great users because they will always tell you just what they think, and this let me tweak the dishes to win the highest of ‘tastescores’, and satisfy even the pickiest of tots.
Before long, we were delivering dishes to mums and dads around London (my humble bike upgraded to a van). It started with just a few families, but now we’re delivering dishes twice a week both far and wide, east and west, north and south of the river.
It’s one day at a time for Piccolo Plates, but we adore meeting our customers and their families and have much more in the pipeline for Piccolo Plates. Order a dish today and see for yourself…
Free delivery across London; each dish costs £5 and serves two children; order at www.piccoloplates.com; delivery on Tuesdays and Thursdays
Would you be interested in having healthy kids’ meals delivered straight to your door? What meal would you choose of the options mentioned above?