We had our last Mini Chefs of the year the other day- a fun, festive special with chocolate houmous reindeers and healthy Christmas cookies. We have loved offering Mini Chefs sessions to families and they are always booked up every time.
The reason for Mini Chefs’ success is very much down to it’s creator – Mandy.
Author of the very popular Sneakyveg and Cook Veggielicious blogs, vegan cook and local Mum to 3 children- we first met Mandy when we partnered to deliver a series of healthy cooking sessions with kids at The Platform Cafe in 2019. We immediately realised she had something special to offer in the calm, friendly way she welcomed families to the sessions, the hard work and preparation she put into each activity and the original ideas to help parents get more vegetables into their children’s food.
Helen -from the HLP team- remembers making sultana and nutmeg cookies and pizza pinwheels with Mandy at one of the first sessions- ‘Mandy had these beautiful purple carrots to show the children, who all wanted to try. It was something new for them and parents told me after that their children had eaten raw carrot as a snack for the first time. I love working with Mandy as you know the session will be fantastic and everyone goes away full and happy.’
When the pandemic hit, Mandy joined our team of chefs at our Healthy Living Kitchen- working with our volunteers and brilliant Food Ambassadors to prepare and deliver healthy cooked meals to families with newborns and vulnerable people in the local community- usually feeding over 90 households a week!
Abosede- her regular partner chef in the kitchen described Mandy as: ‘down to earth, creative, altruistic with great people skills’ and said it was great working with her.
Alongside this, Mandy brought her creative cooking talents to launching the first series of Mini Chefs- initially face-to-face at Myatts Field North Community Centre- the sessions were focussed healthy cooking sessions encouraging families to cook small, easy take-home dishes and snacks with lots of veggies. One mum who came to the first session said that it was the first time she had ever been able to cook together with her son.
Families always had food to take home as well and there were often spare ingredients so parents often reported making the same again at home for an evening activity with all their children- ‘being able to take home a meal at the end took the pressure off me having to provide a lunch’, said one Mum.
As the cold dark winter brought another lockdown, Mandy worked with HLP to quickly adapt to running Mini Chefs online with a range of fun, home-made Youtube videos starring her 3 children, and of course, Rosa’s owls! Mandy worked tirelessly with our team of HLP volunteers to pack and deliver recipe packs direct to families’ doorsteps so they had all the ingredients they needed to cook together- further breaking down the barriers for low-income households who might not have an extensive store cupboard full of baking ingredients.
Mandy’s most recent Mini Chefs sessions came back with a bang with face-to-face sessions at 3 of Lambeth’s children’s centres: St Stephens, Liz Atkinson and Loughborough. The children’s centres provided their brilliant early years workers for story and playtime in between cooking; while dedicated Mini Chefs volunteer Michael- whose day job is playing cello in the BBC Symphony Orchestra! – played gorgeous music for the children. His piece de resistance was ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm.’
‘I want to say thank you for a very enjoyable session at Mini Chefs- me and my son really enjoyed it to the fullest. Thank you Mandy.’
‘It was a great opportunity for us; we really had fun, especially my kids they learned many things, words and techniques. On top of all that, we had a healthy meal to take with us- thank you Mandy!’
Mandy has also supported us at numerous community events over the years- providing delicious homemade food, ranging from tasty snacks like empanadas and pesto cheese twists to filling lentil soup with coconut dhal – perfect to warm us up on a cold day at our outdoor Christmas events.
We want to thank Mandy for all she has done to make healthy eating fun and accessible for so many families and the HLP Community, as well as inspiring countless parents to cook more veggies with their children. Always with a smile and a sense of fun, (even in a hot, busy kitchen!) Mandy is an inspiration. Good luck Mandy for whatever comes next!