THE COOL FOOD SCHOOL
The Cool Food School, promotes healthy eating in a fun and interactive environment with children of all ages. Travelling to schools, preschools, and parties to teach children the values of eating healthily through a range of fun workshops and camps designed to develop healthy food habits in children and encourage the enjoyment of eating wholesome foods.
Deirdre is the female food entreprenur behind The Cool Food School which she set up in 2018. As a mother of 3 busy and very active young children she was inspired by her need to make the world a better, healthier place for all children.
What was the seed that grew into what is now your food business?
I’ve always had an interest in food. My background is in the hotel and catering industry; training and studying at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology back in the 80’s. I’ve worked in many restaurants and hotels throughout my 20’s. When I became a mum, I was passionate about feeding my children the best way possible so, I cooked everything from scratch and worked on minimising their exposure to sugar, heavily processed and junk foods.
When my children started going to school, I began to see what other parents were feeding their children. While I also became more aware of what was on offer looking at the kiddie’s menu in restaurants and food products marketed towards children in the supermarket and on television. Obesity was a growing issue in Irish children. I took these findings as an opportunity to re-train myself and become a Health Coach with The Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health (IINH) college and set up my business to educate children about food and healthy eating in a fun and interactive way.
I started out in preschools and developed workshops around making food fun with the children (mainly vegetables) – addressing where they come from, the different varieties, familiarising kids with foods, through using their senses to touch, smell, listen, look at and taste foods.
This has developed and I now also give workshops at food and family events all over Ireland like; Taste of Dublin, Savour Kilkenny, Taste of Donegal, Bloom and many more.
Through the Cool Food School online shop I have made Kiddies friendly food tools avaiable which are very popular. I supply ‘Food Kutters’ and ‘Safety Food Peelers’ as well as child friendly other specialised food tools. These are brilliant as they provide the child with the opportunity to help cook their food from age 2+ and which helps the child form a positive outlook on fruits, vegetables and new foods.
What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome or lesson you have learnt as a female food entrepreneur?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was trying to balance and fit the business around my family life. It’s tricky carving out the time to spend on the business, while also doing the school runs, homework, after school activities, running the house, cooking etc. Currently during this Covid pandemic I am finding it even more of a challenge as I have less free time to work on my businesses while the children are not in school.
I’ve been faced with challenges in engaging parents and changing their views to value the teaching their children about food. Most parents want their children to eat better, however when push comes to shove, they are not always willing to make changes required in the household or indeed, to pay for food education.
What advice would you give to aspiring female food entrepreneurs?
- Make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing. This is the single, most important piece of advice I’d give to anyone starting out in any business, food or otherwise. The first few years can be very hard – you’ll work longer hours, question yourself a billion times and make very little money as a lot of it needs to be ploughed back into the business. Financially, it’s good to have a backup plan or some resources available to you during this time, so that you don’t give up at the first hurdle.
- Take every opportunity that you’re offered to start with and put yourself out there. Apply for awards even if your product is not perfect. Accept an invitation to talk at an event, big or small – even if you’re nervous or feel like you don’t know enough. These are all great learning and networking opportunities and you never know who you might meet. People want to see the person behind the brand so tell your story and be proud of it.
- Find a network that works for you – I am a member of a number of different networks (all of which are female) and they are a great source of support and advice for me. There are lots of things I’m not good at but there is always someone in one of my networks that will be, and people can be very generous with their time and advice.
If there was training available for you before you set up your business would you use it, or did you do any training.
I did a ‘Start your own business’ course through my Local Enterprise Office (LEO) which was great. But I would have liked more in-depth training as it was very broad based. I done a Springboard course which was free or subsidised depending on your circumstances; it was an Advanced Cert in ‘Management Practice’ through the Ulster University, which I found extremely useful.
On reflection I would have liked more training on social media – as it is an important part of the everyday running and marketing of business.
If you were interested in engaging with training/further training what areas would be of most interest to you?
The training I did, especially with Springboard and the Ulster University, provided me with a great insight into the type of leader I am. This has allowed me to do things my way, rather than the way I once thought was right. It has also introduced me to a couple of people who have been key in furthering my development.
I would still like training on lots of aspects of business – things like social media, using video in business, how to write the best copy etc. The learning never ends – that’s what I love about my own business you always want to improve and add more value!