If there’s one vegetable most children will eat, it’s peas. That’s been the experience of Shannon Harley, whose business Hot Potato delivers nourishing meals to families across Sydney each week.
Find out why she made the decision to swap her career writing about food to one making it. She also shares her tips for getting kids to eat more vegetables.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
As the former editor of Delicious magazine, I worked alongside some of the biggest names in food. But the roots of my passion for food (and the way it connects us) have far humbler origins. As a child, I would delight in getting up early and preparing breakfast for my family. My grandfather had built me a little stool so I could reach the benchtop and prepare all the porridge toppings in little bowls. From this young age, I loved the act of preparing food for others.
After losing my dad to cancer, I took a year out and moved to Italy to study a Master of Gastronomy in Slow Food. This was a pivotal time that helped crystallise what really mattered to me. After a few years of living in Europe food and travel writing, I returned to Australia and started Hot Potato in early 2020, with the simple mission of creating more space for families to spend quality time together. We free-up parents’ physical and mental load by providing reliable, healthy food they can feed their kids.
What do you love most about what you do?
I co-founded Hot Potato with my brother Tim, and I have loved treading the journey of this new venture with him. Tim is an insatiably curious and adventurous entrepreneur in his own right, and I’ve learnt so much from him via Hot Potato. What makes my day is receiving feedback from our customers. Parents regularly send me photos of their children eating our food and it makes the constant rollercoaster of small business 100 per cent worth it. Just this morning, I received this message from one of our customers on Instagram: “We are absolutely obsessed with your food (probably adults more than toddler – LOL!) The entire household is loving it! Thank you!!”
At heart I am a creative, and I have loved combining my old (magazine) and new (Hot Potato) worlds. We are cooking up collaborations with chefs and premium food brands typically associated with grown-up food to add an edge to kids’ food in a way that hasn’t been done before. So far, we’ve teamed up with Bourke Street Bakery and the former Donna Hay food editor… watch this space for more exciting collaborations.
What is a usual working day like for you?
No two are the same. One day I could be interviewing someone for Hot Sauce – our channel for all things related to food, wellness and family. Another day I could be testing recipes, shooting a new dish and designing labels. We cook our food fresh to order each week, so every Friday you’ll find me in our commercial kitchen from 7am cooking around 400 portions of food. It’s a huge day but the sense of satisfaction as I pack all that healthy food into the freezer ready to deliver on Sunday is enough to keep me going. We have customers all over Sydney, but I’ll take one of the delivery routes on Sunday as it’s a great way to speak to customers face-to-face.
What are your top tips for getting kids to try new foods?
Kids favour familiarity. To expand their horizons with new vegies or healthy ingredients such as chia seeds or goji berries, we start with dishes we know they are already comfortable with, subbing in a new ingredient in a fun way, so it doesn’t raise alarm. So far, this tactic is working well and we’re loving the positive feedback!
And then the second tool in our kit, which is very influenced by my slow food background, is to make the food taste good, as if you were making it for yourself. We make healthy food taste good by using the highest quality ingredients. It’s that simple.
You’re obviously a master at sneaking secret vegetables into dishes. Any unexpected vegetables you incorporate?
All of our dishes contain two serves of fruit or vegetables, and a superfood. This is to maximise the nutrition in every dish and give parents peace of mind. For example, our chicken dumpling sausage rolls are loaded with cabbage, chia seeds, zucchini and carrot. I’ve even managed to sneak vegetables into our baked treats. I use pumpkin puree to naturally sweeten our banana bread and slip grated zucchini into our apple muffin batter.
Although it’s no one-fit-solution, what are some ingredients kids generally approve of?
Like adults, going on an ingredient-by-ingredient basis is super tricky. So we stick to a few basic principles of high-quality provenance, seasonal vegetables that are at the peak of their flavour, and cooking techniques that maximise not just the health benefits but also the flavour of an ingredient (no soggy boiled broccoli on our menu). While we do hide vegetables in every dish, we make sure there are some in plain sight too, so kids can get used to the different colours, flavours and textures of real food. And if I had to pick one vegetable that is a safe bet, it has to be peas, which is why we use them in a lot of our dishes.
Favourite places in the inner west?
I grew up in Haberfield, so I have many fond memories rooted in the inner west. I love doing the Bay Run to clear my mind at the end of a busy day. For a special occasion I’ll head to Pasticceria Papa for a ricotta cheesecake, and my favourite pizza is at La Disfida, the restaurant where we used to head as a family for a mid-week dinner. Owner Peter’s hospitality is unwavering and the menu is pure Italian comfort food matched with interesting Italian wines. Special shout out to Nutie Donuts in Balmain for their delightful rosewater and pistachio doughnut and Fruitologist in Rozelle for their fresh produce and insanely good acai bowls.
Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from all around me – brave friends and family members, strangers, nature, podcasts, books. I’m constantly scribbling down inspiring thoughts I collect throughout my day. My latest one, scribbled at a red light on a scrap of paper is: “We never finish getting better”. How reassuring is that? But this maxim from author Jim Collins keeps me focused on the big picture: “Life is about doing meaningful things with people we love.”
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