A Dallas mom and her son are developing a new meal kit solution that will teach children basic culinary skills while building confidence and independence.
Toria Frederick and her son Julian originally co-founded The Step Stool Chef as a website to share kid-friendly recipes with the philosophy that it’s by kids, for kids.
Four years later, they’re pivoting the startup to focus on meal kits with all the ingredients needed to make homemade breads, soups, and sauces. The goal is to get these kits in grocery stores.
With limited supervision, children could follow the kid-friendly directions and make their own food.
“The problem we’re trying to solve is how do we make learning how to cook empowering for kids and easier for parents.”
“The problem we’re trying to solve is how do we make learning how to cook empowering for kids and easier for parents,” Frederick said. “It’s about the skill that they’ll be developing. Each of the kits will be based on learning a particular culinary skill.”
Since Frederick pitched the concept at 1 Million Cups at The Dallas Entrepreneur Center on April 11, she’s gotten interest from investors who want to partner with them to make this happen.
Meal kits are gaining popularity, but they are mostly focused on finding quick, convenient and healthy alternatives for busy adults, Frederick said. Companies like Martha and Marley Spoon, which has a large distribution center in Grand Prairie, sell portion size meals that include all the raw ingredients needed to make recipes. The kits can even be delivered via AmazonFresh.
Frederick has a different philosophy for Step Stool Chef’s meal kits that’s more about building basic culinary skills. The prevalence of fast food, microwavable dinners, and other alternatives has some experts saying cooking is a dying art, Frederick said.
She’s determined to reverse that trend.
“They’re empowered not only with the ingredients and the meal solutions that we’re providing, but also with the skills and the lessons that we’re providing so they’re able to build on those skills with or without those kits,” Frederick said.
GIVING KIDS TOOLS TO COOK THEIR OWN MEALS
She knows the confidence that comes when a child knows how to cook because she’s seen it in her son.
It started when Julian had his 3rd birthday in February 2011, the same week that a winter storm turned North Texas roads into sheets of ice and AT&T Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLV.
“We weren’t able to celebrate his birthday the way we wanted, but fortunately we had all the ingredients to make a birthday cake,” Frederick said. “He wanted to make his own birthday cake. With just a little assistance with me, he really took it and ran with it and was very proud of himself.”
Julian climbed on a step stool and put on a chef’s hat as he mixed the ingredients. That got Frederick, who has a background in marketing and food service, thinking.
“What if we created a space where children can build self confidence and empowerment through cooking?” she asked. “All kids can cook. They just haven’t been given the chance to.”
They created the Step Stool Chef website full of recipes and, later, Step Stool Chef Academy where children do cooking videos.
Now, at 10 years old, Julian has done multiple television interviews, met famous celebrity chefs, and done cooking demonstrations throughout the community. He recently made a tie-dye fettuccine with a cauliflower alfredo sauce at the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Center.
He is the co-founder and executive kid chef on Step Stool Chef’s Kids Advisory Board, which consists of children ages 7 to 10. The board ensures everything is tested and curated by children.
“All of our recipes and all of our product development direction he has direct impact and influence on,” she said.
“It’s a life skill. Even if you decide not to go into that field, everyone has to eat.”
The meal kits would take the convenience to the next level by having all the flour, yeast, and other ingredients already portioned in the package.
“We try to go beyond pizza and cupcakes and challenge kids to think bigger in terms of what they can do,” Frederick said. “We get a kick out of seeing some of the ideas that kids can come up with.”
Cooking teaches leadership skills, critical thinking, and healthy eating habits, she said.
“It’s a life skill. Even if you decide not to go into that field, everyone has to eat,” Frederick said.