Everyday Icon: The Momtrepreneur

Need some expert tips on work/life balance and simplifying dinner hour? Read our interview with momtrepreneur Samantha Barnes.
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Sometimes, brilliant business ideas arrive at the most seemingly inopportune times -  certainly the case for Samantha Barnes, former teacher and mother of two turned brilliant entrepreneur. While teaching, Samantha realized that many of her students were young foodies but lacked the knowledge and kitchen experience to make healthy lunch choices. So she solved the problem. Powering through the everyday demands of teaching and parenting, Samantha created Raddish, a monthly box subscription with illustrated recipe cards, creative culinary activities, skill cards and a darling Raddish patch / matching apron. Designing her product to inspire young kids and parents to meet at the kitchen counter, Samantha has followed her impromptu dream - quite literally - from the ground up:

You've built a business around bringing kids and parents together - not only at the dinner table, but in the kitchen during dinner prep! What does this look like in your own home? How have you incorporated tangible ways to include your kids in dinner prep, and what kind of conversations are stemming as a result?

I believe two of the greatest gifts I can give my children are a love and appreciation of good food, and a childhood enjoyed at the family table. And given that we eat three meals and countless snacks each day, the kitchen and the dining room table are the most logical places to spend meaningful time with my kids. I think a lot of parents overlook both of these opportunities – hurrying to get meals made while kids are occupied elsewhere, and feeding separate meals to kids at separate times of the day. I do my best to involve my kids in meal prep as much as possible, and my whole family eats dinner together every night (which, with an almost 2 year-old and a 4 year-old, isn’t always pretty!).

Kids don’t need to make a recipe from start to finish every time they cook. My daughter loves to pop into the kitchen to help “paint” marinade on salmon or chicken, chop broccoli, wash lettuce, whisk a salad dressing, and sort dried beans. I believe the kitchen classroom is the tastiest place to learn, and there are always teachable moments when we cook. We keep a map in our kitchen, so there’s always a quick geography lesson when we make pasta or tacos. My daughter does math without even realizing it – dicing cucumber rounds into halves and quarters. And when kids are preparing the food they eat, the opportunity is ripe to talk about the types of food our bodies need. I love food, and I love sharing my passion for it with my family!

Tell us a bit about your path to entrepreneurship. Have you always had the entrepreneur bug for business, or was it simply the passion for creating Raddish Box that made you into an entrepreneur?

I started my first company, Kitchen Kid, in 2006 while I was teaching middle school. I loved being a teacher, but I realized that many of my students were aspiring foodies and lacked the know-how and kitchen experience to make healthy lunch choices. So I set out to teach cooking to kids through after-school classes, birthday parties, and summer camps. Raddish is a natural derivative: it allows us to spread our mission of bringing families together in the kitchen and at the table everywhere.

What are some of the struggles you've faced creating Raddish Box?

Nine months ago when I started working on the idea for Raddish (or “the box” as we called it in its infancy), I had never purchased a monthly subscription box and I knew very little about e-commerce. Since then I’ve learned a lot about how important the “little details”, like paper weight and shipping costs, can be. (Our first box weighed more than anticipated – which doubled our shipping costs! Won’t make that mistake again!)

Beyond Raddish Box, what are some other ways that women or mothers can simplify the dinner hour?

Whether you’ve got hungry kids nagging you, or you’re exhausted from a long day at the office, the minutes leading up to weekday dinner are rarely relaxing. (But wine helps!) I think everyone can benefit from getting a little bit ahead. I’ve found that 15 minutes of prep in the morning, or even the night before, saves triple that in the evening. I always chop extra onions, carrots, and celery: this mirepoix is the base of everything from quick sauces to soups. (When you really want to get ahead, chopped onions freeze wonderfully, too.)

Since becoming a mom, I started using a slow cooker, especially on the nights we get home late from music or ballet. I feel like I just won the lottery when I walk into my house and smell dinner waiting for us! I also think it’s helpful to shop and plan your week of meals and cooking in advance. This is something I rarely did until I was cooking for my family.

Clementine Daily is a space for women who believe in embracing simple pleasures, setting realistic expectations and bettering their lives to better the lives around them. In your eyes, how do you fit in with that mission?

I truly believe in the power of food to bring people together. My simple pleasures – a pastry and a coffee at sunrise on the beach, our family’s Saturday morning farmer’s market ritual, cocktails on our deck while the kids run barefoot – usually include something delicious. I hope that Raddish empowers families to slow down and be reminded that preparing and eating food is less about sustenance and more about making memories.

Also, I recently started a gratitude journal. I downloaded an app for my iPhone and whenever the moment strikes, I jot down something I’m thankful for. This simple task has really helped me embrace and appreciate all the special moments in the day, and the people who make them possible.

What are a few expectations you’ve had to personally release to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

I struggle to maintain this balance each and every day. For a long time now, I’ve tried to work “full time” while meeting the demands of a “stay at home mom.” I’ve recently admitted to myself that I can be both only if I monitor my expectations for what each entails. The result is I’ve had to let go of some the things that I used to prioritize and ask for help. I always thought I’d be the mom that volunteered all the time in my kids’ school, but I can hardly count the times I’ve helped in the classroom since September. I stopped feeling guilty about my kids’ blank baby books, but I do hope to hang a few photographs of my son before he turns two and starts noticing.

The other big loser in the work/life juggling contest: my house. The thick hair of our golden retriever is rarely vacuumed, the laundry piles up, and my kids’ drawers are overflowing with clothes that don’t fit, art supplies, and party favor trinkets that seem to multiply by the hundreds. All In the same drawer. The disorganized clutter drives me crazy, and I have dreams of art stations and labeled toy bins. In the short (realistic?) term, I’ve simply lowered my expectations about what my home will look like and used those extra minutes on a Saturday to go for a walk or make granola. Scratch that, making granola is still on my to-do list…

What's the best advice you've never followed?

In 2007 I decided to quit my job as a classroom teacher to pursue Kitchen Kid full time. My most trusted advisor, fierce supporter, and cherished confidant – my mom – told me I shouldn’t. I was a new California transplant, living with my college boyfriend (who I later did marry), and I was about to give up my paycheck to grow a business I had only just started. My mom wanted the best for me – and today she will tell how proud she is that I didn’t follow her advice but rather followed my dreams and took that leap.

What's in your "everyday tool box?" Any products you can't live without?

I’m pretty simple: my iPhone, sunglasses, coffee, and Vitamix would keep me going for a while. Oh, and salt. It’s such a staple my 1 ½ year old now asks for “sal and peppa” at dinner.

What's something new you just learned?

I just roasted a whole chicken in my slow cooker! Not even sure it counts as learning because it was so incredibly easy. I was afraid it would dry out and/or fall off the bone, but it was nearly as juicy and perfectly seasoned as it would be out of my oven. Can I teach you?

  1. Chop an onion and place at bottom of large slow cooker. (Next time I might add some other veggies too.)

  2. Season the chicken generously. I used the Tuscan herb salt I made for gifts this past Christmas – essentially salt, thyme, rosemary, garlic, lemon peel, and paprika. But any seasoning would work.

  3. Cook on high for 4-5 hours.

  4. Head out to soccer / dance / swim and come home to a delicious dinner! (I quickly steamed farro and green peas for a side dish.)

  5. The best part: after dinner I removed all the remaining meat from the bones for tacos the next night, chopped up some old onions and carrots, threw the bones back into the slow cooker, and added water, thyme, and a bay leaf. I put the slow cooker on slow and 10 hours later I strained lovely chicken stock to freeze for later!

Thanks for the tip, Samantha, and for sharing your story today! We'll see you in the kitchen!

p.s. Another momtrepreneur shares her work/life balance secrets.