One of the best things about having kids is knowing that one day they will cook you dinner… well tonight it kinda felt like that happened. The J-boy just got stuck in and took me by surprise. I’m pretty sure this boy is going to be a great cook.
So if you need some encouragement to get your littlies in the kitchen helping you cook, here it is. He has been helping me cook since he was able to stand from his cooking “tower” and he seems to have picked up some tips along the way! My children have all loved helping me cook, at times I’ve certainly wished they didn’t want to help me – it can take twice as long, be noisy and messy, but it teaches them a great life skill and a love of good food. I’ve also found it a good way to get them trying foods too.
Fish fingers are one of the ways my family do not just eat, but really enjoy oily fish. I like to get a portion a week into our meals. Oily fish are good sources of the omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) as well as providing vitamin A, Vitamin D, iodine, selenium, protein and calcium. If you don’t like salmon other oily fish includes: mackerel, pilchards, fresh or frozen tuna, trout, crab, whitebait, herring, sardines.
Omega 3’s benefits include:
Reduction in the risk of heart disease. May protect the heart and blood vessels from disease.
Supports healthy development of baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Brain function – may help maintain good memory and also for the prevention and treatment of depression.
Lasagne is one of those meals that is loved the whole family. Let’s face it, if you don’t love lasagne then you are very usual! Often seen as hard to make, time consuming and more comfort food than “healthy” I want to share my top tips for making it a standard weeknight family meal.
Pack in the veggies. Lasagne does not have to include meat! I rarely use mince to make lasagne these days. Instead I use lasagne as a way to pack in the veg. You can use lentils, beans or tofu or quorn to get protein in. There is nothing wrong with using the normal beef mince but if you are looking for more variety with meals or like us, are wanting to eat a greater range of plant based protein sources then it’s time to expand your lasagne repertoire.
Making your own sauce doesn’t have to be complicated. As much as I love a white sauce, if I’m in a rush it always goes lumpy or I burn the bottom of the pan. One of my hacks is to use cottage cheese. Add a little natural yoghurt to thin it down and pour it on the top of the lasagne, top with grated cheese and the jobs done. I wasn’t convinced this sauce would pass the lasagne police in my house but it did. Phew. The other easy alternative is to use a half fat creme fraiche, simple.
Embrace your freezer. I totally love my freezer, it saves me on a regular basis. Oh, and it needs defrosting, in case anyone fancies helping me with that. You can either make a double batch of the main filling and freeze it for another meal, or I like to make a whole lasagne and freeze it, makes me feel like a proper domestic goddess. Minus the tidy kitchen, mine is never tidy.
Make ahead. I often make lasagne in stages. so I will either get the main filling out of the freezer and leave to defrost, or make the filling up and leave it. Then later I get a child to help me put it together, layering the filling, pasta and sauce.
Use pre-bought lasagne sheets. I know most people don’t make their own fresh lasagne sheets, but I sometimes do, it makes the lasagne SO good, literally the best lasagne. But it takes more time that I just don’t have that often.
So why not transform your lasagne into sometime more inventive. It’s a forgiving dish. Here is a recipe for a wheat free, dairy free version I made this week:
250ml stock (I used homemade chicken stock but you could use a stock cube and water)
1 bay leaf
Dried mixed herbs
1 small glug of balsamic vinegar
Lasagne sheets (wheat free if required)
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tbsp wheat free flour
Soya milk as needed, approx 250ml
250ml water (you may not need it)
Soya cheese or normal cheese
Chop all the vegetables in a food processor (this saves time!) or chop finely by hand.
Saute in the oil for a few minutes, then add the lentils, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, bay leaf, dried herbs, balsamic, stock and simmer for 20 minutes. This is your basic lasagne filling, You can now freeze this, keep it in the fridge for making up later, or use straight away.
Make up the lasagne with 1 layer of lentil mix, lasagne sheets, lentil mix and lasagne sheets.
Pour the oil into a sauce pan and mix in the flour with a wooden spoon, it will make a thick paste. Mix in a little milk and stir to make a batter, now add in the rest of the milk place on a gentle heat and keep stirring to incorporate it all. The sauce will thicken, if it is too thick add some water. Keep stirring! Let it gently bubble but not too much. I like to let it cool a little and then pour on top of the lasagne.
Top with cheese and bake at gas mark 5 for 45 minutes.
It’s been a hot week, needing summer food. These salmon and spinach fishcakes hit the spot. Yes you have to put the oven on to cook them but they can be prepared ahead of time and then served hot or cold. They also freeze well, I always mean to make extra for this purpose but then the kids eat them all!
I must admit to my brain needing a kick start to come up with ideas for summer food. My family aren’t huge salad lovers, so all those beautiful salads that my mind fancies have to take a step back. It is like digging up buried treasure, deep in the recesses of my dusty brain were recipes I haven’t made for well over a year. This was one of them. The hardest part about these is getting the breadcrumbs on them, which really even my toddler can do. In fact, maybe next time I should get the kids to cook these and sit down with a cuppa.
The salmon provides a great source of omega 3’s needed for brain development and cognitive function, heart health and reduction of inflammation. They can be beneficial in rheumatoid arthritis and depression. It is recommended that we eat 2 portions of fish a week of which one should be healthy. I try to ensure my family get 1 portion a week in their evening meal and it is usually salmon that we favour. I’ve used tinned salmon for ease in these, to save extra faff and cooking.
Spinach is a great source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. It is a source of dietary fibre, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc. Using frozen spinach again saved cooking and I find it easier in dishes like this. Frozen spinach is such a versatile and great ingredient to have on standby. If you don’t have frozen spinach in your life, go and get some.
So the iron and omega 3 content also make this recipe a great one for pregnant ladies and for toddlers. A great family meal, one where you can cook just the one meal for all. I served ours with courgetti cooked in the wok with lemon juice and garlic, plus homemade coleslaw.
500g potatoes, skin on for extra fibre and for speed
handful of frozen spinach (I used 4 lumps)
1 tbsp butter
2 tins salmon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh chives
Breadcrumbs or polenta (see below)
Wash the potatoes, cut into small chunk and boil. Add the frozen spinach for the last few minutes.
When soft mash the potato and spinach, leave to cool.
Mix in the salmon, mustard and lemon juice, parsley, chives and seasoning.
Now comes the fun part, shape into patties with your hands.
Roll in the breadcrumbs.
Now you can leave these to chill until you want to cook, freeze them or cook straight away.
Cook at Gas Mark 6 for 10-15 minutes.
I used bought breadcrumbs for the family, as they were in the cupboard and then I used cornmeal for my own fishcakes to make them wheat free. The picture above is of my wheat free fishcake with the polenta crumb.
Eating out is meant to be a relaxing, delicious event, yes? Well, when you have young children it isn’t always the case. My husband loves to eat out, I find that I need to be in the right mood. Eating out with my tribe of kids (Miss K age 6.5, J-boy aged 3 and Etty just 1 yr) requires a military operation of packing bags, finding shoes, brushing hair, finding toys and by the time everyone is in the car I’m ready for a nap. I am the one that has the noisy kids that will not sit still and talk politely, the one everyone looks at, I like to think they are looking over and thinking how adorable my children are, but I’m probably deluded!
So here are my top tips for eating out with small people:
Leave them behind! I’m only half joking. If you want a calm, relaxing meal where you can hold an adult conversation then having a child-free meal could be the answer.
Choose somewhere that is family friendly. Somewhere that it is ok to make noise, to make a mess and to get down from the table. My kids do not sit still and they need something to look at, somewhere they can talk noisily and somewhere they can walk/jump/dance around. For us Sainsburys cafe, community cafe’s and Wagamama’s are a hit.
Check the menu before you go. Is there food suitable for the whole family? This doesn’t have to mean a children’s menu as such, just a balanced meal option your child will enjoy. There is no satisfaction over ordering a meal and your child refusing to eat it. A starter, a selection of side dishes or sharing an adults meal between a couple of children can work well. In fact, my children are not fans of the standard nugget and chips children’s fare. When the adult meal arrives and looks yummier they are not impressed and just eat mine. There go my prawns.
Set the expectations. I tend to explain before we set out where we are going, how I expect them to behave and what type of food we will be ordering. I then repeat it when we get there.
Pack a bag. Toys that you can play with at the table, colouring bits, stickers, a book and snacks. I always have something to tide them over until the meal
arrives in case it is a long time. You know you don’t want a grouchy, tired child on your hands.
Do not expect them to be perfectly behaved. They are children, they are meant to be noisy, they are meant to be active, they are meant to have fun. If you are ready for them to be this way then it is a nice surprise if they do sit quietly!
Breath and remember they are only young for a short, short time. Enjoy the moment and relish not having to wash up and leaving the mess behind.
This week we went Vegetarian for National Vegetarian Week. As a family we always have at least 3 meat free meals a week, so this was a good chance to unleash some new recipe ideas. To be honest I don’t think the family really noticed the lack of meat, though they would do if carried this on for a few weeks. I love vegetarian meals and would probably be one if I wasn’t cooking for the whole family. Eating more plant based meals is better for the environment, a more sustainable way of eating and has some fabulous health benefits too.
Our week of vegetarian meals:
Vegetarian Moussaka, Leek and Stilton Risotto, Courgette and Lentil Lasagne, Vegetable egg Stir fry rice, Quorn Bolognaise and Roasted Veggie Pasta.
The moussaka is something I’d seen a variation on in a gluten free recipe book that I’ve had hanging around for ages. I used soya milk to make it lactose free for my boy – omit the cheese to make it dairy free. A few adaptations made this a super simple meal that is going to stay on our meal list.
Granola is one of those foods that I could easily eat quite a lot of, though I tend to not eat it as a cereal but add it to dishes. I love the crunchiness and the variety it gives to transform your simple fruit and yoghurt into something more exciting. However granola is usually high in sugars and the amount of fruit, nuts and seeds is surprisingly low. If you have the time you could of course make your own, but you have to watch it carefully when it bakes. With my current tribe of small people I would be sure to burn it!
So I was most delighted to be sent a pack of granola to try out, especially when it was chocolate granola. Such a hard life.
Lizi’s granola is something I’ve recommended to some clients in the past due to it’s low sugar content and low glycaemic load (GL). The GL is a measure of how much a portion of a food affects your blood sugars. The GL for this granola is 6.6 for a 50g serving. Generally a low GL foods is one under 10 and you want to keep your GL to under 100 per day. So this granola is definitely a good option if you want a not too sweet, crunchy hit with a chocolately taste. It uses dark chocolate (which I love), some may say there is the added benefit of polyphenols and antioxidants but at only 5% dark belgium chocolate you won’t be getting much per 50g serving.
Here is how we enjoyed the granola – baked apples with chocolate granola. Instantly renamed big gruffalo crumble by the toddler boy. He calls any fruit crumble a gruffalo crumble, completely my fault for starting that one.
“Now my tummy’s beginning to rumble, my favourite food is gruffalo crumble”
Chocolate Granola Baked Apples
A quick, simple dessert that is great to perk up your midweek meals.
I’m always after ways to get more veggies into the children and myself. Hubby likes to do his own thing at lunch, so I made these as a preparation for the toddler, baby and my lunches. They were fast to make and went well warmed up with a salad for lunch. Make a batch, freeze a batch and feel smug all week.
This week I’ve had a sudden creative burst and have been playing around with new recipe ideas. Typically not the best week for it as Miss K has had earache and tummyache, the boy is tired and the baby teething, but cooking and creating is one of my outlets.
I saw a recipe for chicken satay and it got my brain ticking. I wanted the satay taste with plenty of veggies and no skewers (imagine a 3 year old knight enthuisiast of a boy trying to sword fight across the table with his sister, I’d prefer not to visit A&E thanks). Initially I was thinking of cooking it on skewers and then removing them before serving, but that felt like an unnecessary step, plus someone was bound to want to help me with the skewer preparation part. I decided the 3 year old needed both his eyes, so went back to my roots and turned to my trusty wok.
The chicken was marinaded for a couple of hours (mixed up pre-school run) and I prepped the veggies at the same time, then popped them in a ziplock bag in the fridge, which meant this took minutes to cook. You could do this prep the night before and cook dinner in 10-15 minutes.
I totally loved this meal, the rest of the family were all feeling a bit meh, so not feedback from them, except clean plates. This hit my peanut craving right on the head and the leftovers were great the next day with added avocado for lunch. I would add in actual chopped peanuts and have a serving of satay sauce on the side to drizzle over for extra finesse next time. Fresh coriander would also be a winner.
Family meal times are in my house a whirlwind. In my mind we are all going to sit down, enjoy a tasty, hot meal, with some lovely conversation and in relative calmness. The reality is very different. At the time of writing this I have a 6 year old girl, a 3 year old boy and an 8 month old baby. You can probably imagine how an average mealtime goes, but I will give you a snapshot in the hope it nomalises the chaos that may also be in your home.
Mummy manages to find time to cook up a nutritious dinner, that in itself is no mean feat. Cooking at actual teatime in our house is like navigating through a very choppy sea, on a pirate ship, with cannon balls being thrown at you. So when possible I try to cook straight after school or at lunchtime. I plan meals at least a day in advance otherwise my stress levels spiral upwards!
Mummy calls for someone to lay the table, usually meaning can my husband please come and do it. The reality is the 3 year old comes, upon prompting the 6 year old may join him. The table is quickly cleared by mummy (by cleared read – swept to one side or everything moved to the nearest worktop) and an assortment of cutlery is laid out. Certain people must have certain cutlery of course. Do not dare to give the 6 year old anything but a fork with a flower design on it!
Finally food gets to the table, some people sit down whilst it is hot, others straggle along later. Now comes the “How many times can we get mummy to get up from her seat” game.
There are no drinks.
The table was laid with only forks and no knifes.
The boy wants a different coloured plate.
The baby has no bib.
Someone wants pepper.
A spillage needs a cloth.
The cat needs putting out as he is trying to steal the babies meal.
And so on…
The 6 year old refuses to sit with her legs round the front of her chair and sort of hangs off the side. The 3 year old refuses to eat with cutlery most of the time. Someone starts a song which leads to a both children singing different songs at increasing volumes until mummy shouts “No singing at the table”. The conversation darts all over the place from Daddy trying to pass on some business information, to what happened at school and what the boy’s dinosaur wants to do tomorrow. Throughout it all the baby sits there and cracks on with her meal, watching it all.
Towards the end of his meal, my boy tends to need some encouragement with eating his vegetables, along with some feeding. Then he will find a free adult lap to climb into. The 6 year old takes her time, leaving her favourite bit of dinner until the end. After a while the baby will want a cuddle and feed so mummy can end up feeding whilst eating her dinner. By the end of the meal there are content children, a food covered baby and a lot of clearing up to be done.
So, even if you are a dietitian, mealtimes can be a negotiation process and far from perfect. That is family life. Family mealtimes are such an important time in our house though. A place where the family is all together, a time for sharing news, for role modelling manners, healthy eating, portion sizes, taking it in turns speaking and a time for fun as well.
Here are my top tips for family mealtimes:
Plan meals ahead of time. I do a rough plan for the week at the weekend but leave it flexible as life happens. My children get a bit of input into this, so I canvas opinions and try to cook things everyone likes.
Set aside some food prep time. Chopping all the veggies in one hit for 3 meals can save you time on other days. I find it easier to chop a pile of carrots, butternut squash, peppers and pop them in a ziplock bag in the fridge to keep fresh.
Getting the kids involved can feel like it takes more time and effort, but see it as a learning time for them. I have a boy who loves to help me cook and my girl is getting quite good at laying the table now. Find the jobs that they enjoy.
Don’t expect perfect table manners. Do have some family rules. One of ours is “No phones at the table” (well you can take a quick instagram shot and that’s it).
Role model healthy eating and portion control to your children, they will thank you for it later in life.
Offer a range of different foods throughout the week. We sometimes talk about the food we are eating, where it came from, what it is made from and what it tastes like.
Don’t force anyone to eat anything they don’t want to eat.
You may have to eat super early in order to fit with the children but I still think it is important to do this and it leaves you time for fruit and yoghurt later on.
I love the adventure of weaning. The excitement of seeing your baby try something for the first time. Their facial expressions when they taste. The determination they have in picking up a food. The mess they make as they feel the texture. Taking photos of them, it’s all rewarding and funny in my eyes.
However there can be a level of stress in it too. What do I feed them? How do I start them off? How do I minimise the mess? What do I do when out and about? Which foods are best to give them?
So here are my “mum of 3” tips of what you need to get started.
What you need to start with:
Bibs: I like to have the ones that cover as much of their bodies as possible! Long sleeved as great. It saves a clothing change after eating. You need at least 5 if you can. 1 per meal and 1 in the wash plus 1 in the change bag. It saves hassle to have more bibs around. Although a muslin folded into a triangle can be tied around your little ones neck as a make shift bib. Be warned the food stains may not come out!
A high chair with a table: I’ve started 2 of mine off in a Bumbo with the tray attached. I like it as they have sat on the table and there is less chance of throwing food onto the floor. However it didn’t work for my boy as he wasn’t safe in the Bumbo.
I don’t think that is any need for an expensive high chair. The Ikea Antilop white one is our fav. Wipe clean with hardly any nooks or crannies for food to get stuck in it is also portable in the car as the legs come off. This highchair fits out table well, however I like it away from the table for the start of weaning so I can prevent baby throwing food in my dinner! It is also found in lots of cafe’s so when you eat out baby feels like it’s a home from home.
A mat: having a plastic sheet, shower curtain or washable mat under the highchair saves a whole heap of clearing up. You can then pick it up, shake the bits of food off outside and put the mat in the washing machine when wanted. I have this one which I take to people’s houses as well (saves apologising constantly about their cream carpets!).
Plastic Spoons:These can be picked up cheaply from any supermarket. These are specifically designed for fit a babies mouth and are shallower than other teaspoons. Metal spoons are not suitable as if baby bites on them or pushes them further into the back of their mouths they could harm themselves.
Plastic Bowls: Again easily picked up in a supermarket or online. Safe in a dishwasher, microwave and unbreakable as they will get dropped on the floor. Having some with lids is useful for storing and transporting foods.
Cups: If you can use an open beaker then that is the best way to encourage baby to drink. It is messy however as they can pour it everywhere! I like to use a combination of different cups. My favourite open cup is the baby cup as it is so small it is easy to hold and there is not much liquid to be thrown around! Safe, easy to clean and approved by dentists. I also like doidy cups.
Wipes: We use washable wipes, they just get thrown in with the normal washing. I have a tub that sits on my table with damp wipes in it. Everyone ends up using them for messy hands and faces. I’ve found cheeky wipes really good as they trap all the bits and wash well.
Patience: baby may not be that interested and eat that much initially, which can be stressful. It is almost best to ignore them and let them get on with it, whilst keeping a quiet eye out for safety. Let them play, let them eat with the family, let them make mess, let them try and feed themselves.
A plan: Not necessarily a spreadsheet of foods to try out, but some vague plan of what you are cooking and how you can therefore adapt it for baby. I often find it easiest to save leftover from the day before and give that to baby for lunch the following day. You don’t need to cook different meals for baby, but it can also be useful to have bits of food saved up to offer them or spare meals in the freezer.
Good books: If you want to do some reading up then the Baby led weaning book and cookbook by Gill Rapley are good and for some great evidence based information try ”Easy Weaning” by Sara Patience.
Foods to have ready: As babies are used to sweetness in milk I find it good to start with a mixture of a few sweeter foods such as fruit but also plenty of vegetables and starchy foods.
Porridge fingers (porridge cooked and left to go hard! I often some to last several days. It is sticky but easy for little fingers to pick up.
Toast fingers with butter, scrambled egg or hummus.
Eggy bread with vegetable sticks.
Weetabix with mashed banana.
Pitta bread in fingers with cream cheese and avocado.
Large Pasta shapes with roasted carrot and courgette strips.
Savoury muffins with cheese and cucumber.
Pancakes with steamed green beans, mushrooms and trips of chicken.
Risotto with a no/low salt stock
Roast dinner with no gravy
Potato wedges with broccoli florets steamed, sweetcorn and fingers of fish.
If you want to stock up online here is a little list of my recommendations:
Freelance Dietitian specialising in helping those with Eating Disorders and a Media Spokesperson for the profession.