Usually my children are not so keen on curry, however being half Sri-lankan this is not an option for me! My oldest girl used to eat a lot of spice, in fact at 22 months in Sri-Lanka she was eating curry off my plate. She went off spice and is now age 7 working back onto it. My boy has never been into anything spicy and so he is definitely a work in progress.
So this time I went at it from another angle. A fragrant but mild curry served with rice and optional naan on the side. However I sold it as “it’s not a curry, it’s chicken with naan”. It worked. WIN.
The beauty of this meal is it can either be made in the slow cooker/crock pot or on the hob.
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.
I’m writing this post after a few people have asked me if they should be giving vitamin D to their children. The answer is Yes. In 2016 the guidance on vitamins D changed and now the recommendations are that everyone in the UK takes 10 mcg a day. Especially in the autumn and winter months.
Usually as a dietitian I would encourage people to get their nutrition from food first, but with Vitamin D it is hard to meet the bodies’ requirements through food and UVB rays alone.
The original Dietary reference values for vitamin D were set back in 1991 by COMA. It was thought then that people aged 4-64yrs would synthesise enough vitamin D in the summer months to cover their winter needs. A review by SACN in 2016, found this not to be the case. If you live in the UK it will come as no surprise to know there are not that may days in the year that we have enough sun at the right position for this is happen. During autumn and winter we definitely do not have the sunlight we need to make vitamin D. Those with darker skin tones may also not get from sun exposure in the summer so taking a supplement all year round is a good idea.
Bones, Bones, Bones. Low vitamin D is linked to increasing the risk of rickets in children. In adults, vitamin D is shown to reduce fracture risk and falls in those aged over 50yrs living in the community. There is also a beneficial effect of vitamin D on muscle strength and function.
Vitamin D advice for children under 4yrs:
Children aged 1-4 years should take 10 mcg per day, all year round. Babies should take 8.5-10 mcg per day as a precaution unless they are having more than 500ml of formula milk a day, as this is fortified. Data for children under 4 yrs is limited so it is hard to know how much vitamin D should be recommended, SACN have been cautious and set a safe intake of 10 mcg.
You can buy Vitamin D supplements in liquid form from supermarkets, Boots, Superdrug and pharmacies. Good examples are Abidec and NHS Healthy Start vitamin drops.
Disclaimer: I was sent some Vitamin D supplements courtesy of SuperDrug, which has not affected my views in the post above.
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.
So when your toddler asks to make star biscuits, you can’t really say No. I’m not a fan of my kids having too much sugar so we always are on the look out for ways to reduce the sugar content of our baking, here we have used just a little apple juice and it worked well. A plain biscuit but you could add spices to it and make it your own. The plain biscuits are good for weaning too.
I used a greek yoghurt topping so the kids could decorate their biscuits which they loved. You need to only decorate the ones you aret going to eat there and then. Store the rest in a tin and the topping in the fridge. The decorating was a good after school activity and make your own snack session.
Easy Peasy Star Bicuits
Simple, low sugar star biscuits that you can add spices to and make your own.
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:
One of the big connundrums around obesity is whether people put on weight because they:
1. Eat more at each meal/snack (larger portions) so eat more calories or…
2. Eat more frequently, so eat more calories.
With levels of childhood obesity rising at an alarming rate, young children is an area we need to focus more on and study in more depth. If you become overweight as a child you are more likely to be overweight as an adult too. Habits learnt in childhood are hard to change.
A study of the UK 2011 Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children (DNSIYC) looked at the eating habits of 2564 young children (aged 4-18 months) by asking to parents to complete diet diaries to report the childrens food intake. The results were presented in an oral presentation at the European Obesity Summit in Gothenburg (1-4th June 2016). They show that overweight children consume larger portions at meals (141 calories versus 130 calories, respectively at each eating occasion), but do not eat more frequently, than healthy weight children. This may seen small, only 11 kcals higher but if a child is eating 5 times a day this could be 56 kcals extra per day, 393kcals a week and 1703kcals extra a month. It soon adds up, so the overweight children were eating an extra 2 days worth of food each month. For every extra 24 calories (100 kJ) consumed during each meal, there was a 9% increased risk of overweight/obesity.
It was LARGER PORTIONS that were shown to be the main issue. The overweight children were eating more of the same foods: (160g of a food versus 146g).
The authors conclude: “Larger portions rather than eating more often may be a risk factor for the development of childhood overweight in early life. Further prospective studies that look at the development of excess weight over time are needed to establish causation.”
The UK Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children (DNSIYC) suggests that portion sizes are larger in overweight children. I would agree that this is often the case but it is not the only issue. The research used diet diaries which are subject to under and over reporting errors.
From my experience as a dietitian and a mum, the other issue is the type of snack foods being offered to children. There are a lot of sugary snack foods available to buy in the shops and these foods seem to be used regularly as a snack item instead of fruit and vegetables. Biscuits, juices and cakes are also frequently given at toddler groups and have become the normal foods to have. Parents need to focus on the balance of the diet, ensuring children get a good intake of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and protein foods.
Being overweight now will mean that the child is likely to struggle with their weight throughout their adult years too. So the quicker a good lifestyle of eating and being active can be established the better things will be.
On the one hand we want children to learn to eat according to appetite and to be able to regulate their intake. However that is not always possible. Some children do this intuitively and others need to be taught. I find it fascinating that if I give my 2 older children a piece of cake, my boy will eat nearly all of it very quickly, then stop when he has had enough. My girl will eat it slowly and leave some to have later on. Both eat according to their appetite but eat in a very different way. Parents need to teach children that it is ok to leave food when they are full, that all foods are healthy in moderation and that listening to their appetite cues is essential.
Second helpings is a tricky issue. I do let my children have seconds if they ask but it may only be a small spoonful if I know they have had enough. Or I may talk through with them “Are they actually still hungry, do they want to wait for the next eating occasion instead, would having fruit or vegetables be a better option?” Think through how much your child had had to eat and if it should have been enough. Are they asking for more because it is a specific meal? (my children always ask for seconds of risotto and pasta). If you feel that they have had enough then keep seconds to vegetables or salad. We have started having salad on the table each night and it is making a huge difference to my girl who is really enjoying have seconds and thirds of salad!
Good guidance on portion sizes is available here from the Infant and Toddler Forum, here is a little snap shot, you can click through to get the full guidance.
As a general rule for fruit, vegetables and wholegrain starchy foods you can use your child’s fist or palm as a portion size. I’m planning on doing a blog post showing the portions I give to my children very soon.
I love vegetarian meals and we actually eat more vegetarian meals in our house than meat containing ones. However it is all too easy to get stuck in a rut. I realised that I haven’t used many beans for a while and I have a store of dried ones of all varieties. Partially this is because I don’t cope too well with having large portions of them in my diet. Also I wasn’t sure my boy would be best impressed with me. How wrong I was, tthe dish was emptied, plates all cleared and everyone had seconds!
Beans and Pulses are a Fodmap so they can cause issues for some people… the trick is to work out how much you can tolerate, I know my limit is a small portion (2 tbsp) about once a week. As with many things it is all about tolerance and moderation.
Apparently 2016 is the year of pulses. This group of foods includes beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils, they are probably best know for their fibre content and wind producing abilites! It is recommended that we eat 30g a day of fibre, which is actually a fair amount to fit in and requires a healthy, well thought out eating plan for your day. Pulses can be a helpful way to get that fibre content up, 3 tbsp is about 6g fibre. They are a great source of insoluble fibre to help sweep the system through and helps with constipation issues. They also contain soluble fibre, which binds with cholesterol stopping it being absorbed and can help control blood sugar levels too.
A great protein source for vegans and vegetarians too. However they do not contain all the essential amino acids that our body needs to build proteins, so my advice is to always eat a variety of protein sources and a variety of different pulses. In this recipe I included cannellini beans and chickpeas.
Added bonus 3 tbsp (80g) also counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables. This recipe contains 400g beans so 5 adult portions. Along with the vegetables this works out at 3 portions of vegetables in a meal.
These little beauties are something that I always like to have a ready supply of in the freezer. They make an easy lunch and are great to take out and about. We are in that stage where the toddler boy likes to eat lunch early which is usually when we are out and about, so lots of packed lunches are needed. Seeing as he isn’t keen on sandwiches I have to be slightly more inventive. Savoury muffins, savoury flapjack and pinwheels all go down well.
Courgettes are one of those vegetables that I love because you can add them into recipes without them being hugely noticeable. Grated courgette goes into a lot of things I make! Not don’t get me wrong, I’m not into hiding vegetables but I do like to add extra veggies to dishes when I can. My boy isn’t that keen on eating vegetables on their own so they need to be mixed into dishes. You could use any combo of toppings in these, be inspired by your fridge!
You could use pastry to make these, however I prefer pizza dough. I tend to make a large batch of the dough in the bread machine, make pizza with half and then make these with the rest. Knock them up, bake and freeze in a freezer bag. They defrost pretty quick for an easy, healthy lunch.