by Jess Crocker
Manager, Brighton & Hove Food Partnership
We’ve all been there – after a long day, staring into the fridge willing a decent meal to appear as a tired child moans in our ear. We want to serve up healthy meals our children love, but this ideal can seem far away at times. At the Food Partnership we’ve been teaching adults and families about cookery and nutrition for over 10 years so we’ve seen these same issues again and again. So many of our strongest happy memories are connected to food, so we want to see more families finding simple ways to have positive experiences together in the kitchen and at the dining table.
Here’s our top time-saving tips to make healthy meals easier:
• Hidden veg tomato sauce Lots of parents blend or chop vegetables into pasta sauce to up their children’s veg intake, but we love to find new ways to make this go even further – freeze a large batch of the sauce so you can use it on pita-bread pizzas (see below), in stews, shepherd’s pie and or even as a base for a minestrone soup.
• Do it together
Getting children involved in cooking is a great way to get them trying new foods. Many parents involve even young children in activities like baking but the time, sugar and mess means this isn’t really an everyday option. We often find family meals that give children choice and control help to improve eating habits – and this can be quick too. One of our favourites is pita bread pizzas – all you need are store-bought breads, tomato paste or a basic sauce, grated cheese and some toppings (think frozen sweetcorn, peppers, chopped fresh tomato). Even toddlers can assemble the pizza themselves and wait excitedly to try their creation.
• Don’t fear frozen
Frozen veg often retains more nutrients than fresh food which has been left to languish in the fridge, plus you can portion out exactly what you need and cook it quickly. Keep a range of veg (and fruit) in the freezer to ensure your children get a good variety of foods without spending a fortune. Toddlers who are teething may even enjoy eating frozen peas or sweetcorn, and a little bit of frozen spinach can disperse through a dish as a very gentle introduction to more bitter flavours. It can take up to fifteen times for children to accept a new food, so don’t worry if it takes a while, if you’re eating it yourself they should eventually follow suit.
• Protein power
People often focus on vegetable intake in children – don’t forget protein. Children need two portions per day, roughly the size of their own fist or a handful. As well as meat, eggs and fish, we find that red lentils cook quickly and can easily disappear into a tasty carrot soup or casserole to add extra nutrition easily.
Check out our website for lots of quick and easy family recipes. If you have a top tip or recipe that helps your family eat quickly and well, we’d love to hear from you.
Local non-profit organisation, the Food Partnership has just launched a new ‘Community Kitchen’ on Queens Road in central Brighton – a cookery school where classes with chefs and food experts help subsidise low-cost, accessible community cookery activities.