Where’s my dinner? A survival guide for feeding hungry children fast

When’s your most stressful time of the day? Mine used to be at about 4:45pm when my two boys were “starving” (despite having had a snack less than an hour beforehand). I’d be trying to cut up vegetables to make a wholesome dinner with pans bubbling away whilst my toddler was sobbing and trying to climb up my leg, and my 3yo was shouting that he wanted a biscuit next to me. Then sobbing as “dinner is nearly ready” wasn’t fast enough. So the wholesome dinner usually turned into pasta pesto and the focus was not accidentally stabbing or scolding either of my children whilst trying to breathe and not have a nervous breakdown.

Well, that clearly wasn’t working was it?!

So, I had to have a think. We all want to do fun and interesting things with our lives, cooking all the time is not a solution. And we don’t want to live on quick processed food. I therefore had to look at the whole week. Some days are easy and I had more time, I had to identify the days where spending time on cooking was not an option.  Here are the ways I solved it:

Plan ahead

On days that I have time I cook things early in the day to be heated up later. For example, on Sunday afternoon I made some bolognese sauce whilst my youngest had a nap and my eldest had some quiet time (aka watching Power Rangers 😂). I also use my slow cooker at least once a week as it provides a meal at the right time and there’s usually enough for another day.

Get ahead of the game aka “offence is the best defense”

I take packed lunches and snacks out wherever we go. My two are often hungry before we make it home (they take after me!). Having a sandwich or a piece of fruit ready is always very useful to ensure they’re having nutritious snacks when they need them. It’s cheaper and healthier than buying something. I got into this habit due to my youngest having a milk allergy as it was often tricky to get something to eat that was “safe” when we were out and about. Also if they fall asleep on the way home, you don’t have to worry about their schedule getting out of kilter and they hopefully won’t be as hungry by 4:45pm!

Use your freezer effectively

Some days weren’t so simple so I had to make sure that I always had suitable leftovers in the fridge or freezer. This had to be factored in on my meal plan. When I make things at the weekend I save little portions for the boys either in the freezer or the fridge. It’s all about planning. If you look at the whole month you can minimise repetition in the week.

Tip: if you are baking potatoes, put more than you need in the oven and freeze the ones you don’t use. They only take a few minutes to warm up in the microwave and make a quick meal with your filling of choice, tuna mayonaise is a fab store cupboard standby.

Have some super-quick healthy meals up your sleeve

Pasta, cous cous, baked potatoes, tortilla wraps and noodles are great bases, combine with frozen vegetables, cheese, tuna or sauces you have left over in your freezer. And don’t forget to have a can of baked beans in the cupboard, they’re surprisingly nutritious.

Quick tortilla pizza

This is not the healthiest pizza in the world but it’s a brilliant quick meal for a child if you combine it with a few bits of salad. It’s high in lycopene, protein, calcium and you can use high fibre tortillas for added goodnes. Tortillas can be kept in the freezer and pulled out when needed. It’s also good for picky eaters.

Prep: 3 mins       Cook: 5 minutes       Serves 1

Ingredients 

  • splash of vegetable oil
  • 1 wheat/corn tortilla
  • 1 squirt (approx 1 dessert spoon) tomato puree
  • 1 squirt tomato ketchup
  • a sprinkling of oregano (optional)
  • 1 handful grated cheese

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Pour the oil into a frying pan and put it on a medium heat.
  2. Place the tortilla into the pan for approx one minute until starting to get a bit of colour on the bottom, then flip over for the same amount of time. (I tried missing this step out originally but you don’t get a crispy pizza.)
  3. When both sides are a bit crispy, take out of the pan.
  4. Squirt the tomato paste and ketchup onto the tortilla, combine with a spoon and spread around the surface, sprinkle over the oregano if using and the cheese.
  5. Place the pizza onto a baking sheet (I usually cover with baking parchment to reduce the washing up) and cook in your hot oven for approximately 4-5 minutes, keep an eye on it, when the cheese is bubbling it’s ready.

In summary: have a plan, or at least a plan B! Don’t leave it until the last minute to try and make a healthy feast as it’ll do your blood pressure no good at all!

If you want some help with meal planning, see my previous blog post or get me to write one for you! More information here.

Advertisements

Meal planning

I love a meal plan, my friends and family mock me for it! But I don’t mind as I love to know in ahead what we’re eating. It’s not because I’m a control freak (much) but because it makes my life much easier and saves me money. It’s one of my ways of being kind to my future self.

I work out my meal plan so that it suits our life. On days when I work long hours I make sure we have leftovers ready in the fridge. I use my slow cooker once a week on days where I have no time to prepare food later. We usually have something fun on a Saturday like pizza that I can make with my little boy. It also means that I can look at the whole month to ensure my family is getting a nutritionally balanced diet.

How to meal plan:

  1. Sit down with your diary and work out when you will go shopping, what days you have time to cook and when you are too busy. You can then start to shape the week.
  2. Plan to reduce food waste. You can use fresh fruit and vegetables early on in the week after you have shopped and have frozen, dried and canned later on. We have set days where we have big dish meals which are usually “one pot” meals which produce leftovers. When I cook meat I buy big as it’s cheaper per kg and use it all up through the week. If there are ever excess leftovers I freeze them and eat them up when we need them. Or have a night where we just use up things in the freezer.
  3. Look at what your dietary requirements are. For example, we have 2 small boys so getting good sources of iron into their diets is important, also I always try to have 1 portion of oily fish per week as well as another portion of white fish. I also want to make sure our diets are high in fruit, vegetables and plenty of fibre. Everything can be catered for in your meal plan.
  4. Decide on how long you want the plan to be for. I like a 4 week plan as it means we don’t get bored with meals coming round too fast. It takes a couple of hours to design them but it’s worth it!

Every week I write the meal plan into my diary and write a shopping list from it. I can then look at what’s coming up and change days around if necessary. Sometimes I don’t fancy something that is coming up or I can’t cook so I’ll arrange something else.If you’re going out for a meal you can just omit one meal off the week.

For shopping you can keep the recipes handy, check what you already have in and work out what to buy. I also have a “basics” shopping list that I refer to so that I don’t forget things that we eat every day.

It works really well for us and saves me a lot of time and money. We all have such busy lives, meal plans are one way of reducing the load.

I hope this blog has inspired you and given you some tips. If you don’t have time to create your own meal plan please see my meal plan page to see if you’d like me to provide one for you.

Baked Figs

Baked figs are one of my favourite fruity desserts, however figs are often quite pricey in the UK. Therefore when I saw that you could get 4 for 85p in the supermarket I couldn’t resist!

This recipe is so easy, it takes a total of 15 minutes. It’s perfect for different dietary requirements as it can be free-from everything apart from figs and honey.

Ingredients:

  • figs
  • runny honey
  • cinnamon (optional)

Method

Rinse the figs, snip off the tough bit at the top and cut a cross into the top.

image

Put about half a teaspoon of runny honey into the middle and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired. You could also try ginger.image

Bake in a hot oven (around 200ºC) for 10 minutes.

image

Give them 5 minutes to cool down. I had one with half fat crème fraîche but you could use: cream, mascarpone, yoghurt, soya yoghurt, oat cream, coconut cream or any ice cream you have in the house. The options are limitless.

You could serve these at a dinner party or just have them at home whenever you see cheap figs like me!

Slow cooker series part 1: Vegetarian Chilli

My slow cooker (or crock pot) is one of my favourite and most used pieces of equipment in the kitchen. Not only can you prepare meals in advance, you can also do so without adding any fat. Plus they use only a bit more electricity than a traditional light bulb and therefore are cheaper being on all day than heating the oven for an hour.

I tend to use my slow cooker on a work day and make enough to have 2 meals out of it. I prefer recipes with minimal preparation and very rarely pre-cook anything.

This recipe is very easy to prepare and is high in fibre and micronutrients. Depending on your toppings or accompaniments it can be cow’s milk, soya and gluten free as well as being vegan. I’ve also popped a bonus recipe at the bottom for tortilla chips.

It looks like a long list of ingredients but if you find frozen ingredients you don’t have to do any chopping at all! It only takes about 5 minutes to combine, 10 minutes extra for chopping (I’m pretty slow!). If you do have time to fry the onions beforehand you would get a slightly nicer end result.

Disclaimer: this recipe is about as authentically Mexican as Dick Van Dyke’s English accent is in Mary Poppins! However, it is still yummy!

Ingredients

  • 1 onion chopped (or the equivalent from a pre-prepared frozen bag)
  • 3 peppers deseeded and chopped (or from frozen)
  • 1 can of green lentils rinsed and drained
  • 1 can of butter/cannellini/kidney beans
  • 2 cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can of sweetcorn or similar amount of frozen sweetcorn
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • chilli powder or fresh chillies according to taste, I put in 1/2 tsp or 1 chilli
  • a splash (approx 1 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 stock cube or bouillon of choice

Method

  1. put all the ingredients into the slow cooker and mix
  2. cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6

Serve with rice, we use basmati as it’s low GI. The choice of toppings or accompaniments include: grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, fresh coriander and homemade tortilla chips – see below.

Child’s portion:

And a grown-up portion!

Tortilla Chips

These are really easy to make if you have time and you can control how much salt you and your children have. I used 3 tortillas for 2 adults and 2 small children but had way too many! You can use corn-chips or other gluten-free options if you prefer.

Cut up the tortillas into shapes, I used scissors, and brush with a little oil. You can add salt or other flavourings at this point if you wish. Arrange on a non-stick baking tray.

Bake in a hot oven (200ºC) for 5-10 minutes until golden brown. It’s really easy to burn them so keep an eye out!

If you do not eat them all straight away, store in an air-tight container or bag. If they lose their crunch, pop them back in the oven for a couple of minutes or even the toaster. Enjoy!

Free printable-4
Click here for more dairy free recipes 

Recipe: Leftover Vegetable Soup

I have to admit I’m incredibly busy today and don’t have time to write the blog I want to write about thrifty beef stew and dumplings which I’m making today. Therefore I’m recycling an old post from an old blog. Hopefully you’ll still find it useful!

It’s easy to end up with leftover vegetables at the end of a week. It’s very tempting to go for an offer in supermarkets which leaves you with more than you really need. This week I had half a butternut squash, a quarter of a swede and half a cabbage hanging around my fridge. Try not to throw away leftover bits, keep them until you have enough to make leftover vegetable soup.

All you do to make a delicious and healthy soup is:

  1. soften an onion in oil in a big pan
  2. chop the veg up roughly and add to the pan
  3. cover with water, add some bouillon or stock and a cup of lentils
  4. bring to the boil and let it simmer until all the veg is tender and the lentils are cooked (about 20-30mins depending on how big your chunks of vegetables are)
  5. blend it all up with a hand blender or mash for a more textured soup. If you’ve diced your veg nicely you may want to leave it as is. If you find it is too thick at this point – just add more water.
  6. give it a taste and add seasoning if needed.

The key thing with leftovers soup is not to be too precious. If you don’t have an onion, don’t worry – have it without. If you don’t know how much bouillon or stock to add, don’t worry – add a teaspoon, taste when it’s cooked and add more if it needs it. You can make it to your taste, add garlic if you wish or herbs or spices.
I often add lentils to mine, they make the soup more substantial and I usually try to have some in the cupboard. Red split lentil usually cook at about the same pace of most vegetables and add a lovely earthy taste and smooth texture. I also sometimes use green lentils, they keep their shape more, and have more bite. You could add any tinned beans and if you’re really organised you could even soak dry ones overnight (alas, I always forget!). Another great addition is pearl barley.

Of course, we can’t forget about potatoes which make a lovely smooth texture once blended and are brilliant to add if you only have watery or stringy veg such as leeks, broccoli or cauliflower. Leave the skins on to add more fibre and vitamin C.

Give it a try! It’s great to try different combinations of vegetables and you’ll find that some work better than others.

I’m expecting that the soup I’m making today will contain a good 6 servings . You can always freeze it if you don’t want it all in the next couple of days. To save room in your freezer – freeze soup in bags that have a zip-lock, lay them flat and stack them.

Recipe: Spiced Apple Cake

We had a lovely day out at Gibside this week and to my delight they had surplus cooking apples and courgettes that could be taken for a donation. Well, it would have been rude not to! We had the courgette steamed that evening and I saved the apples to make a crumble. This afternoon I suggested it might be fun for my 3 year old to help with said crumble, well apparently he doesn’t like crumble. So, we compromised with a cake. I got the recipe from this recipe book which was given to me by a dear friend. Although I did modify it a bit.fullsizerender

It was time-consuming coring and peeling the apples but everything else was quick. I think it took around 20 mins to prepare before baking.

**Our version was dairy free as we still use dairy free margarine for our son with a cow’s milk allergy.**

Ingredients

  • 3oz butter/margarine (can be dairy free)
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp All Spice
  • 1lb (ish) of cooking apples
  • 2oz raisins
  • 2 eggs
  • 8oz self-raising flour
  • approx 2tbsp sugar for the top (optional) – I used brown sugar

Method

  1. Peel, core and dice the apples (I kept them and the raisins in water to prevent browning and plump the raisins up a bit)
  2. Cream butter, sugar until soft and creamy then mix in the spices
  3. Add the flour and beaten eggs together
  4. Mix in the diced apples and raisins
  5. Put mixture into a greased and lined cake tin, mine was 30cm in diameter and sprinkle sugar over the top if desired
  6. Bake at 180ºC, 160ºC for fan oven, 355ºF or Gas Mark 4 for 40-50 minutes until golden brown
  7. Can be eaten hot or cold. We had it with custard and it was really yummy! You can find dairy free substitutes for custard and cream or use your preferred alternative milk with old fashioned custard powder.

img_0082

Acknowledgement: the original recipe was adapted from one by June Falcus of Saltfleet and Skidbrooke WI from the above book.

Let me know if you like it!

Blackberries

Hello! Welcome to my new website and first blog post! I’ve recently moved to Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne and am starting out as a Freelance Dietitian as well as working part time working with adults and children with Type 1 Diabetes. If you’d like to know a bit more about me and what I do click here.

So, back to the blog… blackberries.

blackberries

Why is there a huge picture of blackberries? Well, the above are what I picked yesterday and this little post sort of summarises what I’m all about.

Blackberries are brilliant! They are free, you can eat them fresh or cook with them and you can find them EVERYWHERE at the moment (usually in my garden because I’m hopeless at weeding). Basically they are a versatile and nutritious free ingredient. They are low in calories, fat and sugar, low GI, high in fibre and bursting with vitamin C. You can buy them but I’m not sure I would when they’re so readily available. And as a special bonus it’s really fun to find and pick them with children, I usually get my 3 year old to hold the bag as I throw them in (the berries, not the children). My family had them fresh for pudding yesterday with a bit of vanilla ice cream and as soon as I pick some more I will freeze them to make some jam. Last year’s batch went down very well as Christmas presents. So keep your eye out and pick some whenever you see them. If you don’t have time to deal with them immediately wash them in cold water and pop them in a freezer bag into the freezer for when you do have time. You can cook with them or make jam straight from frozen.

RECIPE: To make jam I usually use the same weight of sugar to fruit and squeeze a lemon into it. You then boil until when you put a blob on a plate in the freezer it wrinkles. There may be healthier recipes out there but it always work for me and it’s delicious!

So why do blackberries summarise what I’m about? Well … I love food, frugality, free stuff, cooking and having fun with my children. So they’re perfect!

TOP TIP: weigh before you freeze them and write it on the freezer bag, in that way you can use them straight away and if you’re making jam can work out the proportions of your other ingredients. Also, if you have a number of bags you can add them up easily to combine.