With the schools closed and the entire population being told to stay at home as a result of COVID-19, it’s a challenging time especially for young families – to say the least.

Thanks to stockpiling and restricted food deliveries, grocery shopping can be difficult; you might struggle to find your usual go-to ingredients. And with the kids at home, planning three nutritious and well-balanced meals for the foreseeable future might seem like a daunting task. Don’t worry.

Organic food brand Piccolo has come to the rescue with their top tips on using your pantry essentials to make the most out of batch cooking for the whole family. From infant nutrition to family-sized meals from scratch, these top tips and pantry recipes will see you through the next few weeks, with many more available on their website.

Baby food delivered to your door

Before we get started with our top tips and easy recipes, we thought it pertinent to let you know about Piccolo’s temporary online store. Piccolo understand that some days you WILL need a break, and they’re here to lend you a helping hand.

Right now, you can order one month’s supply of Piccolo’s baby meals pouches, pastas and cooking sauces, as well as its range of organic formula milks. These precious food bundles will be delivered straight to your doorstep, with no fuss, meaning you can stay safe indoors.

What’s more, with every order, Piccolo will be donating five baby meals to food banks to help vulnerable children in this time of need.

Take the pressure off

Piccolo’s infant nutritionist Alice Fotheringham has this to say: “Don’t focus on what they are eating at each meal, but look at what they are eating over the whole week. Chances are they’re getting a good variety of ingredients over a few days, so it doesn’t matter if you can’t get hold of something one day or you don’t get a chance to cook another.” – sounds like sage advice to us.

Top tips for eating as a family during self-isolation

  • Eat lots of vegetables: fresh, frozen and tinned – however you can get them in
  • Include starchy carbs which are high in fibre: wholemeal pasta, rice and grains to keep you fuller for longer
  • Don’t neglect your protein levels: meat and fish are great for satiety – you can also bulk meals out with vegetarian sources of protein like beans, pulses and peas
  • Healthy fats, healthy mind: seeds, nuts and nut butters improve brain function (more almond butter please!)
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth, but limit processed, sugary snacks – try making a couple of treats to keep everyone happy. Do try to be weary on watching overall sugar intake daily keeping in mind sugar recommendations for the age of your child per day (which schools try to follow in their school cafeteria menus) as no one needs hyperactive kids and sugar highs and lows when running around outside isn’t an option!
  • Your freezer is your friend! Buying meat, bread and fruit and veg which you can freeze is a lifesaver when it comes to making your food last. As well as freezing before cooking, you can batch-cook lots of recipes which will last for a few months in your freezer!
  • Pasta and grains are also a safe bet; they’re affordable, versatile and they’ll last in your pantry for months to come. These carbs are full of fibre to keep you feeling satisfied and can also be kept in the fridge for around 5 days once cooked.
  • Chickpeas, beans, lentils and split peas are wonderful additions to make your meals a little more interesting, and double up as a source of protein too!

Breakfast meal ideas

Baked Oats with Apple and Cinnamon

Oats are a great carb to choose – rich in fibre, and higher in protein and fat than other grains, they’ve also been found to support sleep.

This is a quick and easy recipe for your little one to get involved with if they’re new to cooking – with only 10 minutes of prep, you won’t have to hold their attention for long!

It’s also super versatile, so if you’re having trouble getting fresh fruit, sub the apple for some frozen berries.

Ingredients

  • 160g oats
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and cored
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Handful raisins
  • 500ml oat milk
  • 1 tbsp nut butter or tahini
  • Sprinkle of brown sugar (optional)

TOP TIP: How to make this baby-friendly: grate the apple instead of cutting into chunks and remove sprinkling of sugar on top and serve before baking for a smoother consistency for 6-month-olds.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/ Gas mark 4.
  • In a microwave proof mixing bowl, soak the oats in a cup of boiling water for around 10 minutes, until all or most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  • While the oats are soaking, peel and roughly chop the apple into small chunks. Add the apple to the oat mixture and all the other ingredients and stir well.
  • Pop the oat mixture into the microwave for 3 minutes, taking out half way through to stir. After 3 minutes most of the liquid should have been absorbed and be the consistency of porridge.
  • Give it a stir and transfer to two greased ramekins. Decorate with extra raisins and a sprinkle of cinnamon and brown sugar and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. Enjoy warm.

Multi-seed bread

This bread is the perfect staple to have in your house. With no proving & no kneading, it’s a doddle to make – and full of fibre, fatty acids and vitamins. Why not make two at a time – eat one now and freeze the other!

Ingredients

  • 200g plain flour
  • 400g wholemeal flour
  • 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp linseeds
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 550 ml full-fat milk or plant milk
  • 50ml sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon sunflower seeds

Make this baby-friendly: when making this loaf, before adding the salt, remove a small bowl of the mixture and add to paper cups in a muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes at 180C. There is enough mixture to make one loaf with salt for adults and 3-4 salt-free bread cupcakes, or simply make the loaf without the salt.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/ Gas mark 4.
  • Grease a 900g loaf tin.
  • In a large bowl (or food processor), mix all the dry ingredients together and in the centre form a well. Add in the treacle and slowly add the milk, mixing together until fully combined and you have a wet dough (a bit like stiff porridge).
  • Add the additional water if you need to make looser.
  • Pour into the tin and sprinkle over the additional sunflower seeds.
  • Bake for an hour or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Take out of tin and let cool on a wire rack.

Lunch meal ideas

Minestrone Soup

This recipe was made for batch-cooking! A saviour in busy households when you’re looking for something quick, easy and satisfying, packed with vegetables, protein and wholemeal carbs.

The soup calls for tinned vegetables and beans, so a great go-to when you can’t get your hands on fresh veg.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 2 rashers high welfare streaky bacon chopped(optional)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 courgette, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried oregano
  • 400 g can chopped tomatoes
  • 400 g can cannelloni beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 litre chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 250 g frozen mixed vegetables
  • 75 g wholemeal pasta
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese to serve

Method

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, sauté for 5 minutes until softened.
  • Add the garlic and bacon and fry for 2 to 3 minutes
  • Stir in the chopped carrot and courgette and fry for a few minutes before adding in the tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil
  • Once boiling add the beans and frozen vegetables and bring back to the boil
  • If using spaghetti, break into short pieces, otherwise stir the pasta into the pan
  • Simmer for 15 minutes. Spoon into warm serving bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese before serving

Veggie Couscous

Another freezer-friendly dish and one which the kids can help prepare. Couscous is super nutritious, a great plant-based source of protein and boosts your immune system – a win win…win?

Ingredients

  • 50g couscous
  • 1 Piccolo vegetable stock cube
  • 75ml boiling water
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 3 cherry tomatoes. chopped
  • 2 inch piece of cucumber, chopped into pieces
  • 25g sweetcorn
  • 1 spring onion, finely diced

Method

  • While the kettle is boiling, chop all the vegetables into really small pieces.
  • Place the couscous in a large heat proof bowl, and in a mug crumble the stock cube and pour over the boiling water, mixing to dissolve the stock cube
  • In the bowl with couscous, pour the boiling water, squeeze of lemon juice and olive oil, mix together and place a tea towel over the bowl and set aside for five minutes.
  • Once cooked, fluff up the couscous with a fork add the vegetables and stir well. If you want to add herbs, nuts, olives or dried fruits, stir these in, too.

Dinner meal ideas

Walnut & Basil Pesto with Roasted Chicken & Wholemeal Pasta

This pesto and chicken pasta is a Piccolo favourite, and a great option if you have some pasta to use up. The pesto is easy to make and you can combine it with lots of other dishes over the next few weeks to increase your intake of healthy fats.

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 300g spinach or wholegrain fusilli pasta
  • 2 handfuls of spinach
  • Pesto
  • 1 handful of spinach
  • 1 handful of basil (including stalks)
  • 2 tbsp walnuts/ almonds or pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp Parmesan, grated
  • 1 Piccolo veg stock cube
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

TOP TIP: Homemade pesto is a great food for babies as it has a lot less salt than shop-bought. Simply remove the salt from this recipe for baby-friendly pesto pasta!

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line a baking tray with baking paper
  • Boil the pasta as per packet instructions (when making I make double the pasta and use for lunch the next day). When cooked, drain, add in the spinach leaves and mix through to wilt slightly in the heat. Set aside.
  • While the pasta is cooking, lay the chicken breast on a piece of cling film, place another piece on top and bash the chicken breast with a rolling pin until it is a couple of cm thick. Cut in half, season with salt and pepper and place on the baking tray. Roast for 8-10 minutes, turning over half-way through. Ensure cooked through.
  • While the chicken is cooking, make your pesto in a small blender. Add all the ingredients and blend well. If the mixture is too dry, add more olive oil. Season to taste.
  • Mix some of the pesto into the pasta and spinach and place into two bowls, chop some cooked chicken slices on top and grate over some additional grated parmesan.

Vegetarian Burgers with a Tahini Sauce

Using only common cupboard ingredients, these veggie burgers are perfect when fresh produce isn’t so easy to get hold of – and they go down a treat with kids (especially when they’re let loose with the food processor). Full of ingredients which support sleep, like oats, chickpeas and sweet potatoes, they’re a god-send when they’re feeling a little restless and super easy to batch cook and freeze!

Ingredients

  • Tahini sauce
  • 150g full fat natural yoghurt or unsweetened non-dairy yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1 good squeeze lemon juice
  • For the veggie burgers
  • 1 x Piccolo vegetarian stock cube, crumbled
  • 100g sweet potato
  • 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 25g porridge oats
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sundried Tomatoes

Method

  • To make the tahini sauce, mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and set aside to allow the flavours to mingle.
  • If you have a microwave, microwave the sweet potatoes for 6-8 minutes until soft. Once cooked, scrap out the insides of the potatoes and add to a food processor. If you do not have a microwave, simply grate the potatoes into the processor. Add all the other ingredients into the food processor. Blend on the pulse setting until the mixture comes together to make a thick, but not totally smooth, paste.
  • Divide the burger mixture into four even pieces and roll into balls. Flatten into burger shapes.
  • Brush a large non-stick frying pan with a little oil and fry the burgers over a medium heat for 5–6 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned and hot through.
  • Serve the burgers in warmed pitta bread with salad and the tahini sauce.

Sweet treats for all the family

Crescent Moon Chocolate Biscotti

Ingredients

  • 220g whole almonds, finely chopped
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 335g milk chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons water

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180°. Line baking sheet with parchment paper
  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt. Add finely chopped almonds, and mix.
  • In a mixer, mix butter and sugar on medium speed for 1-1/2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time.
  • Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined to make a dough
  • Remove the dough and using your hands, divide the dough into two or three pieces and form into long flat shapes about 8″ long x 1-1/2 inches wide. Place the hande of a wooden spoon in the middle of the sausage of dough and press lightly down, shaping the dough up around the handle, to make into a crescent shape
  • Place on the lined baking sheets and bake the shapes for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, gently cut the loaves into 1/2 inch slices (a serrated bread knife works best). Return to the baking sheet fitting as many as you can on the baking sheet, you may need to do this in batches.
  • Bake the biscotti for another 3-4 minutes on each side, less if you like it softer. Makes about 24
  • Decorate with 200g dark chocolate, melted

Valentines Biscuits

If you’re anything like us, you’ll need a little something to satisfy your sweet tooth – and we’ve got just the recipes for you, using pantry essentials only. Kids love baking (almost as much as we love clearing up afterwards…) so it’s a great time to get them hands on in the kitchen and focus some of their energy on experimenting with different ways of decorating.

Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 60g (3oz) caster sugar
  • 60g (3oz) soft light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 200g plain flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 80g dried cranberries, chopped
  • 60g white chocolate chips plus 60g white chocolate for drizzling

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas mark 3.
  • Cream together the butter and both types of sugar, then break in the egg, add the vanilla essence and mix well together.
  • Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda, then add to the creamed mixture until a dough forms. Lastly stir in the cranberries and chocolate into the dough.
  • Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour to an hour. Flour a surface and roll out the dough until it is around 1 ½ cm thick (if the dough is too wet, sprinkle flour over the surface of the dough). Using cookie cutters, make shapes out of the dough and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
  • Remove and say cook in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before decorating.
  • Melt the white chocolate for drizzling, and once the cookies are cool, drizzle over with a spoon.