As we welcome the start of a New Year, and the over indulgences of Christmas start to fade, our focus inevitably turns to making changes for the better, and adopting a more healthy nutritious diet. Here at Cooking Them Healthy we feel strongly that the same should be applied to our children and would like to help you make these changes.
In order to help you adopt a more nutritious approach to family life, we have compiled our 8 Top Tips on creating an easily achievable healthy balanced diet for the whole family. Start by making small, approachable steps which you can build upon throughout the year.
1) Focus on morning fuel
Many children go off to school after a breakfast of sugary cereals, providing little nutritional benefit and risking mid-morning energy slumps. A solid breakfast, combining quality protein with slow releasing carbohydrates, is a great way to ensure your family gets the best out of their day. A simple yet delicious bowl of porridge with sultanas, nuts and seeds or boiled/scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast is ideal. Perhaps try our Bircher Muesli, or for days when time is poor, or for breakfast on the go, these muffins are a great freezer standby.
Blueberry and Banana Muffins
- 70g butter melted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 zest of an orange (optional)
- 150g white spelt flour or gluten free flour
- 1/2 a ripe banana mashed
- 115ml maple
- 100g blueberries
- 1 egg
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a muffin tin with paper cases
Put the melted butter in a bowl and add in all the wet ingredients (banana, maple syrup, egg) and mix well.
In a separate bowl sift together all the dry ingredients.
Next add the dry ingredients to the wet and sprinkle in the blueberries (I use frozen).
Do this quickly but lightly – don’t over work the mix. A maximum of 12 strokes should be enough. If a touch too thick you can add a little splash of milk or water to loosen.
Dollop large tablespoons into your muffin cases – so they are a generous 2/3rds full. Sprinkle with oats and bake for 20-25 minutes until risen, golden brown and if a skewer is inserted it comes out clean or with a slightly wet crumb.
I tend to make a double batch of these and then freeze – they are great reheated in the oven.
2) Provide a base of quality protein
Protein is essential for rapidly growing young bodies. It is also important for healthy brain and mood function, as well as helping to stabilise blood sugar levels. Aim to provide a good quality protein source as the base for each meal, of which fish is a brilliant option (others include chicken, lamb, beef, eggs, lentils, pulses and nuts & seeds). Start to increase your awareness that by their very nature many typical children’s foods lack quality protein (e.g pasta with tomato sauce, processed breakfast cereals). SEE SESAME SEED SALMON STICKS RECIPE.
Glazed Sesame Salmon Sticks
Serves 4 / Prep time 5 minutes
- 2 salmon fillets – skin removed
- 2 tablespoons tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 4-5 heaped tablespoons sesame seeds
- small wooden skewers
Heat the oven to 180 – preheat an oiled baking sheet.
Take the wooden skewers and soak in water whilst you are preparing the salmon. Mix together the soy, maple syrup and Dijon mustard in a bowl. Cut up the fish into bite sized chunks (about 1 inch pieces) and add to the soy mix. Leave to marinate for a few moments.
Next get a plate and place the sesame seeds on it. Take the salmon pieces out of the marinade and carefully coat them in the sesame seeds. Place a few chunks on each skewer (if you don’t have a skewer just do them as nuggets).
Place on the baking sheet and in the oven for 5 minutes and then turn over and cook for another 5 minutes until the salmon is cooked through.
3) Make the move from white to brown
Gradually make the switch from white to brown which applies to pretty much all foods, such as rice, pasta, bread etc. Start by embracing the abundance of alternative grains available in even the smallest of supermarkets – quinoa, bulgar wheat and rice noodles. Many come vacuum packed or pre-cooked for ease and speed so all that is required is some imagination and creativity.
Bulgar Salad with Feta, Raisins, Berries and Broccoli
Serves 4 adults
- 150g bulgar wheat
- 25g dried berries
- 25g pumpkin seeds
- 40g raisons
- 50g toasted pinenuts
- 40g feta crumbled
- 1/2 the zest of one lemon
- A handful of small broccoli floretts
- Olive oil
- Reduced salt Bouillon Powder – 1 teaspoon approx
Rinse the bulgar lightly in a sieve and then pop into a saucepan and cover with boiling water (cover so there is about 1cm of water on top) and sprinkle over the bouillon.
Bring up to the boil and then simmer gently for 5-10 minutes or until the grain has puffed up and absorbed all the water and is soft when tasted. If its still firm but the pan dry – add a splash more water and continue to cook until done. Whilst its cooking add in your broccoli florets and cook with the bulgar wheat.
Take off the heat and cool.
Then simply add in all the other ingredients and mix well. Add enough olive out to coat the grains and add flavour.
Season well and serve
4) Eat the rainbow
Good nutrition used to be just about vitamins, minerals and food groups. With advances in nutritional research, we have started to understand some of the health benefits of a colourful range of plant compounds we call phytonutrients. Try and include as many colourful vegetables on your plate as possible – it looks so pretty and much more appetizing too.
Serves 2 adults or 4 kids
- 2 ripe avocadoes
- 1 small red onion
- 1 chilli or ½ teaspoon chilli powder or a few dashes of tabasco
- 1 large tomato chopped or 4-6 small ones cut into quarters
- Lemon juice to taste
- 1 red pepper cut into slices
- 1 carrot cut into batons
Halve, peel and slice the avocados and place in a large mixing bowl – with a wooden spoon mash up the avocado yet keep some lumps as its nice to have some texture
Chop up the onion very finely and chop up the tomatoes. Mix in with the avocado.
Then carefully add in the chilli powder, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper
Enjoy with crudites, pitta crisps or rice cakes – also delicious as a sandwich filling with smoked salmon
5) Food as medicine
We are passionate about the value of using food as a tool to help keep us healthy, after all, as the saying goes “we are what we eat”. Many foods including spices and herbs carry fantastic nutritional benefits, plus they taste great and add depth to meals. Turmeric for example has rich anti-inflammatory properties. Please don’t assume these flavours are too ‘grown up’ for children, most will relish them. See our website, www.cookingthemhealthy.com for further inspiration.
Cold-busting One Pot Chicken
Serves 4-6 /20 minutes prep time
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 8 pieces of chicken thighs, drumsticks or legs
- 200g wholegrain brown rice
- 400ml water or vegetable stock- if using powdered stock use reduced salt
- I large sweet potato cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 cloves of garlic sliced
- 4 cm piece of ginger chopped
- 1 lemon grass
- 1 red bell pepper cut into small pieces
- 1 mild red chilli – optional and a good idea to test the heat of the chilli on the tip of your tongue before cooking
- a generous handful of small broccoli florets
Pre heat the oven to 160.
Place a casserole dish (with a well fitting lid) on a medium to high heat, add the oil and heat. Next season the chicken pieces with a sprinkling of salt and place in the pan – try not to over crowd the pan, if you think it’s going to be a squeeze you can do it in batches.
It will take 5-10 minutes to get a lovely golden brown crispness to the skin. Take the chicken pieces out and keep on a plate while you assemble the rest of the dish. Remember at this stage the chicken is not cooked just browned – browning gives flavour to your dish.
Add your garlic and ginger to the pan and gently cook for a few moments (if the pan is looking dry you can add a touch more oil) next add in the red pepper and sweet potato and stir. Then add in the rice and just stir around to get a light coating of oil then add in the stock. Place the chicken pieces on top and add in the whole lemongrass and chilli so they are submerged in the liquid. Wait until it comes up to the boil before turning to a gentle simmer. Place the lid on top and cook for 30 – 35 minutes until the rice is cooked (but not dry) and chicken cooked through.
5 minutes before serving add the broccoli to the pot and pop the lid back on – it will steam cook inside.
Make sure you remove the lemongrass and whole chilli before serving.
6) Enjoy family-friendly meals
Life can be much more straight forward if you only have one family meal to prepare, particularly as many of us are short of time. Ideally try and eat together as a family to encourage solid eating habits from an early age. We would encourage you to make a version of a meal that you can make for your children and then with a few very simple tweaks, you can enjoy later yourself.
Cauliflower and New Potato Curry
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 large garlic or 2 small finely chopped or pasted
- 1 onion sliced
- 280g new potatoes
- 1 red pepper finely sliced
- 1 cauliflower broken into florets
- 2 cm ginger finely chopped
- 1/2 or 1 chilli – depending on the heat (test a bit on your tongue before cooking)
- 1 x 400ml can coconut milk
- 1 handful fresh coriander
- toasted nuts (cashew, almond – optional)
Heat a little butter or oil in a large saucepan and add your onions. Fry until softening and turning translucent. Next add in the garlic, ginger and chilli and stir through for about 30 seconds. Then add in the mustard seeds, tumeric, cumin and coriander and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. Heating spices brings their flavour out but too hot and they often start to stick to the pan and burn.
Next add in your potatoes and coat in the spicy mix.
Then add in the coconut milk and bring up to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and pop the lid on to the pan and leave for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through – you can tell when checked with a cutlery knife, if the knife goes in easily and feels soft its cooked.
Then add in the cauliflower and pop the lid back on for 3-5 minutes (depending on the size of the florets) – until just tender.
Stir through the red pepper just for a few minutes to take out the raw edge, and for a more adult touch add the coriander and sprinkle with toasted nuts – such as cashews or almonds
7) Get little ones involved
Getting children involved with food preparation is a brilliant way to excite their interest in healthy eating. Enlist their help in choosing fruit and vegetables when out shopping, and ask for their help in preparing meals – you will be amazed how positively they respond. This also often helps drum up enthusiasm in fussy eaters and helps to encourage them to try foods that are typically pushed to the side of the plate.
It’s A Wrap Pizza
- 2 wholemeal wraps (ideally gluten-free)
- 3 generous tablespoons of tomato puree
- 150g grated mozzarella – approx. can use more or less according to your taste (the pre grated stuff works best)
- a chunk of feta – about ¼ to ½ a packet
- 2 tomatoes – finely sliced
- a handful of black olives
Pre heat the oven to 200. Place your wraps on a flat baking tray and squeeze over your tomatoe puree. Using the back of a spoon spread all over the wrap.
Sprinkle over the grated mozerella, then the tomatoes, feta and black olives and place in the oven for 10 minutes – until some places have gone a bit brown and tomatoes and cheese have softened and started to melt.
Cut in to pieces or wedges and enjoy hot or cold
8) Encourage alternatives to refined sugar
By starting to replace biscuits with fresh fruit, nuts and dried fruit you are offering more nutritious alternatives that are both satisfying and delicious. Start gradually and you will soon find your little ones will not miss the high sugar nutrient poor alternatives. Of course everyone deserves a treat otherwise life would be no fun, but there are ways to offer healthier alternatives such as this fantastic recipe – always a hit with the little ones!
Healthy Rice Crispy Squares
Makes 10-15 squares
- 50g brown rice puffed cereal
- 100g ground almonds
- 20g butter
- 100g honey
- 70g dried apricots chopped
- 40g raisins
- 25g dried mango chopped (optional)
Pop the ground almonds, honey and butter into a pan and heat up for a couple of minutes. It will gradually soften and go paste like and runny.
Then in a bowl mix together the dried fruit, rice puffs and almond/honey mix.
Line a dish/baking sheet/ cake tin with some silicone paper and press the rice crispy mix into the tin. Pop in to the freezer for about an hour to help it set.
Cut into your desired shapes and eat whilst cold.