Healthy Recipes to Cook with Kids
Cooking with children teaches them independence, is great fun and helps them learn about healthy eating – provided of course that the recipes they cook are healthy ones!
Good recipes for kids need to be simple to make, quick to cook so they don’t lose interest and delicious to eat. Most children like to start with their favourites, which tend to be cakes, biscuits and puddings. But once they’ve mastered the chocolate cornflake cakes and strawberry shortcake, try to move them on to foods that are more nutritious.
This is not as hard as it sounds! Here are some suggestions to get the ball rolling.
Avocado, Mozzarella and Tomato Salad
This looks gorgeous and is really easy to make. Just slice the three ingredients and arrange them in spirals round the plate – point out to the kids that this is an Italian dish and that the avocado, mozzarella and tomato look like the Italian flag … Then drizzle with dressing made with olive oil and white wine vinegar, garnish with chopped basil and serve with an Italian bread like ciabatta or focaccia.
Kids can be a bit tricky about vegetables, but they’ll often be more enthusiastic if they’re dressed up in a cheese sauce. Cook the vegetables so they’re still a little crunchy, and put them in a flame-proof dish. Good ones to use include carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, peas and potatoes – but most vegetables work well with this recipe, so leave it to the kids to decide. Start the sauce with a flour and butter roux, then gradually add milk until it’s the right consistency. Add cheese at the end (and mustard if the children like it). Then pour over the vegetables and pop under the grill until the cheese bubbles.
Crispy Potato Wedges
Most children love chips, but all that fat isn’t very good for them, so this is a delicious alternative. Cut baking potatoes into wedges, rinse and pat dry. Toss them in a bowl with olive oil, pepper and a little salt, then put them on a greased baking tray. Bake in a hot oven for about 40 minutes until the potatoes are soft in the middle and crisp and golden on the outside. Great with fish or meat and delicious as a snack with a salsa or sour cream dip (mix with some plain yoghurt and chives – it’s healthier and tastes delicious).
Risotto is a really versatile dish that children will love adapting to include their favourite ingredients. Essentially, it’s rice cooked in stock until the grains have absorbed all the liquid, with vegetables like onions, garlic, leeks, peppers mushrooms and peas. Bacon, ham and tomato puree are great additions – and for special occasions, a dash of cream turns it into a dish fit for a king. The method is very simple. Sauté all the ingredients except the rice in olive oil until soft, add the rice and cook for another couple of minutes, then pour in a little stock. Add more gradually until no more liquid can be absorbed and the rice is tender. Garnish with plenty of fresh herbs.
Nearly all children enjoy pizza, but some ready-made or takeaway versions are laden with fat and salt. Making their own is very simple and much healthier. The base can be anything from a shop-bought pizza base or home-made dough, to pitta bread, crumpets or even a slice of toast. Spread with a tomato topping – pasta sauce from a jar is fine (but watch out for salt) or try sieved/canned/fresh tomatoes whizzed up with some herbs. Children can add more or less anything they fancy after that. Chopped mushrooms, peppers, onions, leeks, asparagus, aubergines, spinach and globe artichokes are all good. Cooked and cured meats and tinned fish like tuna work well and an egg cracked on top of spinach and ricotta is very tasty. Acidic fruits like pineapple complement ham or bacon. Mozzarella is the traditional cheese for pizza, but just about any variety will do. Adventurous kids might like to try goat’s cheese. If vegetables are the type that need boiling, cook them lightly first. Some people prefer to sauté the onions, peppers etc too. If using crumpets, toast or similar, cook the topping first – then pile on the cheese and finish off under the grill. If using an authentic pizza base, the whole lot can go in the oven.
Taco shells are a great vehicle for healthy fillings – and pitta bread or pancakes work just as well. The authentic Mexican Taco is packed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, kidney beans, mince and chilli. Red peppers, aubergines and courgettes are great additions; kids could also try chick peas to replace the beans and quorn mince or grated carrot to replace the meat. Then top with anything from sour cream or guacamole to shredded lettuce, grated cheese, chopped tomatoes or salsa.
Jacket Potatoes with a Difference
Jacket potatoes are a great family staple, delicious with cheese, beans, tuna and sweetcorn, sour cream and chives – just about anything in fact. But even with so many possible toppings, jackets can be a bit ordinary. To lift them into another sphere, try scooping out the cooked potato and mashing it with plain yoghurt and cheese until fluffy, then top with grated cheese and herbs and finish under the grill. Or really go to town and mash the cooked potato with cheese, chives and milk, fold in some whisked egg whites, and bake for a further 10 – 15 minutes. The result – a jacket soufflé; deliciously light with a crispy, cheesy top.
Classy Hot Dogs
Kids love hot dogs, but let’s face it – hot dog sausages can be watery and full of preservatives and there’s not much goodness in the bun either. It’s easy to make hot dogs in another class altogether. Get some really good quality butcher’s sausages or try the organic ranges from the supermarket – some include tasty and nutritious extras like leeks or cranberries. Grill or oven cook until burnished brown. It’s a good idea to prick them first and sit them on a rack, so the excess fat drains away. Buy some wholemeal rolls or better still, make them at home – devotees of the bread machine will know how easy it is to make dough in the machine, shape it by hand and finish off in the oven. Provide a choice of sautéed onions, relishes, pickles, sauces or mustards and serve with a crunchy green salad.
Fish Fingers? No Thanks!
Fish fingers are OK for a quick meal when the family’s in a rush, but they don’t really get the tastebuds tingling. Home-made fish cakes are another matter. Banish all thoughts of the terrible school version in the dim and distant past – these can be a princely, quick and healthy meal. Use good quality fish, microwaved or poached in milk, stock or water. Salmon or haddock are good choices – be sparing with smoked fish because of the salt content, but a little mixed in is very tasty. Tinned fish is also surprisingly good. Use up yesterday’s leftover mash or make some fresh and mix with the cooked or tinned fish, some sautéed onion and/or leeks and herbs such as dill or tarragon. Shape into rounds and coat with seasoned flour. Then shallow fry in a light oil such as groundnut or sunflower. If the kids are feeling adventurous, try adding chopped gherkins or capers to the mix! Serve with tartar or horseradish sauce and broccoli spears.
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Home-made meatballs are much healthier than the tinned or shop-bought varieties, which tend to be high in fat, additives and salt. Use lean minced beef, pork or lamb or quorn mince for vegetarians. Mix with chopped onion, parsley, beaten egg, breadcrumbs and seasoning. Shallow fry, then serve on top of spaghetti (there’s a song about that somewhere …) covered in tomato sauce. Lots of vegetables can be disguised in homemade sauces – great for children who are a bit militant about them. Try whizzing up tomatoes with carrots, peppers, herbs, onions and garlic.
Small is Beautiful
There’s something about miniature food that children really love. Mini vegetables like baby carrots, baby corn and cherry tomatoes are usually much more popular than the bigger varieties and the same goes for other meals too. It’s just as easy to cut out a small circle of pastry and pop it on top of an individual ramekin as it is to cover a large pie dish and if the pie topping is mashed potato (for example, in a shepherd’s pie or fish pie), it’s even easier. In the same way, try making single portions of fruit crumbles or a mini trifle for each person in the family.
Fruit Dipped in Chocolate
Chocolate and fruit are perfect partners – but don’t stop at a bag of chocolate raisins from the supermarket. All sorts of fresh and dried fruits are delicious dipped in melted chocolate. Cherries, apricots, strawberries, banana wheels and slices of plum work particularly well. Kids can even have a fondue session – with a bowl of melted chocolate and a box of cocktail sticks provided, they’ll be away! If they can bear to wait, the fruits will be even tastier popped in the fridge on a sheet of greaseproof paper for an hour or so.