How To Cook For Children

wp-1487096351234.jpgKids, the half pint sized food critics you love to hate!

Children are notoriously difficult little blighters to cook for especially on a shoe string budget like most parents and carers nowadays, Its all about being resourceful and creative whilst trying to maintain a healthy and balanced meal that is going to be well received by the miniature Gordon Ramsay’s of our time!

Firstly hats off to you all you like-minded individuals out there who believe that food is one of the most important things for a happy and healthy child, Food has a wonderful way of restoring order, peace and harmony to your household. Obviously there is a lot of other crucial factors in the upbringing of a child but this main focus is on the food side of things and making sure you get the most for as little as possible. As a father of three little ankle biters I have had the experience of multiple different personalities and preferences when it comes down to food. My eldest is at school, my middle one is turning 3 and my littlest one is turning 2 so our daily challenges are varied but all three are happy and very healthy individuals more so to the fact that my youngest is lactose intolerant which proves a whole different kettle of fish all together. We were lucky to find out pretty early on that my youngest was lactose intolerant, so we all made a conscious effort and adjustment to our lifestyles and eating habits, I’ve been milk, cream and butter free for about 5 years now due to health issues but whilst my fiancee was pregnant with our youngest she also felt adverse towards dairy but we wasn’t sure why as she had previously had no issues whatsoever. So we are now a totally dairy free household and have been for about a year and half, which has had a lot of personal benefits to the kids. Now I am not saying milk is bad and should be left out of your diet but we found our slight alternative lifestyle a lot more beneficial, Most people say about the whole calcium deficiency but that is easily replaced by day to day foods such as Green Leafy Vegetables,Sesame Seeds and Almonds, Trust me when you see my kids you will see what I mean by them being healthy and strong!

Now the misses and I are both very creative when it comes down to food and we try to have a family meal as much as possible but with my career its very few and far between so its usually her who ends up cooking for the whole family which is a blessing in itself. We both make sure there’s always fresh vegetables and meat or fish in the house so there is always something to knock together, My middle one is probably the most fussiest when it comes down to food by the fact that he is learning to say “no I don’t like” before he has even tried it , which as you can gather is extremely challenging at times. Now he isn’t a big meat eater but he loves to eat fish which is great for everyone else as my youngest he will eat anything that is put in front of him and same goes for my eldest so with my recipes they’re dairy free but feel free to add you own personal touch to them. Firstly I’m going to start basic then progress into the more complex and imaginative dishes. My first recipe I’m going to show you is my roasted Mediterranean vegetable and herby chicken pasta, as pasta sauces are a easy way of disguising vegetables that most children love to hate!

First off if you or your child definitely doesn’t like a certain ingredient then feel free to use an alternative.

Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable & Herby Chicken Pasta.

Serves 2 pints and 2 half pint people.

For the pasta sauce –

1 roughly diced red onion

2 red or green peppers roughly diced

2 cloves of garlic or more if you prefer a stronger flavour

8 red tomatoes chopped up roughly

1 aubergine sliced about inch thick

2 courgettes also sliced about inch thick

1 good sized sweet potato small diced about 2cm

few sprigs of oregano or alternatively a few shakes of dried mixed herbs

a good slug of olive oil

seasoning with salt and pepper is optional, for me I don’t cook with salt for the kids.

For the herby chicken –

3 healthy sized chicken breast or more if you have big eaters in the family sliced about half inch

1/4 bunch of fresh parsley roughly chopped

1 sprig of rosemary de-stalked

2 sprigs of thyme or if you can get it lemon thyme also de-stalked

olive oil to coat the chicken

again seasoning dependant on you own personal preferences

For the pasta –

My own personal preference is fusilli or penne just because its easier for the kids to eat, but pretty much any pasta will be alright for this recipe.

  1. Pre-heat you oven to Gas 6/200c/400f. With the cut up vegetables for the pasta sauce place them into a deep roasting tray and drizzle over the olive oil and dust with the herbs and optional seasoning and put into the oven for approximately 35 mins, longer if some vegetables are still hard or tough.
  2. With the sliced up chicken put into a suitable bowl where you can mix the herbs and olive oil thoroughly, leave to marinate as long as possible even preparing a few hours in advance.
  3. Once your vegetables are nicely roasted and moderately coloured off either put them through a food processor with a couple of high pulses to create more of a sauce than diced up vegetables or put them in a strong metal or plastic bowl and crush them with a rolling pin either way works perfectly as all you’re trying to achieve is breaking down the vegetables.
  4. Bring to the boil a pan of water for you pasta, usually pasta takes 8/10 mins but check your packet for instructions, meanwhile with a large frying pan or wok bring to the heat and put your sliced up chicken and herb mix in and begin to saute off with a medium heat turning over every 20 seconds or so, once the chicken begins to brown off reduce the heat and add in your vegetable mix to the pan and mix together with the chicken.
  5. Drain off your cooked pasta and quickly add to the pan with the vegetables and chicken turning over the mixture carefully on a low heat until all the pasta is covered with the sauce. Turn off the heat
  6. Time to bowl up the kids portions to leave aside to cool off, get them seated and drinks at the ready. Return to the kitchen to bowl up the remaining pasta mix for the adults. Serve and enjoy!!

Hiding food is a good way of getting vegetables into your kids but as I mentioned before all kids are different when it comes down to food, we are really lucky but also persistent with food. Just because your mini adults don’t like something one day doesn’t mean another day they won’t like it so try and keep on with varying food as much as possible making sure you get as much vitamin and mineral packed food in as possible. As I mentioned earlier on my middle one loves fish so we try to eat fish at least 2-3 times a week and try to minimise red meats as much as possible, we converted from using beef mince to using pork or turkey mince mainly to do with lower fat and a lot cheaper but we found we absolutely prefer it to beef mince now and that includes the kids. We made a wicked chilli con carne with brown rice the other day which went down an storm! So I will pass on that recipe as well as you can make it spiced but not spicy for the kids.

JoeChef’s Chilli Con Carne With Brown Rice

Serves 2 Pints and 2 Half Pint People – with sometimes leftover’s

With the spices please use less if you are cooking for little people

500g Pork mince/Turkey mince or Beef mince

1 red onion finely diced

1 red pepper finely diced

3 cloves of garlic finely sliced

1 teaspoon of dried ground cumin or less

1 teaspoon of dried ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon of paprika powder

1 can of chick peas – drained and washed

2 large handfuls of sweetcorn

1 can of red kidney beans – drained and washed

400g of tinned chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons of tomato puree

Again seasoning is option but you can always add it to your own portion when you serve

220-250g of good quality brown rice

  1. Get a large sauce pan preferably thick based that way it holds heat longer and distributes it more evenly. Add in a touch of vegetable oil and bring up to a moderate heat, add in your mince and colour it off. Bring a pan with a tight fitting lid of water to the boil for the brown rice as this takes longer to cook than plain white rice.
  2. Remove the mince from the pan and drain off the fat through a colander or sieve and leave aside. With the same pan put it back onto a moderate heat and add in the onions, peppers and garlic, saute off moving the mixture around the pan to stop burning, there should be enough residual fat/oil left in the pan so you shouldn’t need to add more.
  3. Once your mixture is lightly browned off and softened add in the cumin, coriander and paprika turning the mixture and keeping it moving until the mixture is coated in the spices, add in your mince back into the onions,peppers and garlic and lightly mixing it all together. Was your brown rice through a sieve and add your brown rice to you pan of boiling water usually brown rice takes about 40mins to cook.
  4. When you have nicely coated your mince and vegetable mixture together add in the chick peas, sweetcorn and kidney beans and mix all together. Once completed add in your tomato puree and repeat the mixing process making sure the mixture is always moving to save any burning. When everything is coated add in the tinned tomatoes and bring the whole pot up to the boil, adding a splash of water if you feel the mixture is too thick.
  5. Once your pot of chilli is brought up to the rapid bubbling stage reduce the heat down low and leave to simmer away for the remainder of time that your brown rice has left. this should be approximately 25/30 mins remaining on the rice.
  6. When your rice is about 5/10 mins away from being cooked let your rice rest off the heat with the lid on for about 10 minutes. This pause before serving helps the rice absorb the last of the moisture in the pot. If you skip it, the rice can be a little sticky and gummy when scooping it from the pot instead of light and fluffy.
  7. Portion your rice out leaving the kids to cool slightly to the side and with a ladle or serving spoon portion out your chilli con carne mix. If you have some coriander leaves to hand lightly rip them over the top and serve! If you’re like me and like your spicy food add your favourite hot sauce over the top of your chilli.

As I mentioned earlier about certain kids and even some adults being fussy eaters don’t make dinner time a battleground make it as fun and relaxing as possible. Pre-planning meals is an excellent way of taking a bit of stress out of the kitchen, so I highly recommend in getting yourself at organised as possible. We aren’t perfect parents but then again who is? But we aim to give our kids as much healthy food as possible but we do have a couple of cheat days from time to time but as with everything its all about moderation. Life’s is a highly complex and challenging game to play so wherever you can make it easy do! With certain leftovers we tend to freeze for use at those kind of days where the kids aren’t playing ball and are insisting of playing a game of who can scream the loudest with mummy and daddy slowly slipping into a mental trance of “I love my kids, they make me so happy, I love my kids, they make me so happy” over and over in their heads whilst trying to wrestle your little orangutans for a nappy change just in time before you get a what we call “Poogate” thrown around the room and smeared on the dogs. We have started getting the kids involved more and more with cooking or at least the preparation of dinner they enjoy it and so do we even if it does take twice as long. We recently all made our own pizzas when we went to the supermarket and brought own ingredients to put on top of our pizzas, but with me being a chef I wanted the kids to get involved and learn how to make proper pizzas from scratch starting with the dough, Its a lot easier than you think it just takes time and practise.

Joechef’s Pizza Funtime!

For the pizza dough –

Serves 4-6 pint & half pint people depending on how large you want your pizzas. If you don’t want to make your own pizza base then feel free to buy premade ones.

650g/1lb 5oz Italian 00 flour or all purpose flour.

7g sachet of easy-blend yeast

2 tsp sea salt

25ml/1fl oz olive oil

50ml/2fl oz warm soya milk

325ml/11fl oz warm water

For the pizza sauce –

2 large cloves of garlic chopped finely

1 white onion diced small about 1cm

3 teaspoons of olive oil

2 tinned of chopped tomatoes or about 12 diced fresh tomatoes

1/2 bunch of fresh basil leaves roughly chopped or 2 teaspoon dried if preferred

1/2 bunch of fresh oregano leaves roughly chopped or 2 teaspoons of dried

2 tablespoons of tomato puree

2 dried bay leaves

  1. To make the dough mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large mixing bowl and stir in the olive oil and soya milk. Gradually add the water, mixing well to form a soft dough ball shape.

  2. Turn the dough out on to a well floured work surface and Knead for about five minutes, until smooth and elastic. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a damp warm tea towel and leave to rise for about 1½ hours, until doubled in size.

  3. Start making your tomato sauce, into a pan add the olive oil and bring to a moderate heat throw in your diced onions and brown off then add in your sliced garlic, then add in your herbs and cook out for about 2 mins. Add in your tomato puree and continue to cookout for around 2 mins, after which add in your chopped tomatoes and keep on the simmer for about 15/20 mins. Once the sauce has cooked out with either a stick blender or food processor blitz the sauce completely. Leave the sauce to the side to cool down for later.
  4. When the dough has risen, knock it back, then knead again until smooth, roll into a ball and set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour until risen again.

  5. Preheat the oven to its highest possible setting.

  6. Divide the dough into six balls and roll each out onto a lightly floured work surface until 20cm/8in in diameter.

  7. Spread on your tomato sauce thinly on your pizza base but leave a good edge around the outside about 2/3 cm add your selected toppings and scatter evenly and top using your preferred cheese or alternative. Put onto a baking tray individually and bake until the edge of the pizza is crisp and golden and all the toppings have cooked off.
  8. Round up the kids and shepard them into their chairs and serve the pizzas.

Children are always interesting half people because they’re always throwing curve balls at you, quite literally! I will continue to write more child friendly recipes as time goes on, I feel I took a break from writing at the right time as I want to enjoy writing and not feel the stresses of constantly putting out content. Trying to juggle personal life with family and work does take its toll as being a chef is a highly demanding career to say the least, but now I’m working in a totally different environment, still with the added stress and hours but this certain job is a lot more family friendly. I am really excited about some new ideas I have got to bring to this blog, some of which I think or hope you’ll find really interesting I really look forwards to my next edition but for now please click my JoeChef social media links below and please share this post around as much as possible it would greatly be appreciated. But for now its dinner time and we’ve got 3 hungry people to cook for so until next time!!

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