Thankfully, as my children grow older my negotiating skills are needed less and less at the dinner table. However, when a sniffle of a complaint is now heard at dinner time, I’m often haunted by the battles I had to face in pursuit of a few healthy spoonfuls being consumed.
Two of my boys were particularly fussy and even though I found myself cooking more and more to their requirements, I like to think that we eventually settled on a middle ground.
As requested, their pasta sauces and soups were lump-free, while vegetables were hidden within the dinner. The blender soon became my most essential kitchen tool. When blending a sauce or soup you are still maintaining the wonderful flavours and nutrients of a dish, without suspicious diners realising what goodness they are actually enjoying.
Something that can really spark children’s interest in food is allowing them to grow some vegetables for themselves. It need not be a vegetable patch – even a little container on a windowsill with watercress is enough to encourage and excite the little ones. If they have planted and cared for a plant they will want to sample what it has produced. It’s also one sure way to teach children where their food comes from.
What I have found most useful in combating fussiness, is allowing children to become more involved with family meals. Everything from menu planning to making the shopping list, picking up the groceries and then preparing the meal, can help to make a child more excited about their food.
Nessa Robins, food writer and nurse, grew up on a farm in Moate, Co Westmeath, where she lives with her husband Diarmuid and their four children. Her first cookbook, Apron Strings: Recipes From A Family Kitchen, published by New Island, is out now.
Hidden Vegetables Wholemeal Pizza
I find that when children help with the preparation of the family meal they are much more likely to sample the fruits of their labour. The assembling of a pizza is a wonderfully easy introduction to the kitchen for a child. With plenty of choice when it comes to the toppings, they will have the most marvellous fun creating their own pizzas. This scone-based pizza is ideal for little hands to work on as there is no need to wait for the dough to rise, the base will be made within a matter of minutes.
For the tomato sauce
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
200ml of passata
1 tin of tomatoes
½ tsp of dried mixed herbs
For the pizza dough
250g of wholemeal flour
200g of plain flour
1 tsp of baking powder
½ tsp of salt
110g of cold butter, cubed
200ml of milk
Suggested toppings: Finely diced tomatoes, finely diced onions, sweetcorn, thin strips of red pepper, mozzarella cheese, grated mature cheddar cheese, cooked ham, pineapple chunks
Basil leaves to serve
1. First, make the sauce. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan, add the finely diced onion, carrot and pepper. Sauté on a low heat for five minutes and then add the garlic, passata, tin of tomatoes and mixed herbs. Simmer on a low heat for 30-35 minutes, when the vegetables should be fully cooked. Take it off the heat and, using a hand blender, blitz the sauce until smooth. Leave to one side to cool before using.
2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark six.
3. Sieve the two flours, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Combine well using a wooden spoon. Then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk. Firmly stir together with your hand until you have a smooth ball of dough.
5. Lightly flour your work surface. Divide your dough into four balls and roll each one out thinly using a lightly floured rolling pin. Place the dough onto a baking tray.
6. Cover each pizza with a layer of the tomato sauce, but leave a small border on the outside of the pizza without any sauce.
7. Add toppings of your choice, such as finely chopped onion, tomatoes or sweetcorn, then dot over some mozzarella and sprinkle over the cheddar cheese. Try not to overload the pizza with toppings as it won’t cook evenly. Now, bring the edges of the dough up and over a little of the filling, pinching together any cracks. This creates a crust around the outside of the pizza. This isn’t necessary, but if you’d like a golden crust, brush the edges with a little egg wash.
8. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the sides are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.
9. To serve, top with a few basil leaves.
A nutrient-rich fruit shake or smoothie is a marvellous way to top up a little of one’s five-a-day in a tasty way. The combination of the frozen banana with the thick Greek yogurt makes this drink luxuriously thick and creamy, while the slight tartness of the raspberries balance the natural sweetness of the banana perfectly. The omega-rich milled chia seeds give a nutritional punch, without having any impact on the smoothness of the finished drink.
350ml of milk
150g of Greek yogurt
150g of frozen raspberries
1 ripe banana, sliced and frozen for at least an hour
1tsp of honey
1tsp of milled chia seeds
1. Place all of the ingredients into a large jug. Using a hand blender, combine until smooth. Otherwise, blend all of the ingredients together using a liquidiser. Enjoy straight away.