ARE your kids fussy eaters? The US National Cancer Center in Maryland told this week how a QUARTER of calories eaten by kids are “empty” or have little nutritional value.
And children’s food expert and author Annabel Karmel says as kids head back to school, they need healthy and tasty meals to keep them learning.
She said: “We all know how important it is for children to stay fuelled on the right foods to support them in these all-important early years.
“Typical empty calorie culprits including pizza, ice cream, crisps and fizzy drinks not only miss the nutritional mark but also negatively impact a child’s energy, concentration levels and overall health.”
Here, Annabel shares her top ten nutritional dishes for growing kids, including some lunch-box lifesavers for Mum and Dad.
Four tips to dodge those dodgy snacks
START THE DAY WELL: Fuel the family with eggs for breakfast a few days a week. They’re packed with protein, iron, vitamin D and essential omega-3 fatty acids, as well as lots more good stuff. A power-packed breakfast will keep them feeling fuller for longer – meaning they’ll reach less for those empty calorie sugary snacks.
EMBRACE FAKEAWAYS: Cook up healthy versions of fast food favourites. Serve salmon burgers, a grated- cauliflower-base pizza or use cornflakes to coat fish goujons and bake in the oven rather than fry. Pair with sweet potato wedges for a healthier take on fish and chips.
SNACK SMARTER: A delicious homemade savoury muffin will help top up a child’s energy levels mid-afternoon. You can experiment with lots of different veggie fillings such as carrot, courgette or butternut squash. Or prepare some homemade energy balls, free of refined sugar and packed with oats, seeds, nuts and dates. They don’t even need cooking.
COOK TOGETHER: You’ll stand a good chance of instilling a love of good, healthy food when preparing simple meals together from scratch. This is a great way to keep little hands busy at home, and an opportunity to teach them new skills. They are also far more likely to try something new if they have prepared it themselves.
Rigatoni with tomato, basil and mozzarella
- Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion and pepper and fry for 10 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds, then add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and honey and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and blitz until smooth with an electric stick blender. Add the basil, mascarpone and half the grated cheese.
- Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, drain and add it to the sauce. Mix well and add the mozzarella.
- Spoon the pasta and sauce into a small baking dish (or individual baking dishes), sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and place under a hot grill for 5 minutes until the cheese is bubbling.
- You can freeze the sauce for up to 6 months.
Baked fruity flapjacks with chia seeds & cranberries
(Makes 18 bars)
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line a 23cm square tin with non-stick paper.
- Put the dates in a saucepan and add 200ml of water. Bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes then blend using a stick blender until you have a smooth, thick paste.
- Spoon into a bowl. Add the coconut oil and mix well. Add to the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
- Spoon into the tin and level the surface.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and firm in the middle.
- Leave to cool in the tin then carefully lift out the flapjack using the edges of the paper lining.
No-sugar chocolate orange energy balls
(Makes 15-20 balls)
- Put all of the ingredients in a food processor, along with 4 tbsp of boiling water and blitz until the mixture is finely chopped and well blended.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and shape it into 15-20 balls.
- Roll the balls in cocoa powder, desiccated coconut or chocolate sprinkles, as you wish. Chill on a plate in the fridge for at least 1 hour to firm up before eating.
- The balls will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Cheese & tomato muffin traybake (perfect for lunch boxes)
(Makes 15-20 portions)
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 3. Line a traybake tin with non-stick paper.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, chives, spring onion and cheeses together in a bowl.
- Mix the buttermilk, oil, milk and eggs together in a jug.
- Beat until smooth, then add to the dry ingredients and stir, then fold in the tomatoes.
- Spoon into the tin and level the surface.
- Bake for 30 minutes until lightly golden and well risen. Cut into squares and serve.
- Delicious eaten hot or cold.
Cheese, carrot & tomato muffins
(Makes 10 muffins)
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with 10 paper cases.
- Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl then add all of the remaining ingredients and stir until just combined (avoid over-mixing it).
- Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until well risen and lightly golden.
- Remove from the oven, remove the muffins from the tin (still in their cases) and leave to cool on a wire rack.
- The muffins can be frozen (once cooled) for up to 2 months. To defrost them, reheat in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 8-10 minutes until heated through.
(Makes 8 burgers)
- Put the grated carrot and courgette in a clean tea towel and squeeze out the excess liquid. Transfer to a bowl and add the mushrooms, oregano, parsley, cayenne pepper, ketchup, soy sauce and 100g of the breadcrumbs. Mix well and season with a little salt and pepper.
- Put the chia seeds (if using) in a small bowl with 3 tbsp of cold water and leave for 5 minutes until thickened. Add the mixture to the vegetables in the bowl or, if using egg substitute, mix the powder with 2 tbsp of cold water then add it to the mixture.
- Shape the mixture into eight burgers and coat each burger in the remaining bread-crumbs. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the burgers in batches for 2-3 mins on each side until golden and crisp. Serve with soup or salad.
- The cooked burgers can be frozen (once cooled) for up to 2 months. Defrost, then reheat in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for about 20 minutes.
Crispy baked cod with sweet potato chips
Fruit flower pots
- Cut the watermelon in half and cut a 2cm/¾in slice off one of the halves.
- Using the cutter, stamp out three stars or flowers from the slice. Scoop out balls of watermelon from the other half using a small melon baller.
- Remove the skin and core of the pineapple and cut two 2cm/¾in slices off it. Using the cutter, stamp out three stars or flowers. Slice the remaining pineapple into cubes.
- Break six cocktail sticks in half. Insert one into the middle of each flower and push a blueberry on to the stick to make the centre.
- Insert a cake pop stick into the flowers to make the stems.
- Put a cube of pineapple into the bottom of each cup.
- Divide the grapes, melon balls, pineapple and blueberries between the cups.
- Insert the cake pop stick into the pineapple to hold it up in the cup.
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Oat, raisin & sunflower seed cookies
(Makes 14 cookies)
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
- Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream together using an electric hand-held whisk until light and fluffy (or use a stand mixer), then add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined to form a dough. Divide the dough into 14 equal portions, then roll the portions into balls.
- Put the balls on the lined baking sheets, ensuring you leave a space of at least 5cm around each ball as they will spread when they bake. Flatten them slightly with a spatula, then bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or can be frozen after baking. To defrost, simply leave at room temperature.