Get your kids into the kitchen

Getting kids into the kitchen

Long gone are the days when mums shopped daily at the butcher, baker and greengrocer before spending the afternoon slaving over a hot stove to prepare a family meal from scratch.  Whether we’re too busy, too stressed or simply fed up of hearing “I don’t like that!”, the result is that convenience often wins in the battle of what to eat for dinner. Instead of giving in or giving up on healthy intentions, why not enlist the help of the younger members to your family with planning and preparing wholesome meals? 

Encouraging children to get involved in food preparation and cooking sometimes means meal preparation can take longer - and create more mess - but getting them involved pays dividends in the long term if they know enough about food to start making healthier choices when they are older. 

Planning ahead is essential, especially if you’re no Jamie Oliver. Investing some time in devising a weekly menu and shopping list will save you time and money, as well as helping to keep things interesting. Get yourself a few basic cookbooks (or dust off the ones you already have!) and pick out some recipes that you like the look of. There’s a huge range of recipe websites and blogs that you can browse too and even online video demos. What worked in my family was starting with one night a week when the children chose the menu – this is a sure fire way to get them engaged and interested. My daughter is now the master chef of omelettes in our household! 

 Keep it simple

Stick with recipes that have quick cooking and preparation times (unless you’re batch cooking). You’ll usually find this information on the recipe. Look at how many ingredients the recipe contains too - stick to five or six for a manageable shopping list. Stir fries and salads are super-quick, one-pot stews are easy to prepare, and grilled or baked chicken or fish doesn’t take long. 

Sneak in the veggies!

If you know you will have very little time on a couple of nights in the week, why not batch cook some homemade pasta sauces with children at the weekend? Home-made sauces are also an excellent way to add veggies like carrots, courgette and cauliflower that can sometimes face resistance if served up on the dinner plate.  

Get creative

Let’s face it, whilst super healthy, plain grilled chicken with steamed veg can get boring pretty quickly - but there are lots of easy ways to keep your taste buds interested in healthy foods. Experiment with marinades, spices and herbs to add extra flavour. Spices and herbs not only add flavour, many of them have health benefits too. My top three child-friendly spices with added health benefits are:

  • Cinnamon - studies show that cinnamon can help balance blood sugar. Sprinkle some on your porridge in the morning.
  • Ginger - renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger works well in stir fries and in marinades for chicken or fish.
  • Paprika - antioxidant-rich paprika isn’t as spicy as chili that can be too much for young palates. It works well in egg dishes, sprinkled on a baked sweet potato or in vegetable stews.

If you’re just getting started with herbs and spices, you can also buy blends such as chinese 5-spice or curry powder that have been pre-mixed in the correct proportions for well-known dishes.

 Ingredient swaps

Try not to get too hung up on everything being perfect. Lots of alternative ingredients can be substituted in recipes to help you use up what’s already in your fridge or to replace something you don’t like. For example:

Vegetables - You can never get enough healthy fresh vegetables. Swapping them around in recipes or adding new ones in will never be a problem. So if you don’t like cabbage, try adding spinach, courgette or kale. You get the idea - don’t be put off by a recipe because you don’t like one of the ingredients, just be creative and think what you could add in instead. 

Fruit - like vegetables, most fruits in recipes are interchangeable. For dishes that involve cooking fruit, choose something with a similar texture.

Beans and pulses - most beans and pulses can be freely swapped around with each other. If you open a can of kidney beans or chickpeas one day, for example, use the leftovers up in another bean-based recipe or simply add them to a salad.

Meat or fish - many chicken dishes would work just as well with fish, and vice versa. Similarly, different types of oily fish can easily be substituted in recipes. Just be aware of differences in cooking times.

Make extra portions

Batch cooking - usually at the weekend or one evening during the week - has got to be one of the best pieces of advice when it comes to making healthy family eating realistic. Freezing extra portions or meals such as cost-effective soups, stews, chili and curries can cut unnecessary cost from the food bill and save a lot of time and hassle. Freshly cooked food can be safely kept in the fridge in a covered container for up to 3 days, and in the freezer for up to 3 months. When storing food in the freezer, remember that when you freeze liquids they do expand, so you will need to leave a small gap at the top, otherwise it may split the container. 

Try slow cooking

Most recipes for hearty stews, chilli’s and curries can be made in a slow cooker. Something that takes 30-45 minutes on the stove top can cook on low in a slow cooker for 6-10 hours. Encourage children to spend a few minutes helping to prepare all the ingredients in the morning and when you come home ravenous in the evening, it’ll be deliciously cooked and the house will smell amazing!

Raw energy balls  

Homemade energy balls are a great way to create a tasty healthy snack for after school or nursery. They don’t need cooked so ideal for getting younger children involved. Can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days so make on a Sunday for the working week ahead. Each recipes makes 10-12 balls. Please remember that nuts cannot be brought into schools or nurseries, these are designed for allergy free families as an at-home or on the move snack. 

Coconut lime pie
The zesty lime and coconut flavours in these balls are uplifting and energizing - perfect for a morning pick me up!

60 g almonds
60 g brazil nuts
15 g desiccated coconut
½ tsp cardamom
3 tbsp coconut flour
2 limes, juice + zest
8 dates
1 tbsp honey

For coating:
2-3 tbsp desiccated coconut

  1. In a food processor add the almonds, brazil nuts, cardamom, desiccated coconut (reserve 2-3 tbsp for coating) and coconut flour. Pulse until combined. 
  2. Add the juice and zest of the lime, dates and honey and mix again until combined. 
  3. Put the desiccated coconut on a plate.
  4. Use your hands to roll into balls and roll the balls in the coconut. 
  5. Store in the fridge

 Peanut butter cookie dough balls

60 g ground almonds
65 g peanut butter
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp chia seeds
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp extra virgin organic coconut oil

For coating:
1 tbsp raw organic cocoa powder
1 tbsp toasted salted hemp seeds

Add all ingredients in a food processor and mix until combined. Use your hands to roll into balls and dust the balls with cocoa powder and roll the balls in the hemp seeds on a plate.

Vanilla porridge with raspberries - Serves 1 (increase quantity accordingly)
This is ideal for a cold morning or even as a light supper. Children can add the ingredients to the saucepans, chop the banana and enjoy stirring in the healthy raspberry sauce. 

45g wholegrain oats
200ml milk (cow’s or dairy free alternative)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (alcohol free)
1 tbsp of raspberries
1 tbsp of chopped banana
1 tbsp maple syrup (honey will work well too)

  1. In a small saucepan on medium heat, cook raspberries for 5-7 minutes.
  2. Once raspberries have started to cook down, add maple syrup and chopped banana and stir. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the oats, milk and vanilla extract and mix well.
  4. Cook for a further 5 minutes until oats are hot and cooked through.
Healthy chicken dippers with guacamole - Serves 2-4
Chicken dippers are one of our family favourites - these don’t take much longer to make than the frozen varieties but you’ll know exactly what’s in them!

For the chicken dippers
75g wholemeal breadcrumbs
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 chicken breast fillets (about 200g each)
1 tbsp olive oil 

For the guacamole
1 ripe avocado
90g cooked sweetcorn
1/2 red pepper, roughly chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C conventional /180°C fan and line a tray with baking paper and grease with the olive oil
  2. To make the crumb mix, combine the breadcrumbs with the lemon zest and salt and place in a shallow bowl.
  3. Beat an egg in a separate bowl.
  4. Slice the chicken fillets into ‘fingers’ and dip these first in the beaten egg and then in the crumb mixture, turning so each side is well coated.
  5. Place on the prepared baking tray and once all the chicken is crumbed and place in the oven for about 10-12 minutes turning once.
  6. While the dippers are cooking make the guacamole by crushing the avocado in a bowl and mix with the remaining ingredients. Season to taste.

So that’s it – after your kitchen practice with the kids this week you’ll have passed the Nairn’s Naturally Energising Challenge with flying colours!  I really hope you’ve found the videos, recipes and tips to be interesting, informative and most of all fun.  And if it’s meant you’ve been able to do more together as a family, that’s even better. It’s really easy to get stuck in a rut, especially when daily family life is so chaotic.  But I promise you, finding just a little bit of time to make some small changes REALLY will make a big difference in long term – by keeping it ‘real’ and keeping it simple, the great news is that it won’t take long for you to notice.  

 Til next time, keep up the good work and remember to share your successes using #NaturallyEnergising


Amanda Hamilton

About the author

Amanda Hamilton
Nutritionist and broadcaster

Amanda is one of the UK's most established nutritionists, with a career that has included three best-selling books (with a new title coming out in January), an internationally syndicated TV series and regular slots on BBC radio. She runs her signature detox and weight loss retreats in leading spas across Europe. But most of all, she's a busy working mum who is passionate about healthy, tasty and wholesome food.