Breakfast, Children's Nutrition, Dairy-free, Gluten free, Kids meals, Recipes

Best baked beans

I have had a “best baked beans” recipe for a long time now, but every time I make it, I tweak it – anyone else do that? Now that we’ve been a couple of months sans-Heinz over in rural northern Sweden I have had plenty of practice and plenty of tweaks and boy, is this THE recipe I have for you now!!!

If you think you don’t have time to make beans and that they couldn’t possible stand up to the comparison of your favourite can – think again, I promise you will not be disappointed 😉

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • Little olive oil for frying
  • ½ onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed / finely chopped
  • 2 rashers of streaky bacon (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Pinch ground cumin
  • Pinch ground coriander
  • 250 mls tomato passata
  • 1 400g tin cannellini beans (or 100g dried beans soaked overnight then boiled for approx. 90 mins until cooked)

Method:

  1. Gently fry the onions and garlic in a little oil for 2-3 minutes on a medium temperature, stirring so they don’t burn, then add the bacon (if using) and cook for a further 2-3 minutes until it’s all cooked through
  2. Add the passata, coriander and cumin and bring to the boil before adding the beans.
  3. Cook through for 10 minutes or so until everything is piping hot.

What are your cupboard staples that could use a tasty and healthy makeover?

Breakfast, Children's Nutrition, Dinners, Gluten free, Kids meals, Lunchboxes, Recipes, Savoury, Uncategorized

Buckwheat pancakes

Continuing with my Good.Mood.Food series on food to support mental health, I wanted to introduce you to buckwheat – have you tried it? When it comes to supporting mental health, it’s such a lovely source of supportive nutrients and definitely something I love to have in my weekly repertoire.

First of all, it’s high in protein – in fact it is one of only a few plant sources of protein that are considered “complete”, in that they contain some of all the essential amino acids that our bodies need to get from their food. Protein is so important for building neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers that we need for a happy mood). It also stabilises our blood sugar levels, keeping us feeling fuller for longer and also on a more even keel energy and mood wise.

It also contains a good dose of magnesium, manganese and B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin and B6, all of which are important for our brain health amongst other things!

Buckwheat flour is used a lot in Brittany, northern France, for making “galettes” – savoury pancakes like these, and that’s exactly where I discovered it many years ago, long before I had any appreciation for its nutritional benefits. You can fill these pancakes with whatever you fancy, I like a simple ham and cheese which also goes down well with the kids and is a brilliant toddler food when cut into strips like an alternative quesadilla. Here I’ve made a simple ratatouille and topped with a little hard goat’s cheese, and accompanied it with a green side salad to further boost the nutrient density of my meal.

Makes 6

Ingredients:

  • 100g buckwheat flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 300mls mls water (approx.)
  • Knob of butter, melted (optional)

Method:

  1. Mix the egg into the flour and salt using a whisk, then gradually add the water until it has a smooth and runny but not watery consistency. Add in the melted butter if using and thoroughly mix in. You want to be able to pour pancakes that are as thin as you would expect to make sweet ones.
  2. Heat a little butter in a large frying pan to a medium – high heat, pour the batter and leave to cook for approx 2 mins until it is dry on top and comes away from the sides easily (don’t try to remove it to quickly or it will stick and tear). Once it comes away, flip it over and cook the other side for 30 seconds – 1 minute.
  3. Repeat as necessary add your fillings and then fold or roll
  4. The batter will last in the fridge for a couple of days in an airtight container if you don’t want to eat them all at once. They can also be stored cold in the fridge and used as wraps for lunches / lunchboxes

Do let me know what you think, and I hope you’re enjoying my series on Good.Mood.Food – the full blog post and links to more recipes for your mental health are here.

Children's Nutrition, Lunchboxes, Recipes, Snacks, Sweet treats, Uncategorized

Rock cakes

There’s something quite cosy going on in my home, sheltered inside amidst the chaos. There’s an attempt at home schooling that has moments of varying success, there’s some cabin fever at having only our immediate family for company and a distinct lack of “me” time despite not being able to go anywhere, and yet I am spending precious time with my kids and teaching them all the things I also love to do… like baking!

These rock cakes are a variation of a recipe that my mum used to bake with me and my sister. Blissfully easy to do with small people, and as the name suggests, the appearance is better when no attention is paid to it at all. And so very comforting for me as a memory of my childhood, albeit I’ve switched out some of the less than healthy ingredients (hello glace cherries!) for some more wholesome alternatives.

Makes 12

Ingredients:

  • 200g wholemeal flour (I used spelt)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 100g butter
  • 150g dried fruit – I used 50g raisins, 50g chopped dates and 50g chopped apricots
  • 30g chopped mixed nuts
  • 80g brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2-3 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Prepare a 12-hole muffin tin with cupcake cases and pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan assisted)
  2. Measure out the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, and stir together
  3. Add the butter to the flour mix, chopped into 1-2cm square cubes
  4. Rub the flour and butter together with your fingers. This was always a step emphasised by my mum as being important not to over-heat the butter and make a doughy consistency, but I don’t find that true in reality (sorry Mum!) so the kids get stuck in
  5. Clean children’s hands thoroughly so that the mix remains mostly in the bowl!
  6. Add the sugar, dried fruit, nuts and lemon rind and mix together
  7. Add the egg and milk and stir to form a thick mixture that can be scooped out – then scoop it out dividing evenly into the cupcake cases
  8. Bake for approx 20 minutes, until golden brown on top, then leave to cool on a wire rack for as long as the small people can wait.

Do please let me know what you think of these! Other great family bakes to try are:

Savoury Cheese Flapjacks
Courgette Cupcakes
Apple Sauce Super-Flapjacks


Children's Nutrition, Nutrition Science, Uncategorized

Homemade natural bath bombs

So here’s an aspect of my work that doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when you’re thinking about a nutritionist – bath products. But what we put on our bodies is just as important as what we put in them too, and there’s plenty of reasons to be just as sceptical of a long list of ingredients on the back of your toiletries as you should be of your food products.

Not so long ago I was merrily purchasing bath bombs from a well-known high-street chain that professes to be “natural” and “environmentally friendly” – indeed they are making huge strides in this industry and don’t use lots of plastic packaging etc. But here’s the catch – I didn’t look at the ingredients, I just trusted them! Yep, I’m also a busy mum trying not to neglect my kids as I juggle work and the ever elusive balance so bam, quick bath bomb treats and everyone’s a winner right?

But no… one day they stuck the ingredients label on the package and as I sat on the bus heading home my gaze landed on it… In this instance it was SLS that popped out at me, but there are a number of others that you also want to be mindful of.

SLS – this is what makes products bubbly, something we probably desire in our bathroom products, but actually it is hugely irritating for the skin and can strip it of water, essentially damaging it. If you’re prone to eczema or sensitive skin, this one is a definite no-no.

SLES – this is a bit like SLS, but the additional processing that makes it kinder to the skin than SLS can actually create a toxin (1,4-dioxane) that has been linked to cancer. So I will pass on that too…

Parabens – these are essentially preservatives, anti-bacterial agents that ensure products have a long and stable shelf life. These are what hit the headlines a while ago because research has started to show that they can mimic hormones like oestrogen in the body, essentially interfering with our hormonal balance. In addition, they are playing a role in contaminating water, and spreading these effects further into our planet’s delicate ecosystem and wildlife so another that I avoid.

I won’t make this article too long, but if you’re interested in learning more about the ingredients in your kids toiletries, here’s a great article from Green People For me, it’s a simple answer – as much as I can I am making my own or sharing batches with friends and family; that way I know that only safe natural ingredients are involved, and bonus – we are having an absolute blast doing it too! If you want to get started, I absolutely love this book, Natural Beauty by Karen Gilbert – it’s got “grown-up” recipes, but you can adapt them to make more fun versions for kids which is exactly what I’ve done here!

Recipe: Natural Bath Bombs
(Makes 8)

Ingredients:

  • 300g bicarbonate of soda
  • 150g citric acid
  • 50g corn flour
  • natural food colouring liquid or powder – amount varies*
  • lavender essential oil – approx 50 drops**
  • biodegradable glitter – as little as small hands will allow!
  • water in a spray bottle
  • Silicone cupcake case

Method:

  1. Combine the bicarb, citric acid and corn flour in a large mixing bowl, then add the food colouring, essential oil and glitter mix thoroughly with your hands – you may wish to use rubber gloves for this as it’s quite harsh on the skin.
  2. Continue to mix the mixture whilst spraying with water until it forms a consistency that whilst still loose, will pack and stick into the silicone cupcake forms, which is the final step.
  3. Leave the bathbombs in the silicone moulds for 24 hours in a dry warm spot (the airing cupboard is perfect but the counter top also works just fine.

For a fun variation, split the recipe in half and make two separate batches with different colours. You can also substitute the glitter for dried flowers like lavender – once you start, you’ll soon get the hang of these and make infinite numbers of different and fun creations!

* You can use a variety of sources for this, but I have thus far stuck to the good old Waitrose Essential range.

**Lavender essential oil I buy from The Natural Dispensary – do have a look at their essential oils selection, and you can use the code POHL10 alongside my name (Catherine Pohl) to get a 10% discount (full disclosure, I also get a referral bonus when you do).

Children's Nutrition

Encouraging positive eating habits in our children: part 2 – how to manage mealtimes!

Photo credit: Kelly Heath, Parenting Gracefully

Back in May, I started pulling together some resources to help parents of “fussy” eaters, or maybe I should just say parents of eaters, as I’ve yet to come across anyone who has never had a struggle or doubt about what to do and say at mealtimes to help build that love of eating healthy foods in our children that we all strive for.

Part one was an interview with mum and cookery school owner, Becky Beasley. Apologies for the delay (life!), but I can finally share with you an interview that I conducted a while back with local mum, blogger and Play Therapist, Kelly Heath, of Parenting Gracefully, to discuss just how we manage those tricky meal times.

RFN: Hi Kelly, lovely to sit and chat with you today, thank you so much for your time. I have a burning question to start you with if that’s ok, and that is – how are mealtimes in your house?!

PG: Well, I’ve got an 8, 6 and 2 year old – I have a fast but fussy eater, an incredibly slow eater, and a toddler! I think our meal times are similar to most other family’s … there’s often at least one person who doesn’t like what’s on the table, someone who’d rather play than eat, and a mum whose trying to remain patient and encourage rather than force everyone to eat!

One thing I have learnt is that the less fuss I make about eating and the more relaxed I am at the table, the more pleasant the meal time. As parents we set the tone for mealtime, and the tone of our home in general actually. Viewing dinner time as an opportunity for family time rather than just a time to eat helps to set that tone.

RFN: Well that’s reassuring, thank you! So particularly looking to support parents with fussy eaters, I know it can be quite challenging to stay calm and not dread that daily battle, or feel the frustration or futility rising. Do you have any tips on what to do for someone that feels like that?

PG: As with most things, preparation, sense of power, and distraction work well with kids!

Chat with your kids about how you (and they!) would like meal times to be, away from the table. Decide on your family’s choices (rather than rules) around mealtime. Doing this away from the table, separate from meal time, means that you’ll help avoid the emotional responses and reactions that you might get when your child is already feeling uneasy and ‘wobbly’ at the dinner table and distracted by the food that they don’t want to eat.

There is very little children really have control over but putting food into their bodies is one thing they can (try to) control and that’s why eating can become a power struggle. So, as much as possible, allowing your child to feel like she has a say or that he can make his own choices helps ease the power struggle.

I make dinner “buffet style” as often as possible, and get the kids involved by helping to set the table and dish up food for themselves. Interestingly, they often dish up more than I would have for them, or if it’s meal that’s not their favourite, they eat what they’ve put on their plate because they feel in control rather than forced to eat. Even when it comes to new recipes that no one wants to try, our family ‘choice’ is that everyone tries it, but they get to choose how much they put on their plate and in their mouth (yes some people might try a pea size amount, but they tried it and I claim that as a win!) So if I’m making something unfamiliar I usually make it as a side along with familiar food or a familiar dish with just a slight twist.

Then there’s good old distraction – making meal time family time – a time to chat, share ideas, share your days highs and lows, and laugh together. Turning the focus away from food and getting your child out of their “feeling brain” and back into their “thinking brain” is key with fussy eaters. So have a conversation topic or table ‘game’ up your sleeve, or have a finger foods style meal and eat with toothpicks – anything that takes the focus off of the eating and puts in on the company you’re sitting with.

I’m not a fan of screens at the dinner table, but an alternative is a children’s story podcast or audio book – it’s a great way of shifting the focus from food, and then can lead into a lovely chat about the story afterwards.

RFN: Brilliant. I loved an idea I saw on your page about having a jar of questions to refer to in those moments when you just can’t think of what to do to steer everybody back to the right place, and as you say, “switch on their thinking brains!”

PG: Yes, I keep a jar filled with topics and questions in the kitchen, so if I’m stuck for ideas we can dip into it and find a prompt to change the conversation: “what’s the best gift you’ve ever received?”, “what is your favourite smell?”, “what was the highlight of this week for you?” or games such as “would you rather…”. These all bring us out of our “feeling brains” into our “thinking brains”, which helps reduce the emotional overwhelm to food.

RFN: Coming back to your comment about choice, I like the idea of giving more choice, but as a nutritionist I am acutely aware that there are certain things I just need my kids to eat. What happens when they “choose” not to have any of them?

PG: When we talk about choice we also need to think about the boundaries around that choice. If you give an open-ended choice (“what would you like to eat?”) you’re likely to get a response that doesn’t work for you. However, you can offer choices with boundaries to help your child feel a sense of control but still ultimately have your child do what is needed, for example “are you going to have one or two spoonfuls of veg?”

There’s the flip side too though – If we think about it, our children probably do have a lot more choice than we did growing up, so much so that it can actually be overwhelming – this isn’t just with food, but also books, toys, clothes, etc. Society just has so much choice these days – we need to find a balance!

As I mentioned it can be helpful to sit down and compose a list of family ‘choices’ to help around mealtimes so that there’s still choice, but also clear expectations and limits to work in. Our family choices, for example are:

  1. Everyone has the same meal.
  2. You don’t have to love it to eat it … some things are important to eat because they help keep your body healthy.
  3. Everyone tries at least a small amount of each thing on the table … because sometimes it takes our bodies 20 tries before it decides it likes a food!
  4. We choose not to use words like “gross” or “disgusting” or pull faces when talking about our food, but you can say “this is not my favourite” or “this would taste better with some butter/ketchup on it.”
  5. If you’ve had a good go at eating (had more than half of what you dished up) you can have dessert (which is often Greek yogurt with fruit – not necessarily treaty) if it’s on offer. (If it’s a meal that I know my child really struggles with so long as she has tried at least a few proper mouthfuls, I allow her to have something to fill herself but not something treaty, so for example, a bowl of porridge).
  6. Once you leave the table, you are finished.

RFN: That’s a great idea, and I completely agree about too much choice being overwhelming – I’m far better at deciding what to cook / eat if I don’t have limitless choices of ingredients and timeframes!

Finally, in summary could you please share your top 3 tips for making mealtimes a pleasant experience?

PG: 1. Focus on connection rather than coercion. Yes, we all want our kids to eat and not ask for food at bedtime, but creating a battle-free zone at mealtime, I feel, is more important than an empty plate. As grown-ups we all have days when we are hungry or less hungry, and meals that we prefer and ones we don’t really like. Our kids are the same. Dinner time generally happens at a busy time of day, but if we can make the mind shift from ‘needing the kids to hurry up and eat’ to ‘this next 45 minutes is our chance to connect’, your mealtime will feel less stressful.

2. Always take time to connect before you disconnect. So if you can’t eat with your child, perhaps you have to take a phone call for example, take two minutes first to really connect with them before you transition yourself out of that situation and into whatever it is you need to do – look them in the eyes, smile, tell them a joke, give them a tickle, play a few rounds of “would you rather…” – they’re more likely to get on with eating than find 23 reasons to call you and need you!

3. Give your kids grace – we all have good days and bad days. And give yourself grace. There is no right answer on “how we should” be or do things. Tune into your child and do what needs to be done for your own sanity and calm.

RFN: Thank you so much Kelly, that’s fantastic advice and ideas! I’m off to make a jar of questions right now!

Kelly can be found on Instagram and Facebook (@parentinggracefully) where she shares simple, practical, doable, daily ways to keep connected, show love, give grace, get messy and rediscover joy as you navigate the journey of parenting. With half term approaching, she’s bound to have lots of great ideas for us to be doing with our children when eating and not eating so if you enjoyed this, please give her a follow! Kelly also offers parent consultations and is contactable at: parentinggracefullyuk@gmail.com

Children's Nutrition, Kids meals, Lunchboxes, Recipes, Savoury, Snacks

Sweet potato and bean dip

Good sources of protein, fats and fibre in toddler snacks, lunchboxes and for adults as well, really help to keep blood sugar levels balanced and support a stable mood, sustained energy and that all important ability to concentrate and learn. This sweet potato and bean dip also adds in plenty of extra micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and more) that really support the body in all it’s important tasks and help you to feel in tip-top health!

This recipe was inspired by the blog Rupert and Mummy, and is a lovely nutritious alternative to hummus. “Mummy” (Jenny) uses tahini in hers for extra creaminess, but since the whole point of this recipe is to avoid nuts and seeds (a requirement in many schools now) and provide a nutritious, protein and fibre-rich alternative to hummus, I’ve played around with some different ingredients to make the base (beans and sweet potato) really pop with flavour without it. Why not give it a go and have a play with different flavour tweaks yourself? I’d love to know how you get on!

Ingredients:
• 1 sweet potato
• 1 400g tin butter beans (or other beans – cannelini or haricot also work well, I just like to use white beans for the overall colour)
• juice of 1/2 lemon
• 2 sundried tomatoes
• 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
• 70mls extra virgin olive oil
• Pinch of salt (optional)

Method:
1. Roast the sweet potato in the oven whole at 180C (fan) for about 40 minutes, until it is cooked all the way through, then leave it to cool. I tend to do this alongside baking something else, and pop it in the fridge to use later. 2. Once you’re ready to make your dip, remove the skin from the sweet potato and pop in food processor with the beans (drained and rinsed) and rest of the ingredients
3. Blitz until it’s the desired consistency, adding a splash of water if it’s a bit thick for your processor (my boys prefer it very smooth), then chill in the fridge

You can then serve with crudites or oatcakes for a snack, and it also makes a good filling for wraps – I love to add some salad leaves and halloumi for example.

Children's Nutrition, Dinners, Kids meals, Lunchboxes, Recipes, Savoury

Pumpkin seed and parsley pesto

Pesto is such a versatile sauce – you can eat it with pasta, as a base to savoury toasts, smothered on chicken or fish, as the flavour for a salad dressing… the list goes on. And pesto doesn’t have to be the traditional basil and pine nut base (of course it can, that’s delicious!), once you get the hang of making them you really can use any seeds and leaves you want to.

This delicious parsley and pumpkin seed version is great for this time of year as it’s full of vitamin C and zinc, fab nutrients for supporting the immune system. I tend to make a large quantity, then use half and freeze half to just grab out when I need a quick meal.

Makes about 8 tablespoons
Ingredients:
• 75g pumpkin seeds
• 1 clove garlic
• Large pack of parsley (approx. 50-60g)
• Juice of half a lemon
• 150-200mls extra virgin olive oil
• Pinch of salt and pepper to season (omit salt with young children)
• 50g parmesan cheese (optional)

Method:
1. Blitz the pumpkin seeds and garlic in a food processor (I use my Nutri Ninja) until they are ground to a flour
2. Add the parsley (washed and ripped into pieces), lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil and blitz again to a smooth consistency
3. Add the grated cheese if using (I enjoy this just as much without, and my children tend to add so much cheese to their pesto pasta it rather feels like too much to already include it in the pesto!), and blitz again. If you’re not adding the cheese you will probably need nearer 150 mls rather than 200 mls of olive oil, but adjust it to the taste and consistency you like
4. Serve! This will keep for a good few days or up to a week in an airtight jar in the fridge, just trickle a little extra olive oil over the leftovers to keep the air away.

Children's Nutrition, Kids meals

Encouraging positive eating habits in our children: part 1 – get them cooking!

As part of developing resources to help parents encourage their children to eat healthily, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Becky Beasley of Two-Teaspoons.

Becky founded Two-Teaspoons in 2012, teaching culinary skills to children of all ages and I absolutely love her passion for real food and her no-nonsense approach to the art of cooking. She is an inspiration, catering for five nurseries a day and teaching toddlers to teens to cook on a regular basis. I couldn’t do it, but she truly believes that anyone and everyone can cook and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you have any doubts, she’s the person to show you how!

RFN: Hi Becky, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you start by telling me when was it you yourself learnt to cook, and what was it that sparked your passion for good food?

BB: I learnt to cook from my Mum, who also worked full time as a teacher. My parents were incredibly social, often inviting guests to eat, and the passion really came from the early recognition that learning to cook made life more fun. I always tell teenagers in my pre-uni classes that if they can cook a meal, they will never be short of friends!

RFN: Have you had many fussy eaters through your door and how did they find the cooking experience?

BB: Absolutely, from the mildly fussy to the quite extreme, but they all enjoy the cooking experience and often enough that they try the food at the end too.

RFN: That’s amazing – how do you do it?

BB: I think there are two key values that I always instil throughout a class:

1. It’s social – my classes are not “classes” as much as “experiences”; it doesn’t matter what is being cooked or whether or not it is liked as much as the whole event itself is fun. This helps the children form a more positive relationship with the dishes we’re making. I’m not the parent in this scenario, I really don’t have any vested interest in whether or not the children I teach eat the food they make, and once they know that, and there’s no pressure to try new or disliked foods they tend to relax and enjoy themselves.

2. There are no “good” or “bad” foods – I never put more value on one particular food above another. Sometimes we cook with chocolate, other times it’s broccoli; neither is more or less delicious than the other, they are just what’s required for the recipe and the focus is on enjoying the cooking experience.

RFN: That’s some very powerful psychology and a great attitude to have for building a long-term healthy relationship with food. Have you learnt anything from the children you’ve taught to cook?

BB: I never cease to be amazed by the skills of the children I teach – they always surprise me with their ability. That and never teach a couscous class unless you really love cleaning up!

RFN: I hear you there… Ok, so what’s your favourite dish to cook with kids, and why?

BB: I can’t really say I’ve a favourite dish to teach, but I always enjoy teaching them to cook things they think they’ll hate. There’s nothing more satisfying than turned up noses at the start of a class, and clean plates at the end!

RFN: And what’s the most popular class or dish for the kids, and why?

BB: Probably bread making, which I also love to teach. There’s so much fun to be had in being so tactile with the food – it’s fun, messy and a complete sensory pleasure. I also get to be a bit theatrical pouring oil on the table which also adds to the fun dynamic of the class!

RFN: That does sound like brilliant fun! And finally, can you share your top 3 tips for getting children cooking?

BB: Yes…

1. It’s important to get enthusiastic as a parent. That also means getting comfortable with chaos and mess. Cooking needs to be fun rather than a series of “telling offs”, regardless of how frustrating that sometimes is to do!


2. Let them have a say in what they want to cook. If they want to bake cookies, then bake cookies. You can also make something healthier to go alongside. Once children have taken ownership of a task, their attitude changes and that brings an enormous sense of pride and achievement.


3. Find a time when you have that capacity to cook with your kids (perhaps a Saturday afternoon rather than a Tuesday evening!) so that you’re not under any pressure, and remember that it doesn’t always need to be a huge activity – the smallest of “jobs” like peeling potatoes and grating cheese can also be great fun for children.

RFN: and I imagine that will help enormously with points 1 and 2 as well! Thank you Becky for that invaluable insight and please keep helping our kids learn to love cooking!

If you’d like your children to try out a cookery class with Becky, you can head over to her website: Two-Teaspoons to sign up. All classes are mixed age and ability (from 4 years upwards), which she says is fantastic for bringing the best out in everyone, and goes to show that it’s never too young to start cooking.

There are also some great family friendly recipes on the website that I’ll be trying out, and Becky’s shared with me a couple of her favourite gadgets to alleviate our fears for young children getting too involved. I’ll be testing these out with my kids too and will let you know how I get on.