On your marks, get set, go!
Whether you’re back from school, a toddler group or work, every minute with a hungry kid can grate on your nerves. But what to feed them?
You want hot? You want healthy-(ish)? You want to have hot meals in minutes that will make Delia roll in her grave? These are survival recipes, people, and you’ll use them again and again. I can make any of these in under 10 minutes from whine to dine, some of them in quite a lot less.
Each includes protein, carbs and a vegetable or fruit. That counts as a balanced meal in my book.
1. Eggy bread and blueberry sauce
Your kids think you’re giving them pudding for lunch. You know they’re getting carbs, protein and a superfood in an easy-to-eat format. WIN-WIN!
Crack an egg per child and beat in a shallow lasagne dish (that’s the egg, not the child, although we all have days where we’re tempted…). Throw in a slice of bread per child, or more if you have hungry critters. Smush the bread into the egg and turn over a couple of times then leave to soak while you get a frying pan (skillet) fired up and some neutral flavoured oil heating (e.g. vegetable).
Meanwhile, grab some frozen blueberries from the freezer and throw about 10-15 berries per child into a small saucepan, along with about 1 tbsp water per child and as much sugar as your conscience allows – you’ll need a little to make a syrup but not much. Simmer this for 3-5 minutes until the berries are defrosted and the syrup has reduced a little. Frozen berries are awesome – a quarter of the price and they never go mouldy!
Return to the main event and whack the eggy bread into your frying pan. Fry until golden on both sides and serve with the blueberry sauce over the top. Yum!
2. Polenta and baked beans
This sounds uber-posh but it’s actually cheap as chips if you buy polenta as bags of “coarse cornmeal” from the world foods aisle of your supermarket or a local ethnic grocers. It’s a hugely popular meal around here. Here’s how to cook it. You’ll need to experiment a little with quantities at first but it costs pennies to make.
Per child, by volume, you need 1/2 cup (that’s 125ml) cornmeal and 1 cup (250ml) of boiling water. Get the water boiling in a pan with, if they’re old enough, a tiny bit of salt or a small corner of a chicken stock cube crumbled in.
Once boiling, pour the cornmeal in in as constant a stream as you can manage, stirring as you do so. Turn the heat to simmer and stir like billyo for one minute (count a hundred strokes of the spoon or so). You can’t leave it so consider strapping a small child into their high chair ready.
The stirring will be hard work but it’s short-lived. Lumps are practically guaranteed, but they’ll disappear. The resulting mash is a bit stiffer than mashed potato. Spread it onto a plate to cool. Finger eaters can pick it up in chunks but you can get a fork into it. If you’re feeding a tiny, omit the salt and go for a 3:1 ratio of water to cornmeal rather than 2:1 for a much looser, spoonable consistency.
Serve with baked beans.
3. Polenta and tinned mackerel.
As above but with a tin of mackerel in tomato sauce. I was amazed to find my kids liked this but they ask for tinned mackerel at least twice a week. You don’t even have to heat it. The tomato sauce counts as a vegetable portion according to our dietician. I love her.
4. Frozen baked potatoes, cheese and tomatoes
This takes some pre-planning but you can freeze baked potatoes. Bake a dozen jacket potatoes at once and freeze (if you’re weaning one of your kids, throw in a dozen sweet potatoes at the same time for instant warm SP mash – it makes a great base for baby meals).
Spuds will reheat in about 3 minutes in the microwave and taste much more like real potatoes than a microwaved spud. Plus, 3 minutes! Add cheese and some chopped cherry tomatoes and you’re done.
5. Reheated pasta with pesto and cheese
Please say I’m not the only one to hopelessly misjudge portion sizes? Plus, kids’ appetites are so fickle so I almost always have leftover pasta. Chill quickly and reheat within 48 hours. Here’s how to make it palatable.
Boil a kettle, put the pasta in a heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over the top. Leave for 2 minutes and drain. Mix with pesto and grated cheese or add a little cottage cheese as well for another tasty mix. Coincidentally, this is close to how Italian restaurants cook pasta to get it onto the table faster.
6. Pea and hash brown omelette
There is little more crazy-making than watching a toddler eat peas one-by-one off their plate. Here’s how to avoid that scenario.
Put a tablespoon or two of frozen peas or petit pois into a small frying pan with a small dash of olive oil. Cook for about 2 minutes until the peas are cooked, then add a beaten egg or two and you have a pea omelette. To add some carbs, start with some frozen has browns in your pan (you judge the quantities) and fry in a little oil until they are defrosted. Chop them up with the spoon as soon as is possible. As they near being fully cooked, add the peas and cook until they are defrosted, then add enough beaten egg (probably 1-2 per child) around the whole lot and cook until the egg is set and the peas are done. We cook this for our adult dinner on desperation nights. Mmmmmm, hashbrowns…
7. Egg fried rice with frozen veggies
Many people are surprised to learn you can get food poisoning from rice but it’s true. To avoid this unglamorous scenario, chill leftover cooked rice fast, keep in the fridge and reheat very thoroughly.
For this dish, cook the frozen veg in the microwave according to instructions. Meanwhile get the rice really hot in your frying pan. Push to the back edge of the pan, away from the heat and add some beaten egg to the side closest to you, keeping it over the heat. Once you have a loose omelette, combine the egg and the rice, stir through the veggies to meld together, serving with soy sauce and maybe some sesame oil.
8. Tuna melt
Heat up the grill. Throw a slice of bread under the grill per child and set the timer for one minute so it won’t burn.
Meanwhile, mix a can of tuna and 2 tbsp mayo (if you like it – cream cheese if not) in a bowl.
Turn the bread over and toast for one more minute. Then spread the tuna mix onto the toast and top with grated cheddar.
Toast for a final minute or two until the cheese has melted.
Serve with raw peppers on the side, cut into strips.
9. Reheated pasta and mackerel or meatballs and sauce
Reheat pasta as in 5. Either add tinned mackerel (which will warm through enough from the cooling pasta to keep children happy) or quickly combine some jarred pasta sauce and some Swedish meatballs which, handily enough, are ready cooked and only need heating through. I find these easily at both Sainsburys and Asda, next to the raw meatballs.
10. Baked bean pie
Reheat a couple of baked potatoes as in 4 in the microwave, remove the skins (it’s very easy at this stage) and mash with a little milk, butter and/or cheese. While the spuds are cooking, pop a can of baked beans into a pan and warm through.
Pop the beans into little pie dishes or ramekins and top with the mash. If you have time, pop under the grill for 2 minutes but this will add to the cooling time too.
And here’s your handy-dandy cheat sheet! Here’s to mealtime sanity.