Crumbed Chicken Strips

Since my son could run around I have been planning my outings based on whether or not a restaurant has a kiddies’ menu and a play area – something I didn’t quite grasp before I had a child of my own.

Like most parents, I find it frustrating that the kiddies’ meal choices at most places, are generally the greasiest and most nutritionally-empty dishes around: leaving you weighing up whether the pizza or hot dog is the ‘healthier’ choice for your little one (sounds a little crazy but hey…we don’t have much to work with!).

There is a reason that chicken strips are on every kiddies’ menu I have ever come into contact with: it is because pretty much all kids LOVE them (and most crumbed things for that matter). It is the same reason that crumbed chicken can be found in most home freezers across the world, ready for parents to serve up to their children in a matter of minutes.

The problem with some crumbed frozen chicken, meat and fish is that they tend to be loaded with sodium for added flavour. They are also regarded as ‘processed meat’ which should be limited in your child’s diet given that processed foods have been linked to Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. I’m not suggesting you need to steer clear of these family favourites (I am no stranger to keeping a supply in the freezer for a quick and easy meal) but it is important to remember that processed meat should be served to your little ones in moderation.

In an effort to create my own healthier rendition of the famous chicken strip, I decided to get cooking with the healthiest ingredients.

The key to this recipe is to ensure that you use a good quality non-stick pan (or you will have a bunch of batter stuck to it!) and to use enough oil at a time. That’s not to say you should be deep frying the strips at all, but rather using just enough oil to coat the pan when frying.

You could use this batter to crumb meat, chicken or even zucchini! You’ll just need to adapt the cooking time accodingly.

What you’ll need:

  • 5-6 free-range, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp celery salt/ Herbamare
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 Tbs spring onion, very finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 1 cup milk (any milk of your choice)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2-3 Tbs olive oil for frying

Method:

  • Beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl.  Combine with the milk and lemon and set aside.
  • In another medium-sized bowl combine the flour, spring onion, spices and sesame seeds. Set aside.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut each chicken breast into three strips. Giving you around 15-18 strips in total (some pieces may be larger than others).
  • Heat 1 Tbs of the olive oil in a non-stick pan on a medium-high heat.
  • Then take each strip at a time and coat it in the egg wash and then roll it in the flour mixture until totally coated. Place it onto the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes a side (depending on the thickness of the chicken strip).
  • Fry strips in batches of 5 strips at a time (to avoid over-crowding the pan).
  • Once each strip is finished cooking, place it onto a clean plate with roller towel to drain any excess oil.
  • Add another Tbs olive oil to the pan for each batch of chicken strips. Continue until all the strips have been used.
  • Serve with sweet-potato fries and homemade tomato sauce (or any choice of sides).
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use within three days.

* The above recipe will need to be adapted if your child has an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned. Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

 

 

Homemade Tomato Sauce

There is no getting away from it: kids love tomato sauce.

I never thought that I would be the parent who would turn to tomato sauce to get her child excited about a meal. I honestly thought I could keep my son away from the stuff until school-going age (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get my drift).

The reality, however, is that when my son stumbled upon some earlier this year, I witnessed a love affair that I knew – there and then – I would not easily intercept. Ever since that day, he will spot the shiny red bottle in any eating environment, with the precision of an eagle, demanding that he dips (or “dit” in his case) whatever he may be eating.

Tomato sauce actually provides a number of health benefits to growing little people, including its high lycopene content. Lycopene is an antioxidant, which means it protects the body’s cells from free radical damage, fighting off disease and cancer. Each serving also packs in a powerful punch of vitamin A for healthy skin, eyes, hair and immune functioning.

The problem with store bought tomato sauce is the sugar content (high glucose corn syrup and cane sugar): each tablespoon serving includes anywhere from 4 grams of sugar, which equates to roughly 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of sugar. According to The American Heart Association, children should be consuming no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar daily to avoid a weakened immune system, flu symptoms and tooth decay (amongst a host of other nasties). If your child is laying on the tomato sauce with most meals, over and above consuming sugar in other food and drinks, they are most probably exceeding this recommended daily limit.

Light tomato sauce options, whilst lower in sugar or sugar-free, are packed with artificial sweeteners: OK in moderation but not regarded as nutritionally substantial enough for the growing needs of children.

With this in mind, and knowing that some sugars are unavoidable in certain foods, I wanted to make my own sugar-free sauce that packs in the flavour, but without the unnecessary sugar. In this recipe I have used unsweetened apple sauce to add in a natural sweetness, but you could also use unsweetened pear, date or prune purèe.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 tin crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup Passata sauce
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce/purèe
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (1/2 large lemon)
  • 1 Tbs All Spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cracks black pepper

Method:

  • Bring all of the ingredients to the boil
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 45 minutes (until the mixture has reduced by half)
  • Remove from the heat
  • Remove the bay leaves
  • Purèe until smooth
  • Store in an airtight, glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one month

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

Beef & Veg Lasagne

If your child is averse to munching on veggies at the best of times, and you are finding it increasingly difficult to get them into his or her little tummy, you aren’t alone.

I played around with a family favourite –  lasagne – to find a lip-smacking way to sneak in the veg and cram in the nutrients…all unbeknownst to my son!

If your family or child doesn’t eat red meat for any reason, then this recipe can also be made with chicken mince, tuna or just veg.

Although I used egg lasagne noodles in this recipe, you can really use any pasta of your choice (penne,  fusilli or farfalle could all work). A little trick I discovered is that the noodles don’t need to be pre-cooked, as long as they are coated in enough sauce!

Get creative with adding in different veggies, and process them as chunky or finely as your child will tolerate.

If your child is lactose-intolerant, go for lactose-free cheese options and substitute lactose-free/almond milk for the cow’s milk.

This recipe can be made ahead of time, refrigerated and then popped into the oven before serving. It also freezes extremely well: all you need to do is thaw it ahead of time and then bake it as below (you could also make extra mince and veg mixture, and then freeze that in individual portions to use at a later date).

This recipe makes around 12 portions.

What you’ll need:

  • 1kg free-range beef mince
  • 1.5 boxes egg lasagne sheets (roughly 350g)
  • 3 x tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin tomato purèe
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3-4 large leeks, finely chopped
  • 3-4 large carrots
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 large peppers (any colour)
  • 2 Tbs parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 tsp crushed/minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan

For the cheese sauce:

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups grated white hard cheese (mozzarella, gouda)
  • 4 heaped Tbs wholewheat flour
  • 1.5 litres milk
  • 3-4 cracks black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Method:

  • Heat the oven to 180°C
  • Combine the carrots, broccoli florets and peppers in a food processor and pulse until fine (about the same size as mince meat)
  • In a large pan heat 1 Tbs olive oil and garlic on a medium-high heat
  • Add the leeks and stir until softened
  • Add the mince, stirring to get rid of any large pieces
  • Once browned, add the vegetables and mix together, cooking for a further 5 minutes
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purèe, water, oregano and parsley
  • Turn up the heat and bring to a boil
  • Lower the heat to a medium heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes
  • In the meantime you can get started on the sauce

To make the cheese sauce:

  • Heat 1 Tbs olive oil on a medium heat
  • Add the flour, using a whisk to mix it together with the oil in the pan
  • Slowly add the milk, whisking the mixture constantly
  • Add the black pepper and the nutmeg
  • Allow the mixture to thicken (not allowing the mixture to catch in the pan, rather turn down to a low heat if needed)
  • When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (not too runny and not too thick) you can remove the pan from the heat completely and add in the cheese, whisking it into the mixture until smooth
  • Your sauce is now ready!

To assemble the lasagne:

  • Using a large oven-proof dish, start with 1/3 meat & veggie mixture, followed by a layer of noodles and then 1/3 of the cheese sauce. Repeat 3 times.
  • Sprinkle parmesan over the top.
  • Bake for 50 minutes, until browned and bubbling (if the top begins burning, turn the heat down)

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

Mushroom & Coconut Chicken

Food for thought: mushrooms are have been hailed as a superfood due to the impressive punch of nutrients found in each serving. By including mushrooms in your child’s diet, you are adding in a significant amount of B vitamins, fibre and, most importantly, selenium. Selenium is one of the most powerful antioxidants that is required by the body to fight off harmful free radicals. In addition, selenium has been linked to controlling blood glucose levels, and preventing brain nerve tissue deterioration and cancers. 

On a mission to come up with a tasty meal using the humble (and nutrient-dense) mushroom, this recipe is simple, ideal for cold, wintery days and can be dished up to the entire family (unless there are a few fussy eaters amidst the pack!).

The mushrooms work brilliantly with the flavour of the coconut milk, and the saucy consistency makes it ideal to serve over whole-wheat noodles, basmati rice, brown rice or even over mash. If you would prefer to keep this recipe dairy-free, then hold off on the cheese and use nutritional yeast flakes instead. Alternately, using cow’s milk and parmesan will be equally delicious. If your child has a soy allergy, then opt for tamari in place of the low-sodium soya sauce.

This recipe also freezes really well! I would however recommend freezing the chicken and mushroom mixture and then, once thawed, serving it with the fresh starch of your choice.

What you’ll need:

  • 1-2 packets chicken breasts (6-8 chicken breasts), cut into strips
  • 2 punnets mushrooms, finely chopped (any mushrooms will work)
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 heaped Tbs almond flour (or any wholewheat flour)
  • 2 heaped Tbs nutritional yeast flakes / grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbs olive oil for frying
  • 3 cracks black pepper
  • 1 Tbs low sodium soya sauce/tamari
  • 1/4 cup chicken/vegetable stock (low sodium is preferable)
  • Noodles/rice of your choice (wholewheat, brown or basmati is preferable)

Method:

  • Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat.
  • Brown the chicken strips for about 1-2 minutes on each side, then remove the chicken from the pan set the chicken aside.
  • Add the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil to the pan, followed by the garlic.
  • After a minute of frying the garlic, add in the chopped mushrooms, black pepper and soya sauce/tamari.
  • Cook out all the liquid from the mushrooms, until the mushrooms begin browning (around ten minutes).
  • Add back the chicken, followed by the stock, and the coconut milk.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn down the heat and allow the mixture to simmer on a medium heat setting for 5 minutes.
  • Add the flour and the nutritional yeast/parmesan and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the mixture thickens.
  • Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and set aside (the mixture will still thicken when off the heat).
  • Cook the noodles/rice according to the package instructions.
  • Serve the noodles/rice with the chicken mixture, with an extra sprinkling of parmesan/nutritional yeast flakes on top.
  • Makes 6-8 portions, depending on the age(s) of your child(ren).

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

Creamy Veggie Mash

I know I’m not only the only mommy out there who gets a hard time from my child when it comes to getting veggies into his mouth. He has become a master at tossing the steamed pieces of carrot and broccoli onto the floor  – that I have lovingly placed on his plate – for none other than our Bull Terrier to lap up.

My favourite secret weapon to cram in a number of veggies into my son’s diet, is through a trusted childhood favourite….mash. In place of refined white potatoes and heaps of butter, however, I combine a number of tasty flavours and nutritious ingredients, to ensure that each mouthful is packed with goodness.

What I love about mash recipes is that; mash can be served to children of all ages (starting from when little one’s are still on their first foods); you can get creative with any veggie combinations you choose; mash freezes fantastically; and you can serve mash up with just about any protein. I keep a supply in the freezer to ensure that I always have a healthy dose of veggies on hand, to serve up with the rest of my son’s meals.

For babies younger than 12 months, it is recommended to rather peel all fruits and vegetables, given that skins and peels can lead to tummy upsets in less developed digestive systems. If your child is a little older, you can keep the skins on for an added boost of nutrients. Remember to always wash all fruit and veggies thoroughly, even if you have bought organic produce.

You can use any milk in this recipe based on your child’s dietary needs. For children younger than two, it is recommended to opt for full-fat dairy whenever possible.

Tip: Every now and then I toss a handful of spinach/kale into this recipe for an added kick of calcium and iron.

Food for thought: orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables, as well as green leafy vegetables, are powerful sources of beta-carotene. This recipe contains an impressive kick of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A is necessary for healthy immune functioning, growth and development and for improved eyesight.

What you’ll need*:

  • 1.5 cups chopped pumpkin/butternut (skin removed)
  • 1.5 cups chopped sweet potato
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • Handful spinach/kale (optional)
  • 1 apple
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 Tbs olive oil/coconut oil
  • 2 Tbs milk

*These amounts are simply guidelines. There is no wrong or right with this recipe. Have fun and experiment with spices and ingredients and make it as runny, smooth or lumpy as your child likes!

Method (makes around 10-12 servings):

  • Steam the pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato and apple for around ten minutes, until soft.
  • Steam the spinach/kale for two minutes.
  • Combine all the ingredients into mixing bowl and purée until the desired consistency.
  • Serve with your choice of protein. For left-overs, dish out the remaining mixture into individual servings and freeze.

*The above may need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

Herb & Parmesan Crusted Salmon

It’s no secret that omega fatty acids are one of the most important sources of fuel for growing little people. DHA and EPA are the most optimal sources of omegas (needed for brain development, emotional development and concentration), and are abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna. Although plant-based oils, which are high in omega 6 – including avocado, flaxseed, soy and canola oil – offer a number of health benefits and are converted to DHA and EPA by the body, it remains far more beneficial to consume fatty fish sources when it comes to brain development.

So, exactly how much of this fatty acid should children be consuming?

Experts recommend at least two servings of fish per week, where fatty fish is preferable. If you plan on giving your child more than two servings a week, then it is best to avoid high mercury options (high levels of mercury can be toxic to the body when consumed in high quantities).

In an attempt to get my son to eat more salmon, and the omega 3’s that come along with it, I wanted to make a delicious salmon dish that would get him excited at the prospect of eating fish. The parmesan creates a subtle saltiness in this dish and the crumbled feta adds some creamy texture. Although I opted for almond flour because it adds a delicious flavour to the herb crust (amongst an added kick of omega 6), wholewheat flour could totally work in this recipe too.

What I really love about this recipe is that it is a healthy and flavour-packed dinner option that the entire family could enjoy. If your child is lactose intolerant or has a dairy allergy, then look out for lactose-free or dairy-free alternatives (a fantastic one is Nutritional Yeast Flakes that can be found in most health stores, and can replace the parmesan in this recipe).

What you’ll need:

  • 4 small-medium fillets fresh salmon
  • 1 handful fresh mint
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • 3 heaped Tbs parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 heaped Tbs almond flour
  • 2-3 cracks black pepper
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs water
  • 1/4 cup feta, drained, crumbled

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180°C.
  • Place the salmon fillets on a greased baking tray.
  • Combine the rest of the ingredients, apart from the feta, in a food processor and process until semi-smooth.
  • Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto each salmon fillet and spread to coat the surface (you will need roughly a heaped tablespoon per fillet).
  • Sprinkle over the crumbled feta.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.
  • Serve with wholewheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potato fries or vegetables of your choice.

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Always double-check fish for bones before feeding it to your child.

*Never leave your child unsupervised while eating.

Superfood Chocolate Mousse

As my son nears the age of two, I am becoming more and more aware that developing a sweet tooth is a real thing. No longer can I convince him to eat the fresh strawberry or organic rice cracker placed in front of him, when anything loaded with sugar is near in sight. Although I try and keep sugary treats to a special or weekend occasion, it is a difficult thing to keep under control (especially as a full-time working mommy who relies on a number of helping hands to feed my boy while I’m at work). There has never been a better time to get creative with sweet treats that are totally delicious, healthy and loaded with nutrients.

This recipe is truly scrumptious and ideal for vegan and lactose-intolerant children. In fact, it’s ideal as a super-healthy dessert for any child of any age (unless your child has a food allergy to any of the ingredients of course). Although I chose to use almond milk  -a flavour packed alternative to dairy – you could really use any milk of your choice.

What I love most about this recipe is that it makes use of 3 superfoods for growing little people:

  • Avocado: the superfood that needs no introduction, packed with omega fatty acids for healthy brain development, amongst a multitude of vitamins, minerals and fibre for healthy functioning. Using avocado in vegan dessert recipes is a smart and wholesome way to create a creamy and silky texture to sweet treats in place of dairy.
  • Cocoa powder:one of the most flavour-filled superfoods around, cocoa is packed with flavonoids – the compound associated with lowering cholesterol and promoting optimal heart and oral health – vitamins, minerals and fibre. It adds a deliciously, bold flavour to desserts, smoothies, yoghurt, and even to oats or porridge. Opt for unsweetened and organic varieties where possible to maximise the amount of antioxidants in each serving, without the unnecessary sugar. Because of the high content of caffeine-like compounds found in cocoa (theobromine) you’ll want to limit the amount you pass on to your little one (everything in moderation!)
  • Cinnamon: this nutritious powerhouse has been proven to control blood-sugar, which means less chance of your little monkey’s sugar crashing after eating (it is therefore an ideal addition to any glucose-intolerant/diabetic diet). It’s a healthy way to add in flavour to a number of different meals and snacks from porridge and oats in the morning to yoghurt, baking and even in sweet vegetable recipes (pumpkin, carrots, butternut and sweet potato pair brilliantly).

The best part about this recipe is that you can whip this up in a matter of seconds, without any cooking or refrigerating time needed (for warmer weather you can choose to serve this chilled by popping it into the fridge for 30 minutes before serving). The banana adds a natural sweetness to this recipe, so the honey could be left out for children younger than one.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 ripe, medium-large banana, skin removed
  • 1 ripe, medium avocado, pip and skin removed
  • 1 Tbs sugar-free nut butter
  • 2 Tbs almond milk
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs honey

Method:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process for 10-20 seconds or until silky smooth.
  • For an added boost of antioxidants, serve with fresh berries of your choice.
  • Enjoy!

*The above recipe will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the mentioned ingredients.

*Never leave your child unsupervised while eating.