15 go-to ideas
After the excitement of the first few weeks back at school, things are settling down now and I know it won’t take long for the routine to kick in and start to feel humdrum again. We’re already back into the time tested format of homework, tea, bath and bed in the evenings after school, and although there is comfort to be taken from the familiarity of it, it can also feel draining by dint of its incessancy.
I thought I’d write a little about kids’ tea and share 15 of my go-to ideas. During the week, our kids have a three course lunch at school in true French style, but this doesn’t prevent them from emerging from school starving and being hungry again come teatime. I have 3 different tactics when it comes to the evening meal; either cooking a big batch meal earlier in the day or week, quickly making something in the space of 20 minutes/half an hour at most, or falling back on super quick old reliables like beans or eggs on toast or toasted sandwiches with some chopped cucumber or carrot sticks.
I also tend not to think about kids’ teatime as being totally separate from my own; probably because I’m often hungry and therefore eat at the same time as them, and also because I aim to cook the same meal for children and grown ups. Sometimes I make something relatively unfussy which I know the kids will enjoy, and then update what’s left for us with extra herbs, spices or other flavourings I know they are less keen on. We’re all tired at the end of the day and I find this approach helps to keep things as simple as possible and avoid meltdowns, my own as much as those of my children.
Ideas for when you can cook ahead
1. Roast fresh tomatoes, a red pepper, onion and garlic in olive oil with basil/thyme/oregano (whatever you have) and salt and pepper until collapsed. Leave to cool and pinch off the tomato and pepper skins. Transfer to a food processor, add enough water to cover and blitz. Add creme fraiche for a creamy version. Good with cheese on toast or cheesy scones if you have the time and inclination.
2. In a medium pan fry off one onion, 3 carrots and half a sweet potato until soft. Add enough red lentils to cover the veg, plus stock and a bay leaf. Simmer for half an hour or until the lentils have turned pale yellow. My kids like to eat this as a mash, so often I will only add enough water to cook the lentils and then part blitz it to keep it quite a thick consistency. You can make it into a proper soup by adding more water or coconut milk to thin it out a little. Also good with some chopped coriander and chilli added after the blitzing.
3. Use up any leftover veggies from a roast, by combining with a fried onion, add water or stock to cover, and blitz.
4. Roast half a butternut squash with sweet potato and garlic, transfer to a food processor, add stock to cover and blitz.
5. Macaroni cheese with extra bacon/broccoli/cherry tomatoes
6. Roast whatever vegetables you have – onions, peppers, courgette, carrot for example, and blitz with a tin of chopped tomatoes for a quick pasta sauce
7. Veggie chilli made with their favourite vegetables, beans or lentils and an optional handful of quinoa to bulk it up. Serve with rice or couscous, or wraps which they can add cheese, sour cream, guacamole etc to.
8. As above but a meaty version
9. Baked sweet potatoes or ordinary potatoes. Scoop out the insides and mash with butter and cheese, add some optional ham or peas. Spoon the filling back into the jackets and bake for another 20 minutes.
10. Fry onion, carrot, garlic, leek and add lentils, stock and bay, cooking until everything comes together. Transfer to an ovenproof dish and cover with mash before cooking in the oven for 30 minutes for a veggie shepherds pie.
Half hour meals
11. Add butter, cream, chopped ham and grated cheese (emmental, parmesan, cheddar all work well) to hot, cooked pasta. Optional addition of frozen peas to the pasta water a minute or so before cooking time is up if you want something green on the plate.
12. Pasta, peas and pesto. The old ones are the best.
13. Cook some basmati rice and whilst it is cooking whisk up 2 or 3 eggs with salt and pepper. Swirl the eggs in a separate frying pan to make a quick omelette. Meanwhile add chopped carrots to the rice pan. Set the omelette to one side and fry an onion in the same pan. Drain the rice and carrots, add to the pan with some frozen peas, soy sauce and sesame oil and optional chilli flakes.
14. Risottos are a great excuse to stand stirring a pan for half an hour whilst not thinking about anything in particular. Add combinations of bacon/mushrooms/roasted squash/leftover roast chicken to suit your preferences.
15. Add leftover cooked veggies, chopped ham or cooked bacon to an ovenproof dish and pour over 4-5 beaten eggs (depending on the size of the dish). Add cheese on top and bake in a preheated oven to make a crustless quiche. Serve with salad or green veg.