Chef Matt Jacobs tells us how to help children discover and explore vegan food and how to cook for children who are fussy.
Feeding children can be a challenge, a huge challenge sometimes. Take it from me, I have three kids and each of them is difficult in their own way to feed, so finding a meal that appeals to all three can be a task and I have definitely picked up a few tricks with my clan in the kitchen!
If you don’t have the luxury of time, then making a balanced meal can be tricky so make sure you always have Nutritional Yeast at hand. It’s an absolute must at home for me, boasting a sweet nutty flavour and packed with nutrients its perfect for tickling their taste buds and topping up thief dietary index. It also targets the savoury part of the palate and one thing I know about kids , or at least mine, is that they will just about eat anything that is savoury…..sweet too.
Getting the Balance Right
So, when I cook for them it’s about finding balance between sweet, savoury and seasoning/spices first. We don’t want to overpower the delicate palates with intense flavours, but we still want them to discover new flavours to keep them interested in what they are eating. Not only is this important, but we need to consider the texture of ingredients too.
The whole eating experience is a different dynamic for children. Let’s say they can’t chew a food properly, find it stringy or slimy – then it isn’t staying in their mouth! Let’s be honest here, we’ve all been there and spat something out of our mouth that is gross! For me its mushrooms and I’m not ashamed to say it, the texture of them horrible little things makes me gip!
Here we are, we’ve figured the above out and now it’s down to cooking….but you have no time to so the process becomes a huge stressful ordeal. I’ve mentioned in other articles that prep is key and it’s no different when dealing with little ones. In fact, it’s maybe even more essential as you have the pleasure of teaching and stimulating kids as well as feeding them.
Most people like to sit with their children for meals and whilst I agree this is important, for me it’s actually more important they actually eat well. If they enjoy the meal that’s in front of them they will eat it regardless of you sitting with them or not.
Back to the Prep!
Prep and cook the meal the night before and heat it up. sounds simple? Yes, but we haven’t finished yet! Your veggies should be peeled and cut the night before and cooked fresh. The main, let’s say its lasagne, should be cooked and reheated. The little differences here keep the nutrients and taste at a high level. Would you rather eat a freshly cooked carrot or a micro-waved one?!
Your kids are sitting in the kitchen, eating a lovely meal that took maybe 15 minutes to cook today and you are thinking of sitting down to join them. Here is why I don’t:
They are self-contained now and eating, hopefully really enjoying the meal too… so PREP!! Start your prep for the following meal while you have the time and the kids aren’t running around your feet while you struggle not to spill boiling water all over yourself!
It starts with a little struggle but once you have that routine going you will save so much time and your children will enjoy the food a great deal more. Not only that, but their interest in food will grow because they will be curious about what you are doing.
Top tip: be careful feeding them raw bits of food you are prepping. If they try a raw onion and don’t like it (how many kids would!?) then they will recognise it in a meal and refuse to eat it. Remember they won’t understand the change in flavour and will only recognise the taste they first experienced.
Children-Friendly Vegan Recipes
Roasted Red Pepper Tagliatelle [Serves 2 – 4]
Red Pepper Sauce
- 1 X Red onion [sliced]
- 3 X Roasted red peppers [skinned]
- 5 X Garlic cloves [crushed and sliced]
- 500g Passata
- 500g Water [use the passata carton to measure]
- 1 X Tbsp brown sugar
- 15g Chives [chopped]
- Salt and pepper [to season]
Slowly cook the red onion and garlic in a pan with some olive oil until soft. Now add the peppers, passata and water and bring to the boil. Reduce to simmer for 30 minutes before blending. Once blended bring back to a simmer and add the sugar and chives, cooking for a further 20 minutes. Season the sauce and add a little more water if necessary to achieve your desired consistency before adding to your dish.
- 300g Semolina
- 150g Strong white flour
- 1 Tbsp yellow mustard
- 160g Water
In a bowl mix all of the ingredients together to form a dough and knead for 5 – 10 minutes before leaving to rest for 30 minutes in a sealed container. After you have allowed the dough to rest separate it into 4 balls. Roll out each ball individually into a rectangle, around 2mm thick, before cutting strips 1cm wide and putting to a side. make sure there is space between the pasta to stop it all sticking together. Alternatively you could use a pasta machine to achieve this. Boil a pan of water and cook your pasta for 2 minutes before removing and adding to your sauce. Plate and serve.
Chickpea Dahl [serves 6/8]
- 2 X 400g Tin Drained Chickpeas
- 8 x Cloves crushed garlic
- 6 x Chopped Tomatoes
- 1 X Large sliced red onion
- 2 x Chopped red peppers
- 1 x 380g Tin drained spinach
- 200g Prepared chana dall
- 1 x Finely chopped red onion
- 20g Grated ginger
- 15g Cumin seeds
- 10g Ground coriander seeds
- 1 X Tbsp turmeric
- 2 x Veg stock cubes
- Salt & pepper [to season]
- 1 X Tbsp mild chilli powder pepper
- 3 x Heaped spoons nutritional yeast
- 450ml Water
Toast the cumin & coriander seeds in a deep pan for a few seconds on a high heat. Add some oil and sweat the onion, garlic & ginger in the same pan until soft. Add peppers, tomatoes, spinach, water, stock cubes & bring to the boil. allow the veg to cook and then add nutritional yeast. Cook out for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, before reducing to simmer for 20 minutes. Add the remainder of your ingredients and cook for a further 10 minutes seasoning with salt, pepper & mild chilli powder.