How To Cook For The Whole Family

How To Cook For The Whole Family

When you're a busy mother time is often of the essence, so producing food everyone can enjoy is a no brainer. But what should you be making? When should you be making it? And how do you keep those dreaded fussy eaters at bay? We asked an expert...

We spoke to Miriam Cooper, founder of Mimi’s Bowl, a blog that aims to help make meal times fun again. Miriam has a 4-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son, so she knows about cooking for different age ranges. As such, her modern baby and toddler recipes are designed to help you get the most out of family meal times, whether that’s creating dinners that can be enjoyed by everyone or making enough for leftovers that can be adapted into another dinner. We asked for her top tips for making family-friendly food. Listen up, parents…

What kind of foods do you shop for when you're cooking for a family with young children?

Stock up on all the basics and kitchen cupboard ingredients online, that’s where you’ll find the best offers. Everything can be delivered into your kitchen, so you don’t have to lug around all heavy jars and bottles when you’re with the children. For fresh ingredients, shop locally – you’ll get the pick of the best produce, you can see what’s in season and take advice from your local suppliers on when certain foods are at their best. Small children love getting involved, too. Take them to choose fruit and veg at your local food market. I take my kids with me and we practice colours, shapes and counting.

Is it ok to use frozen food?

Freeze leftovers – that way you’ll get two dinners but only have to cook once. In my freezer are plenty of go-to meals for when I’m short on time. Homemade vegetable and lentil sauce can be turned into a quick curry, or I bake it in the oven with a sweet potato topping as a vegetable pie. 

How do you prep food to make things easier at meal times?

Write a menu plan for the week. It saves time and money if you know what you’re eating each night. Get your kids involved – let them choose what’s on the menu for one night so they’re on board, too. Once you have a plan for the week’s meals, work out what needs to be made and when. I try and cook food that can be made into lots of different dishes. For example, roasted vegetable tray bake one night can be blended into a pasta sauce another night.

How do you deal with fussy eaters?

All children are different, with varied likes and dislikes, so the first thing to do is stop comparing yourself with other families. Invite friends and their children over for meal times – eating should be sociable and other children who eat well can really encourage your own children to try new foods.

Keep offering variety. That doesn’t have to mean a whole new repertoire of recipes – if your child likes sweet potato, simply serve it up in different ways, such as roasted wedges, mash or soup. This will stop you getting stuck in food ruts.

Lastly, don’t let food become a battle ground. Try to eat together when you can. For my family, this is something we prioritise at weekends. Enjoy time together over food and if you have a bad meal and everything gets rejected, simply move on and try again another time.

Do you have any advice for batch cooking meals?

Yes, batch cook the foods your family actually like. I made the mistake once of cooking a load of one particular fish dish, it didn’t freeze well and my whole family hated it.

How do you create meals that satisfy family members of all ages?

Choose recipes that can be adapted, like softly stewed fruit. Blend some for the baby and for the rest of the family add cinnamon and serve with Greek yogurt. This is how I cook at home – I don’t have time to make a hundred separate meals and snacks all day long!

How do you get kids to eat their vegetables?

Introduce vegetables from day one, choosing some that are bright and colourful – this is the easiest way to pique interest while ensuring a nutrient-dense diet. Vegetables needn’t be boring – roast cauliflower instead of steaming it to bring out its nutty flavour. With so much emphasis on plant-based cooking and eating there’s plenty of recipe inspiration to choose from. Also, make sure you’re setting an example by eating plenty of veg too and not snacking whilst they eat their dinner.

What’s the easiest way to wean a baby?

I work in stages, starting with single tastes and foods first, then moving onto combined purées and flavours. I focus on savoury tastes and plenty of vegetables. Next, I introduce texture, mashing well-cooked foods and introducing baby couscous and mini gluten-free pasta. The first protein I try is steamed white fish blended with cooked vegetables, then I introduce finger foods to help develop hand-to-eye coordination. Iron is also key from six months onwards, so I cook plenty of green vegetables and add red meat into my cooking.

Between 9-12 months, I cook recipes which can easily be adapted for the whole family, from stew to mini meatballs. Everyone’s approach to starting solids is different, but my key tips are to keep it simple, embrace the mess and start with plenty of vegetables.

And if you’re looking for food inspiration that’ll satisfy the whole family, here are Mimi’s top three recipes for this spring:

Easy Egg Fried Rice

Serves 2 adults, or 3 children
This quick family recipe is adaptable: I have added quantities as a rough guide but I really do make this up from leftovers in the fridge. Feel free to customise this ‘master recipe’ with the vegetables you have to hand: grated carrots, shredded greens like baby spinach leaves or pak choi, bean sprouts, mushrooms and so on. The key to success here is the rice has been pre-cooked and then completely cooled –which stops the grains sticking together. 

120g of cooked rice (I use easy cook long grain rice, cooked and completely cooled)
70-80g of sugar snap peas
70-80g of frozen peas
70-80g of red pepper (1/2 a red pepper approx.)
70-80g of corn (here I am using baby sweet corn, but frozen sweet corn/ or fresh corn cut off the kernel works)
2 spring onions, trimmed
3 medium organic eggs
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1-2 tbsp of reduced salt soy sauce

For extra flavour (optional):
1 tsp of grated ginger
1 tsp of crushed garlic
1 tbsp of chives, chopped

To cook:

  1. Ahead of time, make your rice. When cooking rice follow the packet instructions: I always rinse rice really well in running water and cook in plenty of water too. You need it to be cooked and completely cooled.
  2. Prep all the vegetables: wash them, trim and slice or dice, making sure everything is cut so it’s age appropriate to avoid choking risks for smaller children.
  3. Heat a wok or large frying pan, add a little vegetable oil. Add the spring onions and pre-cooked rice to the hot pan for 3-4 minutes, moving constantly. By the end of the cooking time, the rice needs to be completely reheated.
  4. Next, add the vegetables and cook for 2-3 mins. Move the vegetable/ rice mix to one side of the pan and crack the eggs into the space. Allow to cook on the underside, then break up into strips with a spatula (breaking into small eggy pieces). Fold the rice, vegetables and egg together for a final 1-2 mins of cooking: the rice and egg should be piping hot and cooked through.
  5. To finish add reduced-salt soy sauce to taste, and chopped chives. For adults, serve with Siracha sauce for a fiery kick.

Crispy Fish Cakes

Serves 2-3 people
Fishcakes are such an easy standby meal and a great way of using up leftover mashed potato and cooked fish. Fishcakes can also be made ahead and then cooked as you need them. They freeze well too. Sometimes I breadcrumb the fishcakes and sometimes I don’t bother– they are just as good without.

100g of sustainable firm fish fillet (haddock, halibut or salmon, skinned and pin-boned by your fishmonger)
50ml of whole milk
200g of potatoes (any variety good for mashing)
25g of butter
3 tbsp of plain flour
1 egg
A handful of breadcrumbs of your choice
Butter and oil, for frying
To cook:

  1. Peel and dice the potatoes, add to a pan of boiling water and cook until completely soft and ready for mashing. Once cooked, drain and cover, letting them steam a little. Mash the potato until smooth (I use a potato ricer but you can use a masher), add some butter and, if needed, a few tablespoons of the cooking liquor from the poached fish, to make a lovely creamy mash.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (for fan ovens). Place the fillet of fish in a high-sided oven dish, cover with milk, then seal the dish with foil. Place in the hot oven to poach for 20 minutes, depending on the size of the fillets. Check the fish is cooked through, then remove from the dish and set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid. Flake the fish fillets into pieces being careful to pick out all bones, if there are any.
  3. Fold the mashed potato and fish together and roll the mixture into mini fish cakes (my daughter prefers them to be smaller as easier for her to eat).
  4. Lay out three plates. Fill one with a few tablespoons of plain flour, one with an egg lightly whisked, one with breadcrumbs of your choice. Then roll the fishcakes in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Set aside for cooking.
  5. Warm some butter and a little olive oil in a frying pan; fry the fish cakes in batches. Place on a lined baking tray and warm though completely in the oven, until piping hot all the way through: 10 minutes at 180°C fan oven.
  6. Serve the fishcakes hot, with wedges of fresh lemon

Plum & Apple Compote

Serves 2 -3 people
This is the simplest of fruit purees. It takes five minutes to prep and then you just let it bubble away for 15 minutes or so. I blend this into a smooth puree for my baby son. The rest of my family eat the same: I simply serve it with creamy yogurt and a handful of oat granola. It freezes really well too.

4 apples
4 plums
1 stick of cinnamon

To cook:

  1. Wash, peel and core the apples, cut into wedges. Wash and de-stone the plums, then cut into wedges.
  2. Add to a pan with eight tablespoons of water and the cinnamon stick. Cook on a low-medium heat, until the apples and plums are completely soft. Add more water if needed.
  3. Remove the cinnamon stick. I also remove the plum skins, as they are a little bitter and discard both.
  4. For small children, blend the apple and plum mixture using a hand blender to the desired consistency.

To see more from Miriam and to see her weaning her son, check out her Instagram @mimisbowl.

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