Rebecca Wilson is the woman behind @RebeccaWilsonFood, an Instagram account with over 480k followers, and the best-selling cookbook What Mummy Makes. Her aim is to create simple, comforting dishes everyone can enjoy. Here, she shares her tips for cooking healthily at this time of year…
The best way of incorporating vegetables into your children’s diet is little and often, but every day. Every meal, in fact. The sooner you make a varied exposure to vegetables in your little one’s diet, the sooner they will come accustomed to eating them. It is important to offer plain, steamed or boiled veg (although the addition of extra flavourings like lemon, paprika or garlic is fine) but ensure it is clear to them which vegetable it is, so that little ones are aware of what they are eating and know how the vegetable looks and tastes.
If it is particularly tricky to get your little one to consume veggies, as well as vegetable sides you could try adding grated root veg like carrots and courgette into your meals, like pasta, fritters or pizza. Try my ‘Hidden Veg Pizza’ recipe from Family Comforts – there’s veg in the pizza base as well as in the sauce, and you really can’t tell. The trick is to not worry though. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your little one to eat their greens. As long as you offer it, you’re doing the best you can.
For a simple after school meal, I love a fridge-raid pasta dish. Round up any ingredients you have in the fridge that might work well alongside pasta, adding in as many extra veggies as you can – grated courgette, for instance, works so well in a pasta sauce. My daughter Nina also loves it when I whip up my broccoli and mushroom pasta soup, it’s such a great recipe because you can either serve it as a pasta sauce, or a big bowl of soup with a little pasta in the soup. It’s veg-packed and tasty.
Healthy food doesn’t need to be lacking in flavour. I like to make dishes which swap high sugar content for much lower quantities and use naturally derived sugar sources, which usually have a lower sugar content, too – for example banana. You can also use dates as a sweetener, which add a delicious caramel flavour.
When it comes to getting meals ready quickly during the week, my best advice would be to prep ahead. This could be as simple as making a plan of what food you will eat on each day of the week – this way you won’t feel stressed or rushed when it comes to dinner time. If you can, shop ahead, as this will save you so much time.
Try to cook meals where the leftovers can be used the next day. If you make a roast chicken or gammon, then the leftovers can be used in packed lunches, pasta dishes, to top a pizza or fill a quesadilla. This will save you money by making your meals go further. But for the ultimate prep ahead hack for busy days, invest in a slow cooker. Quickly prep the dish in the morning, and set it to cook all day, and return home to dinner all done. It’s the ultimate dinner time flex.
I’m somewhat of a hoarder when it comes to kitchen gadgets, but one I go back to every time I cook pasta or boil veg is a spider strainer tool. It allows you to lift out the pasta straight from the water to add to your pasta sauce, without losing any of the cooking water which – in my opinion – takes your pasta dish to the next level.
It’s so easy to reach for pre-bought snacks, isn’t it? But I also like these simple healthy combos, none of which will break the bank.
Apple slices with 100% peanut butter.
Rice cakes with cream cheese and strawberries.
Veg sticks and a dip of your choice.
Mix a tin of tuna with Greek yoghurt to make a pâté and serve with toast.
Making up a batch of ‘bliss balls’ or cheesy crackers at the start of the week which you can dip into whenever you need as a snack. You can find recipes for both in my first book, What Mummy Makes.
Inspired? Here are nine healthy after-school meals for this time of year...