Cooking for kids is an art form and one that evolves as they do. I never really know what the reaction will be when I plonk a plate in front of Max, if its good he will end up wearing it around his mouth and if not I will usually end up wearing it about my person. Throw in the endless trips to the supermarket and the urge to feed your kids a healthy and varied diet and it can be a pain in the bottom. One thing that helps to minimise that painful bottom is stocking up on those versatile ingredients that so often save the day. You probably already have a fair idea of what works in your house but I thought I would share my Top 10 Stock Cupboard Essentials and some of the different ways I use them.
Tortilla Wraps – These are a staple in our house and can be used in lots of different ways. You can get all different kinds including wholemeal. As well as using them as they are intended and rolling them up with a filling (tuna mayo gets the nod from Max) I will also use them as a pizza base, I sometimes cut them into little triangles, bake them and have them with a homemade dip or Max’s favourite as a quesadilla stuffed with spinach, cheese and mushroom –once you fold them the kids can’t see what they’re eating so they become a good vehicle for veggies.
Chick Peas – I love that Max eats these because it’s something simple and healthy that requires no prep. We take them out with us for his snack or if his lunch is looking a bit sparse I will fill in the gaps with chick peas. I will add them to soups and once they are blitzed they add an extra bit of flavour. And you can’t mention chick peas without mentioning humus, I blitz a couple of cans at a time and add lemon juice, a bit of garlic, some olive oil and Tahini (but to be fair chick peas, olive oil and a bit of water does the job).
Lentils – Lentils are very good at ticking the cheap and healthy boxes. I use the little orange ones mostly because they cook quickly and the flavour isn’t as strong as the green ones. I use them to thicken soups, they cook in about 10 mins and can then be blitzed up to make sure the soup gets from bowl to mouth without too many spillages. You can use them to make patties along with grated carrot, onion and potato. You can add them to Bolognese sauce instead of mince and again you can make dips with them, sweet potato and lentil works well.
Risoni – Risoni is the pasta that looks like rice and is also known as Orzo. This is a great addition for the stock cupboard as it’s much quicker to cook than rice or other pastas and time nearly always seems to be of the essence in our house. I will make a sauce with béchamel, cheese, mushroom and spinach or if I need a quick fix I just add tuna and pesto and Max loves it. You can also use it to make a cheats risotto, adding stock rather than water and finishing with pea, cheese and ham for example. Its another good thickener for soups as well as it absorbs the excess liquid.
Frozen Chopped Spinach – So I keep banging on about spinach and this is my all time favourite ingredient for Max. It costs a grand total of $1 per box, it’s chopped to a size that works for little people, its super healthy and it’s not got a huge amount of flavour for them to object to. Pretty much anything that gets cooked in our house I will add a bit of spinach, if you think about it it works with cheese dishes and tomato based dishes which covers just about all bases. Pizzas, frittatas, soups, pasties, pastas, chilli’s, quesadillas, rice dishes and even a cheeky toasted sandwich all respond well to a bit of spinach.
Pesto – Max loves the stuff and given the fact that it has such a strong flavour it can mask some of the veggies that he isn’t quite so keen on. Check the back of the jar and go for the one with the highest percentage of basil. One of the easiest meals I do for Max is spaghetti with pesto, tuna and spinach. The biggest drawback is that you will suddenly start noticing little green splatters all over the house.
Miso Soup – Max is a big fan of salty foods and this is the healthiest salty food going. You can buy little sachets from the Supermarket I think 12 will set you back around $3. Try cooking noodles/rice in it and serve with stir fried veggies or adding it to soups for a bit more flavour. Its quick, cheap and healthy.
Cream cheese – I use it as a cheat cheese sauce for pastas, just add some to cooked pasta and stir it in. Max is quite partial to chopped veggies (carrot, capsicum and celery) and a good smear of cream cheese helps it all go down without any fuss. If I’ve made a soup and want to cool it down quickly I’ll add some cream cheese. Spreading a little on a wrap will help the sides to stick together without the contents decorating your floor.
Frozen Puff Pastry – Pastry is something that scares me a little bit but I’ve been embracing the frozen stuff more and more. I pull baked things out of the oven with a sense of pride and amazement at how damned good they look. We have filled pastries with spinach and ricotta, cheese, onion and potato, chicken and mushroom, chicken and leek, cheese and ham or a curried potato, pea and onion for the adventurous kids. You could also make sausage rolls, pies and cheese straws. Not the healthiest but sometimes you just want your child to eat some bloody food and pastry seems to help.
Soy Sauce – Back on the salty theme, if I want to guarantee Max eats his veg I will splash a bit of soy sauce on it and stir fry it. Brocolli, carrots, peas, beans, zucchini and onion all get the soy treatment. I also use this trick with noodles, rice and tofu.
So at any given time if you were to poke your head in and around the Down Under larder you will generally find all of these ingredients, bustling and barging for cupboard space. These are the items that get me out of those sticky situations when I can’t quite face another trip to the supermarket. With these bits and pieces at hand I have a varied repertoire of meals at my disposal to keep the poor lad from going hungry and the poor Dad form tearing his hair out.
Whats always in your larder and what do you do with it?