Family mealtimes have many health benefits: studies show they lower children’s risk of obesity and eating disorders. Cooking and sharing simple recipes is an opportunity to model positive attitudes towards food and inspire an interest in healthy eating. Children are much more likely to try new foods they’ve prepared themselves.
But mealtimes aren’t just about food: they're also are a great time to catch up and establish family traditions and memories. Eating with children equips them with skills for life — and we’re not just talking table manners. Research shows family mealtimes boost children’s self-esteem and their school grades. Conversations around the dinner table also build vocabulary and develop resilience.
Here's 3 healthy recipes to try with the family:
Veggie Lentil Bake
This recipe has tasks suitable for the whole family so everyone can get involved. While one helper grates the cheese, another can take charge of stirring the rice and lentils. The mushrooms and courgettes are softer to cut: easy work for a supervised child, while an adult chops the leek and pepper. Why not task the youngest helper with layering the mixture and crowning it with cheese?
If mushrooms and courgettes aren’t popular, experiment by swapping with fine carrot slices or peas, adjusting the cooking time accordingly. And remember, a good cook tastes their food as they go along so encourage children to use their judgement when it comes to seasoning with smoked paprika or black pepper.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 110 g or ½ a cup of red lentils
- 75 g or ¼ cup of white rice or quick-cook brown rice
- 650 ml or 2½ cups of vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 small leek
- 1 orange pepper, diced fairly small
- 5 medium mushrooms, diced fairly small
- 1 small courgette, diced fairly small
- 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- Black pepper
- 90 g or 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
- Heat the oven to 190°C (Gas Mark 5 / 375°F)
- Boil the lentils and rice for 15-20 minutes in the vegetable stock, stirring occasionally. Stir carefully during the last 5 minutes to ensure they don’t stick to the pan.
- Once cooked, don’t drain the water, but continue stirring over the heat until the mixture resembles porridge.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, and add the chopped leek, pepper, mushrooms and courgette. Cook over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the vegetables are soft.
- Combine the cooked lentils and vegetables in a large mixing bowl, and add the paprika, cayenne pepper, and plenty of black pepper. Mix well.
- Transfer half of the mixture to a baking dish, and sprinkle over half of the grated cheese.
- Add the remaining lentil mixture, smooth out the top, and finish with the remaining cheese.
- Bake for around 25 - 30 minutes, until the cheese topping is golden brown and crispy.
This dish makes for a balanced meal full of macro and micro nutrients. Lentils are a low fat, nutritionally dense source of protein. They contain high levels of nutrients which benefit bone, nerve and muscle function, support the production and maintenance of new cells and combat cell damage. The addition of rice makes this a complete protein source, packed with essential amino acids. The fibre-rich vegetables benefit gut bacteria and help keep the bowel regular. Their vitamins and antioxidants support the immune system and help regulate mood. The slow-release carbohydrates are a constant source of energy while the olive oil is full of healthy, unsaturated fat that aids digestion. The cheese is a good source of calcium and counts towards the recommended three portions of dairy per day.
Moroccan Chicken and Sweet Potato Tagine
This healthy, fragrant ‘all-in-one-pan’ recipe introduces children to gentle spices. Older helpers will enjoy measuring out ingredients using teaspoons, tablespoons, weighing scales and a measuring jug.
The ingredients will inspire exciting conversations. This is an opportunity to discuss the natural health benefits of garlic and ginger, for example, or how your child feels about including fruit in a savoury meal. Who knew apricots could be used in a stew?
If quinoa isn’t to your child’s taste, this can be replaced by rice, pasta or even chunky pieces of bread.
- 4 chicken breasts or 8 thighs, skin removed
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 red onions, chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes, washed and cut into chunks
- 1 butternut squash; peeled, deseeded and cut into pieces
- 650 ml chicken stock
- 100 g of peeled root ginger, roughly chopped
- 100 g of tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric
- 1 tablespoon each of cumin, coriander and cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
- 150 g of dried apricots, halved
- Handful of chopped mint leaves
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 4 handfuls of spinach leaves, washed
- 150 g quinoa, rinsed thoroughly and cooked like rice
- Place the tomatoes, half of the chopped onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor and blend to form a paste.
- Season the chicken, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a flameproof dish and brown the chicken. Remove from pan.
- Heat the remaining oil and fry the onion until soft. Add spices and fry for 1 minute. Add the paste and fry for 3 minutes.
- Return the chicken to the pan with the squash, sweet potato, apricots, stock and vinegar.
- Simmer for 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
- Scatter with the lemon zest and mint leaves and serve with the cooked quinoa.
- Place a handful of uncooked spinach leaves on each plate and ladle the tagine on top.
The chicken in this recipe provides the body with all eight of the essential amino acids it needs for repair. Quinoa is often referred to as the “mother grain” due to its valuable protein. It’s highly anti-inflammatory and rich in essential fats. It contains almost four times as much calcium as wheat, plus extra iron, B vitamins and vitamin E.
Squash, sweet potato and apricots are high in carotenoids. They contain vitamins A, B and C, along with calcium, magnesium and manganese. When combined, these nutrients work as potent antioxidants that heal inflammation and benefit bone and muscle health.
Turmeric, ginger and garlic are renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Homemade pizzas are effortless to make and wonderfully nutritious. Cooked tomatoes contain high levels of lycopene, which can lower the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
By making your own pizza, you can control the cheese and salt content. Shop-bought varieties often have high levels of both.
You can buy ready-rolled pizza bases in all shapes and sizes, from flame-baked to sourdough. Alternatively, you could use pitta bread, a ciabatta sliced lengthwise or your family loaf.
Making your own dough can be a fun talking point for children. You can discuss how the yeast is activated by the warm water, feeding on the sugar and flour to create a gas that becomes trapped in the mixture, causing it to grow. Kids will have fun kneading the dough too.
Pizza base ingredients
- 14¼ oz strong plain white bread flour, plus extra for kneading
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 15 g (½ oz) of fresh yeast
- 1 teaspoon of caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 8fl oz of lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- Mix 3 tablespoons of the water with the yeast and sugar. Leave it in a warm place for 10 minutes until it begins to bubble.
- Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the yeast mixture. Stir in the oil and enough of the remaining water to make a soft dough.
- Lightly flour your hands and the work surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it becomes smooth and elastic.
- Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with cling film. Put it in a warm place for 1½ hours until the dough has doubled in size.
- Cut the dough in half and place the two halves onto a lightly floured surface.
- Roll it out into two equal circles.
- Place the pizza bases on a lightly greased baking tray ready for their toppings.
Pizza sauce ingredients
- 1 small tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- salt and pepper
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Heat the oil over a medium-hot flame and add the crushed garlic, stirring for 30 seconds.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper and cook slowly for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When you’re ready to go, spread the sauce onto your chosen bases and add the toppings.
- Bake in an oven heated to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F or gas mark 7 for 20 - 25 minutes.
Choose your own toppings and get creative. Mix and match from the following:
- Pine nuts
- Flaked tuna
- Crack an egg into the centre for quality protein
- Tinned pineapple pieces
- Sliced mozzarella cheese
- Grated cheddar
- Feta cheese
- Vegan cheese
- Spinach leaves
- Slices of bell pepper
- Fresh chilli slices
- Thin slices of pepperoni
- Halved black olives
Serve your pizza with a green salad, to contribute to your recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
Nutrition plays an important role in your overall wellbeing and can often be an afterthought with busy schedules. Taking time to plan meals and ensure you’re eating a balanced diet will help with your physical health and bring positive changes to your wellbeing.
Studies show teenagers consume around 8 times the recommended daily sugar allowance, so making simple changes can help reduce these high sugar intakes. At Nuffield Health, we’re committed to supporting young people and the health issues they face day-to-day, which is why we’ve created the Schools Wellbeing Activity Programme (swap) which aims to empower students to improve their wellbeing.
Last updated Monday 30 March 2020
First published on Monday 29 July 2019