A Unique Child

A Healthy Winter Menu for Early Years Settings

  • A Healthy Winter Menu for Early Years Settings
  • A Healthy Winter Menu for Early Years Settings
  • A Healthy Winter Menu for Early Years Settings
  • A Healthy Winter Menu for Early Years Settings

Dietician, chef and founder of Grub4Life, Nigel Denby, presents a nutritious menu, ideal for nursery days and domestic nights…

Healthy eating is an important aspect of every early years setting’s provision. Each of the current EYFS‘s four themes contain references to children’s health, and together with exercise and hygiene, the food children are offered, and which they are taught is good for them, while they are at nursery should be at the heart of practitioners’ efforts to promote physical wellbeing.

Of course, to be truly effective, healthy eating can’t be confined to the nursery, so encouraging parents to continue the good work at home is also important. Unfortunately, mums and dads can feel like feeding a family and keeping everyone happy is an impossibility, especially in these financially straitened times. It needn’t be, and it doesn’t have to break the bank either. Healthy eating menus can be simple and fit in with families’ routines – including the time their children are at nursery.

Every family uses quick and easy meal recipes and some convenience products at some point during the week; this is not a sin. The trick is for parents to plan ahead, allowing them to keep an eye on their budget and take advantage of special offers and promotions. Why not make the following weekly menu available to get them started. Suitable for toddlers, school children and adults, it ticks all the healthy eating boxes, incorporating plenty of fruit and vegetables, oily fish once a week, white fish, pasta, legumes and pulses, and white meat. The meals, which are affordable and have a short preparation time, combine traditional family foods with new ideas, and can be swapped around from day to day as desired. They’re also great for serving in nursery, so why not have a go with one of the recipes today!

Tip: Breakfast can be kept simple; during the week, most families need to get up and go! There are a wide range of cereals available, but it’s best to choose a plain option such as Weetabix, Ready Brek or Porridge.

Get cooking

Healthy recipes to try with your children…

Mini Falafels with Mint & Cucumber Yoghurt Dip

What you need - falafels: (4-6 servings)

● 400g tinned chickpeas, rinsed and drained

● 1 small onion, finely chopped

● 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

● 1 tsp ground cumin

● 1 tbsp fresh coriander chopped

● 1 tsp ground coriander

● 2–4 tbsp flour

● 1–2 tbsp olive oil

What you do:
Place the chick peas in a food processor with the onion, garlic, cumin and both types of coriander. Blend until you have a smooth puree. Let the mixture rest for at least 30 minutes. Take walnut-size portions (bigger for adults) and shape them into small, flat rounds 1cm thick. Roll the falafels lightly in the flour and chill for 15–30 minutes. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the falafels over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning frequently. Serve with Mint and Cucumber Yoghurt Dip and pita bread.

What you need – dip:

● 150ml natural bio-yoghurt

● 1 clove garlic, peeled & crushed

● 2 tbsp mayonnaise

● 2 tsp chopped fresh mint (optional)

● Juice of ½ lime

● pinch salt

● ½ cucumber, chopped

What you do:
Place the yoghurt, mayonnaise and lime juice in a bowl and whisk with a fork. Add the cucumber, garlic and mint, mix well, adding a pinch of salt to taste, if necessary. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least one hour before serving to allow the flavours to intensify.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Rice

What you need: (4–6 servings)

● 1 aubergine, sliced thinly

● 1 red pepper, deseeded and halved

● 1 green pepper, deseeded and halved

● 2 tbsp oil

● 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

● 1 clove garlic, crushed

● 1 teaspoon of mild chilli powder

● 1 teaspoon ground cumin

● 100g green lentils

● 225g can of chopped tomatoes

● 150ml vegetable stock or tomato juice

● 225g Greek yoghurt (22.5g per tbsp)

● Rice

What you do:
Place the aubergine in a colander and sprinkle with a little salt. Cover with a weighted plate and leave to stand for 15 minutes. In the meantime peel and chop potatoes for boiling. Cover with water and place on the heat. Place the peppers in a hot oven or under the grill until the skin begins to char and blister. Place the halves in a plastic bag and leave to cool. In a large pan heat the oil, add the onion, garlic, chilli powder and ground cumin, and cook for 1–2 minutes. Rinse the aubergine slices and cut in half, add to the pan along with the lentils. After 1–2 minutes add the tomatoes and stock or tomato juice. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20–25 minutes. Meanwhile, peel the skins from the peppers and cut into small pieces. Add the peppers to the stew. Serve with rice and top with ½ a tablespoon of Greek yoghurt.

Chicken and Leek Stroganoff

What you need: (4 servings)

● Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

● 150g long-grain or basmati rice

● 1 large leek

● A big handful of chestnut or oyster mushrooms

● 2 chicken breasts

● A knob of butter

● A glass of white wine

● A bunch of fresh parsley

● 285ml single cream

● 1 lemon

What you do:
Pour boiling water from the kettle into a large pan, place on a high heat and add a pinch of salt. Add your rice, bring back to the boil, then turn the heat down slightly, Cook for the length of time given in the packet instructions. Cut both ends off the leek, quarter lengthways, slice across thinly, then wash well under running water. Slice the mushrooms. Slice the chicken pieces into little-finger-size pieces. Put a large frying pan on a high heat and add a good lug of olive oil and a knob of butter. Add the leek to the pan with the white wine, a small glass of water and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Let it bubble away for 5 minutes, covered loosely with a piece of foil. Meanwhile finely chop the parsley, stalks and all. Remove the foil and add the chicken strips, most of the parsley, the cream and the mushrooms. Stir, bring back to the boil, then turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain your rice. Just before serving, cut your lemon in half and squeeze the juice of one half into the stroganoff.

Salmon fishcakes with parsley sauce and green vegetables

What you need – fishcakes: (4–6 servings)

● 1 large can of tuna or salmon in spring water, 170–180g drained weight

● 1 onion, finely chopped

● 8–10 medium potatoes

● 1 egg, beaten

● 250ml milk

● 100g oats or crushed cornflakes

● Frozen peas (50g each)

● Oil

What you do:
Pre-heat oven to 180°C/350°F, Gas 4. Peel and dice potatoes for mashing, boil until tender and mash. Add the onion and fish to the mash, season with a little pepper. Mix well. Divide the mixture into 12, and shape into patties( fishcakes). Mix the beaten egg and milk in a bowl. Place the oats/cornflakes in a large flat dish. Dip each fishcake in the egg wash, then into the oats or cornflakes, evenly coat the fishcake. Place the oat covered fishcake onto a greased oven tray. Before baking, brush the top of each fishcake with a little oil, bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the oats are golden brown. Add boiling water to the frozen peas and cook for approx. 4 mins. Serve.

What you need – parsley sauce (4–6 servings)

● 30g cornflour

● 660ml milk

● Flat leaf parsley

What you do:
Make a paste with a little of the cold milk and cornflour. Bring the rest of the milk to the boil. Stir in the paste until the sauce thickens up.Serve.

Baked fish with potato wedges

What you need – fish (4–6 servings)

● 400g skinless white fish hake, whiting, plaice coley or cod

● 400g skinless, boneless salmon fillets

● 1 large onion finely diced

● A little garlic puree

● 2 carrots peeled and grated

● 1 red pepper

● 4oz mushrooms

● 1x 400g can tomatoes

● 2 tbsp tomato puree

● 3oz grated cheese

● Pinch of mixed herbs

● 4x courgettes thinly sliced

● 50g each broccoli and cauliflower

What you do:
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F, Gas 5. Fry onions, garlic, mixed herbs, mushrooms and peppers until soft. Add tomato puree and tomatoes. Put fish in the bottom of serving tins. Cover with the thinly sliced courgettes. Cover with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Cook for 25–35 mins or until cooked.

What you need – wedges:

● 5 large baking potatoes, 160g

● 2 tbsp oil for basting

What you do:
Pre-heat a different oven to 220°C/425°F, Gas 7. Cut the potatoes into 10 wedges each. Part boil the wedges for 6–7 mins. Place onto a baking sheet and brush with oil, season and put into the oven. Cook for 20 mins or until golden brown.

Nigel Denby is a chef, a registered dietician and the founder of Grub4Life.