Apple and carrot hot cross buns - vegan and no added sugar

Apple and carrot hot cross buns - vegan and no added sugar

Do your kids love hot cross buns? Mine absolutely love them - in fact I think they are their favourite thing about Easter - even more so than the promise of the chocolate that is to come! We've been having hot cross buns for breakfast and for after-school snacks recently and while there are plenty worse things to eat, shop-bought ones are still made with white flour and have lots of added sugar.

I have created a healthier version - using a mix of white flour and spelt flour, with added fruit and veg, and no added sugar. These hot cross buns are sweetened with dates, apple and sultanas - and nothing else. They are also vegan and I think are a pretty delicious and healthy snack or breakfast for anyone. It's great to start the day with a little bit of fruit and veg in your tummy - and if you saw my last post you'll know I'm trying to make the snacks my kids eat healthier and more nutritious at the moment.

This hot cross bun recipe is a great one to make with the kids, especially if you have a day at home while they are off school. My kids were so proud to enjoy their very own homemade hot cross buns.

Apple and carrot hot cross buns - vegan and no added sugar

Here's how to make kid friendly apple and carrot hot cross buns:

Ingredients
50g dates
300g strong white flour
200g spelt flour
1 x 7g sachet of dried instant yeast
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 medium apples, grated
1 medium carrot, grated
50g coconut oil, melted
200g sultanas or other dried fruit
250ml warm plant-based milk (I used oat milk)
1.5 tbsp plain flour (for the cross)
Extra milk for brushing the tops

Method:
1. First make your date purée. You will need a food processor or a good blender to make this, although you could probably bash it up in a pestle and mortar if you don't have one. I used my Optimum G2.3 blender. It's a fairly small quantity so use the smaller jug - or if you don't have one you could always make a larger amount and make these salted caramel brownies. Blend the dates with 1 tsp water until smooth. Set aside.
2. Place the flour, yeast and spices into a mixing bowl. Stir through the grated apple and carrot, the melted coconut oil, the date purée and the sultanas. Mix well so that the fruit is well distributed.
3. Heat up your milk - it should be warm rather than hot. Gradually stir it in to the flour and fruit mixture, mixing all the time. 
4. Scrape out onto a lightly oiled surface and knead for ten minutes. It can be fairly sticky to work with so if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook by all means use that!
5. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film or a slightly damp tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for 1.5 - 2 hours, until doubled in size.
6. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Lightly oil your hands and tip the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knock it back - ie squash all the air out. Divide into 12 balls and place onto the baking trays. Cover again and leave for 45 minutes - 1 hour until doubled in size again.
7. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (fan)/220°C/gas mark 7. Brush the tops of the buns with a little milk. For a stickier glaze you can make a sugar syrup (best added after baking) or use melted apricot jam.
8. Mix 1.5 tbsp plain flour with 1.5 tbsp cold water in a small bowl until smooth. Use a piping bag to mark a cross on the top of each bun. You can do this with a spoon if you don't have a piping bag but it's harder to get the lines in the right place - alternatively use a freezer bag and snip one of the corners off.
9. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and sounding hollow when tapped.
10. Allow to cool slightly then serve warm as they are or with spreads of your choice.

Kid friendly apple and carrot hot cross buns recipes - vegan and no added sugar
Hijacked By Twins

The best savoury snacks for kids

The best recipes for healthy savoury snacks for kids

Every day without fail when I pick my kids up from school they say the same thing - “Mummy, can I have a snack?” And of course I give them one because otherwise the hours until tea time are just too painful!

I've been working hard lately at making snacks count - yes, let the kids have something after school or mid-morning on the weekend but make it nutritious. But it’s really hard to get the balance right - healthy snacks that aren’t too filling and don’t contain too much salt or sugar aren’t all that easy to come by.

To avoid my shopping bill getting high I make a lot of my own snacks but I realised that many of my favourites were sweet recipes and that it would be a good idea for the kids to have more savoury snacks. So I had a look for recipes from some of my favourite kid food bloggers and found loads of amazing ideas. Many of the recipes below are easy to make and can be frozen or keep well for several days. And most of them can be eaten on the walk home from school - before “hanger” sets in!

Here are 16 healthy savoury snacks for kids:

Zucchini (courgette) bites

By Healthy Little Foodies

Carrot and cucumber coins

By Eats Amazing

Butternut squash cheese straws

By Sneaky Veg

Baked tempura sweet potatoes and courgettes

By Feeding Little Monkeys

Pão de queijo

By Kat’s Delicious Kitchen

Rosemary and garlic soda bread rolls

By Sneaky Veg

Mini pea pancakes

By My Kids Lick the Bowl

Healthy guacadile dip

By Fork and Beans

Healthy rainbow bagel

By Eats Amazing

Chickpea nachos

By Kat’s Delicious Kitchen

Easy pizza swirls

By Sneaky Veg

Cheesy carrot and squash muffins

By Baby Led Blog

Spinach and cornmeal breakfast muffins

By Veggie Desserts

Cheesy sweetcorn muffins

By Foodie Quine

Soya Veg Momos

By Let's Cook Healthy Tonight

Curried baked chickpeas

Hijacked By Twins

Easy pink vanilla cupcakes recipe

Easy recipe for pink vanilla cupcakes

I do occasionally branch out from packing my recipes full of fruit and veg and cutting out the sugar! This is one such recipe. This is a classic cupcake recipe that is perfect for a treat or a gift. Life is all about balance right? I've made this recipe for pink vanilla cupcakes as simple as possible and they can be made with a minimum of equipment.

They might not win you a place on Bake Off but they’ll certainly impress your friends.

Easy recipe for pink vanilla cupcakes

And they'd be a great choice as a gift for Mother’s Day - they're so easy the kids could make them. And of course, if pink isn't your mum's thing, you can decorate them however you choose.

Get the recipe for these cupcakes over on metro.co.uk

Easy pink vanilla cupcakes recipe

Free From Vegan Easter Fruit and Nut Chocolates

Free From Vegan Easter Fruit and Nut Chocolates

I managed to snatch a bit of time with just my two big kids to make these delicious vegan Easter fruit and nut chocolates. It probably won't come as a surprise to find out that they were VERY keen to get involved with this task - even R who is nowhere near as keen in the kitchen as his little sister.

This recipe is part of the Free From Easter recipe challenge which a lovely group of bloggers are taking part in - see the bottom of this post for more information about who's involved in this. These chocolates are naturally free from most allergens apart from nuts. If you need this to be nut free simply add more dried fruit or leave them out altogether. The chocolate tastes good on it's own but you may want to add more maple syrup depending on your personal taste. I adapted this vegan chocolate recipe from the Minimalist Baker.

Free From Vegan Easter Fruit and Nut Chocolates

Making vegan chocolate is easier than you might think. You do need a few ingredients like cacao butter and raw cacao powder that you need to buy online or from a health food shop but once you have these you're good to go. You will also need an Easter silicone mould, although you could use muffin cases instead. *

The kids can help with most of this recipe, apart from the melting of the cocoa butter. My kids helped to weigh out the ingredients, whisk in the maple syrup and cocoa butter and pour the chocolate into the moulds. As you can see from the photo below this was a MESSY moment.

Cooking with kids - it's messy and impossible to photograph well but they had so much fun!

Cooking with kids - it's messy and impossible to photograph well but they had so much fun!

Here's how to make vegan fruit and nut Easter chocolates:

Ingredients
200g cacao butter
3 tbsp maple syrup
50g raw cacao powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
A handful of dried fruit and/or chopped nuts - we used sultanas, cranberries and chopped almonds

You will also need a silicone mould. This made enough for three moulds, or around 30 chocolates, so reduce the quantities if you don't want this many or use fairy cake cases for the remainder.

Method
1. Place about 5cm of water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then place the cocoa butter into a heatproof bowl and place it over the water - it shouldn't actually touch the water.
2. Allow the cocoa butter to melt and them remove from the heat.
3. Transfer to a jug (this makes it safer for the kids as it's not hot and also makes it easier for them to pour the liquid into the moulds. Carefully add the maple syrup and vanilla extract and whisk in.
4. Next pour in the cacao powder and whisk that in until smooth. 
5. Get your silicone moulds ready and sprinkle a little bit of fruit and nuts into each one.
6. Carefully pour the melted chocolate into each mould and place in the fridge to set for at least half an hour.
7. Once set, remove from the mould and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

This recipe is part of a #FreeFromEaster blog series with the following lovely bloggers. Check out their sites for more Easter inspiration:

Mel - ‘Le Coin de Mel’ - http://lecoindemel.com
Vicki - ‘The Free From Fairy’ - http://freefromfairy.com 
Nath - ‘The Intolerant Gourmand’ - http://www.intolerantgourmand.com 
Emma - ‘Free From Farmhouse’ - http://www.freefromfarmhouse.co.uk 
Nova - ‘Cherished by Me’ - http://cherishedbyme.com 
Reneé - ‘Mummy Tries’ - http://www.mummytries.com
Laura - ‘Dairy Free Kids’ - http://dairyfreekids.ie
Midge - ‘The Peachicks Bakery’ - http://thepeachicksbakery.co.uk 
Rebecca - ‘Glutarama’ - http://www.glutarama.com 
Eb - ‘Easy Peasy Foodie’ - http://www.easypeasyfoodie.com
Kate - ‘The Gluten Free Alchemist’ - http://www.glutenfreealchemist.com 
Kirsty - ‘Hijacked by Twins’ - http://www.hijackedbytwins.com 
Chloe - The Adventures of an Allergy Mummy’ - http://theadventuresofanallergymummy.co.uk 
Grace - ‘Eats Amazing’ - http://www.eatsamazing.co.uk 

Free From Vegan Easter Fruit and Nut Chocolates

* This post contains affiliate links meaning that if you buy something after clicking on a link on this post I get a small commission.

Ten portions of fruit and veg a day - just how much veg should kids eat?

Focus on variety rather than how much your kids are actually consuming says nutritionist Alice Fotheringham

Focus on variety rather than how much your kids are actually consuming says nutritionist Alice Fotheringham

By now you’ve probably heard the news. Five a day is old hat, redundant, frankly not enough. Yep, that’s right. We should all be eating TEN portions of fruit and veg a day. Oh and don’t forget that the majority of your ten a day should be veg. So having two large fruit smoothies a day isn’t going to cut it. Sorry.

If this is news to you, you can read more in this article that I wrote for metro.co.uk, which also includes some simple tips for how you can up your fruit and veg intake. 

Now if your family is anything like mine the possibility of actually getting your child to eat ten portions of fruit and veg a day is laughable. When I told my almost seven year old about the change in guidance he cried. Yep, he knew that he didn’t ever eat five a day and he was cool with that. But ten a day? Now that’s just too much pressure.

Could you get your kids to eat ten a day? Faye from Baby Led Blog tried with great (if exhausting) results

I found that most of the news stories and advice around this new guidance focused on adults and I had a lot of questions about how this relates to kids. An adult sized portion is roughly 80g - meaning that we need 800g a day of fruit and veg a day to be healthy. To give you a little perspective, if you ate the contents of the photograph above you would have way more than 800g a day - the carrots weigh 120g, the broccoli 465g - even that little bunch of grapes weighs 96g.

But how much do kids need? Surely not 800g a day? And what about different sized kids - a two year old is different to a seven year old - yet my toddler eats WAY more fruit and veg than my older son.

Little S always loves unpacking our vegetables - but will he eat them?

Little S always loves unpacking our vegetables - but will he eat them?

After many wasted hours spent trawling the internet I decided to bite the bullet and ask a nutritionist just how much veg kids should be eating. I spoke to Alice Fotheringham, the very lovely infant nutrition specialist at Piccolo, the organic baby food range.

As you'd expect from someone whose day job is making baby food she had rather a lot of useful stuff to say. 

“Whilst any promotion of eating more vegetables and fruit can only be a good thing, a lot of people find it hard to get in their five a day, so the new research suggesting we need to get more in might actually make families more discouraged than inspired to eat more fruit and veg. A good way to ‘digest’ this research is perhaps to look at it in terms of variety – the more variety the better. If you can start the day with some fruit or even a bit of veg in a smoothie, and make it a habit to include a couple of vegetables with lunch and dinner, you are getting a good range in without having to change your eating habits too dramatically. You could also serve a small salad before, or with every dinner – Mediterranean style!

“It shouldn’t be a chore, no one wants to have to remember to count how many pieces of fruit or vegetables you have had each day. Try starting small by adding one extra vegetable to one of your meals, and work up from there. By making simple additions that are easy to do, you can start forming a habit. It is also a good idea to think about the range of different fruits and vegetables you have over the week. Getting in a wide variety of colours throughout the week is a much more realistic way than a fixed number a day, you will hopefully find the numbers stack up without having to think about it.”

So eat the rainbow then - lots of different colours and lots of variety. I love what Alice says about not wanting to count up what you’ve had each day and I think her advice makes it seem more realistic.

But I was still wondering about this portion size issue. So I went back to Alice again (sorry Alice!) and she advised me not to get too fixated on a portion size - it’s far better to think about variety. However, she then went on to say:

“If you really want to follow a portion size, I quite like the visual tool of going by the size of your palm. So, your toddler's palm is a sort of portion size, and your seven year old's is a little bigger etc. So for loose leafy veg like spinach or salad, only a leaf would fit in their palm, so it’s not a perfect guide, but a little pot of salad that fits in your little one’s hand would be more realistic. But as a tool and a fun way to engage your children into having a portion, it’s quite a nice way of working it that isn’t intimidating and doesn’t involve using the scales!“ 

To be honest with you I'm still worrying about the long term effect that not eating anywhere near enough fruit or veg will have on R's health but I will just carry on doing what I do and hoping for a change in the future!

Here are some of my favourite sneaky veg recipes if you need a little helping hand to get the good stuff into your kids.

Hidden vegetable recipes

The ultimate sneaky veg sauce
Simple curry sauce with hidden spinach
Easy pizza swirls
Macaroni cheese with three hidden vegetables
Butternut squash cheese straws
Carrot cake bircher muesli
Sweet potato pancakes

Hidden fruit recipes

Because yes, some kids don't like fruit either!

Apple and cinnamon flapjacks
Healthy raspberry jam tarts
Raspberry cashew oaty bites
Apricot energy balls

How much veg do kids need to get their ten a day

Veggie chilli with cornbread crust and pineapple salsa

Veggie-chilli-with-cornbread-crust-pineapple-salsa-vegetarian-recipe

Did you hear the recent news story that we should all be eating ten portions of fruit and veg every day? I know that a lot of people will find this really difficult and some members of my own family are no exception! With R we are lucky to get two or three portions into him.

If you're looking for a recipe that helps you go a long way to meeting that target in one meal then look no further. This vegetarian chilli contains onion, squash, pepper, carrot, beans and tomatoes and if you serve it with the pineapple salsa that's seven different fruit and veg in one meal. Of course, you would need to eat exactly 80g of each (that's for an adult) for it to count towards your ten a day target but let's not dwell on that!

pineapple-salsa-vegetarian-recipe

You can easily make this chilli without the cornbread crust to speed it up - it's delicious served with rice or over a baked potato (perhaps a baked sweet potato to help you get to ten a day!). However, I do think the cornbread crust makes it even more delicious and it's not that hard to make. The chilli on its own freezes beautifully and is easy to double up so you have a portion stashed away in the freezer for one of those days. And the same goes for the pineapple salsa, it's by no means essential but it does add a lovely sweetness to the meal, which can help if your child is reluctant to try the chilli. It's also delicious with guacamole on the side.

Veggie-chilli-with-cornbread-crust-pineapple-salsa-vegetarian-recipe

Here's how to make vegetarian chilli with cornbread crust and pineapple salsa

Ingredients (serves four adults)

For the chilli
Olive oil
Half a small butternut squash, peeled and diced (around 400g)
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp mild chilli powder (optional)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 red pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g tins of beans (I used black beans and kidney beans), drained
Salt and pepper (optional, to taste)

For the cornbread crust
110g coarse cornmeal or polenta
35g strong white bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
225g natural yoghurt
1 medium egg

For the pineapple salsa
200g fresh pineapple, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 red chilli, chopped (optional)
Juice of one lime
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Salt, (optional, to taste)

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan)/200°C/gas mark 6. Place the diced butternut squash in a roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil and roast for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Remove from the oven when cooked.
2. Heat a little olive oil in a large ovenproof saucepan (if you don't have one you can transfer to an ovenproof dish later). Add the onion, stir well, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and sweat for 10-15 minutes until soft. Remove the lid then add the garlic, herbs and spices. Cook for one more minute, then add the pepper and carrot. Cover with the lid again and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the carrot is beginning to soften.
3. Add the beans and the chopped tomatoes and stir in the butternut squash once cooked. You may need to add a little water as well if it looks dry. 
4. Cook over a low heat for an extra 10 minutes - or as long as you like. This dish improves in flavour the longer you leave it. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. While it's bubbling away make the cornbread crust. Place the polenta, flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda in a mixing bowl and whisk to remove any lumps. In a separate bowl beat the egg and beat in the yoghurt. When you are ready to bake, mix the two together and pour over the top of the chilli. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and a knife inserted in the crust comes out clean. NB: if you transfer the chilli to a shallow dish you may need to make extra crust to cover the whole of the top.
6. While the crust is baking make the pineapple salsa. It really is as simple as mixing everything together in a bowl. Red chilli looks lovely with it, but I usually leave this off so the kids can eat some.

NB: The cornbread crust recipe is adapted from a cornbread recipe from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet book.

Veggie chilli with cornbread crust pineapple salsa vegetarian recipe

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Froothie Optimum G2.3 blender review

Froothie Optimum G2.3 blender review

I don't think there are many food bloggers out there who have blogged for as long as I have without a decent blender! I have a food processor and a stick blender - which has actually been pretty brilliant - but I've never had a proper blender before and that's meant that there have been lots of things I haven't been able to make properly like smoothies and nut milk.

So when I got an email asking if I'd like to review a brand new Froothie Optimum G2.3 blender* my first thought was "yes please!" and my second was "Where on earth am I going to put it?!" To say that space is a little on the tight side in our kitchen is something of an understatement. However, having now used it for a couple of weeks I suspect it won't be long before I no longer need some of my other gadgets as I'm using this blender to do so many things.

Here's some cashew butter I made in my G2.3 blender

Here's some cashew butter I made in my G2.3 blender

The G2.3 blender is a great piece of kit. People who are comparing it to other blenders say that it's the quietest blender they've ever had. My two-year-old didn't like the sound of nuts grinding in it but apart from that he didn't flinch at all at the sound - I usually have to warn him every time I put on the vacuum cleaner or hairdryer or he practically jumps out of his skin.

It comes with a large 2 litre jug, which is perfect for making soups and smoothies but it also comes with a brilliant little jug. Called the 1.5 litre rotating jug this is a great addition and it is perfect for making small quantities of things like hummus, nut butter and I think would be brilliant for making baby purées. I wish I'd had it when we were weaning as I think it would have been a great addition. This jug comes with a special twisting lid which allows you to help pull the ingredients away from the side of the jug towards the blade. 

You'll also get a tamper tool to help you push down ingredients in the larger jug and a spatula to scrape things off the sides.

So far I've tried my G2.3 blender to make:

  • cashew butter
  • smoothies
  • cookie dough - specifically date and chickpea cookies!
  • banana "nice" cream
  • pesto
  • pancake batter.

It's made all of these things perfectly. I almost had an incident with the banana "nice" cream because I wasn't holding the lid down and frozen banana went everywhere but better that than mushy banana splatted on the walls, right? I've learnt my lesson now and should you ever find yourself making "nice" cream - which is simply blended frozen banana - remember to hold the blender lid down!

Banana, pineapple and mango "nice" cream made in the G2.3 blender

Banana, pineapple and mango "nice" cream made in the G2.3 blender

It also has an amazing feature which is that it can make soup. I don't mean that it can just blend pre-cooked soup - it can actually make the soup. You simply put the ingredients in, select the soup preset and let it get on with the job. Eight minutes later you have perfect soup. I am yet to try this function but my friend Eb over at Easy Peasy Foodie has used it to make this amazing sounding Spicy Moroccan Chickpea Soup and it sounds life-changing!

The soup function isn't the only preset - there are five automatic functions - smoothie, sorbet, vegetable and fruit, soup and grind. I used the grind function to make the cashew butter but it can also be used to grind spices, seeds and coffee beans. And if those don't suit there is also a pulse function and a manual setting with adjustable speed. All of the aforementioned presets and other settings are accessed from a simple LED touchscreen.

One final function that I must mention is the self-cleaning function. Well, you do have to do a little work, but in theory if you add a little water, a little washing up liquid and pulse for a few seconds you'll have a clean blender. I found this worked perfectly with smoothies and pancake batter but needed a few goes with the cashew butter.

If you'd like to try the chickpea cookies that I made you can get the recipe from My Kids Lick The Bowl. I used chopped dates instead of brown sugar and sultanas instead of chocolate chips and the kids LOVED them.

How to buy a G2.3 blender

The Froothie Optimum G2.3 blender* is currently on sale at the discounted price of £379 (RRP £599) and, as I’m an ambassador for Froothie, I can offer you free delivery – just type ‘FREE AMBASSADOR DELIVERY 4102’ into the comment box when you order and the postage cost will be refunded to your card.

Disclosure: I am an Ambassador for Froothie and any links to their products in this post are affiliate links which, if purchased through, won’t cost you any more but will earn me a small commission. Affiliate links throughout are marked with an asterix. I only endorse products I am happy with and I have not been paid for this post. *

Future Fit Training Childhood Nutrition and Obesity Prevention course

Here's my (vegetarian) real-life version of the Public Health England Eat Well plate (see below for more on this). This is roughly how the types of food we eat should be divided up. Do your kids eat like this? I know that at least one of my kids is a LONG way off of getting the balance right.

Here's my (vegetarian) real-life version of the Public Health England Eat Well plate (see below for more on this). This is roughly how the types of food we eat should be divided up. Do your kids eat like this? I know that at least one of my kids is a LONG way off of getting the balance right.

I am so excited to be able to tell you that I have just started a training course in childhood nutrition and obesity prevention. Having written about feeding children and picky eating for a few years now it's long been niggling at the back of my mind that I would love to study this area in order to understand it better, both for the purposes of the recipes I create and for feeding my own family, in particular my fussy eating eldest.

The course is offered by Future Fit. I am, of course, aware that this in no way matches up to a degree in nutrition! But I do hope that it will give me a better understanding of how to feed my children and what they need to grow up to be as healthy as possible.

This is the national Eat Well guide, which has recently been updated to show that we should be eating more fruit and vegetables than previously thought.

This is the national Eat Well guide, which has recently been updated to show that we should be eating more fruit and vegetables than previously thought.

Along with several other bloggers I was introduced to the course last week by nutritionist Tilly Spurr. You can find her on Twitter.

She did a fantastic job of explaining nutrition in terms that were simple enough for someone who struggled with science GCSE (ie me) to understand. In fact more than understanding it, I was totally inspired. 

I love this picture that Tilly showed us in her presentation - it shows the amount of healthy food you can eat to get the same calories that are in one Yorkie bar. Hard to believe isn't it?!

I love this picture that Tilly showed us in her presentation - it shows the amount of healthy food you can eat to get the same calories that are in one Yorkie bar. Hard to believe isn't it?!

I'm particularly looking forward to studying the modules on fussy eating, food labels and how nutritional needs change at different ages. My only concern is that I'm going to get even more worried about R and his awful diet! He still doesn't eat any fruit and hardly any veg...

Other areas that I'll be studying include:

  • the importance of nutrition in relation to growth, development and health
  • nutritional needs and recommended food intake in relation to different ages
  • healthy meal and snack ideas and how much physical activity children should be doing
  • how to encourage healthy eating habits
  • age appropriate portion sizes and how to understand food labels
  • the causes of childhood obesity
  • weight management and behaviour change
  • legislation on best practice.

If you'd like to find out more about the course visit the Future Fit website. The cost of the course is £129 and it is online so you can take the modules any time that suits you. I'm hoping this will make it easy to fit in around my many varied commitments and my family! I'll be reporting back to let you know how I get on.

Disclaimer: I have been offered the chance to do the Future Fit training course in Childhood Nutrition and Obesity Prevention for free in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Naturally sweetened apple and sultana cinnamon flapjacks

Apple and cinnamon naturally sweetened flapjacks recipe

These apple and sultana cinnamon flapjacks have no added sugar at all - they are sweetened only by the fruit in them. This makes them a really great choice for children, and anyone else who is looking to reduce their sugar intake.

They're a perfect after-school snack, or dare I say it - way to change up breakfast. Anyone else stuck in a big old breakfast rut? We certainly are, with my big kids refusing to eat porridge and only wanting breakfast cereal. And this is having an effect on Little S, who is becoming more aware that his siblings often eat differently to him.

If you're used to a traditional flapjack sweetened with golden syrup then I need to warn you that these won't taste the same. You could always add a little honey or maple syrup to make them sweeter, but I've found that over time I've got used to my food tasting less sweet and it can only be a good thing for my kids to enjoy food that is less sweet - especially as they aren't all that keen on vegetables and do love sweets, chocolates and cakes when they can get their hands on them. My three children all gobbled these up.

The flaxseeds are optional - I added them in because I have an enormous jar of them thanks to a friend who donated her pantry to me before relocating to Australia and they're really good for you. And if using olive oil be aware that you can taste it in the flapjacks - this isn't a bad thing, but if you're not that keen on the flavour, then consider using a different kind of oil or melted butter instead.

I have found that this recipe is a great one to bake with the kids as well. Miss R, 5, is a very proficient peeler and chopper so she prepares the apples, I did the part on the hob and then R, 6, mixes everything else together and helps transfer it to the tin. Little S can get involved in the stirring as well if he wants.

Here's how to make naturally sweetened apple and sultana cinnamon flapjacks (makes nine largish flapjacks or cut them smaller for babies or toddlers):

Ingredients
2 cooking apples
1 tbsp water
120ml oil (olive, coconut or vegetable) or butter (melted if using butter or coconut oil)
50g ground almonds
200g oats (use gluten free oats if necessary)
1 tbsp flaxseeds (optional)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
60g sultanas

Method
1. Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan)/200°C/gas mark 6.
2. Peel, core and chop the cooking apples. Place in a saucepan with 1 tbsp water. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, until soft and breaking up. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking.
3. Stir in the remaining ingredients, mix thoroughly and transfer to the prepared tin.
4. Press down until the surface is even and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden on top.
5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin before chopping into squares.

Naturally sweetened apple and sultana cinnamon flapjacks
Hijacked By Twins

How to cook leeks

How to cook leeks

Serve up leeks today and you'll be in the company of those who built the pyramids, Roman Emperor Nero and, of course, the Welsh Army at the time of St David. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates even prescribed them as an antidote to nosebleeds! 

I've never eaten a leek to stop a nosebleed but I do agree with Nero that they are one of my favourite vegetables. 

How do you like to eat your leeks? They are an inevitable inclusion in any vegetable box or bag scheme that you might happen to sign up to at this time of year but it's all too easy to let them shrivel up in the fridge or use them as a base for a soup. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter but there's a lot more you can do with them.

Leeks are more versatile than you might think. They're a member of the allium family of vegetables (along with onions, garlic, chives and shallots) and can be used in most recipes that call for onions as a base.

Leeks are particularly good:

  • in stir fries
  • in soups
  • as a base for vegetable stock
  • with potatoes
  • in a frittata or omelette
  • with cheese 
  • roasted
  • raw in a salad
  • in Turkish cuisine.

How to cook leeks

While I have definitely had boiled or steamed leeks served to me at some point in the past, which were perfectly edible, this is by no means my favourite way of cooking them. Leeks sautéed in olive oil or butter on the other hand are exquisite. Here's how to sauté leeks:

1.  Trim the ends of leeks, discarding any thick, dark green leaves. Rinse well under running water  as leeks have a tendency to have mud hidden between their leaves.
2. Slice into rounds and rinse again in a colander if you can see any mud.
3. Heat 1-2 tbsp butter or olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.
4. Add the leeks and stir well, cooking for around 10 minutes until softened. You can cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low to speed the process up a bit.

Talking about leeks with your kids

We've started talking about food a lot more with our kids recently. You don't have to be an expert though - just explaining what the ingredients are and where they come from is a good way to start. If you do want to take it further however, here are a few fun facts about leeks for you to share at the dinner table.

  • Leeks have been farmed since the time of the Ancient Egyptians and were probably eaten by the people who built the pyramids.
  • Hippocrates - an Ancient Greek physician - prescribed leeks as a cure for nosebleeds.
  • According to legend the Welsh army wore leeks in their hats during a battle with the Saxons in 640AD - leeks are still the Welsh national emblem!
  • Roman Emperor Nero was known as Porophagus - leek eater - because he ate so many of them. He believed that they'd help him sing better.
    Source British Leeks.

Are leeks good for you?

Leeks are a good source of vitamin A (which helps with vision and the immune system), vitamin K and manganese. They also contain vitamin B6 and the flavonoid kaempferol.
Source: The Guardian.

Leek recipes

Leek, butterbean and roasted cauliflower freekah salad with sumac
Cheesy leeks on toast
Hearty root vegetable soup
Leek, butterbean and Wensleydale cheese savoury crumble
And here are 10 vegan leek recipes that I put together for metro.co.uk

How to cook leeks with information about their history and nutritional value

Cheesy leeks on toast

Cheesy leeks on toast recipe

Jazz up your cheese on toast with this easy recipe for cheesy leeks on toast. In fact it's so easy that it probably doesn't really count as a recipe.

Today is St David's Day - the Welsh national day - and seeing as leeks are one of the emblems of Wales I have chosen today to publish a couple of posts about leeks. If you'd like to know more about leeks, why they're good for you and how to cook them then read my How to cook leeks post.

Cheesy leeks on toast recipe

How to make cheesy leeks on toast:

I love leeks with cheese on toast - it's a really easy way to get a portion of vegetables in to your diet at lunchtime AND make cheese on toast just a little bit more exciting.

Ingredients
2-3 slices of bread
2 tbsp butter or olive oil
2 medium leeks, washed and sliced into rounds (see how to cook leeks)
50g cheddar cheese, grated
3 tbsp milk

Method
1. Heat your grill and lightly toast the bread on both sides.
2. Gently heat the butter or olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the leeks and cook over a medium heat, stirring often, for around 10 minutes, until soft.
3. Add two thirds of the grated cheese and the milk to the leeks and mix well.
4. Spoon on to the toast and sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top.
5. Grill until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to turn brown.

HOW TO MAKE CHEESY LEEKS ON TOAST

How to make really easy pancakes with lemon and sugar

How to make a really easy pancake with lemon and sugar

For once there's no fruit in veg in this recipe but it's such a classic that I really wanted to share it with you here.

I remember this pancakes so clearly from my childhood despite only having them once a year, on Pancake Day. They we always served with lemon and sugar and there were never any left. We loved them!

They're pretty easy to make and I've done my best to simplify the recipe as much as possible. I don't think it's necessary to make a well, add the milk gradually or leave it to rest for 30 minutes - however it is definitely worth sifting the flour before you add the milk and eggs as it can be a bit lumpy otherwise.

How to make really easy pancakes with lemon and sugar

These pancakes are also delicious with other toppings - both sweet and savoury. I particularly like them with spinach and cheese or with roasted butternut squash and caramelised onions.

Get my really easy pancake recipe over on metro.co.uk

If you're looking for vegan pancake ideas check out these ten vegan pancake toppings ideas, also on metro.co.uk.

Other pancake recipes

Sweet potato spelt pancakes
Chocolate beetroot pancakes with raw chocolate hazelnut sauce
Courgette and banana buckwheat drop scones
Spinach farinata crepe with masala potatoes

How to make a really easy classic pancake or crepe with lemon and sugar

How to make sweet potato toast

How to make sweet potato toast

Until about a week ago I didn't even know that you could make sweet potato toast. Perhaps you don't either. If you're wondering what on earth sweet potato toast even is then you're not alone. But it really is simple. It's not some kind of bread made with sweet potatoes - it is just thin slices of sweet potato cooked in the toaster.

Today (23 February) is National Toast Day and when metro.co.uk asked me to put together a sweet potato toast recipe for them I was slightly sceptical as to whether it would work or not. 

How to make sweet potato toast

Turns it out that it does work, it's delicious and it didn't set my house on fire - although the smoke alarm did go off once. 

Find out how to make sweet potato toast over on metro.co.uk

How to make sweet potato toast with smashed avocado and peanut butter and banana toppings.

Win a day at a cookery school with Ella's Kitchen Little Foodies

Feeding Baby S was a messy affair!

Feeding Baby S was a messy affair!

Ah, weaning. What a joyous, messy, fun time. Having been through it three times now, I have to say that, although there's never been a time in my life when I have spent quite as much time on my hands and knees mopping up the kitchen floor, as long as you learn to embrace the mess it can be a lot of fun.

It's also the perfect time to get your child used to lots of different tastes and textures, and introducing as many different foods and flavours at an early stage is a good idea. Back in June last year we worked with UK baby food brand Ella's Kitchen on a two week veg pledge - where the Sneaky Veg kids tried out 14 different vegetables - with mixed results of course!

With a new campaign, Ella’s Kitchen Little Foodies, the company has teamed up with Waitrose to inspire shoppers to prepare, cook and explore great healthy food for little ones. Ella's Kitchen is committed to helping children develop a healthy relationship with food and through research with the British Nutrition Foundation has discovered that involving children in cooking and eating together as a family can help establish healthy eating habits.

I have really noticed that getting the kids involved in cooking has improved the range of foods they are prepared to eat. Miss R, 5, in particular loves cooking - back in December she singlehandedly peeled enough parsnips and carrots for 16 people!

Eating together as a family isn't something we always manage to do (because Mr Sneaky Veg gets home from work too late) but we do sit down for meals together on the weekends. I also get my bigger kids involved in meal planning - although their choices aren't always the healthiest (!) they do enjoy having a say in what we eat each week.

I'll be heading off in March to the Waitrose Cookery School to get some tips for cooking for babies to share with you all but in the meantime you can enter a competition to win tickets for yourself and a friend to the Waitrose Cookery School.

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Ella's Kitchen

Roasted sweet potato salad with blueberries, buckwheat and walnuts

Sweet potato, blueberry and buckwheat salad recipe with toasted walnuts

We love berries of all kinds in the Sneaky Veg house - well those of us that eat fruit do anyway (six-year-old R still refuses fruit of all kinds)! More often than not we usually eat them in sweet dishes. For example we love a handful of berries with overnight oats, porridge or granola for breakfast or as a little sweet treat after lunch.

Berries shouldn't just be used in sweet dishes though - they add a delicious sweetness to savoury dishes and I think work particularly well in salads. Here I've created a delicious recipe (see below) using mood-boosting blueberries with sweet potatoes and buckwheat. This is a great meal to eat if you need a pick me up - and is a good way to introduce salads to reluctant children. Sweet potatoes and blueberries are way more popular around here than green leaves!

Seasonal Berries challenged me to create a recipe using mood boosting berries. The company has worked with food psychologist Dr Christy Fergusson, from Channel 4’s Secret Eaters on a #BeBerryBright campaign. They have come up with a list of good mood foods that can help combat the winter blues. As well as berries, foods such as oats, brazil nuts, bananas and broccoli are all great choices.

Sweet potato, blueberry and buckwheat salad recipe with toasted walnuts

Here's how to make roasted sweet potato salad with blueberries, buckwheat and walnuts:

Ingredients
4 medium sweet potatoes (I used two orange and two purple)
2 tbsp olive oil
200g buckwheat
500ml water
150g blueberries
50g walnut halves
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped
Maple syrup

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan)/200°C/gas mark 6. Peel and dice your sweet potatoes, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 35-40 minutes until cooked through, stirring half way.
2. Rinse the buckwheat well in cold water. Place in a saucepan with 500ml water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed.
3. Lightly toast the walnuts on a dry frying pan. If you've got small children break them up into small pieces before adding to the salad.
4. Add the cooked buckwheat to the sweet potatoes along with the walnuts, blueberries and thyme. Mix carefully and transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with maple syrup. 

Roasted sweet potato salad with blueberries, buckwheat and toasted walnuts

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with Seasonal Berries