Kids in the Kitchen - 10 Treats for Uncertain Times
BY MANIDIPA MANDAL
Especially for picky eaters—and that is biologically normal as a developmental stage for young children—in a situation where their favourite ‘safe foods’ (the ones they readily gravitate to) are out of stock, it is more important to get sufficient calories in, than worry about micronutrition.
Plus, you can always come back to the food pyramid and 10-veg-a-day when we do return to business as usual. For now, it is an emergency and the anxieties are catching; focus on soothing engagements, comfort foods, fun that combats fears and worries… and a subtle lesson in survival with the store-cupboard ingredients.
That’s not to say your own worries about budget, availability and nutrition are solved; but work with your child rather than serving dal-rice-gourd at every meal and they are likely to cooperate better when you do. This is not your hill to die on, not just now. While you’re here, we aren’t judging if you need a packet or two of Tang to get the vitamin C dose in, while fruits and vegetables are in limited supply.
Also, don’t panic if the treats mean a missed meal or two. Remember a child cooped up indoors is likely expending much less energy than usual; they may not need as many calories!
By the way, we don’t define treats as ‘sweets’ here at the Nestery—and most children don’t either, going by the pasta/pizza/burger hankerings we hear! So we’ve got a few sturdy savouries in the bunch.
We also looked for options to suit various dietary preferences and health needs, as well as considering the constraints of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Baking relies on fairly precise measurements, which means math and measurement skills get flexed; is attractive to children as a shop-style ‘treat’; and is safer than the gas stove for younger children. It’s also a bit like watching a movie and learning patience at the same time, for preschoolers!
no refined sugar
Perfect for the child who is missing their sweetened cereal bowl, hates mushy porridges and is struggling with regularity due to low intake of fruits, veg and whole grains, this also appeals to the ‘I made it!’ bone. Besides, cake for breakfast! Who can resist? I originally encountered this idea in The Whole Smiths Good Food Cookbook, and lost no time in adapting it for my fridge and pantry. Don’t worry, it isn’t overly sweet. You could even serve it with ice cream or chilled mango slices for an indulgent summer’s-here snack.
4 tablespoons ghee, butter or coconut oil (and a little extra for greasing the pan)*
1 tangerine, peeled and segmented*
2 cups of rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon (or cardamom)
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 large eggs, beaten
1½ unsweetened plant milk (I used soya milk)
¼ cup honey
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (I used frozen blackberries)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease an 8 x 8-inch baking tin.
- Line the base of the tin with the tangerine segments.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients, except the berries.
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients and pour over the tangerine pieces—don’t panic if some pop up.
- Pop the berries on top, and you will have some nice swirls of colour as you bake. Bake around 35 minutes or till browned at the edges and set (even if soft) at the centre—this implies the eggs are cooked.
- Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before trying to slice.
*By all means, use whatever slice-and-dice-y fruit you have—apple, pear, tinned peach, banana, cubed melon or papaya. For the topping likewise, if you can find strawberries or mulberries in season, use those. Or try cape gooseberries. (Just choose a not-too-sweet fruit for at least on the layers, so not mangoes plus grapes, or banana plus melon.) For the milk, you can certainly use animal milk if that’s what you have.
Secret-ingredient Swedish-ish cinnamon snails
Inspired by a recipe from Vegan Richa’s blog, but with a twist that recalls Swedish kanelbullar (buns scented with cardamom as well as cinnamon), this recipe is our sassy answer to Cinnabons’ oversweet sticky rolls. The secret? Ah, that’s just the water you boiled your weekly batch of chhole in!
¾ warm milk or water (we like to soak a few strands of saffron in there beforehand)
¼ cup aqua faba (from boiling chickpeas or from a can of them; alternatives include yoghurt or 2tbsp flaxseed meal soaked in water, milk, vegan milk or coconut milk)
2 tbsp sugar or honey (or fig puree, date syrup, jaggery)
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 packet (2½ tsp) active yeast (or 2 tsp baking powder + ½ tsp baking soda)#
2 tbsp melted butter or oil
2½ cups flour
Pinch of salt
1-2 tbsp butter or oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon (I like more, the child finds it spicy)
Pinch of salt
I like these with pearl sugar or sprinkles after brushing with warm milk; but you can always thin a cup of icing sugar with milk or lemon juice (my child prefers the tang) to drizzle on while warm, OR use ¼ cup cream cheese or hung curd, similarly flavoured, for a thicker ‘sticky’ glaze.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease (and preferably line with parchment) an 8 by 8 baking tin (you can use a 9–10 inch round one too; it doesn’t matter in the case of rolls; you can even sit individual buns in a muffin tray).
- Mix all the dough ingredients up to and including the yeast. Wait a minute or two while the yeast activates.
- Stir in the butter and then sift in 2 cups of the flour and salt. Knead while adding a tablespoon of flour at a time till you have a soft dough. This should take about 5 minutes—don’t overwork it.
- Roll out into a 10 x 14 inches rectangle.
- Mix together sugar and cinnamon. Smear the dough with butter and then sprinkle on the spiced sugar. For rolls: Roll up starting along the long edge. Slice up into rolls with a piece of string, pizza cutter or serrated knife, and place in pan, leaving space between them. (TIP: If your child is quite young or you have multiple children, divide it up into smaller bits first.) To get Swedish-style ‘snails’: Fold the dough as thirds (like a business letter), cut into strips, twist the strips into twirls and then make a little knot (like putting your hair up in a bun). Your child may be happy enough with just a classic spiral though, especially if you add clove ‘horns’.
- Brush butter/oil on top, cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise for 15-20 minutes (with plain flour, it should double up).
- Bake for 20-25 minutes (ovens vary!) till just starting to get golden at the edges.
*can be adapted to be dairy-free, but the saffron does seem to do better with milk. Of course, it is not a must, and you can certainly eschew the decadence.
#If you’re using baking soda and baking powder, you don’t wait to proof it; just bake it straightaway and you’ve got your sweet rolls that much sooner.
NB: We have done this with mixed or wholewheat flour too—they can be a little less pillowy and more ‘duffin’-y and fragile; half and half is good if you are doubtful and sensitive to exactitude of texture.
Pizza toasties OR uttapams
Think of this as a special upgrade to cheese-on-toast. Of course, this recipe could morph turn into filled buns, grilled sandwiches or appe/paniyarams or stuffed aloo tikkis. Consider the combo as a baked potato or capsicum stuffing too, or filling inside a quesadilla. But a toastie or uttapam looks more ‘authentic’, yes, as you can cut them up into mini wedges or triangles?
Dosa batter or bread slices, preferably slightly dense
Tomato salsa or puree or chutney from a jar (or thokku you make at home)
Sliced and diced tomatoes, boiled or canned sweetcorn, minced capsicums, chopped onions, quartered mushrooms, steamed beans or broccoli, shredded spinach (even frozen veg would work)
Grated cheese, optional*
Dried oregano or pizza seasoning
For toasties, heat the oven to 180°C while you assemble the bread topping in the given order. Pop in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
For uttapam, make as usual but add those pizza flavourings (swirl in the salsa/chutney before adding the veg) and cook covered.
Breakfast or snack, this is an easy way to present several vegetables at one meal and extend them in short-supply conditions. Plus, they are faster than making tikkis in terms of hands-on time, a lot more forgiving in terms of textural variety, and a lot safer to involve kids in, start to finish.
1 medium carrot, grated
Equal amount grated pumpkin, ash gourd, bottle gourd, apple gourd, or baby green pumpkin or ¼ cup spinach (basically one greenish, slightly wetter vegetable)
¼ cup peas
¼ cup corn
½ cup grated cheese, or crumbled paneer/cottage cheese (chhena) with an extra pinch of salt
1 cup plain yoghurt
½ cup water (including from the grated veg—see step 2)
¼ cup oil (I use olive)
1 sachet pizza seasoning
salt and pepper to taste (leave out salt for babies and toddlers)
1 cup wholewheat flour + 1 cup semolina (or 2 cups wholewheat flour, which makes them a little less fluffy)
3 tsp baking powder
extra: spoonful of melon or pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds
- Preheat the oven to 180°C; (line and) grease a 12-cup muffin tray.
- Wrap the grated gourd/pumpkin in a tea towel and squeeze out any water; reserve.
- Mix the wet ingredients and seasoning into the vegetables in a large mixing bowl.
- Sift together flour and baking powder into the semolina; add to the veggies mixture a couple of spoons at a time. Mix in till barely combined—it’s fine for it to be lumpy.
- Spoon into the tin/cups, top with the seeds if using, and bake for 20–25 minutes—a skewer should emerge clean.
- Cool in tin for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Berry-sweet ‘duffins’ (or just muffins)
no added fat
‘Duffin’ is what my 7-year-old calls this cross of a cake doughnut and muffin. Of course, these can be apple–pie’d, orange-y, mango-ish, pineapple-dappled or what-have-you. Berries, if you can find fresh or frozen, do give a lovely swirl of colour, though. Quite nourishing too, depending on your choice of flour(s), and filling with the whole grains and coconut providing fibre and protein.
2 cups multigrain flour*
1 cup dessicated coconut
¾ cup jaggery/brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon
1 cup plant milk (I used soy, but you can make your own rice or oat milks)
½ cup aquafaba (water from cooking chickpeas or canned chickpeas)
A few drops of rose, vanilla or orange essence
1 cup fresh or frozen berries
extra: a little saved leftover foil
optional (pseudo)glaze: cream cheese or hung curd, sweetened with honey or whizzed with berries or orange juice.
- Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line your muffin tins (silicone cups don’t strictly need either, of course). Crumple and shape little cylinders out of your foil; press one end flat and ‘stand’ them in the cups to create the ‘doughnut’ holes.
- Sift the flour and stir together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- In a smaller bowl, mix up the wet ingredients.
- Gently combine the wet and dry stuff—this is ideal for kids, as you want to just combine them (a few dry spots are fine for muffins, or you will have hockey pucks instead).
- Hold the foil centres steady while your child fills the cups about ¾ full.
- Bake around 20 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack before glazing and chilling; else serve warm.
* Mine is about 1:1:1:5 of three types of millet, buckwheat or pseudograin flours and wholewheat atta.
NB: If you run out of muffin cups, I have made these in greased ramekins or katoris too—but there is a risk of cracking your stainless-steel katoris.
‘Fast food’ is fun!
No oven needed for these recipes; and no fire too in most cases.
Easter (non-)eggs, or Jurassic Joys
These will not put Cadbury’s or Kinderjoys out of business, being only lightly sweetened though reminiscent of Reese’s peanut butter cups or Snickers—but oh, so much more nutritious and filling! Make them for the whole family, why don’t you? And when you’re done with the season, these translate into very nice dinosaur nests—serve in a ‘sand’ pit of crushed cookies, speckle the shells with drips of white chocolate… and dig in!
¼ cup toasted peanuts (feel free to use almonds or cashews)
1 heaping tbsp. dessicated coconut (or fresh grated, if you prefer)
3 apricots (or dates, or figs, or even some fruit leather, like aam papad)
~3 tbsp water
Pinch of salt (optional)
Shell: 6 squares of dark chocolate plus 1 tsp coconut oil
- Whizz everything but the shell stuff in your mixie. Stir in between and be patient—at first it looks like you’re making crumbly dirt or play sand, but add water a teaspoon at a time, and you slowly find the nuts release their oils and you get a ‘dough’.
- Divide your dough into six balls and let the kids shape them into eggs. Pop them in the freezer on a piece of foil, a silicone or metal sheet or parchment paper.
- Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in the microwave with the oil. I used half power (500W) for 1 minute, in 20-second increments with stirring in between. (If you have no microwave, use the double-boiler method—melt in a bowl kept over boiling water, but not touching it.)
- Dip the eggs in these and place back in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.
*You can absolutely use a vegan milk chocolate if you want this sweeter; but the reason I chose to use dark chocolate was both to keep the sweetness down and keep it dairy-free. If you’re making some for a child not yet introduced to the food of the gods, by all means leave them uncoated or roll in crushed/powdered nuts for the speckling—or just shape one of those Energy Bombs [see below] into an ovoid.
Two-ingredient chocolate mousse
This needs a bit more patience to enjoy than the other fast foods here, but they are super-quick and easy in the making, even with a toddler in tow (just ‘help’ with the microwave and whisk, and let them bash the chocolate, spoon in the cups). Delightfully fluffy and fun because it seems magical, really. Plus posh, if you are celebrating an adult milestone, without the risk of raw eggs a mousse au chocolat typically entails.
100g dark chocolate (but not too dark, stay under 85% for this one)
½ cup aquafaba (the liquid from cooking chickpeas; boil yours a bit more to thicken to a viscous texture like canning liquid) + ½ tsp orange juice*
Pinch of salt (optional)
½ tsp vanilla extract
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave, about 1 minute of half power, stirring every 20 seconds—don’t overdo or it will seize. Leave it to cool.
- Meanwhile, use an electric whisk or stand mixer to beat the aquafaba into peaks—trust the process; it will happen!
- Stir in a spoonful of the foam and the vanilla into the chocolate to loosen and temper; then gently fold the chocolate into the foam.
- Spoon into tiny espresso cups, egg cups, small katoris, muffin cups, or your child’s play crockery and refrigerate till set, at least 2 hours but ideally overnight.
*if you have some cream of tartar to hand, use that instead of juice to stabilize the mousse even better; but honestly, I get fluffy mousse even without the hard peaks (I was whisking by hand and got fed up with the whine-and-crib playlist in the background).
NB: Adults might like a dusting of coffee and some whipped cream on top (I like cacao nibs on mine); children may favour some sweet fruits with it.
Energy bars & chilled bliss bombs*
*Or call them power blocks, laddoos, cannonballs… whatever takes your youngster’s fancy. For extra fun, you can hide a dollop on peanut butter inside or roll in cocoa powder for the older kids.
3 small carrots or one large apple, finely grated*
1 cup rolled oats
¼ cup peanut butter or tahini
½ cup sunflower seeds or almonds, toasted and ground up/sesame seeds/roasted peanuts
½ cup grated (for carrots) or desiccated (for apples) coconut
½ cup dates or dried apricots
2 tbsp coconut oil + 1 tbsp honey (both optional)
1 tsp ginger/cardamom (I really like this with carrots)/cinnamon powder
optional: a little extra desiccated coconut or sesame seeds for rolling
- Basically, blitz it all in a mixie, patiently, till it transforms into dough. Reserve the extra oil and honey unless you absolutely must.
- Toast the extra desiccated coconut or sesame if using.
- Roll the dough into balls and then roll in the toasted coconut/sesame OR press into a flat baking tray and chill before cutting into bars, wrapping these in individual pieces of parchment paper.
* veggies and fruit vary in water content; if your dough feels too wet, add some chia seeds or flax seeds if you have them, or some more oats, ground up.
NB: Given the sticky texture, DO NOT SERVE TO BABIES OR TODDLERS AS BALLS; make them into flat bars for them.
No-cook coconut laddoos
This is just desiccated coconut (2 cups) and cardamom powder (1 tsp) rolled up with warm condensed milk (½ tin), and chilled till firm. Messy play and yummy eats rolled, literally, into one.
This involves a star-shaped cookie cutter popping the shape out of a slice of bread, toasting it in a buttered pan, turning it over, cracking an egg in the cavity and cooking covered till set. Toast the cutout stars alongside, and serve them as dippers for the yolk. Adult aid needed to extract from pan unbroken for younger children, unless you are happy to weather the wails over splattered yolk.
The Self-Help Snackbox
If you’re as fed up as we are of constant demands for snacks between meals, just when you think you the kids settled into an activity that buys you an hour ‘at work’, consider the help-yourself snack bar. Select a small assortment of healthy and typically accepted yummies into a small basket or box, and park it on the sideboard. Let them help themselves when hungry.
This can work for even a toddler, provided your boxes are easy enough for the youngster to open. For preschoolers and older, you can also add a small bin in the refrigerator for cool beverages, chilled fruits, simply cooked vegetables and the like. For the toddler, you’ll have to set those out for a couple of hours, at their hungriest times—say when they are just up from their nap (deal with the leftovers asap, or you will end up with soggy, smelly, mouldy messes).
My elementary-school youngster has a basket on the sideboard and a bin in the fridge. Currently there’s leftover pasta, steamed broccoli, and an orange in the refrigerator bin; and some homemade cookies, a few peanut-chia crackers (he can add a cream cheese or bean dip or mayo from the fridge), a handful of amla candy and a banana in the basket outside.
Other things we like in there:
- sliced carrots and cucumbers, or a whole kakdi
- watermelon wedges (yours may prefer melon moons or papaya boats)
- cubes or triangles of cheese
- mildly spiced
- ‘Russian salad’ of boiled beans, carrots, potatoes and peas, maybe a little cold meat or pineapple, with mayo
- egg salad with hardboiled eggs, cucumbers, pickles and mayo (or just whole hardboiled eggs in the shell)
- fruit salad or ‘chaat’ (the latter may include leftover roast potatoes/sweet potatoes and a sprinkle of black salt; the former involves some mint, fresh or dried, and a drizzle of honey or orange juice)
- plain yoghurt
- diced tofu or paneer
- small kebab skewers of fruit or roasted vegetables (I like mushrooms, zucchini or green pumpkin, onions, sweet peppers grilled with a pinch of pizza seasoning)
- small sandwiches with hummus or tinned fish in them, and a handful of veg or lettuce; or maybe hung curd and sprouts chaat
- chilled grapes
- muffins, savoury or sweet
- sliced tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- sliced raw bell peppers and a dip (or none!)
- steamed peas, green beans or broccoli
- small cup of soup or rasam, if your child likes chilled savoury beverages or can heat it up in the microwave independently
- small glass of lassi, buttermilk or smoothie
- stuffed parathas
- energy bombs or granola bars
- muesli or granola to combine with plain yoghurt or milk from the fridge
- roasted wholegrain ‘mixture’, with a base such as puffed amaranth or jowar, popped rice, or popcorn, jazzed up with cornflakes, toasted nuts or seeds (we love pumpkin seeds), a couple of squares of dark chocolate chopped small or chocolate chips, some dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, chopped dates and figs… your call!)
- dehydrated veg crisps (these come in beetroot, okra, carrot, etc) or dried fruit slices (papaya, mango, etc)
- makhana, plain or ghee-roasted or flavoured (some kids like mint powder or tomato/tamarind/mango powder, others may like black pepper or chilli powder)
- puffed rice roasted with dried curry leaves, peanuts, salt and turmeric; maybe some sev you have on hand
- hardier fresh fruit such as apples, pears, oranges, a banana or two,
- small box of their favourite chocolate cereal
- rice cakes (to eat with peanut butter, also left on the counter for the slightly older child)
- mixed or single nuts and seeds, a couple of small handfuls
Try these out and do tag us if any of these worked well for you. Remember, it is okay to give up control for now - children will eventually get back to their routine and their healthy meals. All that matters now is that they are fed and happy.
Manidipa Mandal is a seven-year-old parent still learning about parenting. She also likes to read and write about ecology, biology (especially gender), food and travel.