We regularly have assembly dinners, I would say at least once a week, which the girls can get hands on with and make themselves. I mentioned this to someone the other day who was amazed that a 3 year old and a 1 year old could help make their own dinners, so I thought I would share with you what we do and how we do it!
|Continuum Concept devotees we are, but even we would remove|
the large kitchen knife before letting the girls loose!!
There are a number of dishes which lend themselves to this kind of assembly technique, but the principle is the same. You just chop up a load of ingredients which you lay out in bowls or on chopping boards, and make any more liquid additions available in bowls with spoons and/or table knives.
The joy of this kind of 'cooking' is that everyone gets to choose their favourite elements, but ultimately mum and dad make sure everything is as healthy as possible (usually anyway!). Choice and independence are top banana for toddlers, this meets both criteria so is a big win win for stress-free dinners, plus they get to experiment with different combinations, tastes and textures. Give it a try, they might just surprise you with what they choose!
Some of our favourite variants on the assembly dinner are:
Make your own pizza night is like Mardi Gras in our house, how excited can those girls get?! Sometimes we make our own dough for the bases, but more often than not they're shop bought ones. Then it's just a question of chopping up some veggies, grating some cheese and off they go. Lara even spreads the sauce on herself. Scrumptious results too, and baby Sophia tucks in with gusto!
Vegetable & Halloumi Kebabs
Slice courgettes thickly, cut peppers into similar sized chunks, halve small plum tomatoes, cut onions into wedges, use small mushrooms or halve bigger ones, cut Halloumi cheese into largeish cubes. Everyone gets to thread whatever they like, in whatever order onto kebab skewers, before cooking over a griddle.
Same principle, but with cubes of melon, pineapple, apple and pear, halved strawberries, slices of banana, grapes, raspberries, and whatever other fruit you have to hand. Thread onto skewers. You could also make some raspberry coulis or dipping sauce, or a super-indulgent chocolate sauce to dip into or pour over. Yum!
One of the bonuses of making dinner this way is that hardly anything is wasted, as any left over veg can be simply tossed into a bowl of cooked fusilli the next day and turned into pasta salad. What we add varies every time according to what we have available, but usually peppers (fresh or from the deli or a jar), tomatoes (fresh and sun-dried), cucumber (fresh and pickled), capers, olives, maybe some left over roasted vegetables, and some cubes of whatever hard cheese is on the board. Chop it up and mix it all together in a big bowl. Just make sure you cool the fusilli properly under a running cold tap first! Season and toss a little basic vinaigrette through.
I get a bit bored of all those pronouncements that babies and young children can't cope with chilli and other strong flavours. What do they think south and central American, Asian and North African children do?! Ours have been raised on proper food since day one and both embrace flavour and spice.
Fajitas are another easy do what you like meal, as long as you have a good veggie mix with some red kidney beans, all cooked in a mix of paprika, chilli and other yummies, then we heat through the tortillas, lay out some salsa, guacamole, shredded lettuce, sour cream, and grated cheese, and off they go. Sometimes Lara will just have a wrap with lettuce, tomato and guacamole, but usually she goes for the full works, and ther's no holding Sophia back from the spicy stuff, she loves it!
Surely a regular feature in most homes already, done properly in the oven, crisp and fluffy all at the same time, delicious! Why not think up some new ingredient options and let your little ones choose their favourite combinations. We chop up whatever salad ingredients are in the fridge; grate some carrot; open a tin of sweetcorn; have some ratatouille and/or bean chilli available in bowls; have baked beans warmed through; cheese grated; make a cheese, onion & mayonnaise/creme fraiche mix, or a sour cream and chive one; and lay some hummus and salsa out alongside. The girls choose different things every time, and have a fab time with it!