Fuss-free Family Food – Part 1

Here are a selection of recipes for meals that have worked really well for our family and friends over the years. Of course, you will want to adapt them to suit your own tribe’s particular likes and dislikes, but they are all really straightforward and uncomplicated and don’t require huge amounts of time or extraordinary culinary ability.

It’s not surprising that a lot of adopted children struggle with food and eating. A child who has been neglected and left hungry is almost certainly going to have at least some anxiety around the availability of food. Plus many of our children will have experienced a number of different carers and consequently a number of different food regimes. And then, of course, there’s the fact that being able to control what they put into their mouths is one of the few ways children can exercise control in their lives, and we all know how much many of our children want to be in control.

Whatever the reasons, we obviously want to make mealtimes as stress-free as possible and provide food that is least likely to provoke protest and rejection. If, like me, you like the idea of everyone in the family eating the same food, you are going to need some recipes in your arsenal that “fussy” children can cope with, but which are also palatable to adults.

Tuna Pasta

This is a recipe for a really substantial dish. Halve the recipe if your family is less greedy than mine.tuna pasta ingredients brighterYou will need:

500g dried pasta

200g frozen or tinned sweetcorn

2 tins tuna in spring water

2 x 400 g tins chopped tomatoes

2 onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

500 ml half fat crème fraiche

Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta in boiling water. Add the sweetcorn for the last couple of minutes to heat through, then drain. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and stir through.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into a saucepan and add the chopped onions. Cook gently until soft and clear. Don’t burn. Add the chopped tomatoes. Half fill one of the empty tins with water. Swoosh it around and add the water to the tomatoes in the pan. Add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a fast simmer. Let it cook with the lid off till it reduces to a thick sauce. (If you are pressed for time and you don’t mind the taste, you could use a bottled pasta sauce instead of this, I suppose.)

Take a large ovenproof casserole dish and oil it lightly.

Add half the pasta and sweetcorn.

Crumble over one of the tins of tuna.

Spoon over half the tomato and onion sauce.

Spread half the crème fraiche on top.

Repeat the layers.

If you are the kind of person who likes to do things in advance, You can make it up to this point and leave it refrigerated until ready to cook.

Put the casserole in the oven at 180 C for 30-45 minutes until hot and bubbling.tuna-pasta-brighter.jpg

Really Easy Meatloaf

This is quite a weird recipe, I think, and yet the resulting dish is a firm favourite in my household.meatloaf ingredients1

You will need:

500g lean mince

1 x 300g pot of onion and chive cottage cheese

½ cup oats

¼ cup barbecue sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 egg

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup grated parmesanparmesan-1732086_1920Put all the ingredients except the parmesan into a mixing bowl and stir until it is thoroughly mixed.

Grease and line a loaf tin (I use the pre-formed loaf cake liners — such a cheap and easy way of saving a lot of faff.)

Put the mixture into the tin and bake it in a moderate (180°C) oven for 30 minutes.

Take it out, sprinkle the top with the grated parmesan and bake for a further 15 minutes.

Delicious served with mashed potatoes.

meatloaf plate2

Broccoli Pasta

Quick, easy, delicious, nearly universally popular — need I say more?broccoli pasta ingredients1You will need:

500g dried pasta

2 heads of broccoli

2 onions, finely chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tin of anchovies in olive oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

Parmesan, grated


Cut up the broccoli into florets and boil until just tender. I also add the peeled and chopped up stalk. Drain and leave to cool in the colander.

In the same saucepan, put the anchovies (and their oil) and the onions and cook gently with the lid on until the anchovies “melt” and the onion is soft and translucent. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a further minute. It doesn’t matter if the onion browns slightly — in fact it tastes rather good — but the garlic will be bitter if it burns.

While onion is cooking, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook the pasta.

Chop up the cooked broccoli and add it to the pan of cooked onion, garlic and anchovies. Give it a good stir and let it warm through.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and stir though a tablespoon of olive oil. Then tip in the broccoli mixture and as much grated parmesan as you like — I use about half a cup. Mix it all gently together and serve with extra parmesan and a twist or two of ground black pepper.broccoli pasta

Spicy Chicken

My daughter came to us at the age of two from a home where a takeaway Chinese meal was considered appropriate for a toddler — she was completely addicted to high salt, high sugar foods and had to be gently weaned from them over time. This chicken dish is quite highly flavoured and contains some chilli. Of course, you can reduce or eliminate the chilli, depending on your family’s taste.

I find that the combination of meat and fruit can be a bit challenging to some palates, so I leave the dried apricots whole which means they can be fished out easily when serving to those who don’t like them. They add a lovely earthy sweetness to the sauce so are well worth including, at least during the cooking process.

I make this in a flameproof casserole and pop it into the oven to cook. It could also be made in a tagine on the hob, and would be an ideal recipe for a slow cooker. For the latter,  I know a lot of people just bung in all the raw ingredients and switch on. I’m not so sure that’s best. I heard on the radio the other day some food experts saying that sealing meat at a high temperature doesn’t make any difference to the moistness of the final dish. Browning meat can certainly make it look better and probably taste better, but in this case the sauce is highly flavoured and coloured, so you can spare yourself the faff of carefully browning each bit of chicken. But I would not skip out the frying of the onion (boiled onion is such nasty stuff) or the cooking of the spices for a few minutes at a high temp.spicy chicken ingredients brighterYou will need:

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon each of powdered ginger, cinnamon and chilli (this amount of chilli gives a pleasant amount of heat — reduce or increase to taste)

175g dried apricots

2 tablespoons honey

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Put the chopped onion and oil into a flameproof casserole and fry gently until the onion is soft and translucent.

Increase the heat and add the chicken thighs and seasoning and stir around a bit, then add the spices and let them cook for a minute or so. Move things around with a spoon so nothing catches and burns.

Add the apricots, honey and chopped tomatoes and stir.

Half-fill the empty tomato tin with water, swoosh it around and add it to the casserole.

Bring to the boil.

Pop it in a moderate oven for 1-1.5 hours. Check it after an hour. You want the sauce to be thick and the chicken really tender.

This is a perfect make-ahead dish as it reheats beautifully. Serve with rice or buttered cous cous.


Pot Roast Brisket

This may take ages to cook, but only minutes to prepare and is just so full of gorgeous succulent goodness it is quite irresistible. For the veg, apart from the holy trinity of carrots, onions and celery, I use just about any root I find lurking in my fridge.brisketYou will need:

750g rolled beef brisket (this will provide four generous servings)

2 onions, quartered

3-4 carrots, cut into chunks

2-3 sticks of celery, cut into chunks

Other root vegetables such as swede, turnips, parsnips, beetroot, cut into chunks

Bay leaf

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon oil

300ml hot water or beef stock, plus a generous glug or two of red wine (optional)

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 tablespoon flour

Put the oil into a flameproof casserole, then add the beef and brown on all sides over a high heat.

Put the onion quarters in and let them start browning a bit, too.

Now add all the rest of the ingredients except for the liquid and the butter and flour. Don’t forget to season well.

Stir it all around a bit and then add the liquid.

Cover and cook in a slow oven for a very long time — about 3 hours or more depending on the size of the joint. You want it to be completely soft and falling apart by the end. You should be able to dish it up with a spoon. Check from time to time that there is enough liquid left.

At the end of cooking, take the casserole out of the oven and put it back on the hob over a medium heat. In a separate dish, mix the melted butter and flour into a paste. Remove the meat and put it on one side for a bit while you gently stir in the flour paste so that the remaining liquid thickens and coats the veg. Replace the meat. Serve with mash.

Crunchy Parmesan Chicken

If your children want to eat nothing but chicken nuggets, you may be able to tempt them with these crunchy-topped chicken breasts. The rest of the family will love them, too.

You will need:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs*

1/3 cup grated parmesan

Put the first 5 ingredients into a shallow ovenproof dish and whisk together with a fork.Marinade

Add the chicken breasts and turn them over in the mixture. Ideally, let them marinade for a while, but this is not essential.

Mix together the breadcrumbs and parmesan and sprinkle in a thick, even layer over the chicken breasts.parmesan chicken uncookedBake at 180°C for 25 minutes. The top should be crunchy golden brown and the chicken just cooked through, with no pink juice coming out when you poke it with a knife. Don’t be tempted to overcook — you want it to be lovely and moist, not tough and dry.parmesan chicken cookedServe with rice or new potatoes and any veg or salad your children enjoy. The “orange gloop” on the plate below is carrot, parsnip and swede puree. I find whizzing up root veggies with a bit of butter often makes them more appealing to my children.

Parmesan chicken cropped

*Whenever I have a bit of french stick left over, I whizz it in the food processor and put it in the freezer so that I always have breadcrumbs to hand. I have also been known to whizz up left over crisps and cheesy biscuits and mix them into the breadcrumbs for extra tasty crunchy toppings.




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