Letting little ones help in the kitchen is a fun way to teach them about food. Get started with these simple ideas from food writer, stylist and photographer Uyen Luu – guaranteed to please even the fussiest of eaters
As a busy working mum, my goal is to find quick routes to delicious, healthy meals. I work as a food photographer and stylist, and run Vietnamese supper clubs from my east London studio, so it was important that when my three-year-old daughter, Olive, was born she’d love food as much as I do. I started by introducing her to simple flavours, like cooked, puréed rice, carrots and courgettes – her first word was ‘more’. These days, I try to turn cooking into a game. She might help me arrange noodle soup bowls or prep herbs, or when we go shopping I’ll ask her to find me something red. We grow herbs and vegetables from seeds, tend to them and eat them once they’re ready.
I love that some of the M&S ready-made options are small enough to fit into lunchboxes – the edamame pea pots are great, and Olive loves them. She often has friends over, but sometimes it’s too exciting to sit down for lunch – playing is just too important – so I create a healthy snack board (mainly fresh veg and protein). I use a few cheats from M&S, such as mini muffins, houmous and falafel, as well as blanched asparagus and Tenderstem broccoli, a plate of the sweetest Victoria blackberries, Sapphire raspberries and Red Diamond strawberries, mini carrots, and candyfloss grapes. To get kids involved, let them cut buttermilk pancakes into heart shapes.
I try to keep in mind things she’ll like when I’m preparing Olive’s nursery lunch – it’s not a time to diversify too much. Introducing her to a new thing should be a small part of the lunch, next to her favourite egg mayo sandwich. I’ve given her veggies since the weaning stage and these days I sometimes cut them into fun shapes. But I don’t go overboard – nobody wants to be carving elephants out of carrots every day! Blanching veg is a good idea as it makes it easier to digest, but flavour is key so don’t over-boil the vegetables and use seasonal, ripe fruit.
M&S ready-made bao buns are great fun, and children love them because they look like clouds. Kids enjoy filling and assembling the buns – being in control makes them feel grown up and they develop an idea of how things taste together. Think of them like a sandwich – they can be filled with anything from avocado to peanut butter and banana. Here, I’ve used the M&S slow-cooked Vietnamese-style pork belly, which you just prep according to the instructions, along with sliced cucumber, spring onions and radishes, which cut through the sweetness of the meat.
If you put creativity and fun into food, children will too. Making desserts and treats is an easy way to get kids involved. You don’t have to use all of the sugar in recipes – cut it by around a third for cakes. If you’re taking children shopping for food (Olive loves to scan things at the self-checkout), play ‘I spy a colour’ with vegetables. Children like to count things, so let them do this as they pod peas into a bowl or pick mint leaves. Once they’re old enough, they can assemble their own sandwiches, rolls and pizzas – you do the leg work, they do the fun!
Kids can’t resist an ice-lolly and making them at home is so easy. Blend up fruit like melon or mango with a drizzle of M&S wildflower honey, then add sliced whole fruit for texture, pop into a lolly mould and freeze for 4-6 hours. I make a batch for after school. I use M&S fruit because it’s sweet, succulent and so full of flavour – Red Diamond strawberries and Sapphire raspberries are perfect. You could also add a little M&S mango, pineapple and passionfruit juice to the mix. They’re homemade with the best-quality fruit and no artificial ingredients: guilt-free joy.
Words and images: Uyen Luu / Deputy food editor: Heather Taylor