How To Cook Family Meals Everyone Will Love

Words by Karen Kingham

If you want to avoid becoming a short order cook and have your children eating and enjoying the same food as you, introduce the family menu as early as possible. This can be tricky when catering for a range of developmental milestones in the one meal, so let me lighten your load with a few tips on adapting family favourites so everyone’s happy.

messy toddler eating in blue high chair

Almost all family meals can be adapted to suit babies and toddlers

Juggle and tweak

By approaching a recipe with the question, “How can I break this down to something more simple?” you’ll end up with more options for your brood. The easiest way to do this is to remove cooked meat, fish or chicken before you add the more “tasty” ingredients to the recipe. For example, set aside some plain chicken and perhaps a little of the cooked onion from our Chicken Goulash or the beef mince cooked with vegetables and garlic in this Chilli Con Carne. Blend these plainer parts of the meal with a little water or milk for small babies. For older babies, a little of the sauce from the family version added to minced or finely chopped plain meat gives them a taste of the family meal. Fussier toddlers might be best with the plain meats removed and offered sauce “on the side” in a small bowl. The independence to dip or taste as they like can be an attractive thing to a toddler who likes to exert control at meal times. Remember, exposure on their plate is good even if they don’t try it the first time so don’t give up just because it’s not a winner first time around.

Love a stick blender

Sauce on the side for dipping was always popular in my house and this is where a stick blender can become a dinner-time friend. “Sauce” can be made from all manner of recipes. Our One-Pot Tomato Chicken Braise is ideal. Simply take a small portion of the chicken and enough sauce to allow it to blend to a smooth consistency. It will make a protein rich dipping sauce for your toddler’s veggies or a great sauce stirred through pasta spirals. Other recipes that become nutritious sauces are ratatouille and minestrone. And for those reluctant meat eaters, putting the stick blender through a spag bol to make it a little smoother (but not a pureed paste) might see this become more popular too.

Spicing it down

Setting aside cooked meat and veg before you add curry pastes or spices means grown-ups can enjoy a tasty curry and still serve a blander meal for children. To educate palates, “spice down” a portion of the final sauce with extra cream, yoghurt or coconut milk and offer this as an optional sauce on the side. As new palates become accustom to these flavours they can be strengthened and before you know it they will be sharing your laksa or rogan josh!