Melting Pot – Dishy ideas for dinky diners

According to ‘State of the Nation – What children in the UK are eating’, 86% of parents worry about how their child eats and 26% want to see restaurants offering more fruit and veg on children’s menus. With 38% of parents saying they eat out with their children at least once a week, is it time to give kids’ menus a shake-up? Forget chicken nuggets and chips, today’s youngsters want something more adventurous – and their parents want it to be healthy – so what is the solution? Here eight chefs and industry experts provide the answers…

Andy Young, executive chef at Planet Hollywood, which has been named (for a third consecutive year) as London’s No.1 Child-Friendly restaurant It’s the same with creating great quality food for adults, we always start with the freshest, most natural ingredients possible. We create all of our tomato sauces from scratch, so we know there are no additives or preservatives in them. It takes a bit longer to prepare, but quality, carefully prepared ingredients are much tastier, so that means we can then limit adding the sugar or salt to a dish. It’s ok for kids to have treats, but also, it’s easy to make the treats into a healthy option. For example our burgers are 100% high quality beef and they’re grilled, our world famous Chicken Crunch uses only the leanest chicken breast and it comes served with crunchy, spiralised carrot which little ones love!

Ian Nicholson, EYFS chef, Queen Ethelburga’s College A great way to get children to eat more protein and vitamins is by offering them pulses. It’s no great secret how much children love baked beans, so why not build on this by offering them other tasty pulse-based meals such as Five Bean Chilli, or Chickpea Korma, or by enhancing a tomato or curry sauce by pureeing lentils into it. Pulses can even be made into healthy dips such as hummus or refried beans and made fun for children to eat by serving them with colourful, crunchy salad and vegetable sticks – irresistible!!

Mark Rigby, executive chef at Premier Foods Nearly three quarters of British parents think restaurants should encourage children to try new ingredients and healthier foods they’ve not tried before. Chefs could consider offering smaller portions of some dishes from their main menu to encourage children to try more ‘adult’ and adventurous flavours. Chefs could also look to add new ingredients to expand their traditional children’s menu – our McDougalls Steamed Buns for example are an adaptation of the traditional Japanese Hirata buns but provide the perfect carrier for pulled meats or even hotdogs – perfect for smaller hands and easy portion control. (Full recipe available at www.stiritupmagazine.co.uk/recipes.)

Darren Chapman, development chef, Nestle Professional Serve these tasty and nutritious fish dogs. Fish flakes mixed with mash and herbs, coated in Maggi Lemon & Herb Crunchy Bake and oven-baked. It’s a great way of getting children to eat fish as it’s all hidden inside the crispy coating. Delicious served in a hot dog roll with Maggi Rich & Rustic salsa sauce, and some vegetables. The kids are sure to love them.

Sam Rain, Sosa development chef I think to entice children to eat more fruit and vegetable we need to make it more fun for them so I’ve created this recipe for Mango and Raspberry Spaghetti. The fruit spaghetti brings an element of fun but also is very healthy for them. I’ve only used raspberry and mango puree which you can make yourself or alternatively buy puree in (ensure that it doesn’t have a high sugar content) and then I’ve used Sosa Vegetal setting powder and tubing to make the spaghetti. The spaghetti can be made in any flavour, sweet or savoury. Full recipe www.stiritupmagazine. co.uk/recipes.

Marie Medhurst, sales director at Bannisters’ Farm Baked potatoes are perfect for persuading children to eat healthy, nutritious dishes. Giving children choice over their food can help make dining out an experience they’ll enjoy, so invite them to select their own filling. The menu might include mild chilli con carne, sausages and beans, tuna and sweetcorn, and a range of other familiar, comforting toppings that can be customised with ‘hidden’ vegetable purées and finely diced fresh vegetables.

Fergus Martin, Major’s development chef Whilst pizza, burgers and chips may still be popular picks, kids’ menus need to reflect the increasingly more internationally educated palate of today’s child, who is more at home with world cuisine and mirror of the kind of food the adults will be eating themselves. What better way to encourage children to try something new and embrace good food? Provided with more exotic options or mini portions of adult mains, a deliciously fragrant Pan-Asian noodle broth, a Mari Base Moroccaninfused halloumi and squash wrap or a Bombay potato chapatti with fresh spinach leaves and side of yoghurt, it is surprising just how many children will autonomously go for the more adventurous option.

Rachel Neale, senior marketing manager for Uncle John’s Signature Hot Dogs A ‘Build Your Own Hot Dog’ menu can coax children towards healthier dishes. Choose good-quality dogs in a range of size options, to suit a variety of age groups and appetites. Offer a choice of readymade sauce toppings such as Cajun & tomato sauce customised with puréed courgette and carrot, and serve with grilled corn on the cob, peas, carrot batons or sliced peppers. Look towards world cuisine for menu inspiration, from Mexican with cool salsa, sour cream & chive dressing and grated cheese, to classic American, criss-crossed with tomato ketchup and English mustard, served with curly fries and salad.

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