logo
food for the brain

Championing optimum nutrition for the mind

Simple rules for making nutritious meals

Some simple rules to follow when devising nutritious meals for your child...

AVOID

  • Foods and drinks containing sugar
    Look for ingredients such as sucrose, glucose, syrup, honey.
  • Refined foods
    White bread, white rice, biscuits, cakes, processed breakfast cereals.
  • Artificial additives and preservatives
    Commonly used in sweets, crisps, biscuits, ready meals, soft drinks.
  • Caffeine
    Tea, coffee, cola, energy drinks.


INCREASE

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
    Ensure a wide and colourful selection each day.
  • Whole grains
    Such as wholemeal bread, oats, brown rice, wholemeal pasta
  • Whole foods
    Look for foods that have had little added or taken away!
  • Lean sources of protein
    Fish, poultry or vegetable sources such as legumes and pulses.

SNACKS

A mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack will help your child’s blood sugar stay balanced to keep their energy levels even. Choosing low-sugar snacks that combine protein and some slow-release carbohydrate (like fruit or whole grains) will help avoid the hyperactive highs and lethargic lows that you may have witnessed after giving your child biscuits or sweets.


Fruit

Choose fresh fruit over dried, and opt for low-sugar ones such as apples, pears, berries, plums, apricots, oranges and peaches, rather than bananas, grapes and tropical fruit, which are naturally much sweeter. Best eaten with a handful of nuts or seeds or some yoghurt, to provide protein to slow down the release of sugars in the fruit.


Nuts

If your child’s school allows nuts, these make a convenient and incredibly nutritious snack, as they are jam-packed with protein, essential fats and minerals to fuel them through lessons. Choose raw, unsalted nuts if your child will eat them, and go for different types such as almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashew nuts and pecan nuts, not just the perennial peanut.


Oatcakes

Because they contain less gluten than wheat, oatcakes are easier to digest than bread. They also contain more fibre to help digestion, and fill you up for longer. Choose the roughmilled ones as these have a lower GL as the more coarsely ground grains take longer to be broken down. Spread two or three with cottage cheese, cream cheese, hummus or nut butter (all of which contain protein to balance blood sugar) for an easy snack. Nut butter or sugar-free jam topped with banana slices is also delicious on oatcakes.


Vegetable sticks

Chopped raw vegetables, or crudités, are easy to eat and fun to dip into pots of hummus, guacamole, cottage cheese, cream cheese or tomato salsa. Most children like the texture and crunch of raw vegetables, so if they spurn cooked veg, don’t worry, as eating them raw provides even more vitamins anyway. Don’t just opt for carrot and cucumber sticks; try to go for a rainbow of colours to ensure your child gets a whole range of phyto (plant) nutrients. Try peppers (not green, which are too bitter raw), celery, cherry tomatoes, baby corn, sugar snap peas, radishes, baby spring onions, and even broccoli florets.


Yoghurt with fruit

The combination of fruit (slow-release, low sugar carbohydrate) and yoghurt (protein) makes this a blood-sugar balancing, energy boosting snack. Choose live natural yogurt, as it will have no added sugar and contains the beneficial probiotic bacteria that help digestion and fight bugs. Choose low-sugar fruits such as apples, pears, berries, apricots, plums, oranges and peaches rather than high-sugar bananas, grapes and tropical fruit. You can pop a tub of berries or chopped fruit in your child’s lunch box for them to mix or dip into their yoghurt.


Easiest Ever Flapjacks

An ideal recipe for children to make, as it is simply stirred together before cooking. This must be the only flapjack recipe to avoid the usual syrup or honey binders, but which is still finger-lickingly gooey and holds together. The nuts provide protein to slow the sugars releasing in the flapjack, as well as minerals and essential fats. You can also add 1–2 teaspoons or so of ground ginger, to taste.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

150g (5 ½ oz) slightly salted butter or coconut oil (this makes it dairy-free but the flavour is not as good), at room temperature or just above;
150g (5 ½ oz) xylitol;
150g (5 ½ oz) roughly chopped nuts, such as a mixture of almonds and hazelnuts, or pecan nuts and brazil nuts (or use seeds or replace with oats in cases of nut allergies);
150g (5 ½ oz) whole rolled oats.

Line a baking tin, about 20×30cm (8×12in) with baking parchment. Beat the butter or coconut oil with the xylitol until it is creamy, then stir in the nuts and oats. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown (they still won’t set until they cool down). Slice into fingers, and allow to cool and harden in the tin set on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container. These can also be frozen – defrost individual flapjacks as and when you need them.

DRINKS

Even pure fruit juice is high in sugar, however, as it is a concentrated source of naturally occurring fruit sugars. You can reduce this by diluting it with water. This also means that you save money, so you can buy better quality, pure fruit juice instead of cheaper, sugary squash or fruit juice drinks. If your child is used to highly flavoured juice and squashes start off with just a splash of water and gradually increase until it is half water, half juice to let their taste buds adapt. You could also try some of our home made fizzy drink alternatives.


Strawberry Fizz

Both strawberries and lemons are rich sources of vitamin C and this juice is very refreshing and utterly delicious. This recipe also works with raspberries.

100g (3 1/2oz) (about 5) strawberries
;
Juice of 1/2 lemon (1 tbsp);
2 tsp xylitol, or to taste;
100ml (just over 3fl oz) naturally sparkling mineral water;
2 strawberries, to decorate.

Using a hand-held blender or a liquidiser, blend the strawberries and lemon juice until smooth. Stir in the xylitol until it has dissolved. Mix in the mineral water and check the sweetness – add a little more xylitol if preferred. Serve chilled with ice and 2 strawberries in the glass.

Lemonade

This lemonade is sugar-free and contains plenty of vitamin C from the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Juice of 1/2 lemon (1 tbsp);
2 tsp xylitol, or to taste;
200ml (just under 7fl oz) naturally sparkling mineral water;
Slice of lemon, to decorate.

Stir all the ingredients together until the xylitol dissolves. Serve with ice and a slice of lemon.

BREAKFAST

Almond Instant Oat Cereal

About as instant as oats get, and as quick to make as a cup of tea. Oats are full of slow-release carbohydrates and fibre, and the almonds provide protein and bone building minerals, calcium and magnesium. Magnesium is known as nature’s relaxant, so try this one to calm children down. It is delicious on its own or you can add chopped fresh fruit. If you can’t get pre-cracked flaxseeds (linseeds) you can grind whole flaxseeds in order to release their beneficial omega-3 fats and fibre – which also disguises them for fusspots. It’s also cheaper.

45g (just under 2oz, or 4 tbsp) whole porridge oats;
2 tbsp ground almonds;
2 heaped tsp xylitol;
2 tsp pre-cracked or ground flaxseeds (linseeds).
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and cover with 150ml (5fl oz/B/e pint) boiling water. Stir and leave to thicken for 2 minutes.

Jolly Healthy Granola

Did you know that shop-bought cereals like granola-style mueslis and crunchy oat clusters contain some of the highest levels of sugar of all cereals? Many are a third sugar – as much as some chocolate bars! This home-made granola is still sweet, thanks to the xylitol, but it is also sugar-free and low fat, as well as being packed with nuts, seeds and whole grains. Serve with live natural yoghurt and chopped fresh fruit or a few chopped dried apricots and prunes. You can also vary the nuts and seeds.

1 tbsp coconut oil, olive oil or butter;
1 tbsp xylitol;
50g (2oz) whole oatflakes;
1 tbsp flaked almonds;
1 tbsp hazelnuts, roughly chopped;
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds;
1 tbsp ground almonds.

Gently melt the oil or butter in a frying pan with the xylitol, add the oatflakes and stir for 3 minutes, or until they start to go golden and crisp up slightly. Add the flaked almonds and hazelnuts, and stir gently for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the pumpkin seeds and ground almonds.

Winter Berry Smoothie

When summer fruits are out of season use bags of frozen berries from supermarkets for a winter vitamin-C fix to help your child’s brain turn glucose into energy, and give their immune system a boost, helping to stop them picking up classroom coughs and colds. Grind the seeds in a blender or coffee grinder or blend them with the rest of the smoothie to save time, although this way some little nibs may remain. Leave the berries to defrost for a few minutes or overnight if your blender struggles with fully frozen ones.

1 tbsp seeds (such as a mixture of linseeds, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds), ground;
100g (3oz) frozen mixed berries, or fresh ones in the summer;
50g (2oz) whole oatflakes;
1 banana;
100g (3oz) live natural yoghurt;
1 tbsp xylitol, or to taste.

Using a hand-held blender or a liquidiser, blend the ingredients together until smooth. This is very thick smoothie, so it can either be eaten with a spoon, or loosened with a little water to make it easier to drink.

Boiled Eggs

Serve with toast ‘soldiers’ made from wholemeal bread, ‘allin-one’ white bread ‘with added goodness’ or rye bread. Don’t bother buttering the toast as the yolk contains enough fat and flavour that you don’t need extra.

1 or 2 free range or organic eggs, pricked with an egg pricker (optional).

Bring a pan of water to a slow boil and gently place the eggs into the pan. Leave to boil gently for 8 minutes. Remove from the pan and quickly run under cold water to prevent them cooking further.

LUNCHBOXES

Healthy lunchboxes should include a piece of fruit or chopped raw vegetables, plus a handful of nuts or seeds, a yoghurt or a dip such as hummus, cottage cheese or cream cheese to provide protein for a more sustaining, low sugar snack, if possible.

Another snack item (see the Snacks List).

Water, or diluted, sugar-free, pure fruit juice.

Main lunch item, such as a sandwich, wrap or salad. Ideally sandwiches should be made with wholegrain bread (such as wholemeal bread or pitta bread), rye bread or with oatcakes. Don’t buy bread simply labelled ‘brown’, it is likely to be white bread that has simply been dyed brown! Make sure the label says ‘wholemeal’. Or choose an ‘all-in-one’ white bread ‘with added goodness’. Include some protein in sandwiches and salads (such as chicken, turkey, eggs, tuna, salmon or hummus) and vegetables (salad or raw vegetables chopped into bite-sized portions).

Smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber on wholemeal/‘all-in one’ white bread or rye bread.
Oatcakes and vegetable sticks (crudités) with hummus or cottage cheese dip.
Wholemeal pitta bread stuffed with soy and sesame seasoned tuna with lettuce and cherry tomatoes.
Egg mayonnaise on wholemeal/‘all-in-one’ white bread with cress, alfalfa sprouts (which look and taste very similar to cress) or cucumber slices.
Peanut butter (or other nut/seed butter) and cucumber on wholemeal/‘all-in-one’ white bread.
Cottage cheese and prawns on wholemeal/‘all-in-one’ white bread or in wholemeal pitta bread.
Chicken salad wrap. Sliced chicken, with a mixed salad, wrapped in a tortilla.
TLT (turkey, lettuce and tomato on wholemeal/‘all-in-one’ white bread or in wholemeal pitta bread).
Ham (unprocessed and not made from reconstituted meat, but off the bone from the deli) and coleslaw on wholemeal/ ‘all-in-one’ white bread or in wholemeal pitta bread.

DINNERS

Sweet Potato Wedges

These wedges are baked instead of fried, to make them a much healthier alternative to chips. We prefer to use sweet potatoes, as the orange flesh is packed with the antioxidant vitamin beta-carotene, which is very good for the immune system as well as the eyes, but you could use normal potatoes instead.

2 medium–large sweet potatoes, washed but unpeeled, cut into wedges;
1 tbsp olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Place the wedges on a baking tray and drizzle with the oil, shaking to coat. Bake for 40 minutes, turning the wedges halfway through cooking.

Stuffed Peppers

The nuts and mushrooms add a delicious flavour to the rice filling and make this a B-vitamin-rich dish that will help boost mood and energy levels. You can replace the pine nuts with chopped walnuts, or use sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Serve with salad as well if your child will eat it.

4 large red peppers;
1 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil;
2 medium onions, finely chopped
;
4 garlic cloves, crushed;
300g (10oz) mushrooms, cleaned with a brush or wiped with a piece of kitchen paper and chopped;
2 tsp Marigold Reduced Salt Vegetable Bouillon powder;
200g (7oz) brown basmati rice, cooked;
2 tbsp pine nuts;
Handful of fresh basil, chopped (optional);
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Cut the tops off the peppers (reserving the lids), remove the seeds and pith, and slice off the bulbous part inside the pepper that sits below the stalk and contains most of the seeds. Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently sauté the onions and garlic for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and bouillon powder, and fry for a further 2–3 minutes. In a large bowl, combine this mixture with the cooked rice, nuts and basil, if using, and season. Stuff the peppers with the mixture and put the tops back on. Place on the baking tray and bake for 35 minutes.


Beany Bolognese

A rich bean and tomato stew that can be served with salad or steamed cabbage and pasta or potatoes – top with Sweet Potato Mash to turn it into a nutrient-dense, vegetarian shepherd’s pie. It’s also packed with fibre and the antioxidant lycopene from the cooked tomatoes.

2 tsp coconut oil or olive oil;
4 garlic cloves, crushed;
2 onions, diced;
200g (7oz) button mushrooms, cleaned with a brush or wiped with a piece of kitchen paper and sliced;
3 tbsp tomato purée;
1×400g (14oz) can plum tomatoes;
2×410g (14 ½ oz) cans of borlotti beans, drained and rinsed (or other cooked beans, such as cannellini or haricot);
2 tsp herbes de Provence, or to taste;
3 tsp Marigold Reduced Salt Vegetable Bouillon powder, or sea salt to taste;
Freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the oil and sweat the garlic and onions gently for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook until fairly soft (about 5 minutes). Add the tomato purée, canned tomatoes, beans and herbs. Add the bouillon powder or salt, and ground black pepper. Simmer for about 5–10 minutes to allow the vegetables to soften and the sauce to thicken. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.


Big Baked Beans

One of our greatest success stories – the children make this dish at our Food for the Brain schools’ cookery sessions, and by the time they have tasted it they are all converted from the high-sugar, high-salt canned varieties. You can also purée the mixture before adding the beans to make a smooth sauce like the canned versions. Serve on wholemeal or ‘all in one’ white toast, or toasted rye bread.

1 tbsp oil;
2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped;
2×410g (14 ½ oz) cans butterbeans, rinsed and drained;
2×400g (14oz) cans chopped tomatoes;
A little salt, or 1 tsp Marigold Reduced Salt Vegetable Bouillon powder;
Freshly ground black pepper.


Heat the oil in a saucepan and sauté the onions for 2 minutes to soften. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 2 minutes, then taste to check the seasoning.

Pitta Pizzas

Pizza is usually a very fatty option, with oil-rich toppings and a base that is full of refined flour and additives. The pitta bread base used here, however, cuts down on refined wheat and saturated fat and you can put a selection of toppings out on the table to let your child create their own ‘designer pizza’ that is lower in fat. Sprinkle with a little mozzarella or Cheddar cheese instead of overloading the pizza with cheap, processed cheese as is used on many takeaway or frozen pizzas. Non-vegetarians can also use cooked chicken goujons or prawns, canned tuna flakes or strips of lean, unprocessed ham. You can serve the pizzas with salad on the side.

4 wholemeal pitta breads;
4 tbsp tomato-based pasta sauce, sun-dried tomato paste, tomato purée or passata, or enough to cover one side of each pitta bread;

For the toppings have a selection of the following: cherry tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, sliced courgette, diced peppers, pitted black olives, sliced mozzarella, grated Cheddar cheese or Parmesan shavings plus any of the following optional seasonings: a drizzle of olive oil, a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, dried oregano or torn, fresh basil leaves.

Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/Gas 9. Spread the top of each pitta bread with tomato sauce, paste, purée or passata, and then scatter with your chosen toppings and seasonings (except for the basil – add just before serving) and cook for 10 minutes.

Coconut Fish Curry

The sweet, spicy sauce in this curry should appeal to more adventurous palates. It is not overwhelmingly hot and is a good way of sneaking fish into your child’s diet. Or, you can replace the fish with 200g (7oz) cooked prawns (add them 2 minutes before the end to heat through). Sneak the onion and pepper past veggie-phobes by finely chopping them (preferably in a food processor) before cooking. Serve with brown basmati rice.

3 tbsp medium curry paste;
2 large onions, sliced;

2 red, yellow or orange peppers, sliced;
1×400ml (13 ½ fl oz) can coconut milk (shaken before opening);
300ml (1/2 pint) hot vegetable stock (or stir 2 tsp Marigold Reduced Salt Vegetable Bouillon powder into 300ml (1/2 pint) boiling water);
4 firm, skinless white fish fillets (about 600g/1lb 5oz), such as haddock, cut into large chunks (checking for bones with your fingers as you go).

Heat the curry paste in a large frying pan or saucepan and fry the onions and peppers for 5 minutes to soften. Pour in the coconut milk and stock, stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken slightly, then add the fish and simmer for a further 3–5 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.

Tuna and Fresh Tomato Pasta Sauce

A deliciously fresh tomato sauce with a rich, sweet flavour. Cooked tomatoes are an even better source of lycopene (the antioxidant that helps eyesight) than raw ones. This pasta sauce is very cheap and quick to make and goes with almost anything from tuna and pasta to potatoes and chicken or sausages.

200g (7oz) wholemeal or gluten/wheat-free pasta;
2×185g (6 ½ oz) cans (undrained weight) tuna fish in brine or water, or 4 tbsp pine nuts (toasted in a dry frying pan until golden for extra flavour, if time).


For the basic tomato sauce:
4 garlic cloves, crushed;
2 red onions, finely diced;
4 tbsp non-virgin olive oil;
2×250g (9oz) punnets cherry tomatoes, chopped;
4 tbsp tomato purée;
Sprinkle of sea salt;
Freshly ground black pepper.


Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Meanwhile, sweat the garlic and onion in the oil in a frying pan for about 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, or until they disintegrate. Stir in the tomato purée, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until rich and thick. Season and taste to check the flavour. You can blend the sauce until smooth to conceal any ‘bits’ from fusspots, if necessary. Add the cooked pasta to the pan (along with the tuna or pine nuts), stir together and heat through.

Chicken and Puy Lentil One-Pot Stew

A very easy, one-pot dish that can be made in advance, and is popular with adults and older children. Replace the pepper and leek with carrot and celery, and the lentils with potatoes if you like. This is a complete meal on its own but you can serve it with Sweet Potato Mash to soak up the delicious sauce..

2 tbsp olive oil;
4 large red onions, peeled and sliced into wedges;
4 garlic cloves, crushed;
250g (9oz) mushrooms, quartered;
2.5cm (1in) piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped (optional);
3–4 tbsp tomato purée;
2 red peppers, deseeded and sliced;
2 leeks, sliced;
4 tsp Marigold Reduced Salt Vegetable Bouillon powder dissolved in 600ml (20fl oz/1 pint) boiling water;
200g (7oz) Puy lentils, rinsed;
4 large chicken thighs, skinned;
Freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stockpot and add the onions, garlic, mushrooms and ginger, if using. Sauté gently, covered, for 5 minutes, then stir in the tomato purée. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan then cover. Simmer for 35–45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked (check the juices run clear), uncovering halfway through to allow the liquid to reduce and the sauce to thicken. Season with black pepper.

CAKES & BISCUITS

Apple and Almond Tray Bake

This delicious, moist cake can be enjoyed with a clean conscience, as it has a very slow releasing sugars and contains no wheat orflour, sugar or fat and is packed with protein, calcium and fibre. It makes a nutritious snack or lunch-box treat, or can be served warm with custard (made with xylitol instead of sugar) for pudding.

3 Bramley (cooking) apples, about 550g/1B/1/4 lb in total, unpeeled, cored and diced;

250g (9oz) ground almonds;
2 tsp ground cinnamon;
1 tsp baking powder;
3 medium-sized free range or organic eggs;
150g (5 ½ oz) xylitol;
Around 85g (just over 3oz) flaked almonds for sprinkling on top.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Line a baking tin, about 20 + 30cm (8 + 12in), with baking parchment. Place the apples, ground almonds, cinnamon and baking powder in a mixing bowl and stir together. Set to one side. Beat the eggs and xylitol in a clean mixing bowl until they become pale and creamy and start to thicken slightly (the whisk should leave a trail when lifted out of the mixture). Gradually fold the apple and almond mixture into the beaten egg, using a metal tablespoon, and taking care not to knock all of the air out of the egg (this is easiest done by drawing a figure-of-eight shape with the spoon as you fold). Quickly pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Bake for 45–50 minutes, or until golden and fairly firm to the touch (cover the top with kitchen foil towards the end of cooking to prevent the almonds from scorching, if necessary). Leave to cool on a wire rack before cutting into slices and storing in an airtight container.


Chocolate Crunchies

A seriously delicious but very nutritious take on an old favourite. Bound together with a little chocolate and nut butter instead of syrup, they conceal plenty of essential fats, protein, minerals and vitamins. You can vary the mixture of oats, nuts and seeds according to what your child will eat, but this is a fabulous way to conceal superfoods like seeds within a delicious teatime treat.

100g (4oz) good quality dark chocolate, broken into rough chunks
;
2 tbsp tahini or unsalted hazelnut butter (from health-food stores);
2 tsp ground cinnamon;
50g (2oz) oats;
50g (2oz) mixed unsalted nuts, roughly chopped;
50g (2oz) desiccated coconut;
50g (2oz) pumpkin seeds;
A good tbsp of ground or cracked flaxseeds (linseeds);
Ground cinnamon and/or ground ginger, to taste (optional).

Melt the chocolate then stir in the tahini. Place ten paper cake cases on a baking sheet. Mix in the dry ingredients until evenly coated then spoon into the cake cases and chill until set.