It’s a huge challenge for mums: How to feed yourself and your kids (preferably the same) healthy family food on a daily basis.

I have recently started working with an absolutely lovely client who has quite a mealtime challenge on her hands: 4 kids, aged 4-10, two of whom are autistic. “Fussy Eaters” doesn’t apparently even begin to describe!

Meals need to be not only child-friendly, but with food ingredients separate, a plate that can be recreated visually every time and of course appealing to the eye…

We have come up with a few ideas that will hopefully point this very overworked mum, who has neither the time, the interest, or the inclination to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen preparing a meal, in the direction of healthier eating for her whole family.

Whether you are dealing with the same challenges as this mum or not, chances are you might have “fussy” toddlers or children who make choosing healthy meals a challenge, and/or you might not be much of a foodie or a cook yourself.

If any of the above apply, hopefully this idea might help!

My 4 YO daughter has a favourite tea. She calls it the ‘Picnic Tea’ and it is endlessly flexible, as well as being very healthy for all of you. It also translates rather well to lunch boxes…

Basically it is any of the following on a plate, or in separate bowls on the table, whatever works for your clan.

The Rules are: 1 protein (could be nuts, nut butter, egg, meat, fish or any beans, like chickpeas or kidney beans); at least one fruit and at least 2 vegetables; a full grain carb (the oatcakes, crackers, bread, pasta, rice, quinoa…

Just pick a selection (the same selection every time if necessary) either for individual plates or put everything in bowls on the table for you all to help yourselves.

Give them the Rules, and let them dig in!

Pick a protein:

Hard boiled egg

Good handful of brazils, almonds or other nuts

Good dollop of nut butter (unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter, cashew or almodn butter) on your bread / oatcakes / bread

Tinned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines)

Strips of cooked chicken, beef or turkey

Cheese (don’t use dairy as your protein more than twice a week)

Beans / Pulses (chickpeas, kidney beans, cannelini beans – you can buy all these in tins, ready cooked – they just need to be drained. Try stirring some pesto sauce out of the jar into them.

Pick a minimum 2 vegetables, such as:

A few cherry tomatoes

Cucumber sticks

Carrot sticks

Broccoli florets

Slices of peppers

Cauliflower florets (all of the above are raw)

Avocado slices

Corn on the cob (cooked!)

Then a  minimum of 1:

Chopped up fruit: apple, pear, banana, plums, mango… anything you like

Handful of grapes, blueberries, strawberries… or any other berries

And finally one of

Oatcakes

Wholegrain bread

Wholegrain crackers (like ryvita)

Cooked rice

Cooked pasta (wholegrain please)

Cous cous or quinoa – follow instructions on the packet – takes less than 5 mins

IF you want to,  add herbs, dressing, or a splash of extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Try adding something to dip the veggies into like hummous or plain, unsweetend yoghurt (that’s your protein sorted…).

OR if your fmaily is of the ‘keep it plain and simple’ preference, then add nothing at all! Another bonus of this way of eating, is that whilst you’re all eating the same food – together – you can adapt your own plate to taste with more seasoning or flavours if you want to.

It’s not going to win any recipe book prizes, but its healthy, fresh food, very quickly prepared and served.

Please share your meal-time challenges or bright ideas! And if your family is coping with autism in any form and its connotations for serving varied, healthy food, I’d be absolutely delighted to hear your strategies and experiences!

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