The other day a friend dropped by to meet baby George; I was reaching for my freezer to get some ice (it was yet another baking hot August day) and she was looking over my shoulder into my freezer. She found it really funny that I have certain convenience foods in there... and was asking if I had ever discussed them on my blog. I told her I hadn't even thought to. She felt quite strongly that other parents would want to know what's in there and also which convenience foods I rely on. I found myself agreeing with her: it's really important to me that I blog and write truthfully about family food and the cooking I do at home. I am just the same as every other stressed out, time-short parent. I love food and take pride in cooking home cooked meals, but I also make quick suppers chucked together at the last minute, often with one or two "hack ingredients" thrown in. I am a mum and not a sort of instagram-cooking robot.... Since the arrival of baby George this way of cooking has become really, really useful.
Today's post is all about some of the convenience foods I use when I'm time short. I hope there will be a few ideas in here for you too: useful ingredients and also recipe ideas. We all need some standby suppers/ meals at our finger tips. For me, it's just not realistic to cook from scratch all the time, especially with a newborn and a toddler. So if you have a newborn, are juggling a gaggle of kids, or are looking for quick options as school returns, then this is the post for you.
P.s. This is also not an ad. I am not working with any of the brands mentioned, I just love the products: they get the Mimi's Bowl stamp of approval.
My Top Convenience Foods
Ready Made Fruit Puree, Clearspring Organic: these taste good and have no additives. I swirl them through yogurt for my little girl, either for breakfast, pudding, or a quick snack. They also make on-the-go pouches for when you are out and about.
Rice Cakes, Kallo : I buy the unsalted rice cakes and they are brilliant for quick snacks. You can top them with delicious things as well, my daughter loves mashed banana, or mashed avocado, even a slice of cheese. A really useful store cupboard staple. As a treat their chocolate version is great too (although not recommended for children under 1 years as chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine).
Pesto and Pasta Sauces, Mr Organic: these little jars are very versatile and my daughter loves them. They are always in my cupboard for when I'm time short. Their veggie pasta sauces are good quality and we have used them on pasta and as a pizza topping (recommended 9 months +). The pesto jars are great and I often mix them with some breadcrumbs and make a crust topping for oven grilled fish. Simple and delicious.
Ready Cooked Lentils and Pulses, Merchant Gourmet/ and El Navarrico: for bigger children good quality ready made lentils and pulses are a brilliant standby. Check labels for no extra additives or ingredients, these are the brands I like and we have tried, although please note El Navarrico do have added salt. I have made the lentils into mini burgers and added them to pasta sauces for some added nutrition. I also use butter beans and chickpeas quite often in my cooking, especially since we have been trying to eat less meat at home, either in my quick bean chilli or to make hummus.
(I say these recommendations are better for bigger children as I didn't use them as much when my daughter was little and I wouldn't recommended them for babies under 1 year. Chickpeas are also a high allergen food).
Ice Lollies, Claudi & Fin: these lovely ice lollies are made with Greek yogurt and fruit. Best of all my little girl feels she is having a treat too: I buy the mini versions for her. If you haven't had time to make your own ice lollies, these are a lovely alternative and taste great. I secretly love them too!
Natural Fruit Yogurts, Yeo Valley Little Yeos Fromage Frais: these lovely little yogurts were recommended to me by my brilliant GP Chiara Hunt, who co-founded the Bump Class. These particular Little Yeos Framage Frais are flavoured with fruit and have no added processed sugars. They are the only flavoured yogurts I give my daughter (otherwise I just give natural yogurt). If I have time I blend my own flavoured yogurts for her, but these are a great standby and are convenient.
Frozen Fish Fillets, Ocado/ or Waitrose: Frozen fish fillets are one of the most useful kitchen standbys and make a great basis for a healthy meal. I oven bake them, with vegetables all the time, to make a quick and easy tray bake. Here are some of the brands I like, I always look for sustainably caught fish, line caught and also organic: buy the best quality you can. My daughter loves these fish fillets oven roasted until almost cooked and then topped with a pesto and breadcrumb crust: it doesn't get simpler.
Frozen Veggie Chips and Veggie Burgers, Strong Roots: I recently discovered this brand Strong Roots and they make some great products, as freezer standby's. Their foods are plant based and convenient.We have all tried them and think they taste great, I love that the chips are also made form a variety of veg and fun colours so my little girl enjoys eating them but is still getting a veggie hit.
N.B. I do not recommend these for babies, under 1 years, as they do have added salt.
Low Salt, or no Added Salt Stock Cubes, Kallo/ or Boots: I make my own stock but when I don't have time or I have run out I rely on stock cubes. I use the Kallo Organic Stock Cubes.
I recently found these no added salt cubes at Boots, which are ideal for babies under 1 years, when no salt is recommended.
Frozen Veggies, Duchy Organic: frozen vegetables are in my mind the easiest way of increasing your families vegetable intake. I throw a handful of them into almost anything and everything I cook from risottos, to sauces to cheesy pasta gratins. You can't re-freeze them so just add them when you are finishing your dish, then cook through and serve. I still buy fresh veggies but these are fantastically useful to have on standby.
Ready Made Pizza Bases, Biona: my daughter loves pizza and these quick and easy pizza bases from Biona are great. We make toppings together and they take no time at all to cook. I recommend getting a tray hot in the oven so you have a crispy base and brush both sides of the pizza with olive oil, before adding toppings. I find these great fun for playdates too.