What’s for dinner mum? Making food fun (so they’ll want to eat it!)

Years ago Jessica Seinfeld’s first cookbook Deceptively Delicious was released – I succumbed to the hysteria and bought a copy (and I’ve been trying to sell it on fishpond ever since!). Her recipes were touted as the answer to those meal-time nightmares where fussy children won’t touch their vegies so that frustrated mama’s give in and feed them rubbish. It involved lots of ‘normal’ things that kids love, with stealthily-hidden healthy stuff thrown in. Think Macaroni Cheese with added cauliflower puree, mini pizza’s with a layer of spinach under the toppings, and muffins with carrot puree.

Her recipes involved lots of pureeing bulk amounts of vegetables, and to be perfectly honest Jessica, your brownies did not fool me OR my kids…they were gross.

I can understand how cookbooks like these might be an absolute lifesaver for frazzled mothers everywhere, and if that’s what works for you, go for it. But really, as Mr B. likes to say “it’s not rocket science people”.

Firstly, mothers everywhere have been grating carrot & zucchini into their spag bol for decades…any dish involving any kind of mince can be bulked out with a combination of vegies and/or beans or pulses to not only make it healthier but make it go further.

Secondly, why do we have to always ‘hide’ the vegies?

Yes yes, I know what it’s like, I have a fussy child too…a non-vegie eater. Guess what? The vegies get served up to her every night – she is not forced to eat them, but if she doesn’t, there’s nothing else. We’ve tried every form of bribery encouragement under the sun, and nothing works. But we persist, and we model good eating in front of her. The boys are both great vegie eaters so we’ll let her develop a taste for vegetables in her own time. As an adult I certainly don’t like every vegetable out there so it would be slightly hypocritical for me to force those on my children.

I’d love to be able to dish up a stir fry or vegie stack every night and expect everyone to eat it without complaint, but it’s not going to happen yet. I try to keep dinner times interesting for everyone by making meal times fun – I don’t want my kids to be making waffle houses like Drew Barrymore (50 First Dates) every morning, but I’m quite okay with them enjoying the dinner experience by becoming involved in it.

Tonight I decided to make a trio of dips (I’ve heard these are terribly naff now, but my kids don’t know what that word means so it doesn’t matter!) with some vegetable crudités and mini chicken-ball dippers.

I was in the kitchen making a birthday cake most of the day so I made the dips whilst I was waiting for cake parts to set, and the chicken balls before the kids got home from school. Half an hour before dinner time I put the chilled chicken balls in the oven, sliced and toasted some Turkish bread, and cut up the vegetables.

I got terribly creative and called my dip trio Traffic Light dips, because they vaguely resembled a red/orange/green combination. Obviously my ‘red’ dip is more of a magenta but I knew the beetroot would be better received than a red capsicum or tomato-based dip. Dips are one of those fantastic things that are so easy to whip up and any leftovers are great for snacking on the next day, spreading on a sandwich or even as a pizza spread.

Traffic Light Dips

I made a beetroot & feta dip, carrot & chickpea dip, and an edamame dip, and served them with celery, capsicum and carrot sticks, toasted turkish bread and my mini chicken balls as dippers. I only used ingredients I already had in the pantry, fridge or freezer so I made some adaptations along the way…

Beetroot & Feta dip – I basically googled beetroot dips and came up with my own version, throwing things into the food processor willy nilly. Not really, but I probably couldn’t recreate the same dip again if I tried! I’d love to tell you I found some lovely fresh beetroot at the local farmers market this morning, roasted it, lovingly peeled it and then whizzed it up…the truth is I used my foraging skills to deftly prise a tin of baby beets from the pantry, put my technical skills to work on the can-opener, then used my magnificent fine motor skills to drain the liquid into the sink. Then I literally dumped the beets into the food processor…look, I was in the middle of making a cake and I didn’t want bits of fresh beetroot flung all over the kitchen, I’m a messy cook and the tinned version was really the best option for everyone, trust me! I added 200g of feta, some crushed garlic, thyme and coriander, and salt & pepper. This was the clear winner – very tasty.

Carrot & Chickpea dip – adapted from eat, taste, nourish. One tin of drained chickpeas in the food processor along with a grated carrot, drizzle of olive oil and seasoned with paprika, cumin, lemon juice and honey. We found this a little thick which made it hard for dipping, but was delicious.

Edamame dip – I shelled a bag of frozen edamame (very therapeutic, popping them all into the bowl!) and combined in the food processor with the juice of 1 lime and seasoned with salt, toasted sesame oil, canola oil and rice wine vinegar. This had a fantastic bright colour and a very distinct asian flavour, but I think I still prefer steamed edamame fresh out of the pods.

The Mini Chicken ball dippers are basically a variation on a standard recipe I also use to make chicken rissoles and wrap in puff pastry to make chicken rolls. This recipe made 45 golf-ball sized chicken balls which I cooked in the oven, but you could pan fry them if you prefer.

Mini Chicken balls

  • 500g chicken mince
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 medium sweet potato, grated
  • coriander and soy sauce to season
  • plain flour, for coating
  1. Place all ingredients except flour in a food processor and mix until combined. Use desired amounts of coriander and soy sauce to taste.
  2. Roll into golf-ball sized balls with the palms of your hand, then roll gently in flour to coat.
  3. Spread on a baking tray, baste with a little olive oil, and bake at 180°C for 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Serve hot with little picks and dips or dipping sauce.

This was a really cute meal to serve, and the possibilities for variations are endless. The chicken balls are also a great party-food, and there’s enough left over to put in lunchboxes tomorrow. Alex has already requested his on a sandwich with some mayo! Personally I’m looking forward to more of that beetroot dip….mmmmmmm.

* Edited to add…seriously freaky coincidence occurred literally minutes after publishing this post. After saying no to waffle houses, guess what I just stumbled upon via pinterest?

Waffle furniture would sure make breakfast fun, but I’d never get my kids to leave the table and actually get ready for school!


Kids in the Kitchen – Anzac Day Biscuits

Anzac Day is coming to a close here and the batch of Anzac Biscuits we baked this morning is also disappearing…I’ll have to put the last few remaining biscuits in one of my ‘hidey spots’ so there will be some left for lunchboxes tomorrow. It’s ironic that Anzac Biscuits were originally devised as a treat that had a long shelf life (in order to be sent overseas to our troops), yet once they are made they really don’t last long – how can one resist those crunchy, golden biscuits cooling on the tray?

It’s also quite interesting (to me anyway!) that there are so many different recipes and variations for something considered an iconic Aussie ‘classic’ – differing quantities of flour/oats/sugar, differing cook times to result in either soft & chewy or golden & crunchy, and possible additions of sultanas or choc chips.

To complicate matters further, my mum’s recipe (which I now follow) seems to be a ‘standard’, yet she often made hers as a slice. She would push her biscuit mixture into a greased slice tin, bake then drizzle the cooled slice with chocolate icing. This seemed sacrilege to me for many years – they are supposed to be biscuits Mum!

Being a parent now myself I think I understand her logic – after getting my kids to help make Anzac Biscuits today I can see how bunging it all in a pan and jazzing it up with icing was so much quicker & easier!

So Anzac Biscuits were on the cards today, of course. After Mia and Mr B. came home from the march in town, we lazed around long enough to get bedsores – at this point it was baking time. Mia donned her apron and Oliver followed…I assisted with measuring ingredients and the stove-top component, and let the kids take over. For a little while…

Mixing the dry ingredients is the easy part…Once the saucepan ingredients are ready it’s time for mum to step in.

Once that exciting chemical reaction between the bicarb and golden syrup/butter mixture occurs it’s time to combine it all…

Those lovely green laminate benchtops? Yes, straight out of the 80’s I know. They’re going one day…I’m not really attached to them you see.

So…back to our biscuits. Once combined, kids are the perfect little helpers to roll the mixture into balls for the tray. This part was quite, uh, fun. And messy. Mia lasted a few biscuits, whereas Oliver (just a tad OCD, our boy) played with one handful then wanted his hands washed. He was also very concerned about the increasing amount of crumbly mixture ending up on the floor.

Can you see our lovely malformed biscuits at this point? Charming is one word I’d use to describe them! Mia knows exactly which ones she made and hones in on them within seconds of spotting the finished product.

The kids lost interest at that point. I love that they can run off and play and leave me with the washing up – my own fault for not encouraging them in those endeavours too!

Out came our lovely crispy Anzac Biscuits – we ate, and we ate, and we ate. Then we had to walk along the beach to compensate for all that butter and sugar. Lest we Forget.

Anzac Biscuits


  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 125g butter
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 Tablespoon Golden syrup
  • 1 teaspooon bicarb soda
  1. Preheat oven to 170 °C. Combine sifted flour, oats, sugar and coconut in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.
  2. Place butter, golden syrup and water in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until butter has melted. Remove from heat and stir in bicarb soda.
  3. Pour mixture into dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Roll mixture into balls and bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool on trays.

Lunchbox Treats – Mini Finger Buns

My little cherubs return to school next week, which for me means re-stocking the pantry and freezer with lunchbox goodies. The lunchboxes my kids take to school typically feature a sandwich (usually vegemite!), fruit, yoghurt and either a muesli bar or a home-baked treat such as a muffin or pikelets.
Finger Buns are an occasional treat I pop in, and I’ll admit to a strong craving for finger buns with my cup of tea about 10pm at night! They bring back fond memories of the school canteen – that soft, pillowy goodness sliced through the middle and buttered, and trying to lick the big sticky mess from your fingers before the recess bell rang.
I’ll buy finger buns from the supermarket when I see them on special and halve them – I find them far too big for little mouths! I bought a package earlier in the week and was quite shocked to see about a gazillion ingredients listed – surely I can make a healthier version at home? I can and I did – my mini versions are just perfect for popping into lunchboxes or for afternoon tea.

Mini Finger Buns
Makes 12
2 cups plain flour
1/3 cup caster sugar
3 teaspoon dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon butter/marg
1 tablespoon boiling water
food colouring, dessicated coconut, sprinkles, etc – optional
1. Preheat oven to 200 °C. Combine flour, yeast, salt & sugar in a bowl. Stir in warm water and oil. Knead in mixer with dough hook for 5-10 minutes. If you don’t have a dough hook, knead by hand on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes or until soft & fluffy, but still slightly sticky.
2. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 20-30 minutes or until mix has doubled in size. Remove and knock back to original size.
3. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Form logs from the dough and place 2-3 cm apart on the tray. Return to warm place to rise again for another 20-30 minutes. 
4. Bake buns for 12-15 minutes or until golden on top. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
5. Combine sugar and water together in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Brush glaze over the buns and allow to dry.
6. In a bowl combine the icing sugar, butter or margarine, and just boiled water. Spread icing over the buns and sprinkle with coconut.
* If you use a higher quality bread flour, you’ll get a lighter, fluffier dough. My kids tend to lick off the icing and leave bits of the bun behind, so ordinary plain four is fine for those less-discerning taste buds in my opinion!
* Add pink food colouring and 100’s & 1000’s for a more traditional finger bun. I wanted to keep away from colours so stuck with plain icing & coconut.

* These are best eaten on the day they are made – they do get stale quite quickly. I find if I wrap them individually in glad wrap and put them in the freezer soon after finishing them, I can take them out on a school morning and by morning tea they’ve defrosted nicely in the lunchbox.

As a comparison, here’s my mini version alongside the supermarket finger bun…

Think I’ll put the kettle on and have another one!