Thereâ€™s an old chant many parents will remember: â€śNobody loves me, everybody hates me; Iâ€™m going down the garden to eat some worms.â€ť Challenging behaviour from small children may well make the most saint-like parent feel unloved and inclined to eat worms, but rather than heading down the garden on your own, it might be worth taking the challenging small child with you. Not to eat worms, preferably, but to mess about in the garden. It might help both of you!
Developing good food habits
Thereâ€™s quite a lot of evidence that getting some dirt under your fingernails is a good way to combat mild depression (that helps the adult), and that messing about in the soil is good for childrenâ€™s immune systems (and possibly their temper too). So head down the garden,Â and dig and pick yourselves into a better frame of mind!
While little children are just as likely to dig up what youâ€™ve carefully planted instead of helping, they will soon learn that putting plants in the ground the right way up, or planting some quick-growing seeds like radishes, are exercises that have edible outcomes, which encourages further experimentation.
And if you have fruit trees in your garden, or fruiting bushes like raspberries, spending time helping mum or dad in the garden will rapidly become attractive!
Being out in the fresh air and up close with biology gives you a chance to talk to your child about the many things youâ€™ll find in front of your noses â€“ plants (cultivated and weeds), soil creatures, spiders, ants, and yes, worms…
Vocabulary may improve quite rapidly, though for many of us what our children learn to name may well include oxalis, convolvulus and thistles. Never mind, theyâ€™re all good words and just as helpful as carrots, lettuce, cauliflower and sweetcorn!
And if children are interested and involved with things, they wonâ€™t be misbehaving, theyâ€™ll be learning instead, without even realising. They may well start to invent games and play happily by themselves with bits and pieces they find lying around, which is great for their imaginations and better and cheaper than relying on bought toys.
Obviously, anything you can find in the garden thatâ€™s edible can then be taken in and cooked (if itâ€™s not eaten raw before you get to the back door, which is fine as well, especially if itâ€™s delicious things like baby carrots and fresh peas).
Cooking is another instant delight for many children â€“ itâ€™s interesting mixing things together, and you get something new and tasty at the end. What more could you ask, in terms of learning experiences and tantrum control?
Itâ€™s a good idea to keep cooking sessions with small children as quick and simple as possible (leave the Cordon Bleu techniques until theyâ€™re able to read the instructions for themselves!), so the following are a few suggestions for really easy things that work, and contain items youâ€™re likely to find in your own or your neighbourâ€™s garden.
Rhubarb and Raspberry (or any other kind of fruit) Crumble
If you donâ€™t have raspberries and rhubarb, stew some apples or some pears, drain them, add a few sultanas or a little bit of chopped glace ginger, and youâ€™re away â€“ the same topping works on just about any fruit.
1 cup white sugar
2 Â˝ Tbsp maize cornflour
Pinch of salt
4 cups rhubarb cut into 1cm lengths
1 cup raspberries
120g butter, melted
Â˝ cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups rolled oats
1 1/3 cups flour
Preheat oven to 180Â°C.
Use a 20cm Ă— 30cm glass baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cornflour and salt, then add the rhubarb and raspberries and mix thoroughly. Place the mix in the baking dish.
Mix together the oats, flour and brown sugar, and stir in the melted butter.
Spread oat mix on top of the fruit.
Bake for 45 to 60 minutes until golden brown on top and the rhubarb is tender.
This is really yummy and good cold for lunches as well. If you grow your own potatoes and/or spinach this is an excellent way to use them. If you want to make it a bit more inspiring, add some basil pesto and use a few Tbsp of cream instead of part of the milk. If you grow your own herbs, you can also add anything that tastes good to you â€“parsley, oregano, chives or anything else that appeals.
About 4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 medium kumara, peeled and sliced
2 large onions, peeled and sliced into half rings
50g butter, melted
12 Tbsp milk (or part milk, part cream)
1 tsp salt
Grated black pepper
About Â˝ cup grated parmesan cheese for spreading on top of frittata when grilling
About Â˝ cup grated tasty cheese to incorporate into the frittata mix
Some crumbled feta cheese (if you and your family enjoy it)
A good big handful of spinach leaves, washed and chopped.
Melt butter in a large heavy frying pan with a metal handle (so it can go under the grill).
Gently fry onion for a couple of minutes then add the potato and kumara slices. Stir well to coat evenly with butter. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring frequently until the vegetables are tender (usually 15 to 20 minutes).
Add the spinach and cook very briefly until just wilted (about a minute or maybe less).
Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper together, and add the grated tasty cheese (and feta if you wish), and basil pesto if youâ€™re using it. Add this to the pan and shake gently to distribute evenly.
Cover the pan and cook on low heat until the egg mix is almost set.
Sprinkle the parmesan over the top and place the pan under the grill to set the mix and lightly brown the cheese.
Chai Spice Apple Fritters
These are actually a low-sugar dessert. The sugar theyâ€™re rolled in is pretty much it! That doesnâ€™t stop them being very tasty and moreish… The recipe makes 10 to 12 fritters, so double it if you have lots of hungry dessert eaters. Wonderful if you have an apple tree in your back yard.
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Â˝ cup flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 Â˝ tsp chai spice mix (see recipe below)
2 large dessert apples, peeled, cored and very finely chopped (pieces about the size of green peas usually work well)
Chai Spice mix:
This was found in its original form in a Recipes Plus magazine. In this version the ginger content is reduced a bit to provide a nicer blend with the apples, but play around with the proportions to find the combination that you like best.
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cloves
Whisk the eggs, vanilla and sugar together then add the flour, baking powder and spice and mix well.
Add the chopped apple and mix thoroughly.
In a heavy-based frying pan, heat enough cooking oil to cover the base and add a knob of butter.
When the oil and butter mix has heated through, add tablespoons of the fritter mix and cook over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes each side until nicely browned. Donâ€™t be tempted to have the heat too high or the apples will still be very crunchy when the rest of the mix is cooked. Depending on the type of apples you have, the pieces should be firm to soft when the fritters have taken on a nice brown colour.
Drain the fritters on paper towels, and then quickly roll each one in sugar.
Serve immediately with whipped cream.