Help-yourself lunch

Having a help-yourself lunch is hardly a new or groundbreaking idea, but since my kids always get excited about it, I thought it worth sharing!

Here is how it works: most weekends we have a simple buffet style lunch where everything is laid out on plates, along with a jug of squash, and we all help ourselves.  There is a pretty healthy balance of veg, fruit, protein, dairy and carbs.  The kids LOVE choosing and serving themselves, particularly my 3 year old, who is prone to fussiness.  By giving him control, it goes a tiny way to reducing his need to assert his independence by refusing certain food.   We don’t try and push him to eat certain things and hope that, in the long-term, he will become less fussy (like his older brother).   Things are slowly improving.  The freedom to choose means that sometimes the kids will just fill their plates with bread/pizza, but we just smile sweetly and pretend we couldn’t care less whether they eat any of the veg (!)  And actually, they sometimes fill their plates with most of what is on offer too.


I don’t normally spend more than 20 minutes preparing a help-yourself lunch as most of the ingredients are really quick to prepare, fresh or shop-bought.

Examples are: shop-bought falafel, shop-bought tortellini; chorizo or ham; cooked sausages; fresh chopped veg (cucumber, carrot, tomatoes); griddled halloumi cheese or slices of cheddar cheese; corn on the cob; asparagus with butter; oat biscuits; baguette or any bread; fish fingers; crisps; hard-boiled eggs or 3 min microwaved omelette (crack eggs with a little milk, butter, and dried herbs, beat well, then microwave in a shallow bowl for 3 mins, flipping over halfway); pizza cut in to slices; houmous and breadsticks; roasted chickpeas; fruit; quiche; olives.

That’s it!



15 min rainbow stir-fry


This colourful, crunchy and nutritious rainbow stir-fry is ready in 15 minutes.  In it are an array of different coloured vegetables (hence the ‘rainbow’!), shop-bought ready-cooked tofu (which could be supplemented with cooked chicken, prawns, halloumi cubes, chopped cooked meat/veggie sausages or nuts) and a sauce made of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and honey.  The dish is topped with sesame seeds for extra prettiness and texture.  Yum!

Don’t worry if you don’t have sesame oil as you can use any oil.  And feel free to experiment with other veg – mushrooms, broccoli, green beans and carrots would also work well.  Eat with noodles or rice.


Rainbow stir-fry (serves 4)

1 small pepper, cut small

1 small red onion, chopped fine

100g beansprouts

100g chopped kale

Large handful sweetcorn (tinned is fine)

Pack Cauldron marinated tofu pieces (available in some supermarkets) OR cooked prawns OR cooked chicken OR chopped halloumi OR cooked meat/veggie sausages OR salted cashews/peanuts

For the sauce

tbsp soy sauce

tbsp honey

tbsp sesame oil (or other oil)

Small clove garlic, chopped/crushed

Noodles or rice

Sesame seeds

Pour any oil in to a pan then add the pepper and onion.  After a few minutes of heating, once softened, add the beansprouts, kale, sweetcorn and tofu (or whatever else you are using).  Heat, stirring regularly, for a few more minutes.  Meanwhile mix the soy sauce, honey, sesame oil and garlic and pour it in to the pan.  Heat for another couple minutes, stirring regularly, then take off the heat.  Separately cook the noodles or rice as per the pack instructions then spoon in to bowls with the stir-fry mixture on top.  Sprinkle over some sesame seeds and serve!


Lilla’s Raspberry Mousse


Lilla’s Raspberry Mousse is a rather special recipe.  It was shared with me by David, who I have enjoyed delightful food chat with over email for several months now.  David’s late wife, Lilla (a wonderful cook), used to make this mousse as a treat for Sunday lunch, and he describes it as ‘a taste of heaven’.  It uses just three ingredients – jelly, evaporated milk and raspberries, but you could vary what flavour jelly and what fruit you use (blackcurrant jelly with prunes is lovely too apparently).  It tastes great, especially with the tart raspberries dolloped in to the light and sweet mixture.  You could make it ahead if need be.

On top of this, David and I have been swapping other recipes, and he has shared with me stories of growing up in post-war Britain during rationing, when his aunt would be creative with what they had and fry bread in butter before sprinkling it with sugar.  He has never forgotten the donuty taste of it. My kids love this too!


When making the mousse, if you blitz the evaporated milk in a food processor for 7 minutes it will aerate and give it a light, consistent texture.  If not the jelly and milk will separate a bit when setting – still delicious but not faithful to the original recipe!  Thanks David for sharing Lilla’s recipe.

Lilla’s Raspberry Mousse (makes around 7 small mousses)

One packet raspberry jelly

Small tin evaporated milk

Small tub fresh raspberries or a tin of raspberries

Put tin of milk in fridge for 2 hours.  Put the broken up jelly in to a saucepan with 1/2 pint of hot water (or if using tinned raspberries, mix water with the drained syrup up to 1/2 pint and use this).   Dissolve the jelly on a low heat, stirring well, then put aside to cool.

Take the tin of evaporated milk from the fridge, put in a food processor and run for 7 minutes – it won’t get thicker but will get aerated to give the mousse a lightness.  Then pour the cooled jelly liquid in and blitz further until the colour runs deep.  Pour into either a large dish or individual dishes (recycled ramekins or small glasses are perfect), then just drop the raspberries in (we put six in each ramekin).  Put the mousses in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours (or overnight).

You can substitute the raspberries with either strawberries or oranges, with the appropriate jelly. Or blackcurrant jelly with prunes.


Mexican Lasagne


This is my slightly simplified version of Mexican lasagne, a Mexican take on the Italian classic using tortillas instead of lasagne sheets.  It is rustic, lovely tasting and quicker to make than traditional lasagne as you don’t have to make two sauces.  I have used dried herbs because I forgot to buy fresh coriander, and added olives, because I love them.  I have swapped chilli for gentle, smokey paprika, but you can change the dish according to your tastes.  Paprika is a ground red powder made from peppers and is a handy spice to have.  It goes well in tomato based sauces and I also like it with mayo on top of a hard boiled egg!

This lasagne dish can be cut in to wedges then served, and then reheated over the next few days if there is any left! Any tortilla wraps leftover in the pack can be frozen in bags and used another time to make quesadillas (a Mexican style sandwich) or veggie mince cups

Allow about 1 hour for the wraps to defrost at room temperature.


I’m rambling.  So finally, here is the recipe.  Allow 25 mins prep and 30 mins cooking.

Mexican lasagne (serves  4)

1/2 red pepper, chopped small

1 onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed/chopped fine

Shake dried herbs or small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 tin kidney beans, drained

1 small tin sweetcorn

1 heaped tsp paprika and/or 1 tsp ground or freshly chopped chilli

Large handful olives, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

250g cheddar cheese

4 tortilla wraps (plain or wholemeal is fine)

Line a casserole dish with greaseproof/baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.

First make the tomato sauce.  Heat some oil in a pan on medium heat and add the red pepper and onion.  Cook for about 8 minutes, until tender, then add the garlic and herbs and heat for another minute.  Add the tinned chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, kidney beans, sweetcorn, paprika, chilli (if using), olives and salt and pepper.  Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Prepare your lined casserole dish by putting one tortilla wrap flat on the bottom.  Spoon on 1/3 of the tomato sauce and 1/3 of the cheese.  Top with two tortilla wraps and then another 1/3 of the tomato sauce followed by 1/3 of the cheese.  Add the final tortilla, the remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle over the last bit of cheese.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the edges of the tortilla are a little crispy.  If you want to show it off, carefully lift the dish out by lifting the corners of the greaseproof paper (asking for help if need be!)  Use a knife to cut wedges out.  Eat!  Nice with salad.

Turkish halloumi bake (one-pot!)


This Turkish halloumi bake recipe was recommend to me by fellow cooking fan Claire, and it is a great one to know about. It uses just one dish, is gluten-free, packed with goodness and lasts for 2 meals (based on four people). You chuck some chopped vegetables, oil and fennel seeds in to a dish and roast, then add uncooked lentils and stock, cook a little more, top with sliced halloumi cheese and finish off under the grill. I have never cooked lentils outside a saucepan so it is great to know you can use them in this way!  The whole dish is hearty, full of flavour and particularly lovely with the crispy, salty halloumi on top.

Allow 15 minutes effort and one hour of cooking and eat within two days.  The bake is plenty on it’s own or nice with bread.  Recipe is based on one from


Turkish halloumi bake (serves 6-8 people)

2 peppers, any colour, deseeded and cut into large pieces
1 aubergine, sliced, cut into chunks

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 large courgette, thickly sliced
2 tsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper
150g red split lentils

1 tbsp tomato puree
¾ litre hot vegetable stock
250g pack halloumi cheese, cut into enough slices to cover the dish
Handful of fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Set the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6. Put the prepared veg and fennel seeds in a large roasting tin or baking dish. Drizzle with oil, season well and then mix them together by hand.  Roast for 25-30 mins, stirring a few times, until cooked through. Sprinkle the lentils over, then pour in the hot stock mixed with the tomato puree.  Mix well.  Roast for another 20 mins, until the lentils are cooked through.
Set the grill to high. Lay the halloumi slices on top of the veg, then grill for a few mins, until golden. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.