Top Tips from One Parent to Another: 5 Tried & Tested Recipes

Meet Nicole, mother to a 1-year-old and 3-year-old, and member of our fantastic Parent Panel; a diverse community of Bright Horizons parents sharing their experiences of raising happy, thriving and confident children. 

I love to cook but cooking meals for children (that they will actually eat) is a whole different ball game. My 3-year-old was always a brilliant eater – but would now eat chocolate and cheese with a side of mayo all day if she could. My 1-year-old is much pickier. So, I’ve had to get creative when preparing food and getting different fruit and veg into them both.

I’ve made some of my best memories cooking with and for my children. The happy memories and success stories make up for the moments of defeat when I hear the splat and “uh oh” from my 1-year-old when she suddenly decides she isn’t a fan of what I’ve served. I’ve learnt to lower my standards, and sometimes accept a boxed cupcake kit may be the simplest and most fun answer on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

We recently picked up some child-friendly cooking tools as my girls love to get beside me at the kitchen island and feel like they’re part of the process. We use a learning tower and I give them some softer ingredients to chop and peel, to practice fine motor skills, feel involved and give them control (which every little one wants!). We also learn about heat and fire when using the hob and stirring ingredients into a saucepan with very careful supervision.

I’ve found that by involving them in the weekly food shop, sometimes with pictures of the things we need for a specific recipe, which they help me find and buy, they really do get excited about creating meals together.

Here are a few of my children’s favourite recipes, which you may find useful if you’re looking for some inspiration, wanting to get your child into the kitchen with you, or are simply looking to introduce them to some new flavours and textures.

  1. “Pesto” Pasta

My children would have pasta every day if they could. This is a great way to use up leftover broccoli and other leafy greens. Get your little ones involved in the whizzing, stirring and serving to encourage them to eat something green! Dairy and nuts can be substituted.


  • Handful of green herbs, e.g. basil or parsley
  • Handful of nuts/seeds, e.g. pine nuts, walnuts, cashews or pumpkin seeds
  • 2 cups of frozen peas
  • Other green vegetables, e.g. broccoli stem, broccoli florets, spinach, rocket
  • Handful of hard cheese e.g. parmesan
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese (optional)
  • Splash of olive oil or pasta water to loosen up
  • Pasta of your choice (wholegrain or chickpea/gluten-free alternatives are fab)
  • Grated cheese to top


  1. Chuck the herbs, nuts, veg and hard cheese into a food processor and pulse.
  2. Use oil/cream cheese to loosen up.
  3. Cook pasta according to instructions.
  4. Drain pasta, retaining some pasta water.
  5. Heat portion of pesto in the pasta’s saucepan, adding some pasta water to loosen up.
  6. Add pasta and mix (get little hands involved with a wooden spoon, a teaching moment about how hot a stove is!)
  7. Serve with a sprinkle of cheese.
  8. Freeze leftover pesto in an ice cube/weaning tray and then store in a freezer bag ready for a quick dinner in the future.
  1. Sweetcorn Muffins

Somehow everything becomes more palatable in cupcake form, so I’ve found this is great way to get some vegetables in, whilst using up leftovers. You can add any veg you have going spare (I like mashed sweet potato as an extra hidden vitamin boost). This is a great one to get your children involved with. Great eaten with one of my hidden veg quick sides and some veg/cucumber sticks as a main, or as a quick snack.


  • Oil or cupcake cases
  • Small can of sweet corn or handful of frozen corn (crushed if your child isn’t a fan)
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese
  • 2 tbsp self-raising flour (this isn’t essential, but I find binds it together well)
  • 2 eggs
  • Added extras: chia seeds, dried herbs, peas, left over veg finely chopped or pureed, a glug of oil, milk, dried sweet paprika. Whatever you fancy!


  1. Preheat oven to 180c.
  2. Brush the inside of muffin tin with oil (or place cupcake cases instead – if you put a few grains of rice under the cupcake case then it helps reduce oil seeping out).
  3. Mix all ingredients in a bowl into a thick pouring consistency – add a splash of your preferred milk or oil if it’s too dry to pour, or more flour if the opposite.
  4. Drop into muffin tray/cases.
  5. Cook for around 25 minutes – until golden brown.
  6. Leave to cool slightly.
  7. Keep refrigerated or frozen once cooled, super easy to use leftovers either cold or reheated/cooked from frozen.
  1. Puff Pastry Pizza Pinwheels

Pizza comes as a close second to pasta in my house, and these are fab as a lunch or a quick snack. I get my children involved in the construction of “the cheesy swirls” – it’s fun and they are always more likely to eat something they prepare. They can choose their extra toppings to feel extra cheffy.


  • Ready rolled puff pastry
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree or pasta sauce/passata
  • Fresh tomatoes chopped finely
  • Handful of grated carrot
  • Handful of grated cheese
  • Olive oil or egg wash to brush
  • Extras: Italian herbs (“sprinkles”), shredded ham or chicken, roasted veg


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Prepare other ingredients.
  3. Roll out pastry on chopping board.
  4. Spread tomato puree leaving a small gap at the top of the long end (a great one for little ones).
  5. Sprinkle on the tomatoes, carrot, cheese and herbs (my 3-year-old loves this bit!)
  6. Roll tightly from long end to long end.
  7. If not in a rush – chill in the fridge for 10 mins to make it easier to chop.
  8. Cut in 1cm chunks (a great opportunity for a toddler to practice supervised knife skills)
  9. Brush over egg wash or olive oil. Add a little more grated cheese on top if you like.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.
  11. Leave to cool slightly and enjoy.
  12. Easily chilled/frozen and re-heated
  1. Hidden Veg quick sides

My girls both love condiments and dips…if they could eat mayonnaise or ketchup for dinner (maybe with a side of cheese), they would. My quickest hack to get some much-needed nutrients into them when time is against us, and I don’t have the energy to debate with my very strong-willed 3-year-old.


  • Readymade base of your choice, e.g. low salt/sugar ketchup, baked beans etc.
  • Vegetables of the same colour, i.e. for baked beans: carrots, tomatoes, red peppers, sweet potatoes, beetroot or butternut squash. (If you’re tight on time, a veg pouch can be a winner here!)
  • This also works for a pasta sauce – just add your veg into some chopped tomatoes/passata and heat.


  1. Steam or boil vegetables.
  2. Puree/mash.
  3. Prep side if need be (i.e. heat beans).
  4. Mix in (discreetly) and serve.
  1. “Apple Pudding”

One of my laziest snacks that always goes down well and makes the girls think they’re getting a treat and doesn’t leave me feeling guilty. I’m not sure I can really call this a “recipe”, but it saves me every time!


  • Apple
  • Peanut butter
  • Greek yoghurt on the side to dip if you like
  • Sprinkles if you’re feeling fancy


  1. Prep the apple (you could core and slice or peel and chop into smaller slices – according to your child’s preferences) – I get my three-year-old involved with this using her child-friendly peeler and knives.
  2. Spread some peanut butter on one slice and top with another – your own little sandwich.
  3. Add a dollop of yoghurt to the side for dipping.
  4. Add sprinkles for a bit of a treat!

Parent Panellist: Nicole

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