Many veg cottage pie

As a blog I follow said the other day, it’s my job to put vegetables in front of my child, but it’s not my job to force him to eat them. My job’s somewhere in between giving up and feeding him chicken nuggets and chips every night, and bribing or threatening him until he eats courgettes.

So today Bert cried inconsolably at nursery drop off again. I thought we’d got past this, but it’s obviously all about his dad working away a lot and him feeling sadder and less anchored as a result. In the car on the way home I thought about my brief success with the ‘taking a dinosaur to school’ strategy and wracked my brain for how I could make the drop off okay again.

But I can’t. If he’s sad about his dad, he’s sad. I can’t take that away, much as I’d like to, just like I can’t force him to eat vegetables. I can offer them to him in loads of different forms, and I can be in the same room with him every day whether he’s sad or happy. But that’s it.

Dinner tonight is many veg cottage pie, with honey and butter popcorn* for pudding. Because food can nourish us and it can comfort us. And some days we really are just a bit sadder than others.

*2 tablespoons each of butter, brown sugar and honey melted together then poured over warm popcorn

Serves 4 (2 in the freezer for next week for us – I freeze it when it’s constructed but before it goes into the oven)

400g minced beef (5% fat if you’re 5:2ing)

Olive oil to fry (1 teaspoon if you’re 5:2ing)

1 onion, diced

2 carrots, finely diced

4 sticks celery, finely diced

2 cans chopped tomatoes

1/2 a can of tap water

2 tablespoons Worcester sauce

4 tablespoons tomato puree

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper

For the topping:

1kg root veg, peeled and chopped – we had 2/3 sweet potato, 1/3 parsnips

200g creme fraiche (half fat if you’re 5:2ing)

(Obviously I’m not suggesting you put a child on a 5:2 diet, but with no portion restrictions and three good meals a day, this is just a hearty meal with tons of veg in. If you follow the 5:2 instructions, a quarter of this – a huge portion, even by my standards – is about 300 calories.)

Brown the meat in a large frying pan until it’s starting to brown and caramelise. Add the chopped onions, carrots and celery and cook for 10 minutes, until softened. Stir through the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, Worcester sauce, seasoning and bay leaves. Bring to a rapid simmer, then turn down and cook gently for at least half an hour. (Because I’m working at home I turn it down really low and cook for an hour to an hour and a half.)

Boil the root veg till tender then mash with the creme fraiche and season. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees/ gas mark six and construct the pie in an oven proof dish, topping the meat sauce (with the bay leaves fished out) with the mash. It’s easier to put together if filling and topping are cold, but obviously this is only possible if you’re hanging around at home all day procrasinating working. Put in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes, till bubbling and golden.

Serve with peas, or a green salad if you’re willing to watch your toddler mime vomiting as you eat it.



Tandoori chicken

Every day I’ve dropped Bert at nursery since a week or so before Christmas, he’s clung to me sobbing. Nursery’s solution: peel him off me, weeping, and ask him what he wants for breakfast. My solution: wait outside till I hear him stop crying then go home and worry. 

This morning he said he didn’t want to go to ‘school’ and started to sink miserably into the sofa and hide his face. We talked about why and found out it was saying goodbye he hated (don’t we all), so we came up with the solution of taking a different dinousaur in to show his mates every day. He skipped, smiling, into nursery with his robot dinosaur and didn’t look back.

What’s a blog for, if not to share the rare moments of smug parenting?

But now he’s eating this with his hands in front of the TV. Bert: do dinosaurs eat rice? Me: yes. Bert: do dinosaurs eat chicken? Me: yes, they do.

Serves 2-3

4 skinless chicken thigh fillets

150ml plain yoghurt (with low-fat yoghurt, this works for 5:2ers – 2 thighs and a small portion of rice is about 350 cals)

1 teaspoon each of: smoked paprika, cayenne, ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, ground ginger (or a tablespoon of tandoori spice mix) – this has a kick but isn’t hot; adjust the paprika and cayenne for less heat

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

Mix the marinade ingredients together, slash the chicken thighs, cover with marinade and leave to marinate for at least an hour, ideally overnight. Then preheat the oven to 200 or gas mark six and bake for around twenty minutes.

We had ours with brown rice and peas, and crunchy carrot and cucumber salad. If I’d been cooking for adults with less veg-suspicion, I’d have probably gone for sag aloo, coconut naan and cucumber raita.