5 budget-friendly and easy-to-­execute activities for kids in the UAE

We have some simple ideas and dishes to make the holidays a bit more interesting for parents as well as children

Get your kids to prepare and photograph simple dishes, such as these mini cheese scones, and create their own cookbook or food magazine. Photo: Scott Price
Get your kids to prepare and photograph simple dishes, such as these mini cheese scones, and create their own cookbook or food magazine. Photo: Scott Price

While a break from the school run provides some relief, this is often the point in the holidays when parents have exhausted their arsenal of entertainment ideas, can’t quite face another trip to a theme park and are starting to feel like spring break is stretching on and on.

With that in mind, we’ve come up with a few budget-friendly, easy-to-­execute activities and meals that we hope will help the next few days fly by in a happy, healthy, creative blur.

Create a herb garden

We might be surrounded by desert, but there’s still plenty of scope for getting messy with soil. Whether your outdoor space is a tiny balcony or spacious lawn, creating a herb garden is a great activity for potentially green-fingered children. To turn this into a full-day affair, plan a trip to a garden centre or plant market and let the little ones decide what they want to buy. Bear in mind that for short attention spans, a mix of herbs that are already flourishing and just require repotting (think basil, mint, thyme and rosemary) and seedlings that are likely to

Herbs can easily be grown in the UAE.
Herbs can easily be grown in the UAE.

sprout soon (sunflowers are always a winner) are a safe bet. Equip your gardeners with a few other bits of essential kit: plenty of soil, a trowel or two, a watering can, plant pots and labels, and let the fun ensue.

Get crafty with fruit sushi

Often suggestions for involving children in the kitchen focus on baking and sweet ingredients, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s nice to a have a healthy option up your sleeve, too. This is where fruit sushi, or frushi, comes in. As well as appealing to keen cooks and arty types, making sushi rolls, sashimi slices and nigiri out of fruit and vegetables also proves popular with kids who want to eat like mum and dad, but aren’t quite ready to embrace raw fish, wasabi and pickled ginger.

Fruit sushi. Photo: Scott Price 
Fruit sushi. Photo: Scott Price

You can let your children’s imaginations run wild, but if they need a bit of help to get started, some of our most successful frushi ideas include: banana sushi (chunks of hollowed out banana filled with natural yogurt and berries); papaya and cucumber nigiri (peeled papaya cut into rectangles and topped with thinly sliced cucumber); California-style strawberry and cream cheese rolls (hulled strawberries spread with cream cheese, and decorated with cucumber and mint); and cucumber maki (pieces of peeled cucumber filled with nut butter, rolled in grated coconut and topped with apple crisps).

Project cookbook

For a new take on cooking or baking for entertainment, how about suggesting your little ones have a go at compiling their own cookbook or food magazine? First, task them with preparing a specific recipe – the mini cheese scones and no-bake yoghurt cheesecake recipes below have both gone down well with our testers. Once the food is ready, provide cooks with a range of different plates, bowls, napkins, cutlery and crockery, and have them set about “styling” their image, ready for it to be captured on camera.

The nice thing about this idea is that if your children are particularly intrigued, you can extend the project, so that it can take place over the course of a few days, and then you can put together a bespoke cookbook at the end.

Mini-cheese scones

Make 12-14


30g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

40g cheddar cheese, grated

175g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 tsp baking powder

25g butter, at room temperature

1 large egg, beaten

2 tbsp milk


Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Combine the cheeses.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and stir well. Season with a little black pepper. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in all but a handful of cheese.

Make a well in the centre, and add the beaten egg and three tablespoons of milk. Stir in with a knife, then use your hands to bring the mix together to form a dough.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a thickness of about two centimetres. Use a small round cutter to stamp out the scones.

Arrange on the prepared baking tray, top with the remaining cheese and milk, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until light golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

No-bake mini cheesecakes

Makes 12

No-bake cheesecakes. Photo: Scott Price
No-bake cheesecakes. Photo: Scott Price


45g butter, plus extra for greasing

60g oats

60g reduced sugar Digestive biscuits, crushed

100g Greek-style yogurt (plain or flavoured)

100g cream cheese

30g mixed berries, to serve


Grease and line a mini 12-hole muffin tin with baking paper.

Melt the butter in a saucepan set over a low heat. Leave to cool slightly. Tip the oats and crushed Digestive biscuits into a large bowl, pour over the melted butter and mix well to combine.

Divide the oat-biscuit mix between the muffin tin holes, pressing down to make a solid, tightly packed base. Transfer to the freezer for 15 minutes.

Put the yogurt and cream cheese in a bowl and beat.

Top the chilled cheesecake bases with the yoghurt mix. Return to the freezer for 10 more minutes.

Carefully remove the cheesecakes from the tin and top with the berries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Plan a trip to Emirates Bio Farm in Al Ain

For an interesting, informative, affordable (Dh35 per person) and refreshingly wholesome family day out, a visit to Emirates Bio Farm on one of its weekend open days is a must. Head there on April 5 or April 6 for hourly guided tractor tours of the space, which offers an opportunity for children to pick produce straight from the fields.

Emirates Bio Farm offers guided tractor tours 
Emirates Bio Farm offers guided tractor tours

There’s also a goat pen, cute farm house cafe with an outdoor gazebo area (and very good coffee), and stalls selling keenly priced fruit and vegetables harvested from the farm. Other events planned for April include outdoor yoga, an evening of stargazing, a mediation session and an organic meal. Note that the open days are weather-dependent, so check www.emiratesbiofarm or @emiratesbiofarm if rain looks imminent.

Set up a home cinema

Of course, there are going to be days when screen time feels like the only option, particularly with the weather being so unpredictable right now. The thing to do, then, is create a sense of anticipation around an afternoon or evening spent in front of the telly – the idea being that this isn’t just mindlessly watching programmes; it’s a much-anticipated movie special.

Now this can be as involved or simple as you like: you may embark on an intense film-selection process with a critic’s choice vote, ask for cinema tickets to be made from scratch, demand children dress up like the main characters and build a den. Or perhaps you’ll just dim the lights and grab a blanket …

Either way, snacks are a must, and a sure-fire hit is a bowl (or three) of gourmet popcorn. We think homemade is best; it’s not just healthier (you can control the ingredients), but more fun for everyone involved. Here are some options.

Gourmet popcorn can up the fun factor. Photo: Scott Price
Gourmet popcorn can up the fun factor. Photo: Scott Price

Cheddar and chive popcorn

Prepare popcorn according to pack instructions. While still warm, scatter with grated cheddar, chopped chives and black pepper, and mix well. Depending on the age of the moviegoers, a smattering of smoked paprika is a lovely addition.

Coconut-chocolate orange popcorn

Prepare popcorn according to pack instructions. While still warm, drizzle with coconut oil, dust with cocoa or cacao powder, and finish with grated orange zest.

Cinnamon, honey and raisin popcorn

Prepare popcorn according to pack instructions. While still warm, drizzle with honey, dust with ground cinnamon and add raisins and dried fruit. Mix well.

Published: April 2, 2019 11:59 AM


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