Crisps, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, ice cream and sweets: even if you’ve got healthy family meals licked, it can be difficult to resist caving in to a child’s demands for sugary or fat-laden treats when those cries of “I’m hungry” begin. And yet resist them we must. Across much of the developed world, obesity levels among children are not just rising, but spiralling out of control, and the UAE is no exception.
Awareness in the region is on the increase, and contingency plans for the fight against childhood obesity are in motion, particularly in relation to healthy-eating initiatives in schools. It is, however, well worth noting that what young people eat outside of mealtimes has a huge impact, too. Earlier this year, a study by Public Health England found that in the United Kingdom, on average, half of children’s sugar intake is consumed between meals, proof that those quickly grabbed – and hastily forgotten – snacks really do add up.
Read more: How to talk to kids about healthy eating
It’s imperative then that if children and young adults eat between meals, they consume wholesome, nutritionally beneficial items that are low in processed sugar and fat. As is often the case in these situations, home-made is best; after all, making something from scratch ensures you know exactly what has gone into it. And yet it would be unrealistic to assume that the average parent has excess time on their hands to spend in the kitchen.
With that in mind, the recipes and ideas that follow are all straightforward, easy and healthy. They don’t take long to put together, or call for unusual or expensive ingredients. Many of them are customisable according to your child’s preferences, the majority freeze well and all will appeal to adults, too.
Apple, date and cinnamon muffins
These naturally sweet muffins are free from processed sugar and make a delicious mid-morning or afternoon snack. They’re great on their own, but taste particularly good when split in half and spread with a little cream cheese. The apple-date mixture is also really tasty when stirred through plain, unsweetened yogurt to make for a healthy dessert.
Makes: 6-8 muffins
Prep time: 20 minutes plus cooling
Cook time: 35 minutes
130g butter, at room temperature
2 green apples, peeled, cored
½tsp ground cinnamon
100g dates, pitted and finely chopped
3 eggs, beaten
80g self-raising flour
80g ground almonds
¾tsp baking powder
30ml whole milk
Preheat the oven to 180°C, or gas mark 4.
Line a muffin tin with muffin cases.Set a large saucepan with 15 grams butter over a medium-low heat and leave to melt.
Tip in the chopped apples, sprinkle over the cinnamon and then stir well to coat.
Add a generous splash of water, increase the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft.Add the dates to the saucepan, stir again, and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
Beat together the eggs and remaining butter, either by hand or with an electric whisk.
Fold in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, then add the cooled apple mix and the milk until just combined.
Divide the muffin mix between the muffin cases and transfer to the preheated oven.
Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until risen and golden.
Leave for 5 minutes in the tin, then remove and leave to cool completely.
Fruity oat slices
Think of these slices as a baked, easily transportable version of porridge. Not only are they seriously quick to prepare, but they’re also freezer-friendly; just take a few slices out as and when you need them and leave to defrost overnight.
Makes: 20-25 slices
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
3 ripe bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
1 egg, beaten
4 dates, pitted and chopped
130ml coconut water
75ml coconut oil
380g porridge oats
6-8 dried apricots, finely chopped
1tbsp white sesame seeds (optional)
Zest of a small orange
Preheat the oven to 180°C, or gas mark 4. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
Put the bananas in a blender with the egg, dates, coconut water and coconut oil, and blend well.
Tip the oats into a large bowl and stir in the apricots, raisins, sesame seeds (if using) and orange zest.
Make a well in the centre, add the banana mixture and stir well. Tip on to the prepared baking tray, smoothing the surface.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown and set. Leave to cool completely before slicing.
Mini veggie burger bites with tzatzki
If you want to make this into a more substantial meal rather than just a snack, you could also shape the bean mix into burger-size patties and serve in wholemeal rolls, with shredded lettuce and the tzatziki spooned on top.
Makes: 20 small bites
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
¼ large cucumber
400g can red kidney beans, drained and washed
1tbsp tomato puree
200g can sweetcorn, drained
80g cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
Olive oil, for brushing
100g Greek yogurt
½tbsp lemon juice
4-6 mint leaves, shredded (optional)
Preheat the oven to 190°C, or gas mark 5. Line a large baking tray with baking paper or foil.
Coarsely grate the cucumber and place the shreddings in a sieve suspended over a bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, tip the kidney beans into a large bowl and crush; you can do so using a potato masher. Stir in the tomato puree followed by the sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes and the breadcrumbs.
Season with black pepper and mix really well to combine.
Using damp hands, form the mixture into 20 or so small balls, about the size of a large marble.
Arrange on the prepared tray and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up (you can skip this step if you don’t have time, just note that the bites will be fragile to handle).
Remove from the fridge and brush the burger bites lightly with the oil. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
While the bites are cooking, squeeze the excess water from the cucumber.
Discard the water and put the cucumber in a bowl.
Stir in the Greek yogurt, lemon juice and mint leaves, if you’re using them.
Serve the bean bites warm or at room temperature, with the tzatziki for dipping
Raspberry and coconut ice lollies
Feel free to vary the choice of fruit for the lollies – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and diced mango can all work well in this recipe. If you end up with any extra yogurt mix, pour it into a glass filled with ice for a refreshing smoothie for yourself or your little ones.
Prep time: 5 minutes, plus freezing
Cook time: No cooking involved
100ml coconut water
300g Greek-style natural yogurt
Put the raspberries in a blender with the coconut water and Greek yogurt. Blitz until relatively smooth.
Divide among ice-lolly moulds and place in the freezer. Freeze for at least 4 hours until solid.
Remove from the freezer 5 minutes before serving.
Baked sweet potato, beetroot and kale crisps
Make a tasty alternative to regular crisps, and will appeal to adults and children. For a variation, parsnips and carrots work really well; you could also use coconut oil instead of olive oil, or add spices such as smoked paprika or cumin. Once they’ve cooled, store the crisps in an airtight container.
Makes: 3 portions
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
½ small sweet potato
1 small beetroot
2 large kale leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
Smoked paprika or cumin (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160°C, or gas mark 3.
Line two large baking trays with foil or baking paper.
Peel the sweet potato and beetroot, slicing these into thin rounds – a mandoline slicer is ideal for this, but not essential.
Tear the leaves from the kale stems and place them in a bowl with the sweet potato and beetroot.
Drizzle over the oil, and season with a little black pepper, mixing gently with your hands. If you’re adding paprika or cumin, do so at this point.
Spread the mix out in the baking trays in one single layer.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until crisp.
Other super-simple snack ideas
Pea or sweetcorn pots
Don’t be put off by the simplicity of presenting children with a brightly coloured bowl of cooked and cooled peas or sweetcorn (or a mix of the two). Not only will the natural sweetness of the vegetables appeal to them, but picking them up one by one also helps little people to develop their fine-finger movement and pincer grip. For older children, switch things up and offer cooked edamame beans in their skins instead.
Apple and cheese slices
Slice an apple into slivers. Mix a couple of tablespoons of cream cheese or labneh with a handful of chopped chives and some diced pineapple (if you like). Top the apple slices with the cheese mix. You can also substitute the apple for a crisp pear.
Quick satay dip with cucumber and carrot batons
Warm 2 tablespoons of almond butter in a pan with half a tablespoon of low sodium soy sauce and a quarter of a teaspoon of runny honey (optional). Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. Serve with cucumber and carrot batons for dipping.