Little Rays Nursery have teamed up with local award winning nutritionist, Jane McClenaghan of Vital Nutrition to bring the 400 children in their care an exciting new menu plan specially designed to encourage them to try and enjoy healthy new foods.
The plan consists of a range of snack, lunch and dessert recipes expertly created to provide the children with a balanced, varied and nutritious diet. Jane has worked with the team of in-house chef’s to develop the menus based on the children’s like and dislikes, and has even adapted some of the most loved recipes to make them healthier and more nutritious.
Michelle Rea, Owner at Little Rays Nursery has been delighted with the introduction of the new menu plan;
“We put the health and well-being of the children in our care as our highest priority so it’s important that we are constantly looking for new ways to improve our offering. By bringing Vital Nutrition in to work with our chef’s we feel we have really come up with a menu plan that the children will not only love, but that will introduce healthy tasty new foods and encourage them to be a bit more adventurous in their dining experience. Snack time and lunch time are good fun times for the children and when we see them together enjoying their food, trying new things and interacting with one another we feel that we are doing something right. We will also be providing parents some of the children’s favourite recipes so that they can try them at home.”
The menu plan takes into consideration seasonal choices which is a great way to help manage budgets, has introduced a greater variety of sources of protein, constantly rotating red meat, fish and chicken, has included a collection of one pot wonders making it easier for the chef’s and provides a wonderful selection of healthier desserts and treats – because there is nothing wrong with a little something sweet!
Throughout the development process Jane worked closely not only with the in-house team at Little Rays, but also with a mini focus group of kids aged between 4 and 10!
“Creating a meal for a child can be hard work, fussy eaters will often have decided at first glance whether or not they are even going to try something which can make meal times extremely stressful for a busy Mum who just wants her child to get the right nutrients. I’ve created this collection with that in mind and provided lots of choice, bright colours and fun! Quite often children will eat well at nursery surrounded by their peers, but when it comes to eating at home they become picky and mush less adventurous. We hope that by dining on a feast of nutritious tasty snacks and lunches that they will become more willing to try at home also, or at the very least have stocked up on plenty of yummy goodness while at Nursery!”
Little Rays Nursery provide day care for approximately 400 children aged 2 months – 12 years at three locations across Northern Ireland, Moira, Lisburn and Ballymena. They introduced the Happy Healthy Smart Initiative last year which sees them ensure the health and well-being of each child in their care benefits from a series of new projects and initiatives which to date has included Prep Fit classes, Drama Classes, Spanish Classes and now this new nutritious menu plan.
Recipe Collection for Little Rays:
(Makes 24 muffins)
1 medium egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
55g soft light brown sugar
1 large, very ripe banana, well mashed
55ml sunflower oil
85g wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 180c/160c fan. Line 2 mini muffin tins with mini muffin liners.
- Beat the eggs and sugar together until thick, stir in the banana and oil.
- Sift on the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt (if using). Then add the vanilla extract and bran left in the sieve, to the bowl too.
- Stir together until just combined.
- Spoon into muffin cases (around 2/3 full) and bake 12-14 minutes, until risen and firm to the touch. Remove and cool.
- Store in an airtight box for up to 3 days or freeze (defrost at room temp approx. 1 hour).
Health Benefits for the kids:
Bananas are an amazing go-to on-the-go fruit every parent should have in their bag, but we can also use them in some delicious treats too, bananas help to regulate bowel movements, increase brain power, they are great for the heart, aid healthy strong bones, help protect eyesight and even while curbing a sweet craving they are helping to regulate blood sugar levels.
Pink Beetroot Hummus
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 tin chickpeas
2 cooked beetroot
2 garlic cloves
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tblsp olive or rapeseed oil
Generous pinch of sea salt
½ tsp smoked paprika
Drain and rinse the chickpeas, roughly chop the beetroot and then throw everything into your blender or food processor and blitz. Serve with carrot or celery sticks for an easy colourful and nutritious snack any time of the day!
Simple as that!
Beetroot is a wonderfully tasty and versatile food is simply jam-packed with nutrients, in particularly, beetroot is excellent for aiding circulation and blood production – especially when eaten raw!
Easy fish pie
1kg potatoes, peeled and halved
Knob of butter
Splash of milk
4 spring onions, finely sliced
1 x pack fish pie mix (cod, salmon, smoked haddock etc., weight around 320g-400g depending on pack size)
1 tsp Dijon or English mustard
½ a 25g pack or a small bunch chives, finely snipped
Handful frozen sweetcorn
Handful frozen petits pois
Handful grated cheddar
- Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180 fan/ gas mark 6. Put the potatoes in a saucepan and pour over enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil and then simmer until tender. When cooked, drain thoroughly and mash with a splash of milk and some butter. Season with ground black pepper.
- Meanwhile, put the butter, flour and spring onions in another pan and heat gently until the butter has melted, stirring regularly. Cook for 1 -2 mins. Gradually whisk in the milk using a balloon whisk if you have one. Bring to the boil, stirring to avoid any lumps and sticking at the bottom of the pan. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes until thickened.
- Take off the heat and stir in the cheese (if using), fish, mustard, chives, sweetcorn and peas. Spoon into an ovenproof dish or 6- 8 ramekins.
- Spoon the potato on top and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Pop in the oven for 20 – 25 mins or until golden and bubbling at the edges. Alternatively, cover and freeze the pie or mini pies for another time.
Health Benefits for kids:
Fish is rich in protein, the nutrient the body needs to build strong healthy muscles and bones as well as to help repair the scrapes and scratches that are part and parcel of growing up. Protein is needed by every part of the body – skin, hair, nails, heart, lungs as well as muscles and it is a vital nutrient for healthy development. Children need to eat a protein food at lunch and dinner and fish can be a very healthy choice.
Open Beef & Butter Bean Pie
450g pack diced lean casserole beef steak
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, roughly chopped
390g carton chopped tomatoes
400ml beef stock, made with 1⁄2 beef stock cube
400g tin butter beans, drained and rinsed
375g pack ready rolled lighter puff pastry
1 medium British free-range egg, beaten, to glaze
450g broccoli florets
- Preheat the oven to 170°C, fan 150°C, gas 3. Put the beef, cornflour and paprika in a bowl and toss to coat the beef.
- Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole over a medium heat and fry the beef in batches for 2-3 minutes until browned all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the onions to the casserole and fry for 5 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil. Return the beef to the pot and add the beans. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 200°C, fan 180°C, gas 6 for the final 15 minutes of cooking time.
- After the beef has been cooking for 1 hour, unroll the pastry. Using 12cm and 6cm star-shaped cookie cutters, stamp out 4 large and 8 small pastry stars. Put on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and brush with the egg. Bake the pastry stars on a shelf above the casserole for the final 15 minutes of the casserole cooking time.
- Just before the end of the beef cooking time, cook the broccoli in a pan of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain. Spoon the casserole into bowls, top with the pastry stars and serve with the broccoli on the side.
Health benefits for kids:
We all know it’s not advisable to eat too much red meat, but in moderation, the lean variety is more than acceptable and provides young children with much needed zinc, iron and protein.
All beans are full of plant proteins and have beneficial fibre, are cholesterol free and low in fat meaning beans provide extensive health benefits, including; helping to aid digestion and control blood sugar levels which can even help eliminate the want for sweets!
Berry Compote & Rice Pudding
(makes 12 portions)
1/2 bag frozen berries
1 cinnamon stick
1 dsp honey
50g (2 oz) pudding rice
600 ml (1 pint) milk
1 – 2 tbsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla essence
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat gently until the berries have defrosted and a syrup starts to form (about 5-10 minutes). Don’t overcook as you will end up with mushy berries. Before serving, remove the cinnamon stick. For the rice pudding, put the rice, milk and sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Split the vanilla pod, if using, and scrape the seeds into the pan, or add the vanilla essence. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 30 – 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Health benefits of Berries for kids:
Packed with anti-oxidants, berries are a super food high in fibre, vitamins and even help protect the body from heart disease and cancer – grow them in your garden and let the kids pick them for themselves!
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
6oz caster sugar
3 free range eggs
6oz self-raising flour
1 tin of pineapples rings in their own juice
Heat oven to 180c
Cream butter and sugar together until pale and smooth, add in the eggs, flour and pineapple juice and mix until to smooth texture. Don’t over mix as this will take out some air and the sponge won’t rise.
Place the pineapple rings in the bottom of a greased baking tin. Pour the cake mixture on top.
Place in the oven for 15-20 mins or until the sponge is cooked through.
Turn out onto a plate so the pineapple rings are at the top of the cake.
Health benefits of Pineapple for kids:
Even when we are having cake, it does no harm to add in a tangy zesty fruit like pineapple! Kids aren’t generally huge fans of this fruit on its own, but pop it in a cake and they love it! Pineapple is believed to help bowel movement, remove plaque, keeps skin beautiful and packs a real vitamin C punch!