Mother and Baby

No Junk Challenge Week: Great British Bake Off Finalist Holly Bell Answers Your Questions

Section: Meals & Baking

Missed our Wednesday Lunch Club with Great British Bake Off finalist Holly Bell? Don’t worry, you can read all of the advice she shared here

Every week at Mother&Baby we bring you the Wednesday Lunch Club – a chance to get brilliant advice for your fertility, pregnancy and parenting questions from a top expert. 

This week, food blogger and Great British Bake Off finalist Holly Bell was on hand to answer your questions.

Mum-of-two Holly was a finalist in series two of the 2011 Great British Bake Off and has since been writing her popular blog Recipes From A Normal Mum, providing culinary inspiration to mums everywhere. Holly’s also currently leading this week’s No Junk Challenge Week – helping parents try to avoid the junk in children’s food.

If you missed the chat, here’s what happened…

I have three children and they all like (and don't like) different things. Do you have any tips for fussy eaters? And do you have any basic recipes or meal ideas that can be easily adjusted to cater for different preferences?

Holly: What a great question. Three kids with different likes and dislikes is difficult. My main advice with fussy eaters (I have one, too) is not to make a big deal out of it. Which is easier said than done I know. It's frustrating when a little one refuses to try something that only yesterday they professed to like! I try and get the boys involved in the kitchen as I have noticed what a little one makes they're more likely to eat.

Make some pizza dough at the weekend and freeze it in batches

Recipe wise I would suggest making some pizza dough at the weekend and freezing it in batches – then just leave to defrost on the morning you're using it for dinner. Let each child choose their own toppings set out in little bowls. My recipe for pizza dough is here.

Another idea is stir fries. Let each child choose from some bowls of veggies, noddles, etc and then fry each batch up individually. Stir fries take so little time to cook this is probably quicker than making separate meals but allows each child to feel their likes and dislikes are being accounted for. And remember that these phases pass... though when faced with fussy eaters it does feel like a never-ending battle at times!

Can you give me any tips on healthy breakfast options to avoid giving toast and cereal all the time?

Holly: I totally have the same issue. I feel like I'm on autopilot in the morning so tend to serve the same things, as time is so short. A smoothie is very easy to make and tends to feel like a bit of a treat for the kids. Recipe is here and granola is a delicious alternative to cereal.

Another idea I am really starting to enjoy is making up a fruit salad the night before and then just putting a big bowl on the table and letting everyone help themselves. And lastly microwaved poached eggs are quick and very good at filling the children up with protein before school.

What’s your go-to speedy toddler-friendly meal for those evenings when you get home at 5.45pm, the kids are starving, but you don't want to go down the oven chips/fish fingers road... Mine is usually a version of pasta, brocolli and pasta but my two boys are pretty bored of this.

Holly: I love this question – it’s the one that every parent needs the answer to! First things first, I am never ashamed to serve my kids a carpet picnic. They set out the rug and then eat all manner of raw veggies, dips, flatbreads, cooked meats and cheese – basically they fancy from the fridge.

I think we all get very hung up on providing a hot meal every night when in reality a picnic can be as nutritious, if not more than. Eggs are another favourite for when kids need feeding quickly, scrambled as an omelette, poached, boiled or baked. In fact baked eggs are a great idea as you can add lots of veggies to the sauce.

I think we all get very hung up on providing a hot meal every night when in reality a picnic can be as nutritious, if not more than

Another favourite quick meal are noodles with just two veggies thrown in – a very speedy and simple stir fry if you will. I am also a fan of the freezer – I still have ice-cubes of bolognese sauce in there which I can defrost in minutes and add to pasta for a very quick and easy protein-packed supper.

Oh and let's not forget baked fish – so quick to bake in a hot oven – a small piece of salmon, a few peas and a sliced mushroom all drizzled with a little lemon and oil in a foil parcel. Kids seem to like helping make this too. Ready in about 20 minutes.

Have you got any tips for catering for a kids’ party?

Holly: My main tip for catering a kids’ party is not to drive yourself into the ground trying to make everything look perfect or to over cater. In my experience kids are so hyper from the running about and entertainment that they don't eat that much.

I tend to put stickers on bottles of water with their names on that can be refilled if necessary and serve food in stages. Most kids can't cope with seeing a sandwich and a biscuit on the same plate – they almost always eat the biscuit first! So I serve sandwiches/wraps first and stick to three fillings – usually one meat, one cheese and one other. I sometimes cut the sandwiches into shapes with cutters, which seems to go down well.

Then I tend to serve some form of sausage or sausage roll – usually I buy some good quality sausages and take them from the skins, add a little grated apple and then make into sausage rolls with pre-bought puff pastry. Or make some honey and wholegrain mustard mini sausages, but do find the adults tend to eat them before the kids can! (Remember you can only give honey to babies over one year old).

After that it's a sweet treat – some form of homemade biscuit (usually cut out again) or homemade cupcake. And then some fresh fruit cut up – lots of strawberries and grapes as that's what most kids seem to like.

Hi there, I am after a good recipe for Bath Buns to make for my sisters birthday this weekend I have been searching online but cant find anything that looks right? Also I can’t seem to get hold of the lovely crystallised sugar that goes on top – any ideas?

Holly: Jamie Oliver has a great Bath Buns recipe. Bath buns are basically an enriched yeasted dough (with milk, sugar and fat) with sugared caraway seeds on the top. My top tip when working with enriched doughs is that they take a lot longer to rise than regular bread doughs, so ensure the milk is warm and allow lots of time for rising. As for the sugar on the top, you can use sugar cubes you've chiselled away at or search for 'nibbed or pearl sugar' online.

Do you have ideas for savoury snacks? I think we're all getting a bit sick of breadsticks in our house!

Holly: I feel your pain. Breadsticks can be a bit samey can't they? My two are partial to carrot sticks dipped in houmous, toasted pitta bread stuffed with grated cheese, savoury muffins and savoury flapjack (which sounds dreadful but is lovely), cheese and courgette savoury pancakes and cold potato skins (baked the night before until crisp and VERY moreish), oh, and carrot fritters.

I wondered if you had any tips on making fruit more appealing to my little one. The only thing she will eat is apple and turns her nose up at grapes, strawberries, banana etc.

Holly: My youngest son, who’s three, is an apple obsessive, too, and rarely eats any other fruit. My best advice is to keep offering other fruits but don't let your daughter see any reaction to her leaving them. So a platter of fruit in the middle of the table after teatime for the whole family to tuck into is a good idea. That way she can try other fruits if she wants to and also sees the rest of the family enjoying fruits other than apple.

I do find stews are very useful, as they can be kept warm and re-heated easily

Do you have any good birthday cake alternatives? I'm hopeless at making sponges but would like to give my children homemade birthday cakes...

Holly: Previously, I have made a gingerbread house complete with sweets on the roof as a birthday cake. Nigella Lawson famously suggested serving a tray of brownies with candles in as a birthday 'cake' of sorts. Other ideas could be a huge pavlova, a banoffee pie or a tray of rocky road? I think we've all become so conditioned to make cake for birthdays it's a bit of a shame. My youngest son doesn't like icing so for him it's a birthday biscuit tower!

What advice would you offer to a novice bread maker to save time but get good results?

Holly: I would suggest a few tips:
1) make sure your yeast is in date, which I know sounds obvious but it's amazing the amount of times bread fails from old ingredients.
2) I would suggest investing in good quality flour. Any bread that's homemade tastes better than mass produced bought stuff but good quality flour makes a HUGE difference.
3) Add some fat to your recipe – even 30g of melted butter or olive oil will increase the shelf life of the bread.
4) Start off making bread rolls or something small in size as they tend to be easier to gauge when they're ready. With larger loaves it's easier to under bake, which can be very annoying with all the time and effort put in. 

5) Before you start kneading the dough simply mix the ingredients all together, cover and leave for 10 minutes. This gives the yeast time to set to work, making the kneading process quicker and easier.

Any tips on catering/preparing for kids’ meals and hubby's meals at the same time when they have different likes and dad eats later? It’s something I really struggle with and I'm tired of preparing two separate meals.

Holly: I have exactly the same issue in my life – my husband works late and kids are in bed usually by the time he gets home. I do find stews are very useful, as they can be kept warm and re-heated easily.

In the summer, salads are my saviour for the adults and pasta/fishcakes for the kids. I am a big fan of batch cooking, which definitely helps with the whole two lots of cooking issue. Every time I make a curry I make a HUGE batch and freeze portions for another time. Same with bolognese.

Fritatta is another good one that kids can have warm and adults cold later with an interesting salad. Individual pies are a winner too. Little ones made from old Gu pots for the kids and a larger one for Mum and Dad later.

What topics would you like covered in our Wednesday Lunch Club? Let us know in the comments box below.


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