Foodchain reaction

One of the things I have learnt on my journey to healthy eating and cooking over the past five years, is that the surest way to get kids (and adults) away from junk and processed food, is to make and bake a range of tasty and nutritious snacks, dips and spreads at home.

Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating and head of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, has often said that visibility and convenience are the two leading factors for over-consumption of junk food (in his study with other researchers, the food in question was candy). The team gave 40 university female staff candy jars. Some were transparent, some opaque, some placed on the desk and some at a six-foot distance. The highest consumption was from the clear jars on the desk, while the lowest was from the opaque ones placed at a distance.

The corollary: Keep home-made items on the dining table when the kids troop in. With healthy sources of fats, carbs and proteins, bakes, dips and spreads (like hummus, pesto, coriander chutney, peanut butter) are a great way to get children to eat vegetables and fruits, to bridge the gap between meals or after-school classes, or as an energy boost for late-night study. You can swirl peanut butter into milk, air-fry or bake vegetable chips to go with a hung-curd dip, roll up rotis with a hummus spread. With sweet treats, I have learnt that baking muffins, oat or ragi cookies, and granola bars at home is so much better than buying from a store. When you cook for and with your kids, you use quality ingredients you can see, you know how much sugar, salt and fat you are putting into your food, and there are no preservatives. Here are two recipes I find easy to make, nutritious and universally loved.

Herbed hummus

My family’s favourite any-time snack is hummus (pronounced whomuss), a Middle Eastern spread that is a good substitute for store-bought cheese or mayonnaise.

Foodchain reaction


1 cup dry chickpeas or 3 cups cooked

½ cup water, reserved from cooking

3 tbsp very-lightly-toasted sesame seeds

3 large cloves garlic, minced

3 tbsp lime juice

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 tsp salt, or to taste

½ cup coriander leaves, washed and dried

½ cup mint leaves, washed and dried

.5-1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder/paprika/piri piri seasoning

Makes 2½ cups


Soak the dry chickpeas in water for 6-8 hours or overnight. Pressure-cook with 3 cups water and a little salt for 30 minutes or until really soft. When still warm, drain, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water.

Blend the sesame seeds to a paste in a dry/spice grinder.

Using an electric hand blender or a mixer, grind the chickpeas to a smooth purée, adding the cooking liquid. Put in the sesame paste, minced garlic, lime juice and olive oil and continue to blend. Add salt. If it doesn’t yet have a spreading consistency, add a little cold water.

Grind the coriander and mint leaves together in a dry/spice grinder and blend into the hummus.

Top with red chilli/piri piri seasoning, if required.

Handy hints

Store hummus in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.

Serve with vegetable sticks (carrot, cucumber, red and yellow capsicum/peppers).

Spread in a roti, along with grated carrot, olives and/or salad vegetables.

For a party, pour a generous layer of extra-virgin olive oil and garnish with lots of thinly-sliced olives.

Apple muffins with cinnamon & oats

Baking with fruit is a fabulous way to use ripe or damaged fruit and my youngest son Nikhil, who absolutely refuses to eat any fresh fruit, has been slowly persuaded to eat muffins and cakes made with fruit. It’s a small triumph.

Foodchain reaction

Makes 12

Dry ingredients

1 cup wholewheat flour

½ cup oats

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon powder

A pinch of salt

¼ cup seedless brown raisins (optional)

Wet ingredients

1 egg (to make it eggless, use 3 tbsp milk/buttermilk)

1 cup finely chopped apple

¾ cup milk or buttermilk

¼ cup melted, cooled butter or vegetable oil


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a 12-muffin pan.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg until frothy and then mix in the rest of the wet ingredients.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently fold with a large metal or wooden spoon. Don’t over-mix.

Spoon into muffin cups, using an oiled serving spoon or ice cream scoop, filling each about 2/3 full.

Top each muffin with some cinnamon sugar (optional) and bake for 15-20 minutes until they are done.

Remove from the oven. Serve warm or store in an airtight container in the fridge (layer with paper napkins on top and bottom to keep them fresh and dry).

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Sharmila Ribeiro is the author of Everyday Love – A Mother’s Guide to Healthy Cooking for Kidsand a national winner of the Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the category of Family Cookbooks for 2018

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 12:20:55 PM |

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