Fast family feasts that the kids can cook

Easy dinners that will get younger chefs stirred up and busy in the kitchen


Lilly Higgins, who writes the Fast Family Feasts column in the Irish Times Magazine every Saturday, knows a lot about cooking for and with children. As a working mother of three (nine, eight and five years old), she is familiar with the challenges of getting kids interested in what happens in the kitchen, and willing to lend a hand.

“Tasks like washing salad leaves can be fun, especially when a salad spinner is involved. Mushrooms can be chopped with a butter knife when learning knife skills. I have a Kiddies Food Kutter and Peeler from that enable them to peel and chop food themselves. They’re safe, sturdy and effective. They love the feeling of accomplishment being able to peel the carrots for everyone’s dinner.”

Involving children in decisions around family mealtimes is a good way of getting them on board, she says. “We regularly chat about food likes and dislikes. I find it good to listen to their opinions and ideas about food. When they feel heard, they’re more likely to listen to me trying to convince them to eat their dinner.

“They love to get a chance to come up with recipe ideas and food combinations. I know my own parents had to taste many a creation from my eight year old self. Every word of encouragement made me want to cook more.”

Here are some of Higgins’s recipes from her column, and other writers too, that children and adults can enjoy cooking and eating together. They don’t have too many ingredients, and the list of steps in the method is not too long. Older children may be able to cook some of them on their own or with supervision.

Garlic bread spaghetti.

Recipe: Lilly Higgins’s garlic bread spaghetti

Cowboy beans with chicken

Recipe: Lilly Higgins’s cowboy beans with roast chicken

Chicken Alfredo pasta

Recipe: Anna Flynn’s chicken Alfredo pasta

Homemade baked beans.

Recipe: Lilly Higgins’s homemade baked beans

Smoked chipotle smokey Joes

Recipe: Paul Flynn’s smoked chipotle smokey Joes

Jolene Cox’s Italian turkey nuggets

Serves 4

The kids can get involved in this easy recipe by getting their hands into the mix and mould the nuggets. I’ve been told by a few little ones that these are the best nuggets on the planet – and who am I to argue with that?

400g turkey mince
1 onion, grated
200g breadcrumbs
50g cheddar, grated
50g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 chicken stock cube, crumbled
Salt and pepper to season

1 Blend together the breadcrumbs, onion and cheeses then add these to the turkey mince along with the oregano, garlic powder and stock cube. Season with salt and pepper.

2 Get your hands stuck in and mix thoroughly then mould the mince into little nuggets.

3 Oven bake at 180 degrees/gas mark 4 for 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can pan fry the nuggets in a little olive oil over a medium heat for 8 minutes on each side.

Jolene Cox’s one-pot porky jambalaya

Serves 4

This easy, flavoursome meal is ready in less than 40 minutes and the best part is there’s only one pot to wash afterwards. I use a cast-iron pot and have been known to let my five-year-old Lils do the washing up for this one, while I sit down and enjoy that cup of tea I’ve been gasping for all day. You can vary the meats here if you like; I sometimes throw in a few smoked rashers to give that extra smoky flavour.

200g chorizo
6 good quality sausages
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 white onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
350g easy-cook, long grain rice
600mls chicken stock
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 tbsp tomato pesto
1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to season


1 You will need a large, cast-iron pot with a lid. If you don’t have one of these, a large saucepan with a lid will do.

2 Over a high heat, fry off the garlic and onion in the olive oil. Add the chopped celery stalks and red pepper.

3 Chop the chorizo and sausages, and cook them off in the pot until brown and crispy, stirring as you fry.

4 Sprinkle over the smoked paprika and Cajun seasoning, then stir in your dollop of tomato pesto.

5 Add in the easy-cook rice. Give all the ingredients a good mix together then pour in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper.

6 Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to a very low simmer for 25-30 minutes until the rice is cooked. Add more liquid if needed. Give the dish one final mix then serve with a smile.