Monday 20 November 2017

Cook with Confidence and teach your kids

Teaching your kids to cook is an empowering skill that will last a lifetime, says chef Oliver McCabe of Select Stores in Dalkey

Oliver Mc Cabe with Amber O'Dwyer (12), Maia Murphy (12) and James O'Dwyer (10) in the O'Dwyer family kitchen in Dalkey.
Oliver Mc Cabe with Amber O'Dwyer (12), Maia Murphy (12) and James O'Dwyer (10) in the O'Dwyer family kitchen in Dalkey.
Oliver Mc Cabe - Sweet Potato Risotto. Pic Steve Humphreys
Oliver Mc Cabe - Bircher Muesli. Pic Steve Humphreys

In a lot of households, children are not allowed to assist with food preparation in the kitchen as there can be a belief that they will mess up, cut themselves or will waste time. This leads to a child growing up thinking they are not good enough at cooking to feed themselves, leading to them turning to junk food, convenience food and takeaway meals, especially when they enter secondary school or university and are left to their own devices.

I've been interested in food from an early age; firstly I didn't respect food, as I turned to it as a coping mechanism when my dad died suddenly when I was four. I would gorge to fill the void. Only as I got older did I have the realisation that I had an eating disorder - mindless binge-eating. My mum became very worried about my dramatic weight gain. So when she finished work, she got me into the kitchen to do my homework and help her make the dinner - I happily scrubbed veggies, peeled, assisted in chopping, stirring and cleaning up. Over time I lost weight naturally as I came to respect food and became passionate about it. And to this day I will always have cooking as a life skill. Thank you, Mum!

Over the past year, I've been bringing 'cooking as a life skill' into primary schools around Ireland with positive results. Once children prepare the ingredients themselves, they trust them - leading to eating a vegetable for the first time and onwards.

It's so important to allow children from the age of six to participate positively in cooking so they gain the knowledge and respect for food. It can be simply boiling an egg, mashing potato or grilling chicken. Eventually, they'll be able to prepare a meal once a week for the family, guided by an adult. These are life skills to fuel themselves with confidence for the future.

These days I use my own life skills to manage my food cravings and urges to overeat. Communication, motivation, mindfulness about food, cooking and loving my exercise keep me balanced for the future.;

Fresh Bircher Muesli with Mixed Berries and Flaxseed

Oliver Mc Cabe - Bircher Muesli. Pic Steve Humphreys

A child-friendly dish made from scratch for summer breakfast, a snack or even dessert. Involves washing fruit, stirring, juicing, grating, cleaning and eating. This will keep for three days in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Serves 5.

Vegetarian, no added sugar


500g oat flakes or gluten-free oat flakes

400ml freshly juiced apple juice

2 tsp ground cinnamon

150g grated pear

150g grated apple

260g natural yoghurt

Juice of 1½ lemons

300g mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)

4 tbsp ground flaxseed


Place the oats in a large bowl or airtight container. Mix in the apple juice and cinnamon. Add the grated pears, apples, yoghurt and lemon juice and mix well, until all the oats are saturated and there is no dryness left. Cover the bowl with cling film or seal the airtight container. Soak overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning, spoon into serving bowls. Top with mixed berries and add a scattering of ground flaxseed on top.

Get your spice rack ready! These veggie burgers, once cooled, can freeze for up to a month to bring spice to your kids' party or lunchbox as they make perfect fuel food with my hummus or pesto. Ah, bliss! Always remember spices and herbs are a mind-blowing food education for a child to scent and prep. Tip: keep this dry dahl spice blend sealed in a jar for further stir-fry and curry dishes.

Living Dahl Veggie Burgers

Makes 20 burgers. Vegan, gluten-, nut- and dairy-free


1 tbsp Viridian raw organic coconut oil

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp grated fresh root ginger

½ bunch of fresh coriander, leaves reserved, roots and stems finely chopped

1 cinnamon stick

8 cardamom pods, crushed

1 tsp yellow mustard seeds

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp chilli powder

½ tsp Himalayan fine rock salt

400g split red lentils, soaked

400g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into large medallions

1½ litres water

150g baby spinach

200g brown rice, cooked

100g brown rice flour

2 tbsp coconut oil for frying burgers


Warm the raw organic coconut oil in a large saucepan over a low to medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 5-8 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, ginger, coriander roots and stems, cinnamon stick, crushed cardamom and mustard seeds, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the remaining spices and the salt and cook for 1 minute more, stirring. Add the lentils, sweet potatoes and water to the saucepan and bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to low and allow the dahl to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the lentils have collapsed and the sweet potatoes are tender. Take off the heat and stir through the spinach and most of the coriander leaves. Leave to cool for an hour. Add the brown rice and brown rice flour to the lentils and mix well. Form 20 burger patties with clean hands. Heat a little coconut oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the burgers for about 5 minutes per side, until cooked through and golden on the outside.

Beetroot Hummus

Hummus will keep for up to five days stored in an airtight container or glass jar in the fridge. Perfectly pink for parties with homemade veggie burgers. Beetroot never tasted so good!

Makes 450g. Vegan, no added sugar, gluten-, nut and dairy-free


400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (keep the drained water for hummus blend)

250g vacuum-packed beetroot

1 clove of garlic, crushed

100ml extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

2 tbsp light tahini

2 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp Himalayan fine rock salt

Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, to garnish (optional)


Pop everything except the parsley into a blender or food processor. Use the drained canned water for consistency adding a little at a time and blend for 30 seconds, until the hummus has a chunky consistency. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the chopped parsley.

Basil Mint Pesto

Keep in the fridge in an airtight container or glass jar, topped with a thin film of extra-virgin olive oil, for up to 10 days. Letting kids make their own pesto allows them to own this sauce for pasta, rice or salad dishes.

Makes 200ml. Vegan, no added sugar, gluten- and dairy-free, contains nuts


140g toasted cashew nuts

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

80g fresh basil leaves

50g fresh mint leaves

150ml extra-virgin olive oil

½ tsp Himalayan fine rock salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

A squeeze of lemon (optional)


Pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the garlic and pulse a few more times to blend. Add the basil and mint leaves in batches, pulsing after each addition. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and an optional squeeze of lemon, and pulse again until the pesto is creamy and well combined.

Roast Sweet Potato & Feta Risotto

Oliver Mc Cabe - Sweet Potato Risotto. Pic Steve Humphreys

This recipe involves scrubbing vegetables, peeling, assisted chopping, stirring, zesting, crushing and cleaning up. This summer dish is so colourful and appealing, it will be demolished by all at the table, and the children will have a huge sense of accomplishment and confidence for the future.

Serves 5. Vegetarian, no added sugar, gluten-free


1 unsalted, gluten-free vegetable bouillon stock cube

1 litre hot water

1 tbsp Viridian organic raw virgin coconut oil

1 medium courgette, quartered lengthways and chopped into thick pieces

600g sweet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

300g organic risotto rice, rinsed and drained

Himalayan fine rock salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 level tsp of organic ground turmeric

80g frozen petits pois

100g feta cheese, crumbled (optional)

80g toasted pine nuts or cashew nut pieces

Rocket leaves, to serve


Add the bouillon stock cube to 1 litre of hot water and stir. Bring this vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan and keep it simmering over a low heat. Melt the oil in a deep frying pan over a low to medium heat. Add the courgette and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the sweet potato, garlic, half of the lemon zest and half of the thyme, stirring to coat with a ladleful of broth. Cover, and cook for 8 minutes, until the sweet potato is al dente. Add the risotto rice to the sweet potato mixture and stir for 1-2 minutes to coat the grains. Add the hot broth one ladleful at a time. Wait for the broth to be fully absorbed before adding more. Continue for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly, until all the broth has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through and slightly firm to the bite. Season to taste, add the turmeric, then stir in the petits pois and half of the feta. Serve topped with the remaining lemon zest, thyme, feta, nuts and rocket.


* Allow your children into the kitchen to do their homework as you cook

* Allow your children to assist with food preparation throughout the week

* Always have a positive tone during food preparation, with much praise and appreciation

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