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Make: family meals fun

I’ve never really subscribed to the cookie cutter sandwiches or funny face dinner type of encouragement to get my children to eat. It’s not that I doubt their worth, it’s just I’d rather put my energies into other creative aspects of food preparation… Each to their own you know?

So my thing is finding the joy of grown up meals for kids. In some ways it’s selfish as I have always preferred not to cook more than one meal if I can help it but it can certainly help reap the rewards in time saved with meal preparation and the ease with which children will eat at the family table. The key is finding the twist you can add to make these meals just that little bit more interesting. Especially to the little people at your dinner table with short attention spans.

I got to thinking about this while writing  my last post Enjoy Family Meals and again when preparing a recent webinar for The Parents Jury, How to Win the Food War.

My absolute winner meal was discovered whilst at our local Chinese with a then four and two year old in tow. Rice was always a hit but on this occasion we gave the San Choy Bow a try. Boy was it a winner. And why wouldn’t it be? Lettuce cups instead of bowls, hands instead of cutlery and easy to eat tasty mince – this meal ticks lots of boxes for kids.

My children are now 11 and 9 and a mid-week San Choy Bow continues to be greeted with gleeful enthusiasm and remains the only way Master 9 will eat lettuce. I’ve streamlined the process somewhat and only attempt iceberg lettuce cups delicately shaped with the kitchen scissors on a weekend when I have time for that much attention to detail.

Trust me, this recipe is truly a quick mid-week meal that won’t suffer from the absence of a few ingredients either. Ad lib as you need just don’t leave out the water chestnuts; their crunchy texture really makes this dish and I always make sure there’s a tin somewhere in the depths of my pantry… Enjoy!

Sang choy bow

Kids love a meal where cutlery is optional


Sang Choy Bow

Serves 4

Cooking time around 10 minutes

  •  2 baby cos lettuce, washed and leaves separated
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil
  • Small onion finely diced
  • 3 shallots (green onions) trimmed and finely sliced
  • 3cm piece ginger, grated (approx 2 tsp)
  • 500g lean pork mince
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1tsp sesame oil
  • 2tbsp water (optional for a moister mix)
  • 225g tin water chestnuts, drained and diced
  • 10 snow peas finely sliced (more if you prefer)
  • Steamed rice, bean sprouts, canned corn and fresh coriander to serve


Select the best leaves from your lettuces keeping in mind those lovely small leaves will be perfect for small hands. Soak them in iced water for a crisper finish if you want.

Heat oil in a wok or large fry pan and stir fry onion, shallots and ginger for a 1-2 minutes before adding the pork mince. Cook five minutes until cooked through.

Add sauces, water if using, sesame oil, water chestnuts and snow peas. Continue to cook a further 2-3 minutes before transferring to a serving bowl.

Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter and place in the centre of the table along with rice and your families choice of accompaniments letting everyone serve themselves. My children love canned sweet corn (use no-added salt varieties if you can)  while the grown-ups prefer bean sprouts and coriander.

It can get a little messy so make sure you’ve plenty of napkins handy and enjoy the tasty fun!

Note: Sang Choy Bow is not traditionally served with rice as it’s usually an entrée on restaurant menus. A family meal without some sort of energy giving carbohydrate isn’t going to see many through the night however, so I team this meal with rice – white, brown or red depending on what is in my pantry.

 Karen xx

Lets eat sang choy bow

Sang choy bow embellished with sweet corn kernels


Other fun family meals to try include:

  • Skewers – use thin pieces of chicken breast with mushroom and cherry tomatoes
  • Fajitas – wrapping up your food in tortillas is always special
  • Chili Con carne –  a handful of plain corn or tortilla crisps makes this meal quickly disappear
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