Fingers or Fork?

Lately the kids have made me feel torn between teaching table manners vs teaching a love of food. After all, we have just spent time together setting … and often unsetting, resetting and final setting the table according to everyone’s ever changing request for different coloured cutlery, cups and napkins. So with the table nicely set the kids then sometimes just push it all that aside to eat with their hands. They have smiles on their faces, food up their arms, but they eat with hunger and enjoyment, albeit with all 10 fingers. There is an air of fascination and obviously a greater learning experience going on – feeling, pulling, touching and squishing their food often rejecting their fork for a more ‘hands on’ experience.

I just keep telling myself (and them!) – “it’s lucky Granny is not here or you would both be in big trouble!!” Ha. Idle threat mum. Is there time later to teach them table manners? Is there time later to teach them to eat properly with cutlery and all the grown up things we have to do at the dinner table after they have developed a love of food, textures and flavours? Actually I know they can eat with cutlery when they want to, but they don’t want to. My heart wants them to develop a love the food at whatever cost and enjoy the texture, flavour and learning experience. My head is telling me that savages eat with their hands! [while repeating the above idle threat “It’s lucky your Granny isn’t here or you would both be in big trouble!!”]

So my compromise is … I’ve been opting lately for food that can, and quite frankly, SHOULD be eaten with your hands; burgers, pizza, lamb chops, chicken drumsticks, sharwama, prawns on skewers (watch the sharp pointy sticks with the kids), wraps, tacos, oven baked wedges, crudités and dips not to mention juicy sweet watermelon dripping off your elbows and running down your chin. [Sigh] Oh to be a kid again. Summer is the perfect time for all these foods and although the first time they didn’t quite ‘get it’ with the lamb chop, second time around YEP they rocked that lamb chop in their hands with all 10 fingers I’ll have you know Granny!


I was alone in the kitchen on the weekend. Me and a handful of ingredients that were lending themselves to Ratatouille, but I wanted to incorporate lamb chops and some polenta. To secure my peace and quiet for a few hours, I followed these 3 steps. Mums you can try this yourselves at home:

1. Evict the kids and hubby out the back door to water the garden.
2. Make kale chips to keep above listed people happy for a little longer despite the stifling summer heat.
3. Watch them swarm like flies 🙂 Kale chips are kid and dad magnets!


Back to the kitchen with a touch of air-conditioning. Phew. Where was I? Oh, yes the summer dinner ingredients.


Ratatouille WHT

I really wanted to make the Ratatouille the star of this dish while giving the kids a hands on lamb chop experience. The Ratatouille quantities were enough that we had leftovers served with a slice of leftover polenta for lunch the next day, and the kids had it served with wholemeal pasta the next night for dinner. It may be better roughly pureed with a stick blender to use as a pasta sauce for the kids. The vegetables can be as chunky or finely sliced as you prefer. Here’s what I did…

Summer Ratatouille

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients – Ratatouille

  • 2 eggplants, cubed into 1 inch square pieces (you can peel the eggplant first if you are not keen on the skin or if the kids don’t like the sometimes bitter taste of the eggplant skin)
  • 2 zucchini (I used the small local marrow we get here in Dubai. It’s probably the equivalent of one large dark green one), cubed into 1 inch square pieces
  • 2 red peppers/capsicum, cubed into 1 inch square pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 Kale leaves, stripped off the stem and finely chopped
  • Fresh herbs – I used a few sprigs of each thyme, basil and rosemary, finely chopped
  • about 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley
  • 5 tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (save any juices that run off also)
  • About 1/3 cup of Water
  • Salt & Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


In a cold high sided frying pan or large saucepan add the olive oil, garlic, onion and the fresh herbs. Heat gently to infuse the oil with the herb, onion and garlic flavours (similar to the homemade tomato sauce recipe here). You want the onion to become translucent, but not brown.

Add the eggplant and toss to coat with the olive oil in the pan. Raise the heat to medium and cook until the eggplant starts to colour and soften. Add extra oil if needed – eggplant needs a lot of olive oil to cook nicely!

Add the zucchini and peppers and stir to combine. Allow to cook somewhat, stirring occasionally, before adding the tomatoes, any tomato juices that you saved and the tomato paste plus a little water. Add the kale and reduce to a simmer and allow to cook until the vegetables are cooked through. I left mine simmer for a little longer while I prepared the rest of the dinner and I love how the flavours all mingle together. Before serving, stir through the fresh parsley so as not to cook it too much. Serve hot as  a side dish or as a main veggie dish with crusty bread or a slice of grilled polenta.


We served ours with BBQ lamb chops that had been seasoned with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon zest, fresh thyme and rosemary. And I couldn’t resist making cheesy polenta with parmesan, a little fresh thype and vegetable stock – a great accompaniment for the ratatouille! And guess what? The polenta can be cut into ‘fingers’ and eaten with little sticky fingers 😉


From our summer kitchen to yours. xx

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