“I think interaction at dinner time is key to getting kids into food that doesn’t arrive in a brown bag with a knock at the door, so most of our meals have some sort of self-assemble or self-serve aspect. It means Awa is still helping, interacting, participating and connecting with her food but she isn’t necessarily right in the kitchen cooking. Washing and grating vegetables and cutting herbs are Awa’s main jobs, and setting the table. We recently bought some placemats (I know, so 80s) and found a water jug and plastic cups from the op shop. So now Awa has to fully set the table: mats, plates, cutlery, fill up the jug, pour out the water and sometimes I might even get her to arrange something on the table. This buys me time to get the bulk of the meal under way, before she wants to help do something more exciting.

“I try to only cook one meal although I will simplify or swap things out, like portion-off pasta for Awa then add the chilli for Steve and me. My (strict) ideas about what foods and flavours go together had to change, to avoid wastage and set a standard of respect – someone grew or raised this food and I want to see empty plates. So now my stir-fries are far from authentic, and I’d never tell our Italian friends how I grate kumara into my bolognese sauce!

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“Awa loves soup (or does she love the bread and butter?) She isn’t big on the chunky style so blended it is.

“I’m sure people must think restaurant folk are at home watching souffles rise but we’re just like everyone else: busy, a bit stressed, trying to be healthy, trying to get the kids fed and to leave for work without the kitchen looking like a bomb hit it!”

RENEE’S FAMILY MEAL IDEAS

VEGGIE PLATTER

We always have chopped raw and steamed vegetables on a platter to help yourself from, and a good colour selection is key. I will quite often put a simple dip alongside, like yoghurt with herbs or olive oil, tahini and pomegranate, hummus, pesto.

WRAP IT

Flour tortillas, lettuce cups, rice paper rolls (more likely on the weekend when there’s more time) alongside a platter with piles of fillings: grated carrots and cheese, sliced lettuce, olives, gherkins, leftover chicken or other protein, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes. Some sort of spread options like smashed avocado, sour cream, pesto or salsa. This sort of meal gets a bit tricky in the winter as the raw veg options go down to carrots if you shop by the season as we try to. That’s when we might go for cups or rice paper rolls, and make a noodle/herb/protein salad for the filling instead.

PASTAS

Spaghetti with bolognese sauce is the go to, and pesto goes down well too.

BAKED POTATOES

These are great, providing you remember they take a while and we load them up with pasta sauce or things from a platter.