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Rising costs have led to most of us feeling the pinch in many aspects of life, and now they’re affecting what our kids are being served at school.

I was shocked and disheartened by this BBC article that revealed that rising food prices have resulted in some school catering bodies making the difficult decision to reduce, and in some cases, remove food staples such as beef from the menu.

The dispiriting news stated that substitutes are being made for more expensive cuts of meats, and that even the fruit and veg being served to our little ones isn’t off limits!

When we think of school and nursery menus, we think of hearty burgers or the trusty lasagne, but with the news that the cost of minced beef has risen by 11% in the past few days, we may have to wave goodbye to these, crucially, iron-rich meals as regular fixtures.

In a further bid to combat rising costs, imported cheaper cuts and processed meats are being used as an alternative to homegrown meat, as well as turkey meat being served in lieu of more expensive chicken. Even the humble potato will potentially play a less pivotal role in school meals due to a hike in prices (with 10kg of prepared potatoes rising from £10.46 to £15.50) as a result of rising fertiliser and fuel costs.

Whilst it’s pantry basics such as oil, pasta, fish and frozen veg which have taken the worst hit, with caterers reporting weekly fluctuations and increases of 20-30% for a host of products.

The report also indicates that, devastatingly, rising costs prompted by the pandemic, war in Ukraine and burgeoning fuel prices, have also had a knock-on effect on staff budgeting in school kitchens, further reducing the quality (and quantity) of meals on offer.

This is particularly alarming when you consider that in some cases free school meals can be a child’s only significant meal of the day and therefore make up the bulk of their nutritional intake.

A varied and versatile school menu also presents a great opportunity for little ones to be adventurous and explore new foods that they might not have otherwise tried at home.

With costs outrunning funding at a time when a hot meal at school can be life-affirming for families, this is a real problem that needs to be addressed now.

It’s for this reason that I have rounded up some budget-friendly recipes that won’t break the bank and will ensure that, despite less accessibility of beef and minced meat, your child is getting enough iron.

Despite how it might currently seem, there are cost-efficient ways to ensure your little one is hitting their nutritional targets, especially when it comes to the all-important iron found in beef.

Why do I need to pair vitamin C with iron?

Did you know that vitamin C aids iron absorption? By pairing iron containing foods with a vitamin C rich food it will help with the absorption of iron. This is particularly important for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

As most know, iron is essential for your little one’s brain development, especially from six months when the iron inherited from a baby’s mother runs out. Iron deficiency in children is a common problem and can have a profound effect on learning in later life, so it’s important that children of all ages are consuming adequate amounts, accompanied with Vitamin C to promote its absorption.

Here are my top iron-laden and budget-friendly recipes for a healthy, balanced diet

Tofu & Veggie Bites

Tofu & Veggie Bites

Tofu can get a bit of a bad rep on the flavour charts due to its natural plainness. However, the beauty of this versatile soy product is that it absorbs flavour like a sponge. So, tofu can be to-fun to cook with! What’s more, tofu is a source of ‘complete’ plant protein & protective antioxidants ✔️ If you are keen to try more plant-based recipes with your family, then these supercharged Tofu & Veggie Bites are a must on your finger food recipe repertoire! Its super easy and a great addition to your little ones lunchbox. For more finger food recipe click here. 

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Veggie Frittata Muffins recipe by Annabel Karmel

Veggie Frittata Muffins

Little ones and grown-ups need to refuel, so these Veggie Frittata Muffins are a nutritious, quick and easy recipe that you and your tot can enjoy together. One recipe for both means less cooking and washing-up for you, and more time spent eating good food together. Eggs are full of high quality protein, vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, folate, iodine and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, so provide a nutritious and delicious meal at any time of the day.   British Lion eggs are the only eggs approved by the Food Standards Agency to be served runny to babies, young children, pregnant women and the elderly, so always look for the Lion mark on egg shells and packs – you can find them in your favourite supermarket. Click here for more egg recipes to enjoy with your growing family. This recipe is suitable from 8+ months.

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Plant-based Veggie Croquettes recipe by Annabel Karmel

Plant-based Veggie Croquettes

Easy to pick up with a soft texture & crispy coating, my Plant-based Veggie Croquettes are packed with hidden veggies. A perfect finger food for babies & older kids too. You can make ahead & freeze them once cooked. Discover many more super finger food recipe ideas here!

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Tasty Meatless Bolognese recipe by Annabel Karmel

Tasty Meatless Bolognese

A rich, hearty & tasty meatless bolognese which utilises pea based protein mince for a boost – easy to knock up in a single pot! Find many more delicious vegetarian recipes here!

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Carrot, Coconut and Raisin Bites

These make the perfect healthy finger food for little ones.  They contain no refined sugar and the natural sweetness comes from the dates, carrots and raisins.

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Apricot and White Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

I add oats, dried apricots and chopped pecans for a twist on regular Rice Krispie cakes. This is a quick and easy recipe to make with little ones . It’s a very moreish treat and needs no baking. They will keep in the fridge for 5 days.

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Tasty Lentil Bolognese Recipe by Annabel Karmel

Tasty Vegan Lentil Bolognese

You won’t miss the meat in this delicious Tasty Lentil Bolognese recipe. Suitable for vegans! For more vegan inspiration, you must try My Favourite Vegan Burger

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Popeye Pasta

This pasta dish contains spinach with is a great source of various vitamins. Mixing tiny pasta shapes into your baby’s food is also a good way to add texture to encourage your baby to eat more lumpy food. Try my organic pasta with this dish!

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Vegetable Fusilli

A tasty quick vegetable pasta dish. The light cheesy sauce couldn’t be easier simply mix together some vegetable stock, crème fraiche and parmesan.

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Lovely Lentils recipe by Annabel Karmel

Lovely Lentils

This Lovely Lentils recipe is sweet, soft & smooth for babies. It’s easy to make & is packed full of vital nutrients to help them grow up strong. Follow this link for many more recipes for little ones ages 6-9 Months 

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