Ah, summer is finally here and with the long, light nights it's the perfect time to cook outdoors.
Nothing says holidays like the smell of grilling fare wafting across the neighbourhood, or if you're extra blessed, the beach!
And although barbecues have long been the domain of the butcher and the dad, there are lots of other foods that magically transform once they hit the grill. My boys still aren't big fans of steamed asparagus but will happily fight me for my share if it's straight off the barbecue, lightly seasoned with herbs and olive oil.
Even better, maybe this is the year where the kids nudge Dad aside and take ownership of part of the hot plate. So many foods can be prepped partially, even by the youngest of kids. There's nothing that gets kids more enthusiastic about eating than making it themselves.
Oh yes, the multi-coloured stuff really comes alive outside in a way that we struggle to replicate in the kitchen!
Roasted mushrooms - grab ones with a decent cap and fill with garlic, butter, herbs, grated parmesan or drizzle with olive oil and a shake of salt.
Pumpkin or kumara - slice and add crumbled feta or salt and pepper and cook until it goes soft and super sweet.
Corn - summer brings corn on the cob .. ooh yeah! Add some butter and twist in foil or char lovingly directly on the grill. Even better find some dinosaur or cartoon cob holders to get the kids excited and let them eat straight from the barbecue.
Tomatoes - when they are in season they are so sweet. A splash of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar or a hit of fresh basil and suddenly you're in Southern Europe!
Eggplant, courgette, asparagus and artichokes are often thought of as more "adult friendly" veg but chuck them on the barbecue and they become crispy and charred and fabulous. You can add olive oil, bacon, cheese or sauces to take them to the next level.
Kebabs - what is it about a skewer that makes food that much more desirable? Load up some soaked sticks with capsicum, cherry tomatoes, carrots and add cubes of meat, feta or pineapple. Often combining a favourite with something not so special helps it all disappear.
Lettuce - yes, you heard correctly! Often the texture of green leaves is off-putting for young kids but give it a quick char on the barbecue, add a special dressing and some crumbled bacon and you're away. Or wilt some spinach or kale and add garlic, butter and some grated parmesan.
Stuffed veg - avocados, mini capsicums or even mild chillies for the adventurous can be filled with cheese or rice or herbs and then cooked lovingly until they are charred and oozy and delicious. Kids can choose their favourite fillings or add a cocktail stick/paddle pop and paper sail to make “boats”.
Potatoes - who doesn't like crispy potatoes? Or little chunks of potato covered in butter with herbs and wrapped in silver foil. Then, the barbecue or a fire pit are perfect opportunities to create delicious jackets with soft insides and crispy skins.
Stacks - build your own stacks are a marvellous way to get kids eating variety. Thinly slice a variety of veg, grill and then get the kids to put them together in the funkiest tower.
Grilled summer fruits are amazing!
Peaches, banana, pineapple, watermelon, kiwi are all delicious when roasted. Try in halves, sliced thinly and with glazes and herbs.
Or skewer strawberries and grapes for dessert on a stick. Add a gooey marshmallow or a drizzle of chocolate at the end for a special treat.
It's not just night that's perfect for outside. Make use of the cool, early mornings and whip up some breakfast.
Go traditional with sausages, bacon and eggs with a healthy side of roasted and wilted veg.
Upgrade the muesli - place it in foil with a little oil or butter and toast on the grill. Add some charred summer fruits for a decadent, sweet burst.
Grill some bread or make it French toast for a filling protein boost.
Whip up a simple batter and viola – crepes!
Fish, seafood and more
Traditionally we think of barbecues as a meat fest and there are so many ways to transform a piece of lamb, pork, chicken or beef. However, we can put so many other things on the grill.
Wrap fish in foil to steam or quickly sear directly on the hot plate for a lighter dinner.
Grill other seafood like prawns, oysters, calamari, paua, octopus or scallops – if you’re lucky enough to score some!
Char some tofu or tempeh for a light, vegetarian option.
Roast cheeses like feta, haloumi or even whole brie (on a piece of bread or foil saves the barbecue plate!)
Whip up rissoles, koftas, falafels or fritters. All are delicious cooked on the grill and it’s amazing what kids will eat if presented in a new way.
Bruschetta – slice a French stick, rub with oil and garlic and char on the grill. Add chopped tomato, onion and basil or create your own unique toppings.
Quesadilla, a tortilla filled with chopped veg, cheese and Mexican spices are delicious on the barbecue. Whip up a gozleme or go more traditional and make a quick pizza.
Rice balls – use some precooked short-grain rice and form into a ball (with or without a filling) and then finish on the barbecue for a different outer texture. Use an Asian dipping sauce for full effect.
Add some simple salads, a range of sauces and dips and you have an amazing spread that will put the average sausage sizzle to shame!
Judith Yeabsley is a mum of two boys who is passionate about healthy food for kids. She runs a food art website, theartofnutrition.com, focusing on presenting fruit and veges creatively. She also works to change the food environment in schools, community groups and lunchboxes. For information on this and great recipes, see theartofnutrition.co.nz.