Peas, tomatoes and strawberries are three good reasons to love summer so make the most of them when they're fresh and delicious.
Nearly every child is brought up on peas from the freezer - it's the number one green vegie for convenience, nutritional value and versatility. And while some kids fnd them hard to swallow, don't neglect the humble pea - it's packed full of nutritional goodies and there are many ways to make peas more palatable.
Did you know just one serving of peas has the same amount of vitamin C as two large apples and more fbre than a slice of wholemeal bread? Peas are also a great source of all kinds of B vitamins plus manganese, phosphorus and copper. It's classed as a legume as well as a vegetable so, like kidney beans and chickpeas, has lots of fibre and protein.
Storage: If buying fresh peas store them in their pods in a plastic bag in the fridge and shell them just before cooking. Sugar snap and snow peas also need to be stored, covered, in the fridge. Eat as soon as possible.
Cooking/eating: Peas make great snack food. A half cup of frozen peas before dinner may appeal to your toddler more than a pile of boiled peas alongside the carrots and mash. Somehow they just taste nicer.
Some children may like the crunch of pea sprouts (available from supermarkets) as a mid-afternoon snack but at this time of year look for fresh peas in their pods - the taste beats frozen peas hands down and they're also delicious eaten raw.
Sugar snap peas, mange tout or snowpeas are another great snack idea for the lunch box or after kindy.
Meal ideas: Crunchy and sweet, sugar snap peas can be added to salads or make a pasta dish with chopped sugar snaps, orzo pasta, lemon juice, parmesan and a dash of olive oil.
You can start feeding your baby peas from seven months. Try mashing or puréeing them with cooked broccoli and add a couple of teaspoons of baby rice to thicken it. He'll love the sweet taste.
Pea soup recipe
3 cloves of garlic
2 large potatoes
2 slices of pork bacon or chicken bacon
2 litres of chicken stock
500g of frozen peas
Sour cream to serve
Dice the onion, potato and garlic and fry gently in the olive oil. Add chopped bacon and fry for five minutes. Add the stock and continue cooking until the potato is three-quarters cooked. Add the peas and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Serve with sour cream.
Tomatoes are a true star on the food chart, credited with fghting cancer and even acting as a natural sunscreen. And it doesn't matter if the tomato is canned or used as tomato paste on a pizza - research has even shown that cooked tomatoes contain higher levels of the wonder nutrient, lycopene, than raw. Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps stop cancer cells forming and fights heart disease and conditions such as asthma. No other vegetable has such a high concentration of lycopene and tomatoes also have high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A and fibre. Research has also shown tomato provides a natural sun block but it's not quite enough to let you abandon the sun cream - researchers at the University of Manchester in the 2008 study said the sunscreen effect rated only an SPF factor of 1.3.
At this time of year, fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes are in plentiful supply and taste a great deal nicer than the flavour-free, spongy variety filling the shops over winter. It's worth going to farmers' markets to get the really fresh, tasty varieties to eat raw.
Storage: Don't store tomatoes in the fridge - you will ruin the flavour. Take them out of their plastic bag and put them in a bowl lined with a paper towel with the stems up. They'll stay fresher for longer. If they're still a bit green, place them in a paper bag to hasten ripening.
Cooking/eating: Many children love tomatoes - particularly cherry tomatoes - but if your children won't touch a raw tomato there are still plenty of ways to get that beautiful red stuff into them.
You can tip a can of tomatoes into a mince sauce - your children will barely notice it. Then add a couple of squirts of tomato paste for extra lycopene.
Many kids don't like the squishy, squirty texture of tomatoes so try them on baby tomatoes - cherry or grape.
Slice and grill with cheese in a toasted sandwich. If that fails, try Lauren Child's Charlie and Lola: I Will Never Not Eat a Tomato - it should at least get a smile.
Stuff small tomatoes. Slice off the top and take out seeds. Then fill with cream cheese, cooked brown rice and parsley.
Fry slices of tomatoes which have been dipped in raw egg and breadcrumbs.
Serve for dinner with mushrooms, baby potatoes and grilled chicken pieces.
Babies can start eating tomatoes from eight or nine months.
Another power-house plant, strawberries have more vitamin C, fbre, folate and potassium than most fruit, and, if eaten regularly, will lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cancer and improve your memory. Strawberries are full of antioxidants and also contain ellagic acid - found in many other berries, grapes and cherries - that's said to fight cancer.
While at their best strawberries are full of goodies but their peak time doesn't last long and they quickly lose nutrients when they start to lose freshness.
Buying and storing: When buying strawberries choose them bright red with bright green stalks. Check under the container as any leaking strawberry juice suggests some of the berries might be over-ripe, bruised or partially rotting.
Smaller strawberries are often sweeter and tastier. When you get home immediately take them out of the container and place them on a tray in the fridge. Cover with a cloth or paper towel. Eat within one or two days.
Meal ideas: Strawberries are best eaten raw if you want to get the full nutritional benefit. If you've got too many to eat within a couple of days cut the tops off some and place them individually on an oven tray in the freezer. Bag them up once they're frozen. You can use them later in smoothies with banana and plain yoghurt or in puddings. Look online for recipes to make Strawberry Fool (a creamy chilled dessert made with yoghurt, cream or custard), Strawberry Mousse or Strawberry Shortcake.
With fresh berries you can make chocolate-dipped strawberries. Make your own chocolate sauce by simply melting chocolate in a bowl over boiling water.
A dusting of icing sugar on strawberries and served with vanilla ice cream cannot be beaten but if you want a fancy treat make kebabs with strawberry halves, chunks of kiwifruit and banana, even marshmallows.
"Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet with green leafy wings reaching heavenward." ~ Terri Guillemets