1. Ready-made pastry
Ready made AND ready rolled if you really want the ultimate in convenience. We're talking express tarts that look stunning but take five minutes to prepare and 20 minutes in the oven.
Unroll onto a prepared baking sheet, spread with tomato puree, cream cheese, or creme fraiche mixed with a little grainy mustard, scatter with whatever toppings you fancy and then top with the cheese of your choice. There are so many combinations - see the ham, cheese and leek puff tarts recipe here.
You can make everyone feel a bit special by dividing the pastry into four so everyone's got their own individual tart - useful if everyone likes different toppings!
2. Shop bought gnocchi
This stuff cooks in 2 minutes flat and is really filling - an ideal match for ravenous little people. I like to throw in a handful of frozen peas while it cooks for added veg content.
In terms of sauce you can just drizzle with olive oil and a scattering of parmesan, or stir in a little ready-made pesto or pasta sauce of choice.
If you're feeling a little more adventurous then you could whizz up your own pesto in the processor or prepare some home-made tomato sauce.
Serve in bowls with a handful of bagged salad on the side.
3. Home made hummus
Of course it's cheap to buy, but you can knock up a huge batch of the stuff in a matter of minutes straight out of some tins in your store cupboard.
Tinned chick peas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a jug with a stick blender and off you go.
Try flavouring it with whatever you've got in - maybe some roasted peppers or olives.
A pot of hummus is a great playdate offering with a plateful of carrot, cucumber and peppers for dunking. You can also use it for sandwich fillings or a blob on the side of a plateful of pizza and salad.
Don't reserve these for a teatime treat, next time you see them reduced at the supermarket buy a load and get them in the freezer.
Cover one in grated cheese and grill it for a squidgy take on cheese on toast.
Spread another with tomato paste, scatter with ham and pineapple and a few slices of mozzarella and flash under the grill for a Hawaiian crumpet pizza.
Or best of all, beat an egg, dip your crumpet in, turn and coat the other side, then gently fry in a buttered pan for a luxurious lunch or weekend breakfast. Highly addictive. (See pic above)
5. Cheesy pasta
Bypass making a cheese sauce from scratch and use cream cheese or creme fraiche with grated cheese melted into it as the basis of your pasta dish.
A bit of lemon zest, a grating of fresh nutmeg or a spoon of grainy mustard added to the sauce will make it extra moreish.
Stir in some shredded ham, sauteed peppers, tinned sweetcorn and frozen peas and serve with garlic bread and salad.
If you want pasta bake, scatter a good layer of ready-made flavoured breadcrumbs mixed with some grated cheese to get a nice crunchy crust on top.
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