Lunch or Dinner, Savoury, Super Easy

Sleepless Sleep Training / Baked Chicken, Lime, Chilli & Mint with Spiced Rice

It’s nearly 8 at night. My husband’s out for a few drinks with a friend after work and I’m sitting, laptop perched on my lap, listening to my son softly call out to me,

“Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum”

I try to tell myself it’s just the mantra he’s using to sleep, as if all near-two year olds have a grasp of meditation and the power of repetition. Really it’s the beginning of a regime that I’ve been trying to not use since he was born.

I know there are arguments about children’s sleep habits, how to get them to sleep, how to keep them asleep, how to resettle. And a wonderful article from a frustrated Mum here. I’ve heard them all, I’ve practised them all fervently except one, and have spent nearly two years promising myself that I wouldn’t be a parent who lets their child cry it out.

In case you’re not a parent, or were blessed with sleeping children and never had to know, there are two main schools of thought around sleep for children.

The first one is the softer, let them know you love them, school of thought. It swings from co-sleeping, to resettling a distressed child and leaving the room when quiet but still awake.

The second is a tougher, they’ll be happier in the long run, school of thought. You leave your child to cry, for varying intervals of time, until they learn to fall asleep on their own.

While I was still pregnant, I had bought the most popular ‘leave them to sleep’ books and was convinced that was the path we were going to follow. I had drawn up a timetable in appropriate colours and downloaded apps that would support our self-settling journey.

Then he was born.

The overpowering and profound love I felt was so all encompassing, the thought of him enduring any pain at all seemed completely out of the question. I threw all of my hard-studied beliefs about tough love out of the window the moment his tiny fingers curled around mine and claimed me as his.

We’ve done every one of the soft techniques to try to get him to sleep. We’ve even done some of the softer tough-love techniques. Nothing has ever worked.

Now, finally, with almost 2 years of 3 to 6 hours of broken sleep a night, I know that I can’t do it any more. I desperately need sleep. I’m an increasingly poor parent and person and I can’t imagine continuing in this way for the foreseeable future.

This might seem ridiculous, either to those who don’t have children, whose children slept, or to those for whom the tough-love approach was easier. But it’s always devastated me to hear my son weeping, as he is as I write this. I often end up weeping alongside him, lying on the sofa as a wall separates me from him in his cot.

I’ve read everything. And I do mean everything. I’ve spoken to everyone, from well-meaning friends and random people in supermarkets, to numerous sleep professionals. We’ve done two sleep schools. He just doesn’t sleep. Ever.

And as much as I loathe to succumb to tough love, it’s seems the only option left open to us if I want to re-find my sanity.

He’s been crying for 15 minutes now. It’s ratcheted up in the last 5 minutes and now he’s really devastated. It’s awful and I’m getting weepy. I so badly want to go into him and gather him up in my arms and rock him to sleep, it’s a physical ache.

I have to keep asking myself, “what’s the worst that can happen?”

And really, what is the worst? He threw up a couple of times earlier on when we tried to be tougher. Apart from that, it’s just that he sounds broken, but I know logically he’s not. There’s no doubt that he’s loved absolutely.

It’s been 20 minutes. It feels like 2 hours. I finally turn on the baby monitor to see how he’s going and it’s worse than ever. So I’m giving in for now. I’ll try again later tonight. 20 minutes is pretty good for a first time. We’ll get there.

It’s 10 minutes later. He’s fast asleep, safe in the knowledge that Mum’s there. His little face softened in sleep after the first 5 minutes of gulping great sobs and holding me as close as he could, like I might fade away if he let go. It’s those moments, when he’s still sobbing and clutching me tight in fearful relief that I wonder whether my need for sleep is greater than his need for comfort. No matter how severe my sleep deprivation, the mother side of me thinks, “may be it’s not that bad.”

So why this dish today? It’s super simple, which is essential for an offline brain. It’s also (most importantly) completely delicious as each flavour speaks clearly and elegantly for itself. Finally, it’s very healthy and low in fat, which helps my brain and body keep functioning as well as possible on so little sleep.



  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 4 large red chillies
  • 3 limes
  • 20g mint, leaves and stalks
  • Chilli flakes for serving
  • Plain yoghurt for serving


  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (5cm/2 inch) piece cinnamon stick
  • 2 green cardamom pods
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced

chicken prep

Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C / 350˚F

Place the rice in a bowl with enough water to cover, set aside for 15 minutes to soak

Meanwhile, tear off 4 squares of tin foil

Place a whole chilli on each piece of foil

Take the chicken out of the fridge and put each chicken breast on top of each chilli

Zest and juice 2 of the limes

Put zest and juice from ½ a lime on each chicken breast

Cut the mint stalks to about the same length as the chicken breast and place 5g inside each foil parcel, on top of the chicken

Season with salt and pepper

Wrap up each parcel and place in a baking tray while you prepare the rice

Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat

Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, and cumin seed

Cook and stir for about a minute, then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent and soft, about 7 minutes

Drain the water from the rice, and stir into the saucepan

Cook and stir the rice for a few minutes, until lightly toasted

Add the water to the pot, and bring to a boil

Cover, and reduce the heat to low

Put the chicken parcels in the oven

Simmer the rice for about 15 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed

Let stand while the chicken finishes

Pull the chicken out of the oven, open the parcels and remove the mint and chilli, before placing the open parcels back in the oven for a final 10 minutes

Serve the chicken with the rice, chilli flakes and yoghurt – either remove the foil before serving, or let your eaters pour the delicious juices all over the rice themselves.


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