Vegie-filled dinners that your toddlers can feed to themselves

As fun as it is to try and force a spoon into the firmly shut gob of a child aged between 18 months and 3, sometimes it’s entirely GREAT to be able to serve them dinner and walk away in the hope that they will manage to get something into their own mouth. Particularly if your child is going through a “ME DO IT” phase, then these dinners might bring you a little bit of relief. (Click on the photos to link through to the recipe).

Vegie Smugglers cheese puffs recipe

Cheesy puffs – serve with a side of poached chicken, beans and carrot.

thai chicken meatballs

Chicken meatballs. Noodles optional.

vegie smugglers beef triangles with vegetables and puff pastry

Beef triangles

Perfect for independent toddlers

Lentil, sweet potato & rice balls

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The parenting space/time continuum (and egg foo yung)

Before you have kids, no one tells you that at some stage during those early, murky years of parenting, the switch will flip on your life. Careless days and endless possibilities morph into a sense that you’re running out of time. If you want to change careers, you better get the hell on with it (particularly if you need to study for a while). One day in the supermarket you’re going to switch straight from buying blemish face wash to some cream promising to erase lines and age spots. That you’re going to suddenly walk into a chain store and realise that you don’t any clue about how to wear the current fashion (and really, you maybe look a bit stupid in it, anyway). And then one day, you look over at your kids and rather than seeing them tipping cereal on the floor from their highchair, you realise that they’ve just gotten breakfast by themselves.

My brother had kids several years before me and I remember him saying, “it just goes by so fast.” Looking down at my baby and toddler I had the strong thought, “no, I think this sleepless, constantly sick, financially strapped, crying, difficult time is going to last forever.” But he was right. It does go by so fast.

Hug your kids today. Take a video of them just doing something simple so that you can remember this time. Be mindful at dinner. Listen to what they say. Cuddle them while they still want you to. Love them and be glad.

vegie smugglers egg foo yung

Egg foo yung.


Egg foo yung

Make the chicken mince up ahead and store it in the fridge, then make up an omelette for each family member as they make it home from their various mid-week commitments OR make them up completely, refrigerate them and just reheat in the pan when you’re hungry.

peanut oil
250g chicken mince
5 mushrooms, very finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
Big splash soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
Pepper
1½ cups chinese cabbage, finely shredded
¾ cup peas
8 eggs
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp shao hsing wine

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a medium sized frying pan over high heat. Carefully add in the chicken mince and stir it, breaking up lumps as you go.

Once the chicken is nearly all browned, add in the mushrooms and spring onions. Continue to stir everything. Splash over some soy, sprinkle the sugar and season with pepper. Leave it to cook away while you prepare the other ingredients. After 5 minutes or so, once the chicken is totally cooked, tip into a bowl and set aside.

I find it easiest to cook each omelette separately….

Break two eggs into a bowl. Whisk them along with the 1 tsp soy and 1 tsp rice wine. Scatter in ¼ the cabbage and peas. Add ¼ the cooked chicken mixture and combine it all well.

Pop a small frying pan over med/high heat, add 2 tsp oil and once hot, pour in the omelette mixture. After 4-5 minutes the omelette will be setting a little, turn over carefully and cook for another minute on the other side.

Repeat with the rest of the mixture to make 3 more omelettes.

Adults might like to serve this with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce and coriander.

Makes 4 omelettes

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Slow cooker tomato & pasta soup

Is it just me, or has Facebook become increasingly bossy? My feed is inundated with THINGS I MUST DO: 9 photos every mother should have on her phone. 22 things to do with your kids before they move out. 5 essentials for their daily lunchbox. 15 foods to stop eating IMMEDIATELY. 17 tips for a loving marriage. 8 ways to express gratitude to your children. 18 things to do with old socks. 101 tips for a fulfilling life…. etc etc etc etc

All of which leaves me exhausted, harangued and vaguely guilty (since I’ve only got 3 photos, 15 things done, 2 lunchbox essentials, 5 foods I won’t eat, 12 more things needed for my marriage to be a success, all my old socks go straight into the rubbish and I never finished reading about everything needed for fulfillment).

So this post isn’t bossy at all. It’s just one way, which happens to be a really easy way, to make tomato soup that is very kid friendly and easily jazzed up to be delicious for grown ups too. The slow cooker makes it insanely simple.

Make it if you want – or don’t. Totally up to you.

vegie smugglers slow cooker tomato and pasta soup

Only one idea here, but it is a nice easy one.

Slow cooker tomato & pasta soup

1 1/2 litres vegetable stock
800g can crushed tomatoes
1 large tomato (or two roma tomatoes), diced
1 red onion, diced
1 red capsicum, diced
1 large carrot, peeled, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled, chopped into a few pieces
1/2 tsp sugar
1 cup risoni soup pasta (stick to small pasta that cooks in under 8-9 minutes to avoid a starchy mess – the pasta in the picture is the biggest I’d try)

Place everything, except the pasta, into your slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours (it’s actually ready after 6, but cooking it for longer to suit your day’s schedule won’t be a problem).

Use a stick blender to blitz your soup up to a smooth consistency. Toss in the pasta. Stir well and recover. Leave for 25-30 minutes until your pasta is cooked.

Serve with bread, grilled cheese on toast, or adults might like a scattering of parsley, basil, chopped fresh tomato, feta and olives.

Serves 2 adults and 3-4 kids

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Taking the spice challenge with this lamb pilaf

Along with a strong dislike of most vegetables, my delightful daughter has always been vehemently anti-spice. And while I’ve now gotten her to a point where she will eat a wide variety of vegies and a whole range of flavour profiles, she will still FREAK OUT if there’s anything in her dinner that makes her tongue HOT.

My workaround has always been to create mild versions of dishes that use small amounts of all the flavour spices but omit any ‘hot’ ingredients like cayenne pepper or chilli. Generally this has worked well. But following my theory that you should continually push kids just slightly out of their food comfort zone, I’ve continued to push her heat boundaries.

Finally a couple of years back I found a breakthrough dish – this nachos recipe which has a decent slug of sweet chilli sauce. She adores it to the point where she actually begs me to make it. That felt like a major achievement. But never one to rest on my laurels, I’ve continued to push with the amount and type of heat I can use. There’s been a few misses and a few hits, the latest being this lamb pilaf, which actually has a half teaspoon of chilli powder. I use a mild mexican one which adds a hint of oomph, but is still insanely child-friendly.

So the days of a vindaloo may still be far off, but on nights when the rest of the household is seeking a bit of flavour, I’m finding this dish is working well.

lamb pilaf vegie smugglers

Extra milk for Miss F who needs several glasses to sooth her burning tongue.

Lamb pilaf

1/4 cup pinenuts

2 tbsp oil of your choice (or use ghee)
400g lamb rump steaks, finely diced
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 – 1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 finger eggplant, finely diced
1 cup basmati rice
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
1 cup pumpkin, grated
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups beef stock (hot)
1 cup peas

Mint & parsley (optional)

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pinenuts and stir and toast until golden (keep an eye on them, they go from raw to burnt in a jiffy). Remove & set aside.

Place a large saucepan over a medium/high heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and when hot toss in the lamb. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly until brown all over. Remove and set aside.

Add the rest of the oil and reheat the pot. Toss in the onion and cook, stirring often for 4-5 minutes until turning golden. Add the garlic, spices and eggplant. Stir for another minute then pour in the rice. Combine everything really well before adding in all of the grated vegies. Carefully pour over the hot stock and add the paste. Return the meat to the pan, mix everything together and pop on the lid. Simmer on medium heat for 12 minutes until the rice is 95% cooked.

Quickly toss through the peas and recover for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for another 5 minutes to allow the last of the liquid to absorb. (This dish does tread a fine line between uncooked rice and mush – you’ll need to use these times as a guide only and adjust to suit your kitchen’s cooking conditions).

Toss through the pinenuts and the herbs (if using).

Serves 2 adults and 3-4 kids.

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A little piece of lunchbox happy

Don’t know about you, but I’ve got the serious BLAHS.

Winter is blah. Northern hemisphere friends taunt me on Facebook with glorious shots of their fun summer holidays.

Finances are blah. I’ve just been revisiting our seriously large mortgage, which never leaves anyone in a cheery state.

The kids are blah. Although really they’re a joy, they’re also surrounded by school projects, permission notes and birthday parties that require a level of involvement for me, without any particular satisfaction.

And to top it all off, it’s education week. And while I love visiting the classrooms and seeing every page of every book that the kids have touched this year, and I love to see them excited about me being there, and I love to see their achievements, I can SO DO WITHOUT sitting through any more school performances. Lordy lord how I wish I were home with a cup of tea rather than in a draughty school hall working my way through the various bands, choirs, ensembles and dance troupes. And there’s some parenting murphy’s law that states that your child will always be in the last group, forcing your participation in the full morning.

Still, eventually you do make it home, and hopefully you’ve got the jug ready to boil and a nice little piece of a slice like this one, that’s perfect for a kid’s lunchbox treat, but yum enough for the parents to find satisfaction, too.

Get them excited about their lunchbox!

Get them excited about their lunchbox!

Coconut, sultana & lemon slice

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup raw sugar
3/4 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup sultanas
Zest 1 lemon
125g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp bicarb soda, mixed into 1 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line an 18x28cm slice tin with baking paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, coconut, sultanas & lemon zest.

Place a small saucepan over low/medium heat. Melt the butter and golden syrup. Once melted, scrape in the bicarb/water mix and stir well.

Pour the butter mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine well. Tip into your baking tray and press down evenly. Use the heel of your hand to press it in really well.

Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin before slicing.

Cut into 20 squares.

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If you’re after a healthier addition to their lunchbox, check out these Oat, sultana & sesame seed biscuits or these home-made muesli bars.

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What’s on the menu this week?

Needing a bit of inspiration? Here’s what’s on the menu at my place this week…. (as always, click the photos to go through to the recipes)…

MONDAY
It’s gonna be a busy day, so I’ll get the rice cooker going to make this cauliflower & cashew pilaf….

vegie smugglers cauliflower and cashew pilaf

Pilaf. Fun to say and good to eat.

TUESDAY
I finish work at 3, so I’ve got time in the afternoon to whip up some some chicken yakitori skewers (and yell at the kids to do their homework)…

vegie smugglers yakitori skewers

Food on sticks is always a winner.

WEDNESDAY
Wednesdays are busy. I’m at work during school hours and then it’s swimming classes. So I actually will have whipped up this beef canneloni earlier in the week and it’ll be in the fridge, waiting for us to just reheat it…

Cheese, pasta (and tomatoes, onions, fennel, spinach & carrot). Shhhhh.

Cheese, pasta (and tomatoes, onions, fennel, spinach & carrot). Shhhhh.

THURSDAY
One thing that we could eat more of is fish, so I’ll pop this on the list for this week. My kids will eat anything if it’s rolled up into a lightsaber-style wrap. Roll them tight and secure with foil. The kids can peel as they munch, which somehow makes it all a more fun scenario.

vegie smugglers fish burritos

Adults might like some bottled jalapenos to add a bit of kick.

FRIDAY
Our latest quick dinner favourite is baked potatoes. If I’m exhausted by friday night then I just mash the insides together with grated cheese, a tin of tuna (with the oil) and 125g can of corn. On a better night I’ll also add in a finely chopped mushroom, tomato and even fennel. Top it with some cucumber and spinach leaves and it’s all just DELICIOUS. And wine. Did I mention wine? There’s always wine on a Friday night.

SATURDAY
With the cold weather still lingering, I’m loving an old-style Saturday night family dinner. With Mr VS home late all week, this is often the only night where we get to all have a meal together. So I make sure that it’s something that everyone loves. And often there’ll be dessert. These cutlets and crumble will be perfect.

Yum, and easier cooked in the oven.

Yum, and easier cooked in the oven.

Just quietly - this apple & berry crumble is a bit yummier than the one my granny used to make!

Just quietly – this apple & berry crumble is a bit yummier than the one my granny used to make!

Have a great week!

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The current slurping favourite

Like my men, I prefer a hearty & full flavoured soup with chewable chunky bits that will leave me sated for hours afterwards. (Apologies, I know that’s a tawdry joke, straight from the gutter – my brain is suffering winter shrinkage.)

Being an innocent and gorgeous little child, Miss F prefers a more refined soup, lump-free with a mild and gentle flavour.

Usually I make rough & ready soups like this chicken noodle, or this lamb & barley, but in a moment of sophistication I recently whipped up this roasted vegie soup for the family and it is now a firm favourite. Last time I made it, Miss F devoured THREE SERVES, which was an absolute first. It was helped along of course, by sourdough dippers.

Not often do I ask you to do a recipe in two stages (here you roast vegies before adding them to your pot), in fact I only ask you to do it, if it’s worth doing. And in this case, it is. Roasting the vegies brings out the natural sweetness and adds a definite yumminess.

Silky smooth carrot, parsnip & cauliflower soup.

Silky smooth carrot, parsnip & cauliflower soup.


Roasted carrot (and other stuff) soup

5 large carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise
1 large parsnip, peeled, sliced into lengths the same thickness as the carrot
Olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp curry powder
8 cups stock (I like the salt-reduced chicken stock, but obviously vegie stock will keep this dish vegetarian)
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/4 cup red lentils, rinsed, drained
Salt & pepper
Cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 220C. Line a baking tray with kitchen paper. Spread the carrots and parsnips over in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat evenly. Bake for 35-40 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, place a large saucepan over low/medium heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and when hot, toss in the onion. Cook, stirring often for 6-8 minutes until softening and turning golden. Throw in the garlic and spices. Stir for a minute so that the fragrance of the spice releases. Pour over the stock, cover the pot and bring to the boil.

When boiling, add the cauliflower and lentils. Recover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, adding the roasted vegies whenever they’re ready (they need to simmer in with everything for at least 10-15 minutes, so just extend the simmering time if need be).

Use a stick blender to blitz the soup into a lovely smooth texture. Season to taste.

Serve with crusty bread and an optional slurp of cream. (Adults might also like a scattering of coriander.)

Serves 2 adults and 3-4 kids.

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