Posts tagged vegetables

The sixth food group – food created by Satan

Bless my Facebook page and the funny folk who pop by there, including the lovely dad who referred to ‘food created by satan’. Made me laugh for days, because HE’S RIGHT, some food, whilst edible, really just is evil.

What might be in that category for you will depend on your own tastebuds and experiences. Brussell sprouts seem to be pretty universal (just general grossness), others will lump in oysters (snot), peaches (furry texture), okra (slime), red meat (legs!) offal (ick!) polenta (slop) and many kids will include a long list of vegies for a variety of reasons.

And while this blog aims to help migrate many of these items over to the other five regular food groups, there will inevitably be an item or two that remains. And that’s fine.

There are ways to negotiate individual food preferences within a family setting. This Pesto chicken bake is a good example from my house. It’s a dairy-laden triumph that makes my lactose-intolerant innards shake with fear. So while my children see this and cheer with joy, I eat something from the freezer instead. It’s an easy fix to that 6th-food group problem. And while I advocate eating the same meal most of the time, a bit of variation is ok, so long as you’re all eating something healthy, together.

It look so innocent!

It looks so innocent!

Pesto & ricotta chicken bake

To pad this meal out to feed more people, feel free to add in a couple of cups of cooked pasta before baking.

Olive oil
600g chicken tenderloins, finely sliced (or buy stir-fry strips and save yourself a bit of prep time)
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cups finely diced cauliflower (I really hack away at it with my kitchen knife until it’s almost as if I’ve grated it)
1 large zucchini, grated
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp pesto (store bought is fine or see my recipe here)
125g can corn kernels (drained)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
250g tub ricotta
Salt & pepper

Turn the oven to 180C. Spray a medium baking dish with oil spray.

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and when hot, pop in the chicken and quickly stir-fry until just browned. Remove and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium. Reheat the pan. Add more oil if needed and fry the onion and cauliflower, stirring regularly for 8 minutes or so until the edges of everything are browning and the onion is turning translucent.

Toss in the zucchini and garlic. Stir well and let the aroma of the garlic waft about to make everyone hungry. Mix through the pesto. Turn off the heat.

Add in the corn, half the cheddar cheese and all of the ricotta. Combine well and pop into your prepared baking dish. Scatter the rest of the cheese over the top and bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden.

Serve with salad.

Serves 2 adults & 2-3 kids.

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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 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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Mysterious mummy superpowers (and some cute widdle salmon cakes)

I’ve managed to convince my kids that I have x-ray vision.

My superpower was revealed last weekend during a session of “guess what colour undies I’m wearing”. To the utter astonishment of my children I was able to correctly guess what colour undies they were both wearing AND my own AND daddy’s, too.

“How’d you do that?!” they wanted to know.

“I have x-ray vision.”

“No really! How’d you do that?!”

“I REALLY have x-ray vision.”

Nodding, they looked at me in awe, oblivious to the fact that as chief buyer, washerer and folderer of all the smalls at VSHQ I had a distinct advantage in the game and I’d simply just guessed the most common colour from their clothes pile.

It was luck that I was right every single time. But my status as the ‘undie-whisperer’ was cemented, and I’m now known for my mysterious super-powers – a fact which I’ll be sure to remind them off during their teenage years when they think I can’t see that packet of ciggies stashed in the bottom of their school bag.

Test out your superpowers by telling your kids to eat these mini salmon cakes, then you’ll practice your x-ray powers by looking into their tummies to count the number in there.

And I can see what vegies are in here, too, but the kids can't.

And I can see what vegies are in here, too, but the kids can’t.

Itsy widdle salmon cakes

2 large potatoes
1 cup cauliflower florets
180g can salmon in springwater, drained
2 spring onions, very finely sliced
Handful of green beans, very finely sliced (or pulsed in a mini food processor)
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Squeeze lemon juice, to taste (I like a big squeeze)
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
Salt & pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs (or blitz up a few slices of stale bread and leave it out to get even more stale for a couple of hours)
Spray oil

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.

Cook your potatoes. It’s up to you whether you bake them, steam them or be terribly unfashionable like me and just microwave them until the insides are a mashing consistency.

Cook your cauliflower. Same as above. You want it 90% cooked, still firm enough to dice finely, so that it will disappear into the potato.

Add your cooked potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Mash with a fork and mix in the cauliflower and all of the other ingredients (except the breadcrumbs). Season and combine really well.

Roll bite-sized balls of mixture, coat in breadcrumbs and place on your tray. Spray with oil spray and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully turn the balls over, spray with extra oil and cook for a further 10 minutes until golden.

Serve as is or with a dollop of mayonaise and salad.

Serves 2 adults & 2 small kids, along with salad.

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A new slow cooker favourite

Have you ever played that game with your kids where you say a word and then they say the next word that pops into their little minds? It’s good for a laugh on a long car trip. Astonishing how often a word can be followed on by the word ‘fart’ (unless you have lovely daughters, whose vocabularies are possibly a little larger).

It makes you realise how many words really do belong together. I’ll play it with myself to demonstrate.

“Bert?” “Ernie”.
“Posh?” “Becks”.
“War?” “Peace”.
“Kylie?” “Botox”, “Jason”.

Likewise, there’s a long list of flavours that just belong together.

“Bacon?” “Eggs”.
“Macaroni?” “Cheese”.
“Fish?” “Chips”.

During the winter you could come over and I could offer you a warming bowl of lamb soup, but really it sounds pretty dull, doesn’t it? Lamb & barley soup however is a classic food combination that gets people seriously excited and for good reason. It’s fan-tas-ma-gorically good, especially when combined with a heap of vegies and chucked into the slow cooker for 8 hours. This recipe is one of those golden moments of family food since it’s easy to make (no browning anything, just chuck it all in), envelops your house in a day-long saliva-inducing fragrance and results in a dinner that requires diddly-squat effort throughout the afternoon.

Even better, this pulps up beautifully into baby food and toddlers can have this as more of a stew with some of the liquid drained off.

Really it’s one of those blissful kitchen moments. Enjoy.

lamb and barley slow cooker soup

I promise your family will devour this with glee!


Slow cooker lamb & barley soup


I would urge you to make this according to the recipe without leaving anything out. All the ingredients meld to make a truly fantastic winter dish.

1 onion, finely chopped
1 fennel, finely chopped (please don’t leave this out – it is the KEY ingredient – if you truly think you hate it, then just use half)
2 carrots, peeled, diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
1 cup peeled, diced sweet potato
2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed (I give them a good thump with the side of my knife)
1 litre salt-reduced beef stock
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 fresh rosemary spring
1 fresh bay leaf (invest in a bay tree in a pot – hugely handy & the leaves are MUCH tastier than dried)
1/2 cup pearl barley, rinsed, drained
2 lamb shanks

Put all the vegies into the cooker bowl. Toss to mix them thoroughly. Pour over the stock & tomatoes. Add in the herbs and barley. Push in the shanks.

Cover and set to low for 8 hours.

Just before serving, remove the shanks to a bowl, use forks to shred the meat. Discard the bones and mix the meat back through the soup. Discard the bay leaf.

Serve with a smattering of parsley & crusty bread.

Serves 2 adults & 3 kids

If you love your slow cooker, don’t miss my new cookbook that has a bunch of recipes with 3 sets of instructions – perfect for your slow cooker, pressure cooker or regular stove-top.

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I’ve gone all food PC with these gluten-free, vegetarian fritters

As you may or may not know, I have a very strict food regime here at VSHQ. This is it…

food-policy

Yep, that’s right. It’s pretty complicated. I buy good stuff and I cook yummy things. I guess COOKING is the important word though, to me it seems like the logical key to good health. Dieters in different food camps get caught up in ingredient wars and fighting to prove that their system of eating is best, but for me that’s all a personal choice. What’s really important is that you’re taking responsibility for your ingredients and creating nourishing meals at home. And it doesn’t have to be hard – here’s a great recipe for the whole family that uses one mixing bowl and one frying pan.

Included on the ingredient list is besan flour. Also known as chickpea flour, you can find it in the larger supermarkets and health food stores. I don’t often make you seek out an ingredient, but I think this one is worth while since it’s tasty and nutritious and it just so happens that it’s also gluten-free. This recipe also happens to be vegetarian, since a bit of meat-free eating is good for the environment and it gives the little cutie creatures a night off from worry.

Toddlers might like to have a bit of mango chutney spread over their fritters, adults might like some fresh herbs and a chutney with a bit of punch, along with some salad.

Great finger food for toddlers.

Great finger food for toddlers.


Corn & carrot fritters

1 cup besan (chickpea) flour – available in larger supermarkets and health food stores
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1 carrot, grated
1 small red onion, really finely sliced (or grated, but if you do this, drain it a little)
400g can corn kernels
2-3 tbsp fresh herbs (optional) – try parsley, chives or coriander, depending on the tastebuds of your family
Oil of your choice for frying. Use as much as you’re comfortable with – I like quite a lot for this recipe!

Tip the flour and garam masala into a mixing bowl.

Whisk together the eggs and milk then tip into the flour, whisking as you go to avoid lumps. Add in the carrot, onion, corn and herbs. Combine well.

Heat a large frying pan over medium/low heat. Add the oil and when hot, use a 1/4 cup measure to dollop in some fritter mix. Once the edges set, you can gently spread the chunkier filling out so that it’s an even thickness. Cook for 3 minutes or so on each side until the onion is cooked through.

Serve with chutney of your choice and some salad.

Feeds 2 adults & 2 smaller kids, with a side of salad & pappodums.

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5 vegie-smuggling tips for parents (and a new cookbook has arrived!)

Wow! My first magazine cover!

Wow! My first magazine cover!

Since I live in Vegie Smugglers-land all the time, I forget that some folks are new to me and my blog. The ambiguous name of this website seems to cause a bit of confusion amongst visitors, so with a surge of new readers stopping by it seems like a good time to explain myself a little.

In the interest of unbiased journalism, I’ll interview myself, in the third person. That won’t be weird, will it?…

[Fake journalist] Hi Wendy, I’ve been a big fan for a while now, but I’m keen to chat and find out more about this website. And by the way, your hair is looking GREAT today.

[Me… slight uncomfortable titter] Oh well thanks FJ! Where shall we start?

[FJ] Why did you start Vegie Smugglers?

[Me] Back in the late 2000s I was in all sorts of hell, trying to get my fussy kids to eat fresh vegies. Each night was a tense standoff and usually I was the loser who finished dinner by scraping thrown food off the floor and into the bin. One night I stopped and decided, ‘THIS IS ENOUGH.’ I was determined to find the right recipes that could help me reclaim dinnertime as a happy family time. And as a massive lover of food and cooking, I wasn’t going to let two toddlers dictate the menu.

[FJ] So you created a range of recipes that contained hidden vegetables?

[Me] My major concern at the time was to get some nutrition into my kids. Both were irritable and constantly sick. I was sure that their limited diets were not helping matters. Since neither would eat reliably, I was determined that each spoonful of a meal should be packed full of nutrients so that the few bites they would eat were beneficial. It took a while, but I came up with a range of recipes that did the trick.

[FJ] Then you have no ethical problems with hiding vegies and lying to your children about their dinner?

[Me] No. None. Their health was more important to me than the truth. To break the cycle I was happy to be as sneaky as need be. All cooking is manipulating ingredients to get a delicious result. When I eat in a restaurant I’m not bothered if I don’t know all the ingredients so long as the meal tastes good.

As soon as I had my kids eating a wider range of foods, I relaxed. It triggered a whole domino effect of positivity. They ate better. Their health was better. Their behaviour and sleep patterns were better. My sanity returned and once the immediate food issues subsided I was able to move them onto phase 2, which was teaching them about the joys of healthy eating.

[FJ] And how do you do that?

[Me] Well, obviously hiding vegies is a short term solution. The aim is to transition kids from baby to adult food and this is a long and exciting journey that is totally guided by the parents.

[FJ] In what way?

[Me] Parents are the food leaders in the household so it’s up to them to continue challenging their kids try new foods and accept new flavours. They can do this by learning to cook new recipes, including the kids when buying vegies, getting them to help cook, teaching them basic nutrition and growing food in the garden. It all creates a positive and fun food environment.

[FJ] So what makes a perfect Vegie Smugglers recipe?

[Me] Firstly it must be something that everyone can eat. Possibly you can make alterations for the militant toddler, or add extra ingredients to make it more ‘adult’ once the kids are served. But everyone needs to be eating the same dish. For two reasons really, firstly, in this busy world, no one has the time to cook multiple meals and secondly, there’s no better example for kids than seeing their parents tucking into the same dinner.

Generally a Vegie Smugglers recipe needs to have easily available ingredients and be simple to make. Not all parents are keen cooks, but that’s no impediment to eating well. Rarely does a VS recipe have two stages. Some are quicker to make than others, many can be prepared ahead on a less busy day. Many freeze well and all are full of healthy ingredients.

[FJ] I’ve heard criticism that you don’t actually hide vegies in many dishes.

[Me] This is true. As I said, once the immediate nutrition concerns are being taken care of, it’s time to progress the kids onto the next stage. So you might start grating every carrot, or blitzing it up, but slowly over time you need to move to dicing things finely, then in larger chunks, until they’re accepting adult-style meals. This can take ages, and some vegies might need to be hidden for years longer – at our house we still smuggle zucchini and mushrooms – each household can prepare ingredients to suit their situation. The recipes on the blog and in the cookbooks reflect this journey and are as flexible as possible. All contain vegies, but the amount they’re ‘smuggled’ ranges from totally, to not at all.

[FJ] What are five quick vegie smuggling tips for parents?

[Me] 1. Start by chopping ingredients finely and combine them into dinners that smell and taste great. When kids can’t see and identify ingredients, they’re less likely to pick them out and complain.

2. Use lure ingredients. Like croutons submerged in a soup or pasta smothered in vegetable sauce. The kids will go for the thing they like and taste the meal on the way. Hopefully to discover that it’s worth tucking into.

3. Be realistic
about your child’s current stage of development and how it may be affecting their appetite. Toddlers eat less because they’re busy doing other things and food just isn’t interesting every day at set times.

4. Give yourself the best chance for success.
If your kids hate green stuff, don’t serve them pesto pasta. Start with a red capsicum sauce or creamy chicken. If they like bread, serve them pancakes, or if they like meat, pack meatballs full of good stuff.

5. Relax. I know it’s incredibly hard to do this, but remember that this is another phase, that if handled well, will pass. Keep a variety of healthy foods on offer, don’t succumb to their demands. Stay in charge of the menu and cook meals that you’ll enjoy even if they reject them.

[FJ] So your kids eat well now?

[Me] Miss F is almost 10 and is still naturally fussy. She dislikes most spice but has come to trust that I always cook things she should enjoy. She will eat every meal on the blog. Some she loves, some she’d rather do without, but she understands that our family food culture doesn’t revolve around her whims. Nutrition-packed dinners are still a priority since she is a light eater. If it was up to her, she would still exist on cheese, fruit and pasta. Luckily I didn’t give in, or I’d be dealing with a fussy 9 year old with malnutrition issues.

Mr M&P was more regular and has grown out of his fussy eating stage beautifully. He is now 7 and tackles everything.

Both have a full understanding of food, where it comes from, how it’s cooked and the role it plays in our family traditions. Neither currently have food, weight or nutrition issues. Both are thriving and I’m not talking myself up too much when I say that my determination has played a major role. When I see them tucking into sophisticated meals, I’m so thrilled and am totally convinced that vegie smuggling has been worth every single bit of effort. For me, food is the crucial building block that contributes to all other aspects of child development.

[FJ] And finally, do you avoid sugar or gluten or use organic produce only? And why is this blog called ‘Vegie Smugglers’ when you cook with meat?

[Me] I use vegies in everything, but am not vegetarian. This site is about encouraging a love of fresh produce in kids (and adults). Variety is my main mantra, so some recipes are vegetarian and some use meat. Many might rely on a touch of sweetness to make them kid-friendly since toddlers’ taste-buds strongly prefer this. If a teaspoon of sugar helps a whole heap of vegies get gobbled, then I’m all for it. You can ween them off it as they get older. Some recipes are gluten-free, some are dairy-free. On a blog this size, I can’t cater for everyone, all the time. I encourage people to join in on the recipes that suit their dietary regime. Organic produce is always a great idea, but I understand that not everyone can manage this.

[FJ – stretching out his long, muscular legs] Well thanks Wendy, I’ve enjoyed our chat and have enjoyed getting to know more about the ideas behind your blog. Are you free for a drink? I believe you don’t mind a wine or two?

[Me – shyly smiling, whilst flicking my super long and lustrous Swedish-blonde hair] I’ll have to say no FJ, but I’m flattered, you’re a very attractive man. Luckily I’ve got a lovely husband who’s asked me to sit and watch ‘Escape to the Country’ tonight. So I best dash off to meet him.

[FJ] No problem. And gosh, you’re obviously a great parent. Your kids haven’t interrupted our conversation even once!

[Me – smiling graciously] Well thanks! And after you leave, I’ll even let them out from under the stairs…. now… where did I leave that key?

The new cookbook is in the shop now!

The new cookbook is in the shop now!

Vegie Smugglers’ Kitchen Collection has arrived! Packed full of 125 recipes that cover…

– basics like poaching chicken and stewing fruit
– lunchbox bakes & ideas
– everyday dinners
– meals suitable for slow cookers, pressure cookers or conventional ovens
– easy ways to feed a crowd and how to cater for entire families
– special celebration recipes for birthdays, Easter, Christmas and school fetes
– four weeks of visual meal plans

Many of the recipes are freezer friendly, many are allergy friendly. I’ve deliberately kept a wide mix of ingredients and methods so that there’s something for everyone. Download samples and a full recipe index here. Check it out in the shop.

rainbow

Thanks for stopping by today. I’m proud to be an Australian independent publisher. As with most ‘mumpreneur’ businesses, I survive on tiny budgets and rely heavily on word of mouth to promote my products. I hugely appreciate all of your kind words and social media mentions.

To say thanks for reading through this whole post, I am offering you a special ‘catch up’ deal on my new book and a few other products! Click here to check it out….

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