Teaching gratitude to teenagers

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Big kids. Enjoying a bit of cheese in Paris.

 

Those of you who’ve followed me for years will have kids the same age as mine. So you are likely to also be mired in the joy of teen and pre-teen children. There’s adjustments to be made at this stage for sure, but generally I completely adore this bit of parenting. The kids are interesting, engaged and independent. But also slowly removing themselves from family life in a heartbreaking way. I miss them and their pestering little ways. The silence is sometimes deafening. But then it’s also pretty nice to have time back. I can read a book. Or sleep in. Or eat grown-up food. Suddenly my life has returned to a version of pre-kid normal. But with added people to love. It’s pretty great.

Of course, while they’re off catching buses and pursuing their own interests (screens, screens, more screens) it’s easy to forget that parenting continues. And that lessons you think are obvious may not be. We somehow assume that being a good human comes naturally. And while they do soak in the world around them by osmosis, there’s also room for a bit of blunt parental intervention. No one expects them to learn algebra without a teacher. And I think a bit of forced guidance over some of life’s more intangible aspects doesn’t go astray. Which is why I’ve created this super-simple gratitude sheet. At first they resisted doing it (of course). But then they got right into it, and we had a really good laugh comparing their answers.

And a little bit of learning may have happened. A reminder that we can be grateful every day, and it’s always good. Crucial life-lesson stuff that no-school can teach.

It’s nothing fancy at all, but feel free to download your sheet here.

gratitude-list

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Whaddya call this darl?

This recipe has been rolling around the VS kitchen for a couple of years, getting made regularly and eaten with gusto, every time. It is of course, a MEATLOAF, that daggiest of daggy old recipes, so derided and laughed at. Poor little meatloaf, it doesn’t deserve the slagging. I’m here to sing it’s praises and remind everyone of why it became so ubiquitous in the first place…

  • The recipe takes only 15 minutes to prepare, then an hour to cook, giving you crucial multitasking time to wash kids, make lunches, sneak a wine or do whatever else needs doing before serving up a delicious dinner.
  • The cooked meatloaf keeps super well in the fridge for 3-4 days and it actually gets yummier as it sits. Make it on a Sunday, eat it Monday night, then use leftovers for sandwiches, toasties or inside baked potatoes as the week goes on. It’s the meal that keeps on giving.

A few times I’ve tried to photograph it, but meatloaf falls into the category of ‘impossible-to-photograph-in-a-way-that-looks-yum’, especially these days. Working five days a week means that my good camera is dusty and everything is snapped on the iphone, moments before it gets gobbled. So forgive the poor visuals, I assure you that this is a neat little recipe, that will slot perfectly into your rotation of family-favourites.

Vegie_Smugglers_meatloaf

Italian-ish meatloaf

1kg beef mince
2 slices bread (any kind)
3 garlic cloves
2 tsp Italian herbs
1 zucchini
1 onion
1 egg (lightly beaten)
400g can crushed tomatoes
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp apple cidar vinegar

A mini food processor makes this recipe super quick & easy to prep!

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease/line a loaf tin.

Add the mince to a big mixing bowl. Place the bread (tear it up a little), garlic and herbs to the food processor to blitz into breadcrumbs. Add to the bowl. Blitz the zucchini and add to the bowl, repeat with the onion. Tip in the egg and 1/2 cup of the tomatoes. Season well.

You need to combine everything really well. A spoon works, but hands are best. Use kitchen gloves if you’re squeamish. Pack the mixture firmly into the prepared dish.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and vinegar, then add the rest of the tomatoes. Pour over the top of the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Leave to sit for 15 minutes, drain off excess liquid.

Serve with mash, or pasta, and more vegies – we like broccolini, carrots and peas.

Serves 2 adults & 4 kids.

vs-mega-bundle

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Getting kids to eat vegetables is completely do-able. Here’s how…

Every now and again I read an article outlining the decline in healthy eating among all age groups and want to scream. This one today in the Sydney Morning Herald reports on the declining number of 18-month-old toddlers who eat the recommended daily amount of vegies.

Getting healthy food into toddlers is not sexy or fun work. There’s plenty of frustration and effort wasted. But it is SO important to keep trying.

Originally this blog started as I struggled to feed my daughter. It was the place I posted all my successes (and fails) as I tried (and tried again) to find recipes that were full of nutrition that tasted good enough for the whole family to eat.

My little girl turns 14 this year. And she’s still not a particularly enthusiastic eater (she missed out on my glutton gene). But she DOES eat everything. Healthy food is part of her every day.

While my second child had a fussy stage but then went on to love all food, without concerted effort, my girl easily would have progressed from a fussy toddler, to child, then teen. I can’t over-emphasise how worthwhile our Vegie Smuggling journey has been for her and her healthy-life prognosis.

So if you’re struggling with a toddler who hates vegetables, don’t despair. Keep going, keep trying. You will get there.

Here are some of the basic meals that helped me find my first vegie-smuggling victories…

a meal that smuggles all vegies

Cheesy pots!

Adam's bolognaise

The best bolognaise sauce! Serve dollops in large pasta shells.

Vegie Smuggling chicken sausage rolls

Chicken sausage rolls (with mushrooms and lentils).

shepherds pie

Shepherd’s Pie (with 6 vegies)

Salmon Pikelets

Try the salmon pikelets (easy to hold and munch)

And if these recipes look good to you, check out my shop for about 300 more recipes!

Toddler Recipes: What (and how) to feed fussy eaters

Advice on how to get your toddler eating a wide variety of vegetables with 26 clever recipes that smuggle the healthy ingredients in.

Comments (4) »

How to get your kids packing their own healthy lunches

That first week back to school is exciting, isn’t it! We’re back into the year with a thud – both my kids have switched schools, so there’s new routines, buses, uniforms, friends, and a new level of independence from me. They are loving it all, and I’m trying to not take it personally that they’re so happy to be free.

Miss F has started HIGH SCHOOL. Something that still freaks me out. She’s also the same height as me and has longer feet, so I guess I’ve had an inkling for a while that she’s growing up. With her new independent lifestyle, comes a new chunk of responsibility – one of which is packing her own lunchbox.

She’s happy to take on this bit of adulting. But it’s interesting to realise that even after years of daily lunches that follow the same formula, she wasn’t too sure of how to go about it. So I’ve done her up a help sheet, to give her a visual cue about the proportions she’s aiming for. You can download one too, by clicking here.

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A quick visual cue to help the kids navigate their way.

We’re packing the lunches together this week (I still do my son’s), then she’s away. I’ll check in from time to time, but since there isn’t much junk in my pantry, I know that her choices will probably be pretty good. Any junk she buys from the canteen will be with her money and there’s nothing I can do about that. I remember eating Mars Bars and drinking Coke at school. I turned out ok.

Letting go of the kids is tough, but it’s important to recognise when to stop babying them. For me, it’s time to take on the role of life coach, rather than tyrant.

(Note that this sheet is based loosely on the Australian Government’s healthy eating guidelines – I find these proportions suit my household. Many people don’t agree and if you don’t, then maybe just take the idea and draw up your own helpsheet that reflects your ethos – please don’t email me to correct my nutrition ignorance…)

 

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If you need help navigating lunch boxes for younger kids, check out my ebook!

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Your reminder to take care of yourself

sunshine

Blue skies. Palm trees. Sunshine.

It’s been MANY months since I last blogged, neatly reminding me of the fact that this has been a tough year.

I think all of us have those moments where life seems to collapse. Unexpected events, illness, death, mental health issues, self-imposed mummy breakdowns. Awful things that can actually be helpful from time to time – they keep you humble and living consciously. They make you stop the autopilot, question everything and slowly piece together new solutions.

When you tackle them right, you come out of them stronger, with the knowledge that life goes on, love always wins, and small daily actions make the biggest difference to long-term happiness. I’ve come to realise that some habits are crucial for my general well being. I’m sharing them. Because maybe you’re having a tough time and can’t find the perspective you need to shift things. So consider this a reminder of helpful life choices that will help the sun reappear in your world.

  1. Yoga. I’ve banged on about it before, but this is the thing that helps me the most. It can ground, energise or sooth  me. Mostly I use http://www.yogaglo.com – they have all yoga styles in classes of varying lengths, so there’s no reason for me to miss too many days. Here’s a link to one of my favourite teachers and a practise I use OFTEN….
  2. Meditation. Again, you don’t have to spend long on this. Often a 5 or 10 minute session will do. Check out the Insight Timer app. It’s awesome. If you need to check out for a few days, try the Brahma Kumaris centres.
  3. Exercise. High intensity gym-stuff isn’t my thing. Walking is basically all I do (you don’t even need activewear). I walk alone or with my hubby and kids. Walking in nature is nearly my favourite thing. We’ve been doing that a lot.
  4. Good food. In times of crisis, a burger is not your friend. Chocolate will not save you. I promise. Shoving as many healthy ingredients into your gob is the best way to feel good. Perhaps cooking doesn’t appeal, but there’s still a bunch of easy recipes that barely cause a mess and that taste great. Try these…
vegie-smugglers-green-smoothie

Green smoothie. A cliche, yes. But a great way to start the day.

vegie smugglers breakfast ice cream

An easy and excellent breakfast idea.

Easy pumpkin soup (only 4 ingredients)

Easiest pumpkin soup, ever.

vegie-smugglers-pantry-tuna-shakshouka

Shakshouka makes a great brunch, lunch or dinner and uses up anything you’ve got in the pantry.

  1. vegie-smugglers-quesadillas

    Vegie quesadillas – easy. Yum.

     

5. Feed your brain something new. By this I mean, make sure you’re reading something interesting, studying something that gives you new skills, listening to music that affects you, spending time (even 15 minutes) being creative or watching Love Island and having a laugh. New stimulus leads to new thoughts and keeps life fresh.

Starting new habits can seem like a hassle, but please keep going. So many mums work exhaustively to keep their kids healthy, but do nothing for themselves. Fuss over yourself a bit. You’re worth it.

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It also feels good to finish off any projects. Like this one – I’ve had this on the go for a couple of years, but I’ve finally finished it. It’s everything I’ve learned about feeding fussy kids! Find more details over at the shop.

Toddler Recipes: What (and how) to feed fussy eaters

Advice on how to get your toddler eating a wide variety of vegetables with 26 clever recipes that smuggle the healthy ingredients in.

 

And while I rarely post here, I am still about a bit on Instagram and Facebook.

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All the latest recipes – breakfast, treats & dinner, done.

Regardless of how busy a family is, the annoying truth remains that people want to be fed, every day. So while term 1 ended up being kind of crazy at VSHQ, recipes were made and food was scoffed.

The plan was to take lovely proper photos of these recipes before I posted them, but along with darning the hole in my favourite Seed jumper and filing my tax documents in a logical system, it’s just never going to happen, so here’s all the recipes that kept us going (with dodgy iPhone pics)…

 

Banana & frozen raspberry smoothie

2 small overripe bananas
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
2 tsp berry nutrition powder of your choice (there’s a massive range in chemists these days)
Several dollops of greek yoghurt
Enough milk to make it the consistency you like.

Pop everything in the blender/food processor & blitz.

Serves 2

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Quick bacon, pea & pasta soup

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan on med/high heat.

Add….

250g bacon
1 red onion
2 sticks celery
1 big carrot (all finely diced).

Sauté 10-15 mins. Stir sometimes.

Stir in …
2 tsp Italian herbs.

Pour over …
1 litre chicken stock &
3 cups frozen peas.

When back to the boil, serve over cooked pasta. Top with pepper, herbs, Parmesan.

Serves 2 adults, 3-4 kids.

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Corn & carrot fritters

Mix 1 cup self-raising flour
1 tsp garam masala
2 cups corn kernels
1 large carrot (grated)
2 tbsp fresh herbs
2 whisked eggs
1/3 cup milk.

Fry in a med/hot lick of oil until golden each side.

Great topped with pepper, avocado, sweet chilli, cottage cheese & a squeeze of lemon.

Makes about 8.

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Six-ingredient potato salad (dairy-free)

Put 1kg salad potatoes (unpeeled) into cold water (cut any bigger ones in half first).

Bring to boil. Pierce with a knife after 10 min to check cookedness 😄. Drain.

Meanwhile whisk….
1/2 cup mayonaise &
juice of 1 lemon in a salad bowl.

Add…..
1 grated carrot &
1/2 fennel bulb (finely sliced).

Toss in hot potatoes. Season. Scatter 1/2 bunch dill.

Serve hot or cold.

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Oozy chocolate, raspberry & banana muffins 

Mix….
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar

In a jug whisk…..
1/4 cup oil (of your choice)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Wet stuff into dry stuff then stir in…..
2 mashed bananas
1/2 cup chocolate chunks/chips
3/4 cup frozen berries.

Bake 180c for 30 mins. Makes 12.

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I am chucking recipes up on Facebook and Instagram, so keep in touch there. And don’t forget that my gloriously gorgeous “Vegie Smuggler’s Kitchen Collection” cookbook, with its 125+ family-friendly recipes will become an e-book only mid this year. So if you want a piece of real-life Vegie Smuggling fun, get in quick. Visit the shop here.

 

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Like these recipes? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

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The end of parenting? It feels like it here.

Last year I looked at my kids and realised that they were growing up. Quickly.

All those hours of blood (theirs), sweat (mine) and tears (all of ours), spent on my parenting quest were reaching a crescendo. While I know that parenting never ends (just ask my mum, who still parents me brilliantly at 76), it was apparent that the first phase of raising kids was almost done. Miss F catches two buses to get to school. Mr M&P walks himself home. Both wash their own hair, wipe their own bums and can unpack the dishwasher without breaking stuff. There’s no more cuddling at the school gate or overt PDAs.  Especially in front of tween friends. I mean, like, muuuuuuummmm, like, you are, like, WAY embarrassing.

And I reached that curious point where I realised it’s time to take charge of my own life and try to negotiate my way back into my career. To update my qualifications I’ve headed back to uni for a bit of postgrad study. It’s a big culture shock considering the last time I studied I didn’t even have an email address, but so far the challenge is stressful awesome.

But I was kidding myself that I’d have to time to do it all. The kids, while increasingly independent still need constant care. There’s the domestics, a part-time graphic design job and this business to tend.

Which leaves bugger-all time for blogging. Especially about cooking, which I’m doing less of. So over the next few months my posts may dry up. Do keep popping by – as I find favourite new recipes I’ll be sure to share (like this insanely good stirfry, below).  They’ll probably be healthy, tasty  & quick meals that suit my older kids. If that appeals to you, you might want to subscribe so you don’t miss any.

And of course if your focus is still toddlers and fussy eaters, there’s always all the lovely cookbooks that you can buy here at my shop.

For me, this Vegie Smuggling journey has been entirely worth all the effort. Watching my kids happily tuck into a huge range of healthy food is one of my proudest parenting achievements.

vegie-smugglers-easy-stirfry

 

Super easy stirfry

2 tbsp peanut oil (or olive oil is fine)
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (use the jar stuff if you prefer)
1 red onion, diced
500g pork mince
1/2 eggplant, peeled, finely diced (I mean it – about a 5mm dice)
1 red capsicum, diced
1 small head of broccoli, cut into little florets or use a bunch of broccolini, slicing all the stalks thinly.
Snow peas

To serve: rice, coriander, basil, chives, chilli

Mix the oil, sauces, garlic and ginger in a ceramic or glass bowl. Add the mince and use a spoon (or your hand) to combine everything well. If you have time, leave this mix to marinate (you can leave it all day if you like).

Heat a wok or large frying pan over your highest heat. Add a splash of oil and stir fry the onion for a couple of minutes until turning translucent and golden. Pop in the mince and use the spoon to break up lumps and brown it well. Chuck the eggplant into the pan. It will suck up any pork fat and after 3-4 minutes will be soft and yum. Don’t rush this stage – the eggplant just gets gorgeously gooey and takes up all the flavour, so make sure you cook it well now (uncooked eggplant is gross).

Finish by adding in the capsicum and broccoli for a couple of minutes, before mixing through the snow peas.

Serve over rice and top with plenty of fresh herbs & chilli (kids might like to skip this bit).

Serves 2 adults and 2 bigger kids.

real-healthy-families

Like this recipe? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

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