Archive for Food experiences

Is your toddler a fussy eater? Here’s how to solve it

Won't eat vegies. Will lick mixing bowls.

Won’t eat vegies. Will lick mixing bowls.

By far the most common email I get is from stressed parents (actually it’s always mothers, but I’m being PC) of toddlers aged 2-3 who refuse to eat anything much and particularly won’t eat vegetables.

Getting the little darlings to put food into their gobs isn’t generally the problem. Ice-creams, lollies and chips usually disappear without any delay whatsoever, but finding a way to get any amount of fresh produce down the hatch is a constant and miserable drama that is starting to impact the family wellbeing (and mum’s sanity).

Does this sounds like you? Have dinners become miserable? Is your toddler holding you to food ransom?

Firstly, let me assure you that I feel your pain. This site exists due to my own experiences dealing with these issues. Back in 2006 when my daughter started causing me these headaches, I looked everywhere and really didn’t find too much helpful information. There were ‘cooking with kids’ books, which focused around getting them to bake treats and top pizzas. And there were ‘healthy kids’ books, written by nutritionists who insisted that all I had to do was serve my kids burgul salad and all would be well. Considering the short list of foods that were acceptable at the time, this idea was beyond laughable.

These days, there are a lot of good resources to help parents out, but I like to think that I’ve got some great ideas and recipes here to help you, in fact enough that I wanted to collate them into one toddler-specific post.

The good news is, that I’m living proof that this toddler behaviour is manageable and that you can overcome it. Now aged 8 and 6, both my fussy eaters are fantastic and will eat most things. It’s been a long but worthwhile road, one I would do all over again to achieve the outcome of healthy kids, without food issues who enjoy flavours and will take a food adventure with me.

I truly believe that if I had indulged them, to keep the peace, and maintained our limited menu, I would still be dealing with children who ‘won’t eat that’. Because one thing is certain, children who aren’t offered healthy food, definitely don’t eat it.


• Why do I create my recipes the way I do? Click here to see a list of ten tips for smuggling vegies.

• Feeling overwhelmed? If this toddler behaviour is all new, read this post “Please help Vegie Smugglers, my child only eats…”

• More specific help. And if you need more help about dealing with toddler food behaviour, read “How to get fussy kids to try new foods.”

• Find inspiration. Click here for more of my personal story, and a great toddler tinned-spaghetti recipe.

• Recipes. Then of course you’ll need more fabulous recipes suitable for toddlers. As with most of my recipes, I aim to make them interesting enough for the whole family (no one wants to cook twice a night). Often I’ll suggest ways to ‘adult up’ a meal, by adding extra ingredients once you’ve served the kids. I’ve got a post about that, and a recipe for tomato & lentil pasta, both for you and your toddlers here.

• Even more recipes! You can see a selection of meal ideas here. Also, browse this entire blog. There are over 150 recipes on here that are all aimed at feeding fussy kids.

If you find all of this info helpful, and want even more recipes, you may want to buy the books or ebooks. Your purchase will benefit your family AND keep me afloat and able to whip up even more great ideas for you in the future.

Good luck and keep me posted on how you go!


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Ok, confess, how often do you eat McDonalds…

The food cum shot.

The food stylist’s food porn.

For us, McDonalds goes hand in hand with long car trips. It’s firmly entrenched as a family tradition and is just the enticement the kids need to KEEP IT TOGETHER on those long haul car trips. Like the other day, when we drove from Tenterfield to Newcastle. Turned out that Armidale was just the perfect time for a Maccas lunch.

Are you shocked that I feed my kids McDonalds? Usually it’s a twice a year treat, but so far this year, they’ve already eaten it three times. And I don’t really care. I don’t like the concept of taboo foods. I’d prefer to raise food-savvy kids, educated and able to enjoy everything without guilt. They just need to learn how often they should eat certain things.

Do you know parents who say, “We NEVER feed our kids fast food”? Such smugness bugs me. It’s right up there with those parents who also survive wonderfully without TVs and video games, who never yell at their kids or have a bad parenting moment. I’ve never mastered such parenting perfection. My kids and I live in the real world full of temptations and things that are bad for us. If I keep those lures magically out of reach, I can only imagine the rebellion, when as teens they can take their own money and scoff as many burgers as they want.

Did my kids enjoy their McDonalds cuisine? Not really (they prefer my nuggets which are apparently tastier) and part of me is always happy when we get to the end and the kids haven’t really been into it. Except for the toy. They always love the crappy toy.

Feeling brave, I ordered a sweet chilli chicken wrap. Safe to say that it was disgusting. All oozy and inedible. Have you noticed the current trend for fast-food ooze? The final food shot in all the ads has burgers and wraps oozing sauce. Looks gross to me, but it must be popular, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon, oozing away with my own version of a sweet chilli chicken wrap. Of course mine has pumpkin, spring onion and bamboo shoots in it, which means that it actually tastes good, too.

Thai style chicken chilli wraps

500g chicken mince
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs, (I make fresh ones from stale bread)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp lemon grass (or lemon rind)
4 spring onions
225g can bamboo shoots, rinsed, drained
1 cup grated pumpkin
1 egg, lightly whisked
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
0-2 tbsp Thai red curry paste (NOTE: To appease everyone in my household, I skip the paste, to keep them blander for Miss F – then I add extra toppings in the wraps for adults. But if your whole family likes spice then add in some paste – it’s yum.)

To serve: Store bought wraps of your choice, spinach leaves, grated carrot, coriander, sweet chilli sauce.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Pop the mince into a large mixing bowl.

Use a mini food processor to whizz up the breadcrumbs, garlic and lemon grass/rind. Tip into the bowl.

Blitz the spring onion, add to the bowl and repeat with the bamboo shoots. Also add in the pumpkin (you can blitz it, but I actually prefer the texture of it grated) and the egg and all the sauces/pastes.

Wear kitchen gloves and use your hands to combine everything really well. Note that the mixture is SLOPPY! It will firm up during cooking. Form small patties, or long ‘chicken tender’ shapes and place on the tray.

Spray with cooking oil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and carefully turn over. Spray with more oil and cook for another 15-20 minutes until cooked through (break one open and check that the mince is no longer pink).

Serve with salad on wraps, with an extra dollop of sweet chilli sauce and lashings of coriander for the adults.

Serves 2 adults and 3 kids.

USE LEFTOVERS THE NEXT DAY... make a lunch salad with bits of chicken patties, spinach, carrot, fennel, avocado, sesame seeds and a sprinkle of brown vinegar - I just ate it and IT WAS DELICIOUS.

USE LEFTOVERS THE NEXT DAY… make a lunch salad with bits of chicken patties, spinach, carrot, fennel, avocado, sesame seeds and a sprinkle of brown vinegar – I just ate it and IT WAS DELICIOUS.


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The Youtube culinary institute…

Armed and (mildly) dangerous.

Armed and (mildly) dangerous.

I never hide the fact that I’m not a trained chef. Considering my recipes are all for everyday family life, I’ve actually considered my lack of formal training to be a bit of an advantage. It means that my cookbooks are full of recipes that can be cooked by anyone – I never make an assumption that you know how to make a roux or whip up pastry.

But as I’ve cooked more and more, I’ve obviously gotten pretty good in the kitchen and as I’ve built confidence, I’ve given myself more challenges. Whenever I want to tackle something I’m unsure of, I’ll just do a search online and find some instructional video that gives me the confidence to HAVE A GO (ya mug).

The quality of online videos varies wildly, from the great to the hideous, so in the interest of giving you a red hot go in the kitchen, here are some links to good videos showing you how to tackle some everyday kitchen skills…

The basis of nearly every dinner – how to dice an onion.

If you love making casseroles in your slow cooker, you might want to know how to cut up a raw chicken into eight pieces. If that makes you squeamish, you might prefer this video – how to carve a roast chicken, which is also handy (mine never look like this!).

Have a perfect ‘mom’ moment by knowing how to perfectly cream butter and sugar.

Then you might want to separate eggs. And then of course you’ll need to know how to beat eggwhites. (You can also watch this one in Italian, just for something a bit exotic).

Take your patisserie skills even further and learn how to make choux pastry. If you’re feeling like pickling some pickles or jamming some jam, you’ll need to know how to sterilise jars. And for the ultimate Donna-Hay-presentation-moment, here’s five ways to finish your pie crusts.

For a bit of celebrity, here Gordon Ramsey cooks a cheese sauce. And here Curtis Stone shows us when fish is cooked (and let’s face it, we’ll avidly watch pretty Curtis do pretty much anything).

For lovers of japanese food, here is how to cook perfect sushi rice. And finally, a wacky one from my favourite Youtube channel – Cook with Dog. How to make a bento box.

Happy learning!

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Winter is coming…

Ok, yes, it’s a ‘Game of Thrones’ reference. After sitting through the first season of gore, blood, betrayal and beheadings, I’ve opted out of seasons 2 & 3. Mr VS is disappointed, but gallantly soaking up the next episodes without me (then reporting in with full step-by-step plot updates, complete with actions).

While the blood was a bit much, I did relate to the tension and foreboding over the upcoming Winter. I mean really, who LIKES winter? No one in Sydney, where the houses aren’t heated properly and we all sit about shivering our bums off for a few months. But while the Seven Kingdoms prepare for an unknown winter that may last a lifetime, I’m feeling more optimistic about one that lasts about 10 weeks. Especially with a stash of recipes that warm my soul and tide me over until the jasmine vines all start to flower.

Here are some of my favourites (click the pics to link through to the recipes)…

vegie smugglers chicken curry recipe

Chicken curry.

vegie smugglers pumpkin and lentil soup recipe

Pumpkin, corn & lentil soup.

chicken and tarragon one pot winter warmer by vegie smuggers

Chicken & tarragon one-pot.

Vegie Smugglers boston baked beans

Boston baked beans.

Stewed apples.

Stewed apples.

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Chunky vegetable & bean soup

So how am I going with the pressure cooker that Kambrook sent me? Well, it took a bit of courage to tackle but after some experimentation, I’m happy to report that I’m digging it.

The poor old slow cooker is gathering dust while I romance with its whizzy, fast cousin. They’re perfect for the same kind of dishes, but something that would cook for 8 hours in the slow cooker, is done in 20 minutes. Seriously. So while you do still have to do all the prep work (chopping, browning, sautéing etc), you’re not doing it at 8am when the smell of browning meat can be a little nauseating.

I rate it.

Here’s my first win – a vegetable and bean soup that borders on a stew. Always a sucker for a really chunky soup, I’ve kept the liquid minimal, but if you want it wetter, add an extra cup of stock.

Also, if you want to make this in the slow cooker, go ahead. I’ve not tested it myself, but think it would work using HIGH for 3-4 hours. (**If anyone wants to play recipe tester and let me know accurate timings, I’ll send you a free e-book of your choice.)

Soup + winter = cosy.

Soup + winter = cosy.

Chunky vegetable & bean soup (in the pressure cooker)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups sweet potato, peeled, cubed
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 zucchini, diced
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g can four-bean mix, rinsed, drained
1/4 cup fresh herbs (any or all of – parsley, chives, basil, thyme)
2 cups beef stock
1 cup frozen peas

Baguette & grated cheese (optional)

Set the pressure cooker to ‘sauté’. Add the oil and heat before dropping in the onion, carrot and celery. Stir regularly for several minutes until all are starting to soften and onion is starting to turn golden.

Pop in the garlic and cook for a minute until everything is fragrant. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (except the peas). Combine well. Lock on the lid, bring to pressure and cook for 20 minutes.

Carefully release pressure, remove lid and toss in the peas.

As an optional extra, top with slices of baguette with the cheese melted on top.

Optional: Make dippers with baguette slices topped with melted cheese.

Serves 2 adults and 4 kids.

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The best vegie-laden toddler food

Got one of those delightful little creatures between 18 months and 4? Ahhh, aren’t they great! So fiesty, so confident, so able to share their feelings in a considerate and thoughtful way. Or not. Perhaps your lovelies are more like mine, kind of complaining and crying a lot of the time, especially at dinnertime when apparently you are trying to feed them POISON. But no longer! Here’s some food that saved my sanity during their toddler years.

Seriously though, if you can find a few healthy things that they like to eat, you can sneak in some vegies and improve their nutrition. It’s amazing what a difference it can make to their behaviour.

Salmon Pikelets

Try the salmon pikelets (easy to hold and munch)

vegie smugglers pork fennel apple sausage rolls

Sausage rolls.

Start simple. Here.

Home made tinned spaghetti.

Tuna bites recipes smuggles zucchini

Salmon & zucchini bites.

Lamb and feta meatballs

Lamb & feta meatballs, with pasta.

Will your toddler eat these? I’m always keen to know what works in other people’s households. Make sure you get in touch and let me know.

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May giveaway time

Quinoa salad, made Mr M&P friendly with SAUSAGE.

Quinoa salad, made Mr M&P-friendly with SAUSAGE.

Forget the bowlo meat raffle – this month my giveaway PUTS IT TO SHAME. The Peppercorn Food Company are giving one Vegie Smugglers reader the chance to have the ultimate meat-fest with a prize pack crammed full of their sausages, rissoles and meatloaves.

They sent me a pack a few weeks back and it was good to remember that sometimes beef sausages taste like beef and pork ones taste like pork etc etc. I baked a beef meatloaf and we ate it sliced thin and cold on sandwiches, the pork one was cut up and chucked through fried rice. Some of the sausages were yummy on my quinoa salad (pic above, but I’m still tweaking the salad recipe) and the Italian ones were great in this sausage goulash. Don’t be scared of such a daggy sounding dish – it was a huge hit with the kids and anything that cooks in one pot is always a huge hit with me, too.

To enter, just comment below and let us know how you like to cook sausages for your family. Make sure you’re a Vegie Smugglers subscriber and also swing by the Peppercorn Food Facebook page (tell them I sent you).

Please note, that since the prize is perishable and needs careful refrigeration, the winner needs to lives in the Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth metro areas. Entries close 8pm AST, Sunday May 26. ***CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNER DABECS! NICE SUGGESTIONS ABOUT A GREAT SAUSAGE & PASTA RECIPE. HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR MEGA MEAT TRAY!

Not too daggy for hungry kids.

Not too daggy for hungry kids.

Sausage goulash (no truly)

Usually in these saucy dishes, I’ll grate the carrot and zucchini, but I don’t recommend it here as it makes the texture a bit weird.

8 Peppercorn Food Italian sausages, thickly sliced (or if slicing raw sausage grosses you out, cook them whole and slice afterwards – takes longer but same result).
1 brown onion, diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
1 large carrot, peeled, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 button mushrooms, very finely diced
1 zucchini, finely diced (peeled first if your kids hate green bits)
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
800g can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
Handful green beans, top & tailed & cut into 3cm lengths

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sliced sausage and cook, stirring regularly for 10 minutes or so until cooked through. Remove and set aside.

Add in the onion, carrot and celery and saute for a few minutes, stirring regularly. Add in the garlic for another minute then also add the mushrooms, zucchini and capsicum. Cook the vegies, stirring constantly for another couple of minutes until they are all softening down nicely.

Scatter over the paprika. Stir and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Return the sausages to the pan then carefully pour over the tomatoes. Rinse out the can with about 1/4 cup of water and add that along with the sugar. Stir well. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat to low, cover and leave simmering away for about 5 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the beans. Taste and add pepper if you fancy it. Simmer for another couple of minutes then serve on pasta.

Serves 2 adults and 4 kids.

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