Archive for Vegie smuggling techniques

Fours ways to keep your family thriving

I avoid self-promotion, but in the interest of 'getting to know you', here's a pic of me and the kids....

I avoid self-promotion, but in the interest of ‘getting to know you’, here’s a pic of me and the kids….

Despite the fact that I’m focused on improving the health of your family, I try really hard to not be a preachy blog that dictates how you should and shouldn’t live your life. It’s your life after all, right?

And I try to keep this more as a place where I write a bit, cook a bit and share bits of my life that you might find funny, interesting and/or helpful. There are enough fanatics on the internet, after all. Even with my strong interest in nutrition I get weighed down by the online doom and the people ready to hate on me if I admit that I use flour or sugar or nuts or meat or dairy or soy or salicytes or additives or anything that was grown further than a kilometre away.

While I am all admiration for anyone who commits so thoroughly to a cause, I don’t find it achievable in my own life. I have a job. I am the primary carer for my kids. I’m involved at school. I’ve got washing to do, activities to ferry people to and I’ve also got a pretty good little publishing business that takes up a bit of my time. And I’ve got a chain supermarket about 30 seconds from my house. So realistically, that’s where I shop.

However, I do find that there are several simple eating guidelines that I impose in my household that seem to be pretty successful. And since it’s the first post of the year, I thought I’d break my ‘no preaching’ rule and share them with you – maybe there’s an idea here that you might want to work on this year. Here goes…..


1. No sugared drinks
The growing ‘sugar is poison’ movement is pretty compelling. There’s a great lecture here that while long, will be enough to have you checking labels and reducing the amount of sucrose/fructose/corn syrup that you consume. One simple message is that children should never be drinking soft drink, flavoured milk or juice. And I agree.

But I’m a pragmatist, and don’t want my kids to crave something that’s forbidden (also they’re skinny little things), so when we’re out to dinner or at parties, they have a lemonade. And that’s fine.

2. Eat more fibre
It’s good for you and adds flavour and texture to meals. It helps you feel full and helps your body cope with the sugars that you do consume. Strangely, most people don’t eat nearly enough. Increase your intake by choosing high fibre versions of things. Add bran into your baking. Pop a can of beans into your dinner. Learn all about fibre here.

3. Plan your meals
It’s the key to feeding a busy family well. If you have all the ingredients at hand, you’re much more likely to cook. If you plan out your dinners then you can shop for exactly what you need (which also saves you money). Don’t like doing it? I’ve got a meal plan for you here, complete with a shopping list. And if you like it, you might want to buy my Meal Plan e-book, which has 6 weeks of dinners all sorted out for you. There’s an ipad version for just $4.95.

4. Cook
Buy core ingredients and cook rather than just following reheating instructions on a packet. You’ll find that it doesn’t take much more time, particularly if you have equipment to help you. A mini-food processor is the best $80 you’ll ever spend.

Need inspiration? Cruise through some pages of this blog. There are over 200 recipes to keep you cooking. Want some quick recipe suggestions? Try this okonomiyaki, this vegie bologonaise or these salmon pikelets. Or these mini-meatloaves. In fact most of my recipes are pretty simple since I’m as busy as you.

And that’s it. Preaching over. It’s unusual for me to be this serious, so I’m feeling like I need to apologise – I promise I’ll be funnier next time.

I hope you stick with me this year – there are some exciting things afoot – a new hardcopy book coming out in the Autumn and there’s the thermomix e-book just days away. Subscribe to keep in touch and to receive my new recipes straight to your inbox.

Happy 2014 – may it be a fantastic year for your entire family!

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How to make friends with salad

Hopefully, over the winter you’ve accumulated a repertoire of accepted (and even enjoyed) meals that contain enough vegies and nutrition to keep you achieving your status as an awesome-parent. But the casseroles and bakes that you’ve come to rely on may hold less appeal as the weather warms up.

It’s time to lighten the menu, and traditionally it’s the time when the BBQ gets trundled out and parents are faced with the screwed up faces of little kids who are not friends with salad.

There’s often not much smuggling potential in salads. They are, after all, full of raw and highly-recognisable ingredients. To get the kids interested in them, they need to be particularly tasty. While a good dressing helps a green salad to be more agreeable, there are a couple of more creative salad recipes that are a good starting point when you’re trying to instil a BBQ & salad culture.

Start simple and convey the whole concept of cold side dishes with a couple of particularly tasty examples that they can’t resist. Our favourite noodle salad works well, luring them in with flavour and crunch. Another sure-fire hit will be this Japanese-style potato salad that uses a mayonnaise-based sauce to entice them.

Dou itashimashite.

Dou itashimashite.

Japanese potato salad

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard

4 medium mashing potatoes, peeled, quartered
1 carrot, peeled, grated
4 spring onions, finely sliced
250g corn kernels, drained
1 cucumber, sliced into rounds

Combine the sauce ingredients well and set aside.

Pop the potatoes into a large pot of cold water and bring to the boil (adding them cold stops the edges from disintegrating). Reduce the heat to a strong simmer and leave for 15 minutes until soft enough that you can easily push a skewer through. Drain and add to a large bowl. Use a fork to roughly mash, but leave heaps of texture with lots of large chunks.

Stir the carrot and spring onions through the hot potatoes (this cooks them slightly). Season with plenty of salt & pepper. Pour over the sauce and mix thoroughly.

Leave to cool then combine in the corn and cucumber. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

Serves 2 adults & 3-4 kids as a side dish (leftovers make great lunches).



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Mashed potato IN YOUR FACE… errrrr, actually….

…the mashed potato is in your pizza dough.

It’s a little trick taught to me by my friend Trish who grew up in her parent’s Italian restaurant. And it’s a great trick. If you use just the mashed insides of baked potatoes, you’ll add in the starch and help your bases to crisp up. If you add in regular leftover mash, the dough becomes light and lovely. Either way, it’s a great idea for potato smuggling (as is gnocchi – click for that recipe here).

An easy dough – fun to make & great to eat.

An easy dough – fun to make & great to eat.

Pizza Dough

3 cups bakers flour (plus 1/2-3/4 cup more as you knead the mash in)
7g sachet dried yeast
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
1 cup mashed potato (Use leftovers or bake or microwave 2 small jacket potatoes, then mash the insides)

Add all the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Pour over the oil and water. Mix together to form a rough dough.

Turn it onto a floured bench. Knead for a minute then add in half the potato. You’ll need to sprinkle over the extra flour as you go – the potato makes it pretty gloopy (but quite fun). Continue adding mash and the extra flour. Knead for about 5-7 minutes. Eventually you will have added enough extra flour in to get the mix back to being a smooth dough. (You won’t believe me at first, when the mix is slimy and weird, but trust me and carry on).

Pop it into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm to prove for 30-40 minutes until doubled in size. Then punch out the air, divide into 3 pizzas and top with whatever toppings suit your family.

Cook for about 15-20 minutes at 220C.

MAKES 3×12 INCH BASES (these bases are quite filling – 3 feeds my family of four)

If you don’t know how to ‘throw’ a pizza base – I followed the technique in this video. It worked well and provided a frisson of risk and plenty of kitchen laughs.

Don’t forget to top it with my six-vegie pizza sauce.

This recipe makes plenty - freeze some of this too.

Six-vegie sauce to morph pizza into a super-smuggler.

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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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What’s your secret?


Do you have a dirty little secret? I’ve got a few. Like this secret pen stash. So sick am I of having my stationery pinched that I’ve had to resort to hiding it away from the prying eyes of my family.

Also, I’m having a bit of a secret EOFYS sale. You can shop at the Vegie Smugglers store and receive 10% off everything before June 28, midnight. Just enter discount code EOFYS10.

What do you think of my girlfriend who has a secret credit card? (Just so that her husband can’t put an exact dollar value onto her personal purchases.) Do you think it’s ok to keep a financial secret from your spouse? I actually think this is a pretty big secret.

Much more innocently, today’s recipe has secret vegetables. As do all my recipes. I like my kids to eat healthy and develop an enjoyment of savoury flavours without too much fuss. Sure, they eat lots of recognisable vegies too, but sometimes a few secrets are ok.

Since these wontons are a bit fiddly to make, they seems like a perfect recipe for the school holidays. Get that dextrous child labour those gorgeous children of yours to help you out.

The kids will have fun wrapping these.

Get the kids onto wrapping these.

Basic Pork Wontons

This recipe uses half a supermarket tray of mince. Feel free to make a double batch and freeze half of the mixture raw, ready to wrap and steam another day.

2 spring onions, roughly chopped
3 button mushrooms
½ carrot, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sweet chilli sauce
250g pork mince
Packet of 30 gow gee (or wonton) wrappers

Use a food processor or mini food processor to blitz together the vegies, garlic, ginger and sauces.

Add in the mince and blitz to a paste. Scoop heaped teaspoons of mixture into the centre of your wrapper. Use a finger dipped in water to wet half the circle, fold over and press well to form a seal.

Bring a saucepan of water to a strong simmer. Steam dumplings over it in a steamer basket or tray for 8-10 minutes until cooked through.

Serve these as is with soy sauce or in an Asian-style broth with some other vegies.


No food processor? Just finely chop, grate and mix ingredients in a bowl.

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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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Choc-chip & chickpea cookies

So here is the recipe for the biscuits that made Mr Meat&Potatoes cry.

The sight of these freshly baked goodies had him so excited that he was dancing with joy and then he spotted the chickpeas and came to an abrupt and dramatic halt. It was the moment when he realised that THERE ARE ALWAYS VEGETABLES IN HIS FOOD. Even the biscuits. The tears came. He cried to me, “But why mummy, WHY are there always vegetables in everything?”

After a bit of explaining about how I’m the vegie-smuggling lady, and that surprise nutrition is kind of an occupational hazard, he sucked it up and ate one. Then asked for another. Because they taste delicious.

And that’s the thing, see. Kids need to learn that healthy food is normal and part of every day. They need to accept that while it doesn’t always thrill them, they’ve got no choice so they may as well eat it. And if it tastes good, they’ll learn that healthy food is normal and yummy.

These are also the biscuits that make Mr VS fat. Or so he says (just quietly, it could be the beer, prolonged commuting and lack of exercise). But he can never eat less than three of these at a time. I manage to stop after two, so long as I know that there will be one more of them with my cup of tea after dinner.

Even better, they’re a tongue twister. Try saying ‘choc chip & chickpea cookies’ a few times, fast.



Choc chip and chickpea cookies

100g butter, softened
1 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
1 cup brown sugar (use 3/4 cup caster sugar instead if you want to give the cooked biscuits a longer shelf life)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg
1 1/4 cups wholemeal plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup choc chips (I like the dark ones)
3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (I use tinned ones, just rinse and drain well)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line oven trays with baking paper (you’ll probably need 3 trays).

Use hand-held beaters or your mixmaster to cream the butter, oil and brown sugar together. Start with the butter, then combine in the oil, then add the sugar and whip for a couple of minutes until it’s lovely and creamy.

Add in the vanilla and egg. Beat well, then sift over the flour & baking powder. Fold it in (don’t worry, it seems like too much at first, but trust me it will combine in). Mix in the choc chips and chickpeas.

Use your hands (wet them slightly first) to roll ping pong-ball size quantities of mixture, press (& flatten slightly) onto the trays (allow a bit of room for spreading) and bake for 15 minutes until golden.

Makes 24ish good-sized biscuits.


Other biscuit recipes on Vegie Smugglers…

Anzac biscuits
Oat, sultana & sesame seed biscuits
Marmalade biscuits


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The world’s easiest side dish?

Here’s a quick fix for those nights when you just want something easy and super-quick. Possibly you could make it in a saucepan, but WHY WOULD YOU when you can do it so effortlessly in a rice cooker. (I’ve seen these Kambrook ones online for under $20). I use mine at least twice a week and I adore the fact that you don’t have to think – just set it going and then get on with everything else that fills your early evening.

They’re also good for ‘entertaining’ (I love using that word – makes me feel very 1970s). It’s a simple way to feed a stack of people. Have it loaded and ready to go, and then just click it to cook when you’re ready. Although I will admit to drinking too much champagne one night and forgetting to even click it on. C’est la vie. Once I remembered it was ready in less than 20 minutes – just enough time to refresh everyone’s glasses and pass around the cabanossi on sticks.

Ta da!

Ta da!

Spanish rice

This makes a great side dish to baked chicken or fish or even kebabs from the BBQ.

2 cups long grain white rice
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (chicken is good, but vegie is great too)
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 red capsicum, finely diced
1 green capsicum, finely diced
400g can corn kernels, drained

Rinse and drain the rice in a sieve, then pop it into your cooker with the stock and tomatoes. Hit ‘cook’ and leave it until it switches to ‘keep warm’.

Quickly mix through the capsicum and corn then recover and leave on ‘warm’ for another 10 minutes or so, until you’re ready to serve.

Serves 2 adults and 4 kids as a side dish

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How to smuggle vegies at breakfast

At what stage in the day do your kids start eating vegetables?

If they have cereal and toast for breakfast, then a lunchbox of sandwiches and fruit, it’s quite possible that no vegies pass their lips until late afternoon.

The current Australian government guidelines suggest that a five year old child should be eating 3-4 serves of vegetables a day. Which is quite a lot. (BTW – If you don’t know what a serving size looks like, there’s a really handy visual guide in the beginning of a fabulous book called Vegie Smugglers 2.)

To have a chance of hitting that quota, it’s a great idea to start sneaking the healthy stuff in in as early in the day as possible before tiredness turns your little angels into grouchy and disagreeable monsters (or perhaps that’s just my kids).

Sneaking in some vegies at breakfast isn’t as hard as it sounds. You can make the breakfast burrito recipe from Vegie Smugglers 1. Or you can do a little baked egg dish with capsicums and eggplant. Pop a bit of corn in scrambled eggs. For a quickie, just put some avocado & tomato on toast. Or maybe you want to whip up a green smoothie.

They are my latest addiction. I used to come home from school drop offs needing tea and toast, but I’ve replaced that habit with one of these smoothies and find they fill me up and give me an energy boost in the middle of the day.

There are stacks of recipes for them, but this is my current favourite. I find for my kids to enjoy them, I need to load it up with frozen banana. Like the ice cream I made recently, using the frozen bananas gives them a real ‘thick shake’ texture that the kids can’t resist. And I find serving them up in a pretty cup never goes astray.

Oh la la! This is the fancy cocktail version.

Oh la la! This is the fancy cocktail version (avec trashie).

Green smoothies

1/2 cup firmly packed spinach leaves
1/2 cup pineapple pieces
1 frozen banana, peeled, sliced
1/2-3/4 cup rice milk (you need a watery milk, so skim would work, but full fat isn’t so nice)
1 tsp white chia seeds

For an added kick, I also pop in 1 tbsp Nutra Organics super greens & reds food powder (click my affiliate link below to check out all their products).


I put everything in a glass jug and use my stick blender to whizzy it all up into fab green goodness.

This will make enough to divide nicely between 2 adults and 2 kids.

So they’re my suggestions. What about you? Have you got a smoothie recipe or some breakfast vegie-smuggling wisdom to share?

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The want-a-thon

Miss Fruitarian wants a turtle. And a hamster. She wants real wings, a DS and pony called Sparkle.

Mr M&P wants the Harry Potter Lego game for (my) iPhone. And a second console for the PS3 (for daddy) and as much Chima Lego as he can get his hands on (even after seeing only one ad).

I want a nanny, a saxophone with a ‘silent’ switch, no cellulite and a daily foot rub from Hugh Jackman.

Mr VS is diplomatically coy about his desires, but I suspect he wants an extra hour in each day, children (and a wife) who know how to tidy up after themselves and a few hours alone with Megan Fox.

The kids also both want broccoli that tastes like chocolate, a mum who doesn’t insist on quite so much fresh produce and a new system of eating that involves the couch and interlocking straws.

Meanwhile, when I put this dinner down in front of the kids the other night, they didn’t really want it. It’s brown. But luckily we have the ‘two bite’ rule – that is, if I’ve bothered to make them dinner, then they need to show respect and take two big bites. Then, after genuinely trying, if they still don’t like it, I’ll give them some bread, a banana or extra yoghurt instead.

Turns out after two bites, they did want this after all. Because it’s yummy and two bites was all they needed to discover that.

slow cooker pea and ham soup

Tastes great with last week’s cheese muffins.

Slow cooker pea & ham soup

1 1/2 cups green split peas, rinsed well
1 brown onion, roughly diced
1 large carrot, peeled, diced
1 potato, peeled, diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 fresh bay leaf
1 kg ham hock
8 cups water
3 tbsp parsley
2 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 cup frozen peas

Place the rinsed split peas in the bottom of your slow cooker. Layer the vegies over the top. Add in the bay leaf and plonk the ham hock in the middle. Pour over the water, cover and set to cook on low for 7 1/2 hours.

Remove the hock, transfer to a plate and shred off the meat. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Use a stick blender to make the soup a nice creamy consistency.

Return the shredded ham to the cooker along with the herbs and frozen peas. Leave for another half hour until the peas are bright green.

Serves 2 adults and 4 kids


If your family likes soups, try out these….
Pumpkin Corn & Lentil
Witches Stew
Chicken & Udon


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