Posts tagged family

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.

vegiesmugglers-lunchbox-sheet

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…)

 

ThecompleteVS-lunchboxplanner-cover

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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Aaaahhhh. Fiji. And what I learned from resort holiday fun.

Mana Island, Fiji

Mana Island in all it’s glory!

In a happy chance my return from Fiji coincided with some winter sunshine and a cheap bulk buy of passionfruit at my local fruit shop. Which resulted in these sweet little morning tea treats that have me closing my eyes and drifting back off to the tropics (scroll down for recipe).

This trip was our first family-resort holiday. Usually we’re a van-park type of family, but stuff it, I hate winter and a few days of heat seemed entirely MEDICINAL. Of course the credit card may not agree for the rest of the year.

But we did create some pretty amazing family memories. With my kids a bit older, we skipped the kids club in favour of family frolics and some pretty adventurous snorkelling afternoons. It was so impressive to watch the kids step up, overcome some fears and get stuck in.

We moved about, but our favourite place was Mana Island – I can’t say enough good stuff about it and it’s still currently under renovation. It will be incredible in another six months or so.

And my tips for taking kids to a resort holiday in Fiji?

• If possible, find flights that don’t have you up for bus transfers at 3am. Or 2am. It kind of squishes some of the fun out of a short trip.

• Take a bunch of muesli bars and snacks to tide them over from buffet to buffet.

• Smother everyone in sunscreen all the time. Don’t trust the kids to do it themselves (speaking from experience).

• And even though the big resorts want you to tip when you pay the bill, slip cash to the staff who’ve been awesome. It makes a big difference to fantastic people who’s daily pay is about what you’d pay for a couple of beers. I find being the affluent-Aussie-in-poorer-countries thing quite awkward. The lady who was bringing me my cocktails by the pool had four kids under six and worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. And she smiled the whole time.

Lesson learned.

vegie smugglers passionfruit coconut madeleines

Regular patty pans will do instead of madeleine trays. And sorry for the rubbish pic – I was too lazy to dig out the good camera

Passionfruit & coconut madeleines

3 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar (or golden caster)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
4 passionfruit (juice & seeds). Use 3 tbsp tinned passionfruit if you can’t find fresh
75g melted butter
Icing sugar to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease madeleine or patty pans with HEAPS of butter – or they’ll stick.

Pop the eggs and sugar into a large bowl and whisk for several minutes until lighter and thick (sounds tedious, but very good for tuck shop lady arms).

Sprinkle over the flour and coconut and fold through gently. Stir through the passionfruit and butter.

Scoop tablespoon quantities into the trays and bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden and springy (these don’t rise much).

Leave to cool for several minutes before turning out and tossing in a bit of icing sugar (optional).

Makes 30ish.

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For another tropical treat, try my delicious little pineapple cakes.

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Should we audition for Family Feud?

Grant Denyer is not really my cup of tea. I don’t have anything against him per se, more just a general mistrust of people who are always that ‘on’ (even if that’s what they’re paid to do).

So I don’t watch Family Feud. Midweek TV is rare at our place and when it is on, my kids are so immersed in Adventure Time that nothing else gets a guernsey. But I get the FF idea. Perky host with equally perky families play word games with hilarious results.

Sometimes my family seems quite perky. I’ve seen snippets of FF during ad breaks and wondered if maybe we should ring to audition. But I had a reality check last week.

Ad flash. Smiling Grant with an enthusiastic question, “Name something that gets passed around?”

Within a blink of an eye Mr VS & I were both on the buzzer.

“A JOINT” shouted MR VS.
“HERPES” shouted me.

Who knew we were such naturals at this game! I can practically smell the gameshow riches!

But it turns out we were both wrong. The correct answer?

Hat.

Call the doctor!

Call the doctor!

Chicken Pox Pies

Ok, yes, they’re chicken pot pies. But pox pies, sounds more fun, don’t you think?

1 tbsp oil
600g chicken breast (or thigh), diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped cauliflower
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup hot chicken stock
1/2 bunch English Spinach, finely shredded
1 cup peas
125g can corn kernels, drained
125g can creamed corn

2 sheets puff pastry
1 egg, whisked, for glazing

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Saute the chicken and until browned all over and mostly cooked through. Remove and set aside. Add the onion and saute, stirring quite often for 6-8 minutes until browning. Pop in the vegies for a couple of minutes and once softening, toss in the garlic. When fragrant, return the chicken to the pan.

Sprinkle over the flour and cook this off for a minute or so, then slowly add in the hot stock, stirring the whole time (use a wooden spoon for all this). Bring the mixture to a strong simmer, then lower the heat a bit and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked.

Add in the spinach, peas and all the corn. Combine really well.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Find a bunch of oven-proof pots (or one big pot pie is fine, too).

Divide the mixture between your pots. Line the edge of your pots with 1cm strips of pastry (this will help adhere the lids). Brush with egg, then cut circle lids and press them in place. Brush the entire top with egg and decorate however you like. I made spots with cookie cutters and the kids thought this was just a little bit awesome.

Feeds 2 adults & 2-3 kids.

Did you see my chocolate-free Easter recipe over on Mother & Baby? See the carrot bliss ball recipe here.

vegie-smugglers-carrot-bliss-balls

Have you bought my latest book yet?

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Dad’s turn to slack off (and be feted)

Back in May, I was quite vocal about what it was that I was looking for in my Mother’s Day. Now, as September dawns, it pains me to admit that it’s now Dad’s turn to pop the feet up, be reminded of his awesomeness and generally made to feel as though he’s king of his domain (one day won’t hurt us, will it?)

So possibly you’ve got a big brunch planned. And of course there’ll be bacon, a bit more bacon. Maybe a few chippolatas and a bit more bacon. To go with it, chuck together this brunch frittata. The best bit of it is that you can actually make it up the night before, store it in the fridge and then bake it in time for when your family descends the next morning. Handy!

See ladies, quietly, I’m still looking out for us, even though it’s not exactly our turn.

Impressive and easy - my favourite combo.

Impressive and easy – my favourite combo.

Make-ahead Brunch Frittata

2 potatoes
4 spring onions, finely sliced (use some of the green bits too)
½ punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
6 mushrooms, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 cup bread cut into a 1cm dice (this is a great way to use up day old sourdough)
1½ cups grated cheese
5 eggs
½ cup milk
Salt and pepper

Cook the potatoes. You could bake them, boil, steam or microwave them until just tender (I use the microwave as I find it the quickest and easiest way).

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line an 18x28cm slice tin with baking paper.

Once cool enough to handle, peel away the potato skins and chop into a rough dice. Add to a large mixing bowl.

Tip in the vegies, bread and cheese. Combine well.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and milk. Season well. Pour onto the vegies and mix. Tip the mixture into your slice tin and fiddle bits around so that the mix is evenly distributed and firmly packed. Leave a few cherry tomatoes on top for presentation.

Bake for 40 minutes until set and golden on top.

Cut into 8 brunch-sized slices. Serve alone or with chipolatas and bacon.

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Easter hamping and a remedy for all that chocolate

The tent. Smaller than we remembered.

The tent. Smaller than we remembered.

Did you go camping over Easter? You’d be un-Australian not to. Perhaps right now you’re wrangling a damp tent back into a bag that seems impossibly small and cursing the mess that has somehow magically manifested in four short days. Hopefully some drizzle is ensuring you’ll have all your stuff airing in the garage for the next month or so until you can be bothered to finally pack it away.

Due to work commitments we cheated and did a bit of hamping – home camping. Considering we hadn’t had the tent out since before Miss F was born, we figured it was probably safer – see which bits of our outdoors kit are still useable and which need upgrading. The kids didn’t care about the cheap-arse location; they loved every minute of it.

Turns out that a four-man tent only fits a newly-in-love couple or two small children, so Mr VS & I retreated to our own bed. The kids happily slept two nights out in the yard, alone. Post-firepit marshmallow cooking sessions, they were possibly both in sugar-comas. Luckily the Easter bunny still found them out there in the wild.

It was interesting that the pack up was relatively simple and it took us only one try to get the tent folded into the right size for the cover. My memory of previous expeditions is that it was always a fairly fraught, tense experience as we bickered over how to do it. I suppose nine years of marriage, parenting and umpteen pieces of flat-pack furniture construction have made Mr VS and me into a pretty slick team.

After copious amounts of chocolate, we were all ready for something healthy last night. So I whipped us this really yummy tomato and lentil soup. Nice and hearty, it’s great with buttered sourdough. I won’t mind if you decide to crumble over a bit of crispy bacon or mix through some leftover sliced sausages.

A few lentils to push that chocolate through!

A few lentils to push that chocolate through!

Brown lentil & tomato soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp curry powder
3/4 cup dried brown lentils (rinsed, drained & picked over)
800g can crushed tomatoes
2 carrots, peeled, finely diced
2 potatoes, peeled, finely cubed (or 1 potato and 1 parsnip is also delicious)
4 cups vegetable stock (stock cubes are fine)
Parsley & thyme, finely chopped (about 1 tbsp total)
Pepper
1 cup frozen peas

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Pour in the oil and when hot, saute the onion, stirring often, for 4-5 minutes until starting to soften. Add in the garlic and curry powder and stir for another minute until everything smells fantastic.

Tip in the lentils and mix well then add the tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. Combine really well, tip over the stock, add in the herbs and season with pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the lid and simmer for 20-25 minutes more until the lentils are cooked through (they’ll retain their shape but will be nice and yielding to chew on – no hard bits).

Pour in the peas, and simmer for another 5 minutes before serving with bread.

Serves 2 adults and 2 kids. (Add in a few chopped bits of sausage and you’ll be able to pad it out to 3 kids)

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Being held captive by my children and my cat

The other day I was gripped by procrastination so profound that no amount of cookbook-page-flipping or sitting-in-the-sun could satisfy it. Turning to the obvious procrastination aid (the computer), I found myself editing & deleting cataloging through obscene amounts of photos of meatballs, salads, pasta etc etc. Who knew it could take so many attempts before I get a shot that I’m happy with.

More alarming was that amongst the myriad food shots were an astonishingly large amount of photos of my cat. Asleep.

I never wanted a cat. I objected strongly to acquiring the critter and only did under intense emotional duress from the rest of my family. I’ve cursed him as I’ve cleaned up his poo off my kilim rug, I’ve tried not to cry as I’ve watched him bat a mouse around until it died and I’ve been scratched until bleeding by his sharp claws. Little bastard. So I was more than a bit surprised to see photographic proof that I’ve somehow evolved into a crazy cat lady.

It occurred to me that the internet just doesn’t have enough photos of cats so I thought I’d share.

On chairs, in a hat, stretched out...

On chairs, in a hat, under a blankie, stretched out…

Weird, isn’t it. This is just a sample of the photos I had. But there’s something about the little sleeping creature that makes me all tender. Just like when the kids would finally collapse, exhausted after a day of screeching and wailing and I’d sneak into their rooms and just stare at their little perfect faces and MARVEL at how amazing my life was. How LUCKY I was to care for such angels. All the pains of the day would be instantly forgotten.

Then they’d wake up 3 hours later (about 20 minutes after I’d drifted off) and I’d be back to wanting to kill them.

Stockholm syndrome, I think. Falling in love with your captors.

Sifting through the photos though, I was pleased to see that my food photography skills are coming along. I don’t always get it right, but I do like these ones…

vegie smugglers fruit pikelets

There’s no simpler joy than a perfect pikelet.

vegie smugglers yakitori skewers

Food on sticks is always a winner.

vegie smugglers vivid marble cake

The grooviest cake in town!

vegie smugglers beef triangles with vegetables and puff pastry

Yum.

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