Posts tagged Fast food

The one meal that my kids would love to eat every day….

Generally a vegie-smuggling theory of mine has been that too much repetition in a kitchen or on a weekly menu is a bad thing. Dealing with fussy kids is hard enough without adding an extra layer of “but it’s Tuesday – we always eat bolognaise on Tuesdays”. Too much predictability will make conquering bad food habits particularly tricky. So I like to mix it up and keep the kids used to coming to the dinner table with an open mind. “What’s this?” they’ll ask. I’ll tell them and they’ll shrug an “ok”, all the while giving it a sniff and checking out the colours.

Which is why our recent trip to Fiji was even more exciting – I completely let the rule book go. Repetition was inevitable since the kids only ate free if they ate from the kid’s menu (I’ve discussed dismal kid’s menus before here). So for lunch, every. single. day, my boy chose to eat ‘Fun in a Bun’. A mini burger of such magnificence that it was entirely satisfying for 5 days in a row. It came with chips (of course) and there was some token lettuce which was quickly tossed aside.

But looking at his blissed out face every day I pledged that mummy would tackle fun-in-a-bun. Which I have to admit has been quite fun. Of course my burgers are meanly sneaking in stuff, but not too much. And there is a certain lazy thrill is serving up a minimal kind of bun, without too much salad or fuss.

And the kids love it.

vegie smugglers basic hamburger for kids

The funnest bun in town

Fun in a bun

125g can 4-bean mix, rinsed, drained
2 big cloves garlic, peeled
4 spring onions, chopped into 4cm lengths
1 medium carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
1 egg
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
500g beef mince

Spray oil

To serve: burger buns, salad, sauces.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with foil and place a wire rack on top. Spray the rack with oil. Set aside.

In a mini food processor, pulse the beans, garlic, spring onions, carrots, egg and sauce until everything is roughly chopped and well combined.

Place the mince into a large mixing bowl. Pour the vegie mix over the top and use your hands (wear kitchen gloves if you’re squeamish) to combine it all together really well. Shape the mix into about 14 mini-patties and place them onto the oven rack. Spray with oil and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully turn them over, spray with more oil and bake for another 15 minutes until cooked through.

Serve on small bread rolls with your choice of classic burger toppings – choose from lettuce, tomato, avocado, beetroot, gherkins and cheese. Top with your choice of sauce – we like classic tomato with American mustard.

Makes 14ish patties – serves 2 adults & 3-4 kids.


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How I’m surviving after 3 weeks of convenience foods…

There’s an interesting experiment happening at Vegie Smugglers HQ at the moment, as we enter week 3 of kitchen renovations, and I face the challenge of feeding the family whilst kitchenless. With some glee, I spent way-more-time-than-any-person-with-a-life-would in some of the supermarket aisles negotiating my way around the convenience products that stack the shelves.

I’ve got no ethical problem doing this you see, since healthy eating is not an extreme sport for me (hell, I still have a teaspoon of sugar in my tea). And I like to be a bit more of-the-people in my approach, so it seems totally fine to spend a few weeks sampling what is on offer in all those packets and tins that I never normally bother with. And let’s face it – the kids are excited. Mum’s constant healthy cooking is a pain in the arse and cramps their love-of-a-shiny-packet style.


We started out ok. There was a bunch of freezer options that taste quite good. There’s cous cous and quinoa and vegies and I was pretty happy with it all, except of course for the cost. Like, MAN, it’s expensive to eat this way. I’ve whipped up a wee piccy to prove my point….


I am a bit of a tightarse (I am trying to fund my reno), so eating this stuff definitely isn’t sustainable. Especially since the only benefit is saving about a minute of knife time. If you don’t have a good knife at your place YOU NEED TO BUY ONE. Judging by the money you save, you can pay off full set of Globals within a couple of months.


The second week dawned and we stretched into some of the weirder convenience food territory. Strange packets where you add water and microwave for 15 minutes and return to find fried rice all ready for the eating. Some of these options are quite tasty and the kids in particular were wetting their pants over them.

Me, not so much since the flavour comes from weird sources, additives, sugar & salt. Oh my god, so much salt. I have spent the past week desperately thirsty and unable to quench it. I guess I’m supposed to have a Coke to reset my tastebuds.

And this is where I’m actually shocked that people can eat these regularly. My mouth is actually HURTING after a week of them. I understand in a busy household that it’s easy to slip into eating these foods (especially if you hate cooking), but they are bordering on dangerous when eaten regularly.

Consider the current guidelines that recommend daily maximum sodium intakes of:
1 to 3 years: 1,000mg
4 to 8 years: 1,400mg
9 to 13 years: 2,000mg
14 years and over: 2,300mg

To put that in perspective here’s some sodium content info for you….

1x420g Heinz salt reduced tin of baked beans = 1000mg
1x420g Heinz regular tomato baked beans = 1510mg
1x420g Heinz spaghetti = 1210mg
1x420g Heinz salt-reduced spaghetti = 740mg
1x535g Heinz chunky beef soup = 1720mg
1x70g Fantastic noodles pot = 1577mg

But it’s not ALL bad news, on those nights when you really can’t summons up the will to live the energy to cook, choose a no-added-salt baked beans tin with only 40mg per tin. You are of course, still dealing with additives and other nasties – but that’s a whole other post.

I guess the moral of the story is to take a bit of time to find the products that suit you and to rethink just how convenient these foods are in the long term.

For now, with another 3 weeks of renovations to go, I’m on the hunt for healthier quick options. I promise to report back with how I 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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Movin’ right along (ba da bum ba da bum)

How does your family go on road trips? The VS family loves a trip to the country and after years of travelling a couple of hours to visit grandparents, the kids are pretty awesome in the car. No screens, they each pack a bag of things to do, and good tunes are essential to make the trip more interesting (and distract them from whatever argument they’re having).

As a child, my family never left home with out the Muppet Movie soundtrack. But we’re not such nice parents and actually, after a couple of years, kids songs were making me a bit stabby. We went on a music offensive, determined to get them onto stuff we liked too. If you’re still stuck on non-stop rotation of Wiggles, here’s a list of songs that saved my sanity and got the kids onto more palatable music.

These days, the kids’ tastes are awesome and we can chuck on anything. Which leads to the new interesting dilemma of swearing in songs. We usually just let them slide by and mostly they don’t even notice. In fact, after several intense weeks of Icona Pop, Miss F only realised there was naughty words in it when she was in a friend’s car and they heard the bleeped radio edit. And of course, my kids mostly sing along to most songs with their own mondegreens, which makes the whole swearing thing much easier. Like this Yacht track, which we belt out with “When the ship hits the sand” (awesome video but maybe watch first and decide if it’s ok for your kids). Also on our playlist, this Unknown Mortal Orchestra song is apparently all about Ninjagos and Miss F is positive that Florence Welsh is singing, “long live salami” in What the water gave me.

Which segues us nicely into pizza territory. Finally I’ve done up a Vegie Smuggling pizza sauce, which I dollop generously onto small pita breads (conveniently bowl shaped to hold more sauce), and top with salami or ham and cheese for the kids and more elaborate with roasted eggplant, olives and rocket for the adults.


Six-vegie pizza sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated
1 large potato, peeled, grated
4 button mushrooms, grated
1 tsp Italian herbs
2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp tomato paste
400g can crushed tomatoes

The onions cook slowly for a while – get them going, then do the rest of your prep while they’re cooking.

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan over low-medium heat. Add the onion, and cook slowly for 10-15 minutes. Keep the pan covered, and just stir every couple of minutes. When the onions are translucent, remove the lid, sprinkle over the sugar and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown.

Add in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so before tossing in all of the vegies. Again, you want to sweat them down, so give the mix a good stir, cover and give them about 10 minutes cooking time (lift the lid and stir every few minutes).

Remove the lid, add in the herbs, vinegar and tomato paste. Pour over the can of tomatoes and mix really well before recovering and simmering on the low heat for 10 minutes more.

Blitz the sauce up and use on pizza or mix through pasta.

Makes about 4 cups & freezes really well.

Make mini pizza & customise toppings to suit.

Make mini pizzas & customise toppings to suit each person.

Like this recipe? It’s from my latest cookbook, ‘Kitchen Collection’. You can check out a copy here.

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Holiday hell-fryer (the curse of the dismal ‘kids menu’)


Here’s my post-holiday question to you all – why is it that kid’s restaurant menus are so universally crap?

The picture above beautifully illustrates the joys of it all. Doesn’t it look delicious! See how the fish & chips, calamari & chips and nuggets & chips are all so seductively similar. Just the shapes vary – the nuggets were even cleverly shaped like dinosaurs!

It may be the cheapest and most cheerful option for restaurants, but don’t you reckon that we should be trying just a little bit harder to feed the kids something that’s not golden? Don’t get me wrong, my kids can scoff a nugget as heartily as any child, but if you’re road-tripping about for several days then even the tin lids quickly reach their fried food limit.

I know I can get a side plate and give them a makeshift meal from the adult plates, but what I’d really love is the option of a small portion of something healthy that isn’t full of chemicals and soaked in fat.

I think food outlets Australia-wide should take note of these mince kebabs – they are cheap, inoffensive (no outlandish vegies on show), can be kept long term in the freezer, can be eaten without utensils and still offer kids some nutrition. I’m sure I’m not the only parent out there who thinks it’s not unreasonable for a kid’s menu to provide an option that requires the chef to do something more than tip the contents of a freezer into a deep fryer.

How about something like this?

Mince kebabs

If your kids are likely to use the sticks as weapons, just shape into rissoles or meatballs instead. Vary cooking times to suit.

1/3 cup cous cous
1/3 cup boiling water
1 brown onion, diced
1 bunch English spinach, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 kg beef mince
Salt & pepper
2 eggs, lightly whisked

2 tbsp olive oil, for frying

Preheat oven to 180º. Soak 12 bamboo skewers in cold water for 15 minutes. Line an oven tray with baking paper.

In a bowl or jug, combine the cous cous and water, stir and cover with plastic wrap. Leave for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork.

Combine the rest of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Use your hands to combine the mixture, then roll golf-ball sized portions into sausages and slide them firmly onto a skewer. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and fry in the kebabs on all sides (4-5 minutes total), then transfer to a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes until cooked through.

Makes enough for 2 adults and 4 kids. Serve with the tomato relish pictured. Find the recipe in the Vegie Smugglers cookbook.

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Because there’s more to life than slaving in the kitchen

For someone with a devotion to feeding my family healthy food, I have a strangely mixed relationship with the kitchen. I am not a chef. I am a care-giver. I think, like me, most parents have times when it feels like they are trapped in the kitchen, trying to conceive and prepare tasty things that their kiddies will eat with the minimum of fuss.

Perhaps my devotion to Vegie Smuggling recipes is actually laziness-based. Parenting is exhausting and I really like to clock off at the end of the day. I love to feed them, bath them, and pop them into bed, with a clean conscience about their nutritional welfare. Because then what I really love is to sit with my hunky husband, a BIG glass of wine and a variation of whatever meal I whipped up earlier.

So a basic necessity for all VS recipes is that everyone will enjoy them. At the very least, they need to be super-easy to adapt for adult palettes. Because there is more to life than being in the kitchen all night, and I just won’t cook and clean for the kids and then again later in the night for the adults. This recipe is a great example of how with the addition of a few extra ingredients (add them after you’ve served the kid’s meals) you can take a kid friendly meal into the realm of adult gourmet.

We’ve happily made many concessions to be a family, but eating boring food and being a kitchen slave just isn’t among them.

Ravioli with orange sauce

Serve the kids this, then add a few little extras and VOILA, a tasty grown-up meal.

Ravioli with orange sauce

This sauce can be made in advance and stored in the fridge. At the end of the day, cook your pasta (home-made if you’re a saint or store-bought if you’re like the rest of us) and toss through the sauce and other ingredients.

1½ red capsicums, deseeded, cut into large chunks
¼ cup cottage cheese (or ricotta)
1 tbsp sun-dried tomato slices in oil
600g packet beef ravioli
125g can corn kernels, drained
1 punnet cherry
tomatoes, halved
TO SERVE (all optional, to suit different family members) basil leaves, olives, toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Preheat grill to high. Pop the capsicum under the grill skin-side up and leave until black and charred. Don’t be shy about it – the blacker the skin, the more easily it will peel off. Remove and cover with a tea towel for 10 minutes, then peel skin off and discard.

Chop capsicum flesh roughly and place in a stick blender. Blitz until smooth. Add cottage cheese and sun-dried tomato and blend until smooth.

Cook pasta according to packet directions, then drain and return to the saucepan. Poor the sauce and vegies on top and toss to combine. Scatter with basil.



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

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If McDonalds can brain wash my child, then I can too!

Mr Meat & Potatoes tries McDonalds

Mr Meat & Potatoes isn't sure about the pancake

The power of marketing is interesting, isn’t it? No one markets to kids better than all the fast food chains. They are awe-inspiringly good at it. Last week we went to McDonalds. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this was our first family outing there. I don’t mean to be one of those condemning food-snob parents, but it’s just one of those things that I’ve found quite easy to avoid (my kids are still young). But after a trip to a museum, the nearest, easiest (and most fun) food choice was Maccas. So we went.

Following the rule that it’s best to eat the specialties of the house, I skipped all the healthy options and got good old HappyMeals with burgers and fries. I know they offer apple slices and salads, but I’m suspicious of apple that doesn’t turn brown and non-wilting lettuce. Just give me the junk.

Perhaps I should be quite satisfied that the kids didn’t really like it. The chips were a huge hit (all that salt could make snot quite tasty) but the burgers were ‘weird’ with Mr Meat and Potatoes insisting on calling them ‘pancakes’.

Most interesting though, was the supreme McDonalds talent of seducing my children with cardboard and plastic. The cheap red and yellow boxes were the biggest hit of the day. We had to take them home and they are now lovingly filled with broken bits of car and draft letters to Santa. And the plastic toy, which does nothing except click and count to 9, is amongst the most revered treasures they own.

I guess the lesson is not underestimate the joy of a pretty dinner – if McDonalds can tempt my kids with a cheap packaging, then I can lure them with a range of cute stuff too.

Collection of cute bowls

A bowl for every meal - just some of my collection

Whenever possible, serve food to kids using colourful bowls and plates. Fun cutlery, chopsticks, whatever it takes to make it interesting and worth trying. Half the battle is won once the first bite goes in.

My crockery collection is embarrassingly big, way beyond the usual IKEA kids plates that furnish all family kitchens. But I still don’t mind an online browse. The best range I’ve found locally is Check out some of their gorgeous (and useful) products…

products from urbanbaby

Surely your kids would eat off these?

Good luck and happy eating…

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