Posts tagged mealtime

Working 9 to 5 (and still feeding the family)

Astute watchers of VS will have noticed that I’ve been a bit absent. Never one to veer into idleness, I’ve gone and filled up my spare middle-of-the-day hours with a part time job that landed in my lap quite fortuitously. Too scared to resist fate, I’ve gone with it, figuring I can still tend Vegie Smugglers well in the hours left over.

Interestingly, after ‘living the dream’ of working from home for a year, I find I’m happy to be back out in the workforce. Seems I quite like having a reason to chuck on some lippie and I quite like contact with real people. But immediately I’m thrown back into those fraught post-work dinnertimes where the kids are cranky, I’m tired and the fridge is ominously empty.

But it doesn’t have to be a disaster. It is possible to work all day and still feed the kids a healthy dinner. Here’s how…


Yes, I know. Boring. But as the old cliché goes, fail to plan, plan to fail. Spending an hour on your weekend or day off doing a menu plan and large grocery shop will ensure you have everything you need for food success, all week. If you hate doing it, buy my e-book. I even give you shopping lists and meals for 6 weeks. Or use one of my free plans as a guide. Click here or click here.


When you make your plan, you’ll hopefully see the spots in your week where cooking is possible. Grab these opportunities and make larger than you need quantities. Especially things you can freeze, or rejig for the next night. Make a meatloaf that will feed you tonight, and still tastes good sliced on toasties tomorrow. Or cook enough pasta for a leftover pasta frittata.


No matter what your work status, your freezer is your friend. Use it. Love it. Stack it. Bless it on those nights when you get home to find absolute chaos erupting.

Try filling it with these (click the pic to go to the recipe)…

Adam's bolognaise

Bolognaise actually tastes better after a sit in the freezer. Genius!

End the war with a stockpile of mash in the freezer.

Freeze in portions then reheat and mix with tinned tuna & extra cheese.

vegie smugglers chicken pasta and vegetable soup

Pasta, chicken and bacon amongst the vegies…and it defrosts just fine.

This recipe makes plenty - freeze some of this too.

Freeze in small containers and you can always make a quick healthy pizza.

My kids love these so much, they don't care about what's inside.

My kids ate these weekly for almost two years.


And on the nights when it’s all gone totally pear shaped? English muffin pizzas, eggs pots, microwave rice with packet tofu & frozen vegies, scrambled egg wraps with smoked salmon & avocado, toasties with tuna, cheese & corn, or good old 2-minute noodles (ditch the flavour sachets) with frozen vegies. Or grab sushi on your way home (avoid fried ingredients or mayo).

No matter what the dinner outcome, the main thing is to relax and remember that the most important part of every evening routine is the cuddle and kiss with your gorgeous little terrors at bedtime. All is forgiven in that moment of stillness.

Got other good ideas for instant dinners? Make sure you share them below…

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Five chicken dinners

Well, need I say more? Here are five dinners made with chicken, which apparently Australians eat more of than any other meat. This year each of us will consume an average of 44kg of the stuff. Fact.

These recipes should give you a couple of kilo’s worth of inspiration (unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case you might prefer to click here.)

Click the pictures to link through to the recipes.

Healthy & yum.

Chicken & brown rice salad.

From the Lunchboxes planner e-book…

Chicken nuggets.

Chicken nuggets.

From Vegie Smugglers 2…

Vegie Smugglers Sang choy bow recipe

Sang choy bao.

A classic from Vegie Smugglers 1…

Vegie Smuggling chicken sausage rolls

Chicken sausage rolls.

From Vegie Smugglers 2…

chicken and tarragon one pot winter warmer by vegie smuggers

Chicken & tarragon one-pot.

Do any of these take your fancy? How else do you like to cook chicken for your family?

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Is your kid a fussy eater? Here’s where to start…

Start simple. Here.

Start simple. Here.

Today’s recipe is for all the parents whose toddlers get pleasure from winding their mummies and daddies up as much as possible during each meal.

Look! They think. Daddy’s face goes so red when I refuse to eat that! Look! Mummy’s head is about to explode each time I shriek! How about I drop the rest of my dinner ON THE FLOOR – won’t THAT reaction be hilarious.

Ah yes. Lovely mealtimes like that with Miss F are the reason why Vegie Smugglers exists. We had SO MANY unhappy dinners together. So much scraping of uneaten food into the bin. So often I was SO CLOSE TO LOSING IT. We were locked in an ongoing food battle.

I was determined to win the war, because I love to eat and I hated that dinnertime had become so miserable. And last Friday night when I watched a now 8-year-old Miss F crunch happily through a salad of corn/snow peas/broccolini & cos, I realised that I HAD WON.

But how did I start to turn things around? Well Miss F liked cheese, so I started there. I made her cheesy pots. And she liked bread, so I gave her salmon pikelets (at first without the green bits). I started with what she DID eat and expanded out from there.

So if your little food fascist likes tinned spaghetti, then this recipe might be your starting point. Do whatever you need to do to have some dinnertime wins and if that means sneakily replacing a junk favourite with a healthy home-made version then DO IT.

If they eat this happily then next time you could make it with wholemeal pasta. Or put in some grated carrot. Then, in a while, try little chunks of carrot instead. If they like these flavours, migrate them to a lasagna, cannelloni or a lentil pasta sauce that has more smuggling potential. As time goes by, you’ll have to do less and less to hide anything, until they happily just eat a raw carrot or snack on grape tomatoes.

Watching Miss F munch through her raw greens, I was so glad that I’ve put all the effort in. Most toddlers are fussy eaters and without intervention many will grow to be fussy tweens/teens & adults. Teaching them how to love healthy food is a gift they will carry for life.

Couldn't help myself.

Couldn’t help myself.

Home-made tinned spaghetti

I don’t usually stipulate organic products, but think in this simple recipe they’re essential.

2 cups pumpkin, diced
250g organic spaghetti (half a standard pack) – broken into short lengths
125g can 4-bean mix, drained, rinsed
700ml jar organic passata (find it near the pasta)
1 tsp brown sugar

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the pumpkin and cook until soft (about 7-10 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces). Use a slotted spoon to remove the pumpkin and pop it into a drainer (keep the water boiling).

Pop the spaghetti into the same boiling water and cook according to packet directions.

Put the beans, cooked pumpkin, passata and sugar into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to the simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Use a stick blender to blitz everything up into a smooth sauce.

Drain the spaghetti then add into your tomato sauce.

Serve topped with Parmesan. For a more substantial meal, top with crumbled crispy bacon or pop in some meatballs (try this lamb meatball recipe).

MAKES ABOUT 8 TODDLER PORTIONS (freeze some for easy dinners in a flash).

This recipe appears in my new "Kitchen Collection" cookbook, with a toddler-feeding tips and family-friendly recipes.

This recipe appears in my new “Kitchen Collection” cookbook, with toddler-feeding tips and 125 family-friendly recipes.


Need more help with fussy eaters? Try these posts…

Please help Vegie Smugglers, my child only eats…
How to get fussy kids to try new foods.
My top 10 tips to smuggle vegies into children.

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Why mini food-fascists shouldn’t ruin your day

vegie smugglers panzanella

So delicious, the kids might just join in after all.

So you’ve looked at the picture and now I can hear you screeching, “Has she gone mad! There’s NO WAY my kids would eat that”. And possibly you’re right. The vegies are all on show, there’s A LOT of them and there’s even little bits of poison like olives included in this panzanella.

But the thing is, kids are never going to eat a salad like this if they’re never introduced to it. I get sick of parents saying to me “my kids just WON’T eat (insert item name)”, to which I say, “do you ever serve (insert that item name)”, then usually they sheepishly admit that no, they never do.

I understand that you’re battle weary, but how on earth will your kids ever eat a wide variety of food if you’ve stopped serving it?

The kids shouldn’t hold us hostage, destined to a life of sausages and carrot sticks. They need to understand that while you do spend time creating their favourite dishes, sometimes they have to join in with your favourite dishes too. They need to see adults enjoying healthy food. And if you serve this at your next BBQ, they can see lots of adults oohing and aahing over it. Being that kids are such classic joiner-innerers, they might even have a stab at it. At this stage, my kids will munch on the bread, capsicum, cucumber and olives.

Who knows, by the end of summer, after seeing and eating it multiple times, I’m betting that they’ll just tuck straight in.

If cooked till nice and black, the skin will peel off the capsicums easily. No need to place in bags/tea towels or anything.


½ red onion
2 red capsicums
½ Baguette (or slices of sourdough – it’s delicious and chewy)
2 large cloves garlic
1 large Lebanese cucumber
2 punnets of cherry or roma tomatoes OR 3 big vine ripened OR 4 roma tomatoes
Handful of olives
½ bunch basil
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Slice the red onion and place in a cup of iced water. This takes the ‘bite’ out of the onion but still leaves it firm and crunchy. Leave to soak for at least 10 minutes then drain and set aside.

Cut the cheeks off the capsicum and place under a hot griller until totally blackened. Remove and set aside until they’re cool enough to handle. Once they are, peel and discard the skin.

Grill the baguette or sourdough slices until toasted. Do both sides then remove. Rub garlic over one side while the bread is still hot.

Chop your tomatoes (just in half for little ones) and add to a salad bowl. Add in the chopped cucumber and chopped capsicum flesh.

Tear over the basil and the toasted bread. Toss through the onion and olives.

Mix the oil and vinegar together (whisk with a fork) and pour over.

This salad can be served fresh but its nice to leave it sit for a couple of hours so that the flavours can combine.

Serves 8 as a side dish.

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Stronger, faster, higher, sillier

Are you catching much of the Olympics? We’re watching it constantly and I’m not sure if the kids have developed a new-found love of sport or are more excited about unrestricted access to the telly.

I enjoy the whole spectacle of it. I don’t really follow sport much at any other time, but I do like to use the games as a benchmark of where I am in life. I remember during Beijing in 2008, looking at my baby and my preschooler and thinking “WOW, by London, you guys will be BIG”, and here we are already. And big (and backchatting) they are.

Amazing how you can sit and watch nearly any sport or activity in the world if it’s being performed by the world’s best. The skill and dedication is awe-inspiring. But really, I wish the coverage would just leave it at that and not spoil it by interviewing the athletes. Not that they’re not fascinating, but you know… sometimes I don’t think we need overthink it too much. Like asking a swimmer about their race strategy. I’m guessing that they’re going to go as fast as they can for as long as they can, until the race is over and hopefully they’ve gone faster than everybody else. Usually there’s some excruciating chat full of clichés about going ‘harder, faster, performing on the night ‘or acknowledging the other competitors who also had intricate race plans that included going fast, all the way until the race was over.

For the next couple of weeks you might want to plan some make ahead dinners, so that you can drop everything to dash to the TV in time to catch that really crucial handball final, or to see the replay of the white water rafting capsize (which you can knowledgably comment on). Maybe try out this salmon mornay recipe. You can make it up at any stage during the day, refrigerate it then pop it in the oven whenever you’re ready.

Truly – salmon mornay. With a bit of paprika – delicious.

Salmon mornay

1 carrot, peeled, grated or diced finely (whatever suits your family)
1 zucchini, grated
1 ½ cups cauliflower (diced as finely as you need for your kids to not notice it)
125g can corn kernels, drained
415g can red salmon (red is much nicer than pink in this dish)
¾ cup frozen peas
Chopped chives (optional)
Juice of half a lemon
40g butter
2 ½ tbsp plain flour
½ tsp sweet paprika
1 cup milk, warmed (I just chuck mine in the microwave on medium/high for a minute or so)
1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese
½ cup dried breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180C. Dig out 4 oven proof bowls or gratin dishes (one large dish will also work but doesn’t look as pretty).

If your carrot is in chunks, pop it in a bowl, add a splash of water, cover and microwave until 90% tender. Drain and add to a large mixing bowl. Repeat with the cauliflower.

Add in the rest of the vegies and the salmon – breaking up into chunks and squishing the bones (keep them in though, for the calcium hit). Season with pepper, squeeze over the juice and mix well.

Place the butter in a medium non-stick saucepan over medium heat. When starting to bubble add in the flour and paprika and stir well with a wooden spoon. Cook this mix until the smell changes from acrid to biscuity and delicious (1-2 minutes). Gradually drizzle in the warm milk, stirring briskly and constantly. At first the mixture will thicken up then it will smooth out into a sauce that coats the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of the cheese until melted. Pour this sauce over the vegies and combine really well. Divide out into your oven dishes.

Combine the remaining cheese with the breadcrumbs, sprinkle over the top of each and bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden.

Serve with salad and crusty bread.


NOTE – allow plenty of cooling time before letting the kids tuck in.


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How to get fussy kids to try new foods

Kendo Kai enjoys ‘go’ foods.

A while back I posted ‘Please help Vegie Smugglers, my child only eats…’ which included the line “not trying is NEVER an option – our deal is TWO big bites”. Ever since I’ve had a string of emails…’but how do you get your kids to TRY new things?’

Like all parenting advice, different tactics work for different kids and this post just covers how I approach it. Who knows, maybe there will be an idea or two that you can apply at your place.

Firstly, work out if you child’s fussing at mealtimes is behavioural or medical. It’s normal for kids (starting about 18 months) to exercise a bit of self-determination and provide you with some pretty frustrating feeding moments. BUT, other kids may have genuine medical problems that you will need to seek professional help to overcome.

Most kids on the autism spectrum are fussy feeders. They need special consideration. If your diagnosis is recent or you’ve just been so overwhelmed dealing with everything else and have only just started to tackle food issues, then visit here for some excellent information that may help you.

If you child gags or vomits at mealtimes, they might have motor skills delays or a hypersensitive gag reflex. There’s information about that here.

Other kids may have digestion problems that cause discomfort and indigestion – pretty hard for a 2 year old to convey. Again, you’ll need medical advice to help you with these issues.

But if none of these apply to you and your child is still being a dinnertime MONSTER, you might want to follow some of these strategies…

1. Relax

Smile. Don’t get worked up. Keep everything positive. Freaking out about this entire subject only increases mealtime tension and won’t get you anywhere. Try to focus on feeding the entire family well, rather than fixating on what one child is/isn’t eating. Don’t let a frustrating toddler hold you to ransom. But at the same time…

2. Make a list of the foods your child does eat

You may be pleasantly surprised to realise that they do actually eat more than you thought. If the number of items is less than 20 then definitely have a chat to your GP about it next time you’re there.

3. Change your (& their) expectations & behaviour

There’s a good PDF download here about setting and meeting expectations and changing behaviour. Just change ‘employee’ to ‘child’ as you read and you’ll have a few interesting things to think about. Basically, you’ve got to put a behavior system in place around mealtimes. Let your child know what is expected of them. Reward them (with positive reinforcement) when they meet these expectations.

In my house, it is expected that my kids will come to dinner happily, with an open mind. They will be appreciative of the person who’s cooked their dinner and thank them by taking two big bites.

Why two? The first bite of something new is often unwelcome. Keep in mind that humans are programmed to be suspicious of new foods. It’s how we’ve survived for centuries without being poisoned to extinction. So the first bite is the ‘shock’ bite and it’s the second bite that allows them to relax and actually taste.

Over time my kids have come to trust that I’ve tried to cook something that they are quite likely to enjoy. Often, this basic deal is all it will take. A couple of bites into a tasty dinner and they might be happy to continue on. Great!

BUT. Sometimes they won’t like dinner. If they’ve genuinely tried it and don’t like it then they can have something else and I won’t fuss. I don’t cook twice but just let them have buttered bread, cheese, yoghurt, banana – something simple but filling.

If I’m trialing a new dish that I know is a fair way out of their comfort zones, then I make sure I’ve got fresh bread on hand as a backup. I find my success rate is about 50/50. But I would urge you to try the occasional ‘leap’ – I’ve been pleasantly shocked to see my kids happily tucking into (and enjoying) some pretty challenging dinners.

In the early days of this system, my kids would sometimes refuse to eat their two bites. Which meant they ate nothing. That’s their choice. I would let them go hungry rather than resort to unhealthy food. Hold firm – they won’t starve themselves to death. Even the fussiest first world children are extremely well nourished. You may just find that they are much more compliant tomorrow once genuine hunger has set in.

At this point it may be worth noting that I don’t reward my kids for eating. Research has shown that rewarding kids for eating food is ineffective in the long term. And never EVER force them to eat or force them to overeat. Children often need far less food than we think.

Now, getting back to that list of ingredients that they do eat….

4. Give yourself the best chance of success

Make dinners based around ingredients they do like. They like meat? Give them a hamburger with smuggled chickpeas, smothered with beetroot dip. They like cheese? Try cheesy pots with grated or blitzed vegies. Make dinners that they ought to enjoy. Build up the trust that you’re going to present them with yummy stuff. Find a few standard meals and then keep pushing them gradually further and further out of their comfort zones. It’s really important to keep up variety so that new becomes normal and they stop fussing every time they don’t recognize something. And keep in mind that you need your kids to be hungry at dinner. Try cutting out snacks in the afternoon and make dinnertime earlier.

5. Teach them why they eat

I love the concept of ‘go’ foods and ‘slow’ foods rather than ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. My kids understand that certain foods provide the nourishment we need to live happy, energetic lives. They understand that dinner is a great opportunity to enjoy a stack of ‘go’ foods to fuel them up for tomorrow.

The other side of this is that I also don’t make ‘slow’ foods taboo. Enjoy treats without guilt. All food is ok, just educate kids about how often they should eat different things. You’d be surprised by some of the crap we eat in our house. It’s not a big deal. We enjoy pizza, especially since we don’t have it very often. We do sometimes note though, how sluggish we feel after this ‘slow’ food.

Share with them a love of good food and of the social side of sharing a meal with people you love.

6. Life & food education

Once you’re past the panic stage and your child is accepting more foods, keep the variety coming and start into a new phase of food education, including shopping together (teach them how to choose good produce and get them to do it) cooking together (start with fun recipes like these pancakes), eating together (even if it’s just Sunday brunch and one or two nights a week) and gardening (show them where food comes from). Give them a couple of choices for dinner and get them to practice decision-making.

Model good behavior and healthy choices. Exercise together. Don’t diet or fuss about your weight in front of your child. Keep mealtimes happy (it’s a great chance for communication).

And remember, be consistent. Like all aspects of parenting, the second you waiver, your child will pounce. They’re canny like that.

Phew! What a long post! Thanks for sticking with me – I hope there are some ideas here to help you.

Some of my standard dinners for really fussy toddlers….

Chicken & lentil sausage rolls
Cheesy Pots
Lamb meatballs
Salmon pikelets
Tuna bites
Ravioli with orange sauce


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Get the machines to do the work (cause I’m guessing you’re pretty busy)

The MACHINES will do my work!

Have you noticed a bit less Vegie Smugglers chatter lately? I’ve been a bit scarce, having just started back into magazine land, working on a 6 month, part-time contract. A two-day a week job doesn’t come along every day, and I would have been an idiot to say no. I should be able to do it and keep VS running as well, with no discernable difference to you guys (maybe a few more spelling miztakes).

Heading back into the traditional workforce means that my CV gets updated, there’s enough cash to get the gutters fixed, the kids finally get to join their friends at after-school care and I’m plonked back into the time-poor, stressed, parenting cycle.

I used to work three days a week, so two should be easy, right? Sigh. I’m slowly getting back into the swing of it, but getting everyone out of the house by 7am is stinging a little.

At least the kids are a bit older now and night-times aren’t the disaster zones that they used to be. There’s nothing quite as harrowing as picking up toddlers at 6pm (lets not even discuss how bad the guilt levels are when your child is the last one to be collected), getting them home (singing songs the whole way, so they don’t fall asleep in the car), washed (mid-tantrum) and somehow fed (banana, anyone?). These days I have a bit more time before their behaviour turns rancid, but without a hot, daycare-supplied lunch, I’m more on the hook for providing a decent dinner each night.

So I’m turning to my fabulous kitchen machines to help me out. I’ve just bought a slow-cooker (I never had the space to store one before I moved to a house) and so far I’ve made beef stew, Italian casserole, pulled pork, chicken mole and poached pears! I need to tweak these recipes, but will try to post one or two of the best soon. And I’ve had my rice cooker working overtime. With my love of rice, I’ve always found this gadget to be extremely worthwhile. I’ve got a slightly fancy one with a sauté function. If you do too, then HOORAY, this recipe is especially for you (although you can still make it without)…

vegie smugglers cauliflower and cashew pilaf

Pilaf. Fun to say and good to eat.

Cauliflower and cashew pilaf

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups cauliflower, finely chopped into tiny bits
1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods (give them a smash with the back of a knife)
1/2 tsp cumin powder
3/4 cup brown rice, rinsed
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1/3 cup sultanas
2/3 cup cashews, roughly chopped

Heat oil in the rice cooker (on the sauté function, if it has one). Add the onion, stir then cover for two minutes. Add the cauliflower and spices; stir then cover for another two minutes.

Add in the rinsed, drained rice and the stock. Stir well, cover and leave the cooker to do its thing on the regular cook setting.

Once done, add in the carrot, sultanas and cashews, mix and leave on the warm setting for 5-10 minutes.

Cook this the day before work (cool quickly and refrigerate), and then you can reheat it (topped with frozen peas) and fry up a couple of cutlets to pop on top. Delish!

*NO RICE COOKER? Cook everything in a saucepan, as described. Cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer until the rice has absorbed the liquid & is tender.


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