Posts tagged tips

The best way to smuggle… cauliflower

I was always a good eater as a kid, but cauliflower was one of the few vegies that made my tastebuds recoil. My recollection is that we ate the drab thing a lot – but perhaps that’s just me unfairly forgetting the 6 nights a week that we ate stuff that I really loved (my mum is a great cook).

Funny how the food aversions stick around. I talk to parents all the time who worry about their kid’s eating habits, only to confess mid-conversation that they are themselves modelling the fussy-food behaviour. And I realise that cauliflower is the vegetable that I don’t buy as often as I should (since it’s full of fibre, vitamins and anti-cancer compounds). I use all sorts of excuses in the supermarket – it’s expensive and the kid’s don’t like it… but hang on a minute – that’s not actually true… I never expect the kids to like it but actually my kids DO like it (particularly smothered gratin-style in a cheese sauce and baked).

Recently I bought a chunk of it and served little florets along with broccoli simply microwaved and drizzled with lemon juice – the kids were excited and ate it all up (I think I even heard ‘yay! cauliflower!). Just goes to show what a bit of variety can achieve.

So my lessons learned were..
1. Don’t pass my food aversions onto my children.
2. Don’t assume anything about what they will and won’t like.
3. Keep the vegies served on a regular rotation (absence does seem to make the heart grow fonder).

And if you are nervous about introducing cauliflower to the family, try out this fish pie, which artfully smuggles both cauliflower and parsnip into the top layer. It’s a great recipe for autumn when cauliflower is just coming into season and the unaffordable excuse disappears too.

This is not the vegie of my childhood nightmares!

Family fish pie

Butter, for greasing
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated (peel first if necessary)
400g white fish, cut into 2cm cubes
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup milk, warmed (soy is fine)
¾ cup grated cheese
1 tbsp finely chopped chives and/or parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp white wine
Salt & black pepper
Canola oil cooking spray

4 medium potatoes, peeled, chopped
1 parsnip, peeled, chopped
1 cup cauliflower florets
25g butter
½ cup milk (soy is fine)
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a lasagne or casserole dish.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft (but not brown). Add the garlic for 1 minute then add the carrot and zucchini. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the fish and carefully mix through for 3-4 minutes.

Add the flour and milk and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, chives, lemon and wine. Mix through and season well.

Meanwhile, for the topping, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the potatoes, parsnip and cauliflower. Boil for 10-15 minutes. Test one of the largest pieces with a fork. If it skewers easily, drain the vegies into a colander, then return to the pan. Add butter and milk. Mash well. Taste and add more milk or butter if the mixture needs it.

Spread the fish mixture evenly over the bottom of the dish. Carefully put the potato layer over the top. Spray with cooking spray and bake for 20 minutes until golden.


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Chop chop!

A bowl of chopped ingredients

Cut the vegies up finely so that little fingers can't pick them out

Back in my post, top ten ways to smuggle vegies into kids, I touched on the concept of chopping things small. It solves the huge problem of targeted foods being picked out of the meal.

For instance, last night I’d made a vegie and ham muffin and my daughter, who was hoovering it down, did stop to ask, “What’s the red stuff?”.
“Sweet, delicious, red capsicum”, said I, valiantly trying to sell it in and avoid a muffin fiasco.
“I don’t like it” she said.
“Oh well,” I tried to act casual, hoping she couldn’t see the rising panic (you see, I know that once she rejects something, chances are little brother will loyally follow). “Oh well, they’re so small, just don’t look at them. As a general flavour you seem to like it?”.
She did quite like it. And the offensive red stuff was just tiny flecks here and there. So she ate it. And there is the joy of chopping things up finely.

So the best way to do it? My all time favourite would have to be a hand-held food processor like these. Or if you’re a member you can check out the Choice review of hand-held blenders. I use the pulse function on this all the time to do an easy, quick chop. You do have to watch it though and not turn everything into pastes and purees.

You can’t beat a good knife and basic knife-skills. Want a general tutorial on basic chopping techniques? See an astonishingly fat man with a light touch and a nice teaching manner here.

Or Men’s Health has a basic tutorial here. Typically on a video by men, for men, it starts with a discussion on knife size (8 to 12 inches is fine).

However, the most succinct and helpful is by a NY cooking teacher here. She’s also a little size obsessed – happy with just the 8 inch, but it has to be a good 2 or 3 inches wide.

Good luck!

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My top 10 tips to smuggle vegies into kids…

Sadly, I’ve had to spend way too much of my time thinking about this. Miss Fruitarian (age 5) and Mr Meat-&-Potatoes (age 3) used to make most mealtimes about as joyous as stabbing myself in the eye. However after many mealtime disasters and much trial and error, I think I’m almost there with them reasonably able to consume most ingredients in moderate amounts. So I’m in a position to provide a helpful list of ways to get your children eating healthy food without complaint….

TIP 1:
Hiding healthy food in yummy meals

Some people are anti hiding food, thinking kids just need to learn to eat their vegetables. This is true. But my logic also states that once the kids are eating healthy food that’s hidden, their palates become used to the flavours and you can gradually reduce the amount you have to hide things until they will happily munch down anything.

Chop things small

Once food is grated or chopped finely, kids are much less able to identify and pick out foreign items. If it’s all mixed together in a yummy delicious meal that their tastebuds approve of, the battle is won. Use a grater, learn knife skills and invest in a mini food processor to make blitzing food quick and easy.

Keep it colourful

There’s a reason why kid’s toys are all bright. They love it! It attracts them and it looks fun. Use this logic in your mealtimes and you’ll have kids thinking ‘yum’ as soon as the plate is put down.

Kids love flavour

At some point around 8-12 months, both my kids went from loving bland, to needing much more challenging flavours. Don’t dumb food down thinking that they will prefer it. Sure, leave out the chili and olives, but experiment a little and you may be pleasantly surprised by how much the kids like interesting foods.


A British study found that 1 in 4 families ate the same meal on the same night of each week. If this works for you, fine. But my kids get really bored and uncooperative when being fed sausage rolls every Thursday night (I found this out the hard way). They like the surprise of ‘what’s for dinner’. It keeps it interesting and more playful.


Understand the current stage of your kid’s development and realise that it doesn’t matter if they don’t eat every meal. Perhaps it stems from the early frantic days when you shove as much milk into your kiddie as possible in the hope that they will sleep all night, but some days they are not hungry and do not need to eat. Maybe freeze their dinner, to avoid the frustration of scraping a whole bowl of food into the bin.

Plan Ahead

Yes, it’s boring. But it’s also a key to success. Know what’s for dinner before they ask you. It doesn’t mean you have to cook every night. When you do feel like cooking, make double batches and freeze portions so that even on hellish nights you have something good to give them.

You get what you get and you don’t get upset

This wonderful mantra is from Australian chef Bill Grainger. Visit him at It sums up a couple of important things – 1. What you see in front of you is dinner. I WILL NOT go and make you toast or open a tin of beans. 2. You must TRY what is in front of you. You don’t have to like it, but you must try it.

However, if you kids are visibly gagging over something, or even you concede that perhaps things didn’t go so well in the kitchen tonight, then offer them a banana or a bowl of cereal. No interesting specials like spaghetti in the tin or cheese on toast. Please don’t prepare food twice in a night – they will sniff food victory.

Look at your own diet

Kids copy you. Assess what you eat and make modifications so that you are setting a good example. Quit crappy snacks. Start eating fruit again. Include more vegies in your cooking and rediscover how good fresh food can be. Perhaps your mum wasn’t’ so great in the kitchen and perhaps you didn’t have a good introduction, but now is your chance to eat well.

TIP 10:
Distract yourself

I’ve taken up knitting. Truly. So that I can sit at the dinner table, am present and can participate in dinnertime talk without having to actually watch the carnage. I breathe deeply, remember lessons learnt from the Buddhism for Mothers book and remind myself that food flying around everywhere, being smeared on chairs, spat out and pushed aside is part of children being children. If I watch them my blood pressure rises and I start yelling. Knitting seems to be more of a positive activity than guzzling wine which incidentally does also distract me quite nicely.

So there you have it, they’re the top tips that I’ve discovered. But what are yours?…

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