Posts tagged vegies

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”

Can you place the quote? That’s right! This week I am channelling Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. Why? A family blood-feud? No, just that these words were squealed (with an edge of small child hysteria) at my dinner table last week;

“Mummy, is this ONION?, you know I don’t like ONION!”.

What, little child!?! You don’t like onion? Since when??? Onion has been liberally used throughout most of our meals for the past few years, but suddenly this week, it is being identified and picked out of everything. Then with a face screwed up in disgust, the child is smearing half chewed chunks over the table and turning a peaceful family meal into a battle scene.

Just when I thought I was on the home straight of Vegie-Smuggling I realise that I still have many years of food fads to go.

What to do when these phases hit?
1. Keep calm. Don’t inflame the situation by arguing, particularly if you have one of those argumentative little lovelies who enjoy nothing more than a battle.
2. Stay in charge. Try to get your kids to eat it all up, assertively reminding them that they’ve eaten it before and loved it before.
3. Serve a similar dish again within a few days. See if the aversion was a once-off, or something you are going to have to deal with.

If it’s a definite new food problem, head back to your vegie-smuggling basics. If you’ve been cooking with nice big chunks of the culprit veg, go back to grating it for a while, or replace with a variation. For me, grating the onion or replacing it with spring onion has been enough to keep the last couple of nights calm (and the dinners still tasty).

Within a week or two, just go back to normal. Your lovely fickle offspring will (hopefully) have forgotten all about it. Kids are good like that. Unlike the Corleones.

a meal that smuggles all vegies

This was my first vegie-smuggling recipe!

Cheesy Pots

This recipe is one I return to again and again as a fail-proof dinner that smuggles nearly anything.

2½ cups of any fresh vegetables, chopped super-fine or grated. I use peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, carrot and canned corn.
50g ham, diced (optional)

Cheese sauce
40g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1½ cups milk, warmed
125g cheddar cheese, grated
Salt & black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C.
Microwave or steam each of the vegies separately until just starting to soften. Mix them together with ham, if using, and distribute evenly among overproof dishes.

For the cheese sauce, heat the butter in a non-stick saucepan over low-medium heat. Add the flour and use a wooden spoon to stir for 2 minutes. Gradually add the warm milk. It is important to do it gradually and stir constantly. The mixture will thicken into a paste before smoothing back out into a glossy sauce.

Bring sauce to the boil, remove from the heat and add the cheese. Stir until melted. Season to taste.

Divide sauce evenly among the ovenproof dishes. Place on an oven tray and bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden.

MAKES 5 CUPS (divide between ovenproof dishes to suit your family).


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More Vegie Smuggling success!

As we all know, I love nothing more than a vegie smuggling success story. Without sounding like a goodie-two-shoes (whatever that phrase means), I really do enjoy hearing that this website is helping parents improve their kid’s (and their) diets. For some folks, any small victory in the ongoing mealtime war is MAJOR. I remember how miserable endless food stand-offs can be, and how exciting it is when you find a dinner-time winner.

So here’s some feedback from Leah, who got in touch via

vegie smuggling success story

Zucchini and smiles (and an IKEA plate, of course!)

“We were having a hard time getting our kids to finish eating dinner, most nights dragging it out for over an hour. Then I found your awesome blog and made the Salmon & Zucchini bites (which I served with salad) and I couldn’t believe it, 10 minutes and dinner was over! The easiest dinner I’ve ever made and delicious as well. Both my kids, 3 & 5 absolutely loved helping make them and eating them too. Thanks for sharing your fantastic recipes with us and making dinner fun again.”

If you’ve had a good experience with one of my recipes, make sure you let me know…

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What the kids eat in… China

Actually, I suspect more folks outside of China might actually eat this dish. But let’s not worry about pesky facts and just enjoy this delicious messy mass of tasty goodness. I did try to research the origins, but perhaps it’s one of those ‘from everywhere’ dishes with no particular source, although I did see claims of origin from Thai to Cantonese to the good ol’ USA. One cute internet fact (and maybe even true) is that the name translates as ‘lettuce delights’, which sounds so lovely!

I got thinking about this dish after my 14-year-old niece whipped up a version at a recent family get-together. At 14 I could melt cheese onto corn chips in the microwave, she can whip up a meal for 12 people. Very impressive stuff. The kids LOVED having her cook for them and ate up every little morsel. So I’m naming this dish in her honour.

Apparently teenagers aren’t necessarily too fussed on vegies either, so I’ve built on her recipe quite a bit, smuggling in a stack load more vegies. Use iceberg lettuce to wrap the mixture up as tightly as possible. The result is hot/cold/crunchy and absolutely delicious. Just keep a washer handy and lettuce delight indeed…

Chicken mince in sang choy bow

Lettuce delights for your munching pleasure

Sarah’s sang choy bao

2 tbsp shao hsing wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp corn flour

Lettuce leaves (iceberg or cos both work well)
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 onion, finely diced
500g chicken mince
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
4 green onions, finely sliced
225g tin water chestnuts, drained, finely diced
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
125g can corn kernels

Combine all of the sauce ingredients together and set aside. Carefully remove whole lettuce leaves, wash and drain on clean tea towels.

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add the onion and stirfry for 3-4 minutes until translucent and turning golden.

Add the chicken mince and stirfry until it changes from pink to white. Break up lumps as you go to ensure there are no hidden raw bits.

Add the garlic, ginger, green onions, water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrot and corn. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the green onions are tender and the mushrooms are nice and soft. Pour the sauce over the top and stir-fry for another minute or two until everything is piping hot and cooked thoroughly. (NOTE: if you are making this to reheat later, leave everything slightly undercooked)

Spoon -1 cup quantities of mixture into the lettuce leaves, wrap up carefully and enjoy!

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Why I hate the Jamie Oliver haters

vegie smugglers healthy eating worksheet

Get your kids recognising all of these fruits and vegetables, or maybe just use the shopping list when seeking out names for your newborn.

Available for your downloading enjoyment this week is a nutrition inspired bit of craft fun – a fruit and vegetable shopping list where kids can practice numeracy, reading, colouring in and most importantly recognising a range of healthy ingredients. It was inspired after watching Jamie Oliver’s recent Food Revolution USA. Did you see any of it? This bit where the kids couldn’t recognise ANY fruit and veg was downright scary.

I like to think that Aussie kids are far more knowledgable – we have such a fantastic supply of fresh produce and are surrounded by an inspiring cauldron of world cuisines. Surely this scene wouldn’t take place in any of our classrooms, would it?

Say what you will about Jamie, and the poor fella attracts his fair share of haters, he’s passionate and devoted to improving the health of thousands of children world-wide. So I can ignore the mild child abuse he perpetrates on his own children with their eccentric names. Such is the privilege of celebrity I suppose.

This Jamie-inspired worksheet is one of the three that are supplied to your daycare centre or school when you participate in a Vegie Smugglers fundraising program. The VS Facebook community will know that it’s been all action with the first fundraisers starting this week. Good luck everyone!

If you haven’t already, download the info PDF and email it to your daycare manager, letting them know that you’re keen to join in the fun. There are great benefits for all with the program, my tagline for it is “empowering parents, creating healthier families, and raising money too!” – an ethos I’m totally committed to. I passionately believe that healthier kids lead to happier families. When everyone eats better, they sleep better and then they behave better. Meaning you are rested and calm enough to parent better too.

Well, we can all try…

For other health orientated worksheets, try these…

Which vegetables grow above and below the ground? Find out with this colouring in page.

Or this plate worksheet, ready for the kids to draw on, colour and collage.

For a full look at all my posts with free printables… CLICK HERE!

Like this project? You can find it, along with 39 other boredom busters in the ‘Craft for non-crafty Parents’ e-book. There’s a stack of silly fun stuff, projects that encourage healthy eating and a bunch of worksheets covering preschool education and school readiness. You can buy it at the shop now!

128 pages, 40 projects, 85 pages of printables…

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Junior Masterchef is blowing my mind!

At Vegie Smuggling HQ, last Sunday night was spent watching TV with our jaws hanging wide open. Isn’t it a shock, to see a bunch of kids so young who can kick butt in the kitchen, sauteing, baking and slicing their way to foodie heaven? We’re all so protective these days and assume our little lovelies are so helpless that it’s refreshing to see competent kids, who’ve been well trained, concentrating and doing their thing with such aplomb. And putting the rest of us to shame. I mean, really, I doubt I could make Pierre’s Lamb Wellington that won the other night.

And isn’t it great, for younger kids to see these visions of accomplishment. Miss Fruitarian was grinning the entire time.

Why do I underestimate what my kids are capable of and wrap them in such thick layers of cotton wool? A while back, my Japanese friend shocked me by instructing in that helpful/harsh Japanese way that I must give my kids knives from the time they’re three. “They only cut themselves one time”, she assured me.

In some countries Miss F would probably of have a flock of goats under her control by now. Even half a century ago she would have been contributing to the household in ways more productive than her current “muuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm, iiiii nneeeeeeeedddddddddddd youuuuuuuuuuuuuu”. Of course, I run to her to check what the emergency is and generally find that she can’t find her red texta, or she needs me to kill the microscopic spider on the bathroom floor. With renewed purpose, I’m going to work on getting my kids more domestically skilled and useful.

In the mean time, here’s my contribution to the Junior Masterchef ‘pie’ challenge, a vegie smuggling Shepherd’s Pie that hides potato, pumpkin, onion, carrot, celery and eggplant. Strangely enough, I didn’t see any of the Masterchef kids sneaking too many vegies into their masterpieces.

shepherds pie

Miss F may not herd goats, but she does love this Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s pie

Meat base
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled,
finely diced
1 celery stick,
finely diced
500g lamb mince
2 finger eggplants, peeled, finely diced
2 tbsp plain flour
2 cups beef stock
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
Squeeze of tomato sauce
2 fresh bay leaves
(or 1 dried)
Salt & black pepper

Mash topping
3 mashing potatoes, peeled, diced
500g pumpkin, peeled, diced
½ cup milk
Margarine, to taste

Canola oil cooking spray

For the meat base, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion, carrot and celery until soft (5-10 minutes). Add the mince and brown, breaking up lumps as you go. Add the eggplant and stir.

Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock, sauces and bay leaves. Bring to the boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Season to taste.

Meanwhile, for the mash, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the potato and pumpkin and cook for 15 minutes until tender. Drain.

Preheat oven to 200C.

Mash the potatoes and pumpkin well, adding milk and margarine to achieve your preferred texture.

Divide the lamb mixture between a family-sized souffle dish and 4 x 1 cup ovenproof dishes (eat the family one tonight and freeze the smaller serves).

Spread mash over the top as evenly as you can.

Put all the dishes on one oven tray, spray the tops with cooking spray and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and bubbling.


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What Juanita eats when she’s not reading the news…

With the Vegie Smugglers cookbook so fresh off the presses, I’m still a bit chuffed whenever I receive positive feedback about it. Setting up as an independent publisher of quality publications has not been easy. I love it when people tell me how nice the stock is, how gorgeous the photos are etc etc. That’s all great, but what I REALLY want to know is how are the recipes working in your household?

A smattering of copies have made their way around town, and one person who instantly sprang to mind to send one to was Juanita Phillips, broadcaster and author of A Pressure Cooker Saved My Life. She seems like a nice lady. And a busy one. With small kids to boot.

And apparently she is nice, since she emailed me straight away – a chatty note about the food battles at her house (food boredom, with a small and over-used collection of dinners on high rotation). I was VERY chuffed when she said…

“I love your book! I’m very very excited about it. It looks gorgeous but more importantly the recipes are terrific. I made the salmon pancakes on Sunday night and the only sound at the table was quiet scoffing as every last pancake was eaten.”

She plans to work her way through the book AND tell all her friends about it. Awwwww she IS a REALLY nice lady. So in tribute, I’m renaming the Salmon Pikelets after her…

Salmon Pikelets

The pikelet that more journalists trust.

Juanita’s salmon pikelets

These little miracles are delicious fresh, reheated or from the freezer. The smaller size makes them perfect for toddlers seeking a bit of feeding independence.

2/3 cup self-raising flour
6 eggs
1/3 cup milk
400g can red or pink salmon, drained, flaked
2 cubes frozen spinach portions, thawed (or ½ cup fresh English spinach, finely shredded)
1 small red onion, finely diced
125g can corn kernels, drained
2 tbsp chopped chives or coriander (optional)
Black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the eggs and milk and whisk out any lumps. Use your hands to crumble in the salmon (crushing up any bones), then stir through the spinach, onion, corn and herbs (if using) until evenly combined. Season with pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add 1-2 tbsp of batter to form pikelets 5-6cm wide. Cook for 2-3 minutes then use a spatula to turn over carefully. Flatten with the spatula and cook for another couple of minutes until golden brown on both sides. Repeat in batches with remaining batter.

Serve with green beans and lemon wedges.


STORAGE Place cooked pikelets on a plate for 10 minutes to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reheat in the frying pan, oven or microwave.

FOR THE ADULTS Serve these on a bed of rocket and smother them with sweet chilli sauce and a squeeze of lemon.

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The best way to smuggle… brown lentils

Unless I told you (which of course, now, I have) you’d never know that lentils lurk in this delicious meal. They meld seemlessly in with the vegies, mince and mexican flavourings.

Wraps like tortillas are endlessly awesome at hiding stuff from kids. I always roll a short length of foil around the lower half of them (a great tip from Mel, my book editor). It minimises the mess and turns them into a more exciting space-stick dinner.

Remember that kids always take their cues from YOU. So don’t pull faces and make jokes about hippies. Lentils are incredibly good for you, and these fajitas are REALLY tasty. Let me know how you go!

Beef & lentil fajita recipe

Don't ask, don't tell.

Beef & lentil fajitas

1 tbsp canola oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
4 spring onions, finely sliced
500g beef mince
½ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
½ green capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
400g can brown lentils, rinsed, drained
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp BBQ sauce
½ sachet taco seasoning mix
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano

To serve
10 ready-made tortillas
Lettuce, shredded
1 cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
Avocado, sliced
1 cup grated cheese
Coriander leaves

Heat the canola oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the onion and spring onion until golden and softened, 5 minutes or so. Add the mince and cook until totally brown, breaking up lumps as you go.

Add all the capsicum, carrot, lentils, sauces and taco mix (go easy, taste then add more if needed. The sachets tend to be very salty). Or, if you are making your own flavour mix, add all the ingredients now. Stir well. Simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Prepare tortillas according to packet directions.

Tip mince mixture into a large bowl and serve surrounded by the accompaniments all in their own dishes. It’s a fantastic, colourful spread. Let kids build their own fajitas by wrapping a little of everything in a tortilla and they’ll be devoured in no time.


This can all be made ahead, stored in the fridge and put together at the end of the day.

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What’s for pudding?

I’ve been remiss and I apologise profusely. I’ve just realised that there isn’t a single sweetie on my blog! For someone with a tooth as sweet as mine that is unthinkable. So I’ll rectify it immediately with this chocolate & beetroot brownie recipe. Don’t be put off by the thought of vegie treats – I have people pestering me for this recipe, saying they prefer it to regular brownies. It is moist and delicious. The beetroot adds a depth of flavour and gives it a lovely pink tinge.

Let’s face it, it is still on the list of ‘sometimes’ foods, but at least if we’re going to eat chocolate we can ease our conscience a little.

Now I know you all cook in a Doris Day angora twin-set, so my advice is to pop on one of those cute frilly aprons and a pair of disposable kitchen gloves when you grate the beetroot. Grating it in a clean sink also makes the tidy up easier.

Chocolate & beetroot brownie

I just can't help myself, I've even got a healthy root in here.

Chocolate & beetroot brownies

Butter, for greasing
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
100g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 eggs
½ cup caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup plain flour
110g almond meal
½ cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
1 cup peeled and grated raw beetroot (use disposable gloves and wear an apron for this!)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease and line a lamington tin with baking paper.

Use the microwave on medium heat to melt the chocolate. Stir every 30 seconds until runny. Add the butter and mix through until melted, microwaving a little more if needed. Allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Add the vanilla. Sift the flour over the top. Add the almond meal, walnuts, beetroot and chocolate and fold through until just combined.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. Leave to cool in the pan before cutting into squares. Dust with icing sugar and serve with strawberries.


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What the kids eat in… Mexico

Rest assured Victorians, I’m not talking about you, but that colourful, warm territory to the south of that big scary country (the bossy one that cruises the world picking fights with little countries, pushing freedom and the right to eat donuts for breakfast, get morbidly obese then craned out of our house by emergency services). The territory of Dora and Frida Kahlo, where there’s a fantastic cuisine that stars in the Vegie Smuggling atlas. It’s healthy, with lots of legumes and salad, often served snugly in tortillas that hide the worst of the healthy stuff and leave the kids seduced by cheese and guacamole.

This Australian/Mexican quesadilla recipe warms my heart for many reasons – 1. It’s quick to make. 2. It’s fun to eat. 3. You can pretty much keep everything you need long term in the pantry, which makes it a perfect last minute/after work meal.

Another factor which makes it a VS winner is that it can be easily adapted to suit various members of the family which means you can get everyone eating the same meal with a minimum of fuss (add chillis or bottled jalapenos, leave out the coriander or add extra cheese).

Here’s a tip – the first time you make it, the flipping can be a bit nerve wracking. Mini tortillas make it much more manageable.

Tuna quesadillas

Dora eats these tuna quesadillas, and so should you!

Tuna Quesadillas

185g can tuna in springwater
185g can tuna in olive oil
125g can corn kernels, drained
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
125g can four bean mix, rinsed, drained
¼ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
Black pepper
1 cup grated cheddar or mozzarella
10 ready-made tortillas

Drain the tuna in springwater and place in a mixing bowl. Add the undrained tin of tuna in olive oil and the rest of the ingredients except for the tortillas. Mix until combined.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat.

Carefully separate the tortillas (heat for a few seconds in the microwave if they are sticking). Place one on a chopping board, cover generously with the tuna mix and top with another tortilla.

Slide the tortilla sandwich carefully into the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula, ease out of the pan onto a large plate, hold the top with your hand and flip over. Carefully place back in the pan to cook for 3-4 minutes on the other side until the tortillas are crisp and the cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining mix and tortillas.



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

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The best way to smuggle… tomatoes

Over on the Vegie Smugglers facebook page (yes, that’s a blatant, go and ‘like’ it advert), I’ve had a request for solutions to an ongoing tomato battle.

Raw tomatoes can be tricky and I’ll tackle them later. Let’s start with cooked tomatoes, which are a little friendlier to kid’s tastebuds. A recipe that works well is The best-ever vegetarian lasagne. But really, if you think of cooked tomatoes, bolognaise is the dish that springs to mind. The classic Italian dish is SO popular, that people make fun of it. But let’s remember that it’s a cliché for a reason. A million families across Australia wouldn’t cook it every Tuesday night if it wasn’t a ‘bums on seats till the bowl is empty’ winner.

Alas, Claire on Facebook admitted to supermarket-jar-dependence. Easy to understand. But not nearly as tasty (or healthy) as home-made.

My suggestion is to get the menfolk onto it. There’s something about being king of the kitchen and brewing a big pot of meat that seems to appeal to them. Get them cooking up a double batch this weekend and freeze lovely kid-sized portions. Then you’ll have a quick and healthy meal ready to rock whenever you need it. Most households have a bolognaise recipe that they swear by – this is my husband’s fine work. There are a lot of ingredients, but please don’t be deterred, give it a try and marvel at how good bolognaise can be.

Adam's bolognaise

Me Tarzan! This my meat (with red stuff).

Adam’s bolognaise sauce

3 tbsp olive oil
500g veal mince
500g pork mince
1 large brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
½ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
1 large zucchini, grated
1 tbsp chopped basil
¼ cup chopped parsley
400g can chopped tomatoes
700ml passata (bottled tomato puree found in the supermarket near the Italian pasta sauces)
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tomato sauce
½ cup red wine (optional, but recommended)
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced
1 bay leaf
Salt & black pepper

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the veal mince and brown, breaking up lumps as you go. Remove from pan and set aside. Do the same with the pork mince using another tbsp of olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining olive oil and cook the onion gently over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and carrot and stir for 1 minute. Add the capsicum and zucchini and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Throw in the herbs for 30 seconds then add the canned tomatoes. Stir that through then add half the passata and cook until the sauce bubbles.

Add the veal mince, then the rest of the passata and the pork mince. Stir well then add the tomato paste, tomato sauce and red wine. Stir through the mushrooms, add the bay leaf and season to taste. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (simmer for up to an hour if you have time).

Serve sauce with fettuccine topped with parmesan and herbs.


KIDS ALSO LOVE IT when you serve this sauce scooped into cooked large pasta shells. No effort or fuss, they just pop them straight in – vegies and all.

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