Recipes for Families with Toddlers: Roasted Veggie Lasagna

Years ago, Jason and I started experimenting with lasagna recipes. We tried meat, we veggie, we tried all sorts of different things. What we stumbled upon was a lasagna so good that we still (years later) make it about once a month or so. We have it down to a science. Veggies. Spinach basil mix. Rice Noodles. Go.

That it happens to be vegetarian is strange, as we are not…

That it happens to be toddler friendly and gluten-free* is another bonus of the recipe – and one that we have definitely capitalized on since baby RZ was only six months old. It was her first ever real prepared ‘meal,’ and she adored it! I hope you will too. : )

Roasted Veggie Lasagna 

The lasagna is made in a few separate steps. It might seem like a lot at first, but once you’ve made it twice the steps get very simple. Especially if you can make the roasted vegetables the day before.

Ingredients:

5 medium sized zucchini (or more as desired)
1 large eggplant (or more as desired)
1 package hard tofu, smashed by hand
2 balls of mozzarella, grated
1 container of ricotta
3 bulbs garlic, roughly chopped
1 big bunch or package of spinach or baby spinach, chopped
1 bunch basil, chopped
2 jars of spaghetti sauce (Prego works well)

*You can also have a layer of ground beef if you prefer that. We do this sometimes too.

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the zucchini and eggplant lengthwise, and then chop into iPod Shuffle sized pieces. Don’t they look like little iPods??

Toss in olive oil, sea salt, and italian herb seasoning. Lay these out on a roasting pan with at least the amount of spacing as shown, and cook for 7-10 minutes, then flip if translucent or remove from oven if soft and browned. If you see any burning, turn the temp down… if there’s no sizzle, turn it up.

Repeat with as many veggies as you have – it may take several batches. Place roasted veggies aside or refrigerate if making day before. Make sure you try a few samples, just to be sure they’re delicious. I almost always add a dash of tamari for some extra flavour. (If you are making this Gluten-free, buy the gluten free kind. Tamari is my fave.)

Roasted Vegetables

Step 2. This step can be done any time but it’s a tad messy. You’re going to prepare a big bowl full of chopped spinach, chopped basil, chopped garlic, ricotta and smashed (by hand) tofu. Add a dash of salt. I didn’t get a picture of my spinach mixture on its own but you’ll see it below in context.

Step 3: When you’re ready to build the lasagna (I recommend doing this the day after you’ve done steps one and two), the first thing to do is make the noodles. And pre-heat the oven to 375.

Bring a well-salted pot to a boil and add your noodles. We use (and love) the Rizopia brand brown rice sheets, shown below. It has the perfect hearty texture for lasagna.

The only rice pasta brand you'll ever need.
The only rice pasta brand you’ll ever need.

Cook until done (about 11 minutes I think, but every stove is different. These noodles do like a rolling boil.) Once cooked, strain  and run some cold water over them. Add a splash of olive oil as well. Then you’ll want to lay them out individually (quite quickly) on a cutting board or other non-stick surface so that they don’t stick together.  *Some pieces will not make it out whole. Use those for your middle layers if possible.

Ready to start building a lasagna? Here’s mine in progress:

Lasagna with Spinach and Ricotta

Step 4: Start the layering (almost done!). A really useful tool for this stage is a silicone baster, but a spoon will do. Coat your lasagna pan (preferably a heavy pan like a Creuset) with pasta sauce. Lay out three noodles or enough to cover the surface of the pan, and layer more sauce on top, as pictured. Then, add your spinach/ricotta/garlic/tofu mix. Layer #1 completed.

Next, lay more noodles on top of the spinach mix, coat with sauce, and then lay on the roasted veggies, about 2-3 vegetables thick. Then, add third and final noodle layer, and cover in sauce…. and cheese.

So it’s three layers pasta sheets and two layers filling, with sauce and cheese on top.

Lasagna before

Step 5: Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until golden brown. *Note, the more browned it gets, the more chewy the cheese top gets, which adults love but isn’t the best for the young ones. Aim for browned in spots but not all over.

Allow it to cool so that the juices settle and then carve up and dive in. Bon Appetit.

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Adventures in the 5 senses of food; a fun way to approach feeding babies and toddlers

Somewhere between the puree approach and baby led weaning, I found a middle ground, and I wanted to share it because there are really so few options out there for introducing solids and meals to babies and toddlers.  *more recipes and chit chat on my FB community here.

Read more about my approach, and how I got here, below or skip down below to the food adventures:

> Food Adventure 1: Touch/Tactile – Exploring food with both hands…and face.
> Food Adventure 2: Smell – Introducing Aromatics
> Food Adventure 3: Sound – the thrill of snap, crackle, & crunch!
> Food Adventure 5: Taste – Big adventures for little palettes
> Food Adventure 5: Sight – the bright, bold, beautiful colours of food

I wouldn’t say it’s a radical departure from either of the approaches above, but it’s definitely an in-between, plus adds some additional elements that I haven’t seen enough of; like the importance of incorporating sense exploration.   Research is pointing out the importance of this more and more, as you’ll see below.

On the scale of puree to BLW, I’m definitely way more on the BLW side, I absolutely love the food exploring, the hands-on style, the self-regulating, the adventurous spirit of it. But I found it to be a bit too grown up at times… and I found myself (still now) making finger food more accessible in various ways. Mostly by making them more bite size, sometimes mashing.

I suspect there are more parents like me who are doing BLW this ‘softcore’ way; supplementing major food exploration with more manageable hands-on meals. BLW foods don’t always have to be big and tricky, do they? Yet somehow I felt like rice and tiny cut up veggies was cheating?

This is why I wanted to share the approach we took, and put it out there for others that might be feeling like I was; that I needed something in between. Don’t be fooled by the spoon below – the spoon feeding only lasted about a month or less, but yes, that’s how we started….

Avocado mash introducing solids

Avocado mash (above) at 6 months, corn on the cob (below) at 12 months.

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So. Where does this leave us?

The best way to describe what we did is what I’m calling THE 5 SENSES METHOD.

What’s it about? Quite simply, the great human adventure of starting to eat and appreciate food; and how the awareness of taste, smell, sound, sight, and touch is key to that.

Practically speaking, this method is about serving 80% of meals as bite size finger foods made from grains, meats, and vegetables. Choosing (or designing) meals that are colourful, interesting, and aromatic but still unprocessed, nutritionally dense, and in most cases ‘whole’ like a grain of rice or a piece of fruit. The other 20% of the time; having fun with texturally challenging, ‘bigger’ whole foods, and helping baby learn how to manage the little obstacles that come with eating grown-up sized table food. Independent eating, yes – all the way. But also simple and gentle, with an appreciation for flavour variety, shape, aroma, & texture.

Irresistible sticky rice with mango for toddlers

Mango sticky rice at 9 months above, veggie dinner at 10 mos.

Toddler Dinners - Bi Bim Bop
Veggie Dinner at 10 mos.

Recent research has shown that everything from colour and shape to what music playing in the background affects our perception of flavour. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realized that what really doesn’t come across in either puree or BLWing is how important it is for babies and toddlers to be stimulated by and interested in what we’re feeding them. But also, how important it is that we share in their flavour experience, and delight in the food we’re providing as much as we want them to delight in eating it.

Putting this all in the context of the 5 senses helps it all come together, so here it is:

Food Adventure 1: Touch/Tactile – Exploring food with both hands…and face. 

BLW does the best job of introducing this concept; letting the baby explore food freely, and feed themselves. The part of this that I’ve really found great value in is how babies take so easily to the concept of a “whole” food — I was amazed to see my daughter navigate whole fruits, eggs… even a chicken drumstick at nine months old. While I don’t think this type of eating is necessarily practical for every meal, it’s really important to experiment with soft textured whole foods. Smaller ‘whole’ foods like brown rice and well-steamed broccoli were absolute staples.

Examples to try: partly peeled bananas, whole tomatoes, and peeled oranges (acidic foods only weekly though, not daily). Avocado,ends of bread. Colourful, messy, tactile foods like Lasagna and Spaghetti with prima vera sauce, mango sticky rice, dried fruit, large piece of baguette to gnaw on, burgers/slider patties.

Toddler eats whole orange

Food Adventure 2: Smell – Introducing Aromatics

Smell is the most advanced sense that babies have at birth. We know that babies can smell their moms from across the room – that super sniffing power comes into play with real food too.

I love the way my friends did this with their baby; they’d have their son in the bouncy chair while they cooked, and would let him smell the basil, mint and whatever other fresh ingredients they were chopping as they cooked. Did that baby grow up to eat everything? Yup. And we did the same thing for just that reason. (And it worked out pretty well for us too).

Aromatic examples to try: Italian-herb pesto pasta and sauce, indian food, watermelon salad, smell/taste exploration with mint, basil, and other delicate herbs.

Watermelon-Salad

> Food Adventure 3: Sound – the thrill of snap, crackle, & crunch!

There’s growing evidence for the idea that sound affects taste, including the concept that we derive direct enjoyment from the crackle of a Rice Krispie or the crunch of crudités.

Crispy Examples: steamed peas, raw or light poached apple and pears, mum mum crackers or other melt-in-your-mouth crackers, wheat puffs, baked veggie patties

*Also, play music at meal time… not kid music … real, enjoyable music that’s fun and will make you smile. It’s infectious, and creates that important association between smiles, fun and eating.

> Food Adventure 4: Taste – Big adventures for little palettes

The simplest of all. But maybe not so simple, now that research is proving how powerfully other circumstances influence it. The best example I have of a culture that does taste adventure well is the French — who entrust their youngsters with leek soup and baguettes practically from birth.

Big credit to my husband, the true epicure, who has always been a master of flavour and definitely brave when it came to letting our daughter explore tastes. I’m so glad he did – I think that his natural passion for new things and sharing flavor adventures has been a wonderful influence on RZ, who does eat almost anything.

Flavour-experience foods: baby-green fried rice, miso soup, jambalaya, pesto pasta with chicken.
What I like about this style of eating is that it’s such a good introduction to how we eat, ideally, as adults; taking pleasure in the different elements of food and flavour, appreciating the way food looks on a plate, and taking great enjoyment out of a hearty slurp, bite, or crunch.

> Food Adventure 5: Sight – the bright, bold, beautiful colours of food

 For adults, it’s about a pop of green or red, a beautiful browned crispy edge, or the bright hues of fresh veggies and citrus. The natural joy of enjoying food with our eyes is something we carry with us for life. For babies and toddlers, we need to pass on the knowledge that food is a delicate art that time and effort goes into. It’s not about spending an hour in the kitchen working on the presentation of the babies food, but it could be taking an extra 10 minutes or so to consider how a meal can an an extra bit of twinkle to those big, beautiful, eyes and curious baby faces….

By the age of 2, you’ll be hearing words “hair”, “eyes”, “green”, “smile”… “happy”… food can help bring the world of shapes and colours and names of things to life.

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What do you think? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Success in the toddler test kitchen: Mango Sticky Rice!

Irresistible sticky rice with mango for toddlers

Let me start by saying that this dish was devoured, not just by our toddler, but us too! I don’t know why I never tried it before. It’s such an obvious and irresistible dish, especially to the toddler palette. I made a chicken and broccoli dinner version and a sweeter-rice mango desert version, and both were unbelievably tasty. For the sticky rice, I followed the recipe from Bangkok-born Miranti Borvornsin of High Heels Gourmet (She’s really great. You gotta love a food blogger who encourages wine-sip breaks!)

I won’t mess with her recipe for sticky rice, but I will say: if you’ve never steamed rice before, it’s the funnest thing ever. It’s like watching flowers grow in twenty minutes. You just see this steamer full of rice expand into the most beautiful little kernels of juicy Thai jasmine rice… and then, with the addition of the coconut milk sauce … divine. I admit I’m a bit of an over-excitable super geek when it comes to food and cooking, but hey – that’s why I’m writing about it! 

To make it extra toddler friendly, I topped it all with milk and a dash of cinnamon.

Irresistible sticky rice with mango for toddlers
Irresistible sticky rice with mango for toddlers

50 Healthy First Foods – Hassle-free, healthy ideas for baby’s journey into real food

Finger Food Babies Honeydew

It’s such an adventure to figure out what to feed a baby sometimes; but the older the baby gets, the more the kitchen and pantry options seem to expand. I find it so much fun to experiment with new foods and recipes. Many of the foods in this list, Raquel has been eating since she was 8 months old. So here it is… the list of 50 healthy, simple, first foods!

Once you’ve graduated to more food combining, check out some of my toddler-friendly recipes (some teeth help) or if you’re just beginning to give your baby real food, check out my earlier posts on how we started Raquel on food, using a “no-puree” method sometimes called baby-led weaning. <– The name is dumb. It could also be called “eating food.”  

Finger Food Babies Honeydew
Raquel at about 6 months old, eating honeydew.

Here’s a picture of us last summer, with her eating (more like sipping and gumming, at that stage) some fresh honeydew.

50 Healthy Baby Foods for the First Year:

  1. Honeydew
  2. Hummous
  3. Watermelon
  4. Avocado (a good very first food)
  5. Cheese
  6. Mango (In the winter we use the frozen, already chopped. Blanche and Dice.)
  7. Green peas (First Food) (Blanche, steam, or boil)
  8. Halved Grapes
  9. Hearts of Palm (Dice) 
  10. Artichoke hearts (From Jar. Dice, hearts only, with olive oil)
  11. Brown rice (Well cooked – 2 to 1 water to rice or 45 – 50 min.)
  12. White rice (but brown rice is healthier, for the record.) 
  13. Raisins (7+ mos.) 
  14. Puffed wheat/rice cakes (7+ mos.) 
  15. Almond butter on toast (7+ mos.) 
  16. Israeli cous cous (7+ mos.) 
  17. Pear (Soft, Diced)
  18. Broccoli (Well steamed or boiled til mushy)
  19. Banana (First Food) 
  20. Spaghetti with pesto, olive oil, cheese sauce or tomato sauce  
  21. Rotini, same as above .
  22. Soba noodles 
  23. Rice noodles
  24. Cottage cheese 
  25. Pita and cream cheese (7+ mos.) 
  26. Scrambled/Chopped egg (7+ mos.) 
  27. Sweet Potato 
  28. Green Beans (Pre-cut, frozen – blanche, steam or boil)
  29. Carrots (Blanche, steam or boil)
  30. Bluberries (Organic is best for thin-skinned fruits) 
  31. Chicken pieces
  32. Fish pieces
  33. Steamed Squash (Diced.) 
  34. Strawberries (Diced.) 
  35. Clementine/tangerine pieces (7+ mos. Diced and Deveined.) 
  36. Yoghurt (Also great as dressing or dip) 
  37. Cheese Curds (big hit) 
  38. Papaya (Diced) 
  39. Plum (Skinless, Diced.) 
  40. Apricot (Diced) 
  41. Asparagus tops (Blanched, Boiled, or Steamed until ‘gummable’.) 
  42. Beets (Boiled til soft) 
  43. Cauliflower (Boiled or Steamed until soft) 
  44. Zucchini 
  45. Spinach (Blanched or steamed. Chopped.) 
  46. Tofu (Raw. Mashed or Cubed) 
  47. Black beans (slightly mashed) 
  48. Kidney beans (slightly mashed) 
  49. Mashed Potato
  50. Turkey! With cranberry sauce! — Ok, this one might take a little work ; ) 

5 BBQ ideas for babies and toddlers

Can babies eat BBQ? The short answer is yes. (Yay!)

My concern was about carcinogens found in charred meat, but the solution to that is pretty simple. Don’t give your little one any food with black bits on it. But those parts generally accompany the tough parts of food anyway. Baby BBQing is all about keeping foods soft and juicy. For achieving this, we use foil and ‘slow and low’ heat to make sure food is cooked-through and not dried out on the grill.

Extra-precautions: Use FOIL to cook food that’s being BBQ’d for baby – especially on a less-that-super-clean BBQ (hey, it happens) safe away from char, dirt and grunge, BBQ brush wires or other stray objects.

Some starter ideas:

  • Super checked, double-checked, 100% boneless/deboned white fish or salmon pieces (cooked in foil with a little butter or olive oil and dill or light seasoning).
  • Portabello mushrooms in foil (cooked until juicy and soft)

If your BBQ is clean and you trust the surface doesn’t contain any hazards, here are some other no-foil ideas we’re trying out this season:

  • Grilled Fruit (Pineapple, apple, pear, banana, kiwi) Cook on a skewer or tray and then de-skewer (obviously) , cool, and dice up. *If you haven’t tried grilled fruit, you will love it! It gets caramelized and sweet and juicy.
  • Blueberry-stuffed peaches (OMG. baby food? Mommy Food!) Here’s a recipe (drop the sugar though, not necessary at all)
  • Goat Cheese Turkey Burgers with Spinach (How awesome do these sound?!)

And a little more labor intensive and ambitious, but SUPER healthy:

  • Sunshine Burgers “Raw or Cooked” *Substitute the celery and carrot in this recipe for cooked/soft green peas and green beans *the recipe is about half way down the page. What I was looking for was a burger recipe that is fine even if it doesn’t cook through and through, so that you don’t need to char it or overcook it. These burgers are fine even they are basically raw inside, because the ingredients are cooked brown rice, ground flax, and ground sunflower seeds. For a less labor intensive meatless burger, any of the “just add water” quinoa variety are worth trying, or pre-packaged sunshine burger mix!

And then last of all, below is a picture from about 5 or 6 months ago (which would make RZ about 9 months old) trying out her first fried chicken…. not the healthiest option, but she sure loved it! We’ll be experimenting with BBQ chicken, but probably will shred it! Also, leftover BBQ chicken is good for a BBQ chicken pizza the next night ; )

Diggin' a drumbstick with Daddy
Diggin’ a drumbstick with Daddy

 

 

 

Sleep Training! It works!

It was a dark and stormy night.

No. No it wasn’t.

But it might as well have been. Feeling of dread… check. Ungodly howling… check.

We knew that the sleep thing was not going well when our 5 m.o. daughter started reverting to a 2-hour waking cycle. It was driving me pretty nuts andI knew  something had to be done. We had done a bit of sleep training before, with pick up put down and what not (The baby Whisperer method), but this time my mom-radar was telling me it was time to do the previously unthinkable… and let her cry.*

Until then, we had relied on our Pilates ball to put her to sleep. Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce…. Zzzzzz. Since birth, this was her sleeping pill. But I’d read all about the dangers of sleep props and was having terrible fantasies of her at 5 years old needing the royal treatment every time she went down for a nap.

So here’s what we did:

Oh wait, first, here’s a picture of her not sleeping:

Sleep Training. Hard, but useful!
Sleep Training. Hard, but useful!

We kicked the softie/good cop out of the house. 
My husband, every time our daughter cries, says “She’s hungry!” and pleads for food on her behalf. It kills me. He doesn’t like the sound of her crying (not that I do) and probably doesn’t have as much of an instinctual knowing about when she’s hungry or not. So he went out for the night (to a Public Enemy concert, BTW…) and then the real fun began.

I trusted my instincts, not the clock, not the books.


She’s a smart kid. After a bath, story, night cap, and cuddle, I did that crazy thing – put her down in her crib awake – said goodnight, and left the room.

*WAIL…

I had tried the 5 minutes here and there before, but it hadn’t really worked that well. So this time, I was going to let it go longer.

As long as she sounded frustrated but not genuinely upset, I let her keep crying in her crib. She went about twenty minutes and then I went in and let her hear my voice. I put my hand on her back and told her I loved her and she was going to fall asleep soon, and it would all be okay. In another twenty minutes or so she fell asleep. And that .. .changed …. everything.

It was like she figured out that it was possible for her to put herself to sleep, and from then on she got better and better at it.

I would say we did Baby Led Sleeping
Apparently consistency is key, but it wasn’t the route for us, and what we did worked. Babies have good days and bad days… just like us… they miss naps, they have sore gums, tummy aches… lots of stuff. Whenever our daughter seemed more upset than mad and frustrated, we would give her lots of hugs and help to fall asleep. What the sleep training did was teach her that she CAN do it on her own, and that bouncing is not mandatory for sleeping.

*As the subject of so much controversy, the “CIO” method has many variations, and I just want to state for the record that it should be up to the parents, not the professionals, to decide what their baby is ready for, and furthermore – when to be stringent and when to say fu*k the plan and go give their kid a hug. It’s an intuitive thing, like so many aspects of parenting. What we did was try to stick to that balance of smushy-squishy-baby-love and Let-me-help-you-learn-something-new-love.

I’m not sure how I knew that she was ready, but something about her behaviour was different, and that’s what was the indicator. I think it was when she started to be aware enough that her behaviour seemed more like “I don’t wanna go to sleep!!” and less like “Wahhhh what the hell is happening no one’s holding meeeeee!”

Within a month, we had kicked the ball habit, and Raquel was going 6 – 8 hour stretches*

(Woo hoo!)

*Update – AGE 1: Aside from teething issues, she’s doing 12 hours (!!!) from 7 – 7, sometimes with one moan and groan period, where usually Daddy will go in and give her a sip of water, and she goes right back down.

She Sleeps
She Sleeps

She eats everything….

I wouldn’t have guessed my 10 month old would be eating these things, but she has a mind (and flavour palette) all of her own. And growing up in our house, there will be no shortage of interesting things for her to try. Here’s a few of her oddest choices:

1. Pickled burdock root.

We get it from Sanko (Japanese food store in Toronto) and she gnaws on it like it was licorice. She doesn’t bite into it or swallow, but for gumming it has been her favorite teething food. Bizarre! (The vinegar level is probably higher than recommended, but burdock itself is a reputed calming herb, and she had no bad reaction)

yamagobo

2. Hummus.

I’m not a huge hummus fan myself but I wanted to try something with veggie protein since I don’t cook with many beans or lentils. Lo and behold, she loves it. Particularly with pita and cheese.

Hummus

3. Jambalaya. She went nuts for this clam-juice and tomato soaked rice. (I left out the meats for her portion.)

creole jambalaya

4. Cranberry sauce It was her favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. She loved the turkey quite a lot too.

cranberry sauce

5. Mango. This might not sound strange, but my kid isn’t a fan of apples really, or bananas, or strawberries. Her pick is mango. Eats it for breakfast 7 days a week. Funny little monkey. I buy the Europe’s best frozen mango, blanche it, and cut it up small.

mango