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

Let’s talk snacks (Part 2): from Papaya to Pine Nuts

Toddler Snacks Banana Pine Nuts Kale Chips Papaya
Snacks Part 2 – From Papaya to Pine Nuts

We discovered some new bit hits this week, thanks to some good tips from moms Emma (of Strolling the City in Heels) and Christine (Creator of the amazing skin care line called Lila Bare).

Here’s what’s on the board:

  • Kale Chips
  • Shaved almonds
  • Papaya
  • Blueberries
  • Banana
  • Raspberry
  • Dragon fruit
  • Pine Nuts
  • Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday Raquel flexed her pincers on some pine nuts and shaved almonds – she really liked them a lot, and I’m thrilled about that. Pine nuts are super high in protein, iron, fibre and ‘good fats.’ Almonds are all of that plus calcium too. Good stuff! It’s inspiring me to get the grinder out and incorporate these flavours into some other snack recipes. (Stay tuned). These also might be good options for picky or textural eaters because they are crunchy rather than slippery.

We also tried the cute black and white speckled Dragon Fruit which is actually very mild and sweet!

Let’s talk snacks (Part 1): 6 simple, healthy toddler snack ideas

Toddler Snack Ideas
Toddler Snack Ideas
Toddler Snack Ideas

Snacks are the in between foods, the sorry-we’re-not-quite-there-yet filler, the I-really-hope-this-makes-you-happier-kiddo option. And I’ve definitely experienced the toddler retort to this, which is “I don’t want that, I want DINNER!” So I’ve divided this list into the most optimal situation it should be paired with – because there’s really quite a range in both the form and function of snacks; from exploring to belly-filling to on-the-go entertainment.

1. THE SUPER SNACK
Tiny Ploughman’s lunch 

tiny ploughman's lunch
tiny ploughman’s lunch

I’m always impressed at how well little mouths can devour a cracker. A cheese square. Or a piece of fruit. And most of us grown-ups would be quite happy to graze on a plate of cheese and crackers, with some fruit for a dash of sweetness. So here’s the toddler version (i.e. no wine included, sorry kiddies!):

Ingredients: (choose from)

  • Cubed, unprocessed hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, swiss)
  • Cheese curds
  • Cubed melon (cantaloupe, honeydew)
  • Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • Sliced Pears or Apples
  • Seedless Grapes
  • Fig, Kiwi
  • Dried Apricot, Apple
  • Cherry tomato
  • Whole grain crackers, saltines, Carr’s whole grain crackers, other of choice
  • Baguette pieces (even for younger babies, baguettes are so gummable)
Glass-Lock tupperware for babies and toddlers
Make it portable…..Wean Green  tupperware is awesome.

2. THE LET’S EXPLORE (AND MAYBE GET A LITTLE STICKY) SNACK

Whole Pear, Banana, Orange 

If you haven’t done it yet, give your toddler a half-peeled banana and encourage him/her to hold it on their own. And take a bite. You will die, it’s so damn adorable.

A few weeks ago I posted about how Raquel was really enjoying eating fruit in it’s natural state – and how impressed I was at how she could navigate a whole half-peeled orange, a started banana, or ‘topless’ pear (I cut the stem part off.)

Plus, when she’s in her high chair and free to explore with her hands, teeth, and motor skills – I’m free to cook.

As I said in the other post, I think our little ones are actually better at eating this way than we give them credit for. Food is the original puzzle, the most intricate Tonka toy!

Toddler eats whole orange
Exploring an Orange

3. THE PORTABLE, IRRESISTIBLE, AFTER NAP SNACK
Sandwich bites 

Raquel has become quite accustomed to the little sandwiches Jason makes for her. And I understand why. They’re delicious!

Ingredients:

  • Almond or cashew butter and No-sugar added fruit preserves (blueberry and fig jams have been popular)
  • OR tuna
  • OR chopped egg
  • OR cream cheese (with jam is yummy too.)
  • OR hummous and tomato
  • A soft whole grain bread (experiment with natural breads that your kid seems to take to.)
  • OR pita
  • OR bagel

Directions: Lightly toast, spread the almond butter, then the jam, put the top bread on, then cut to toddler appropriate size – we still cube her sandwiches, most days, but sandwich sticks or small squares or triangles are also great.

star sandwiches
star sandwiches

4. THE FIVE ALARM FIRE OOPS I DIDN’T BRING ANYTHING SNACK
Cereal Bars 

We’re pretty (okay, quite) picky with ingredient lists, and generally haven’t used many packaged products because of the amount of sugar, nasty ingredients, or processing, but the ingredients of the PC Organics Mini Cereal Bars are fantastic (all organic, cane sugar, brown rice flour, etc.) and um, they’ve saved us more than a few times now. Our diaper bag is LINED with these puppies.

If you are choosing another brand, do make sure to scan the ingredients. I’ve found HORRIBLE things in Gerber brand snacks. I don’t think babies should eat Carnauba Wax, you know? (Another post on this to come later in the snack series) And while I love the idea of dried fuit snacks, many of those fruit rolls and gummies are really high in sugar.

5. Apple sauce or yogurt with banana or puffed wheat – The learning to spoon snack! 

I think yogurt is a go-to snack for most of us, but it’s usually a messy one. Not the best choice for the car, obviously. At home, there are a few ways to have fun with a yogurt snack. These are pretty hit and miss – some days, you’ll see those tiny fingers picking out the banana like it was a gross spider, other days – devoured. Now that Raquel is 14 mos, she’ll pretty much tell me if she wants anything ‘extra’ in her yogurt with her body language when I offer it.

I’m all about the ‘what do you think of THIS?!’ approach and don’t really care what the outcome is… it’s just fun to watch her face as she tries new things!

6. THE MILDLY ENTERTAINING SNACK FOR THE NOT TOO HUNGRY TUMMY
Toddler Trail mix 

This is a good option for in the stroller. Especially if you’ve got a good snack tray.

I’m a little bit obsessed with making a healthy toddler trail mix, and this is the closest I’ve come so far. But I’m still working on it! And please add your suggestions!

One part each (or choose from):

  • Raisins
  • Dried cranberries
  • Dried currents
  • Cherries
  • Cheerios/Oatie-O’s/puffed wheat – *Kashi or Nature’s path have some good options. Stay tuned for another post on this topic though.
  • Bran sticks
  • Diced dried apples and apricots
  • Pumpkin seeds

Tips:

  • Too few teeth? Blanche the dried fruit first, and cut into smaller pieces. You can also substitute mum-mum cracker pieces for younger toddlers and babies.
  • Dried fruit comes back out? Not a problem really, it’s just the skin being rejected. My daughter still spits the shell of the raisin back out, but she devours the dried cranberries.
  • Pumpkin seeds, really? As the baby led weaning community assures us, if he/she can’t manage it or doesn’t like it, it will “come back out”. Probably with a loving or a not-so-loving scowl ; ) Try these weelicious maple roasted ones too, if you’re near an oven and have some extra time. (Maybe next year some time?)

*I’d like to also include a list of fantastic links to other snack posts, but there really isn’t much out there!! Please add your own favorites in the comments or on Facebook. 

5 weekend lunches for toddlers

Toddler lunch kabobs
Toddler lunch kabobs
Toddler lunch kabobs

Summer with a toddler has come to mean naps in the car and lunches on-the-go. But the more we venture out from our Winter hibernation, the more I see how terrible restaurant options are for kids. This, coupled with the fact that her eating schedule is more regimented than ours makes it pretty mandatory that we pack our little one a good lunch.

So here are a few of the lunches that we’ve packed – to eat either in the car, in a park, or at whatever restaurant or friends house we end up at. It makes a world of difference to have food with us that we know is healthy and filling. (And it makes the afternoon nap part come a lot sooner and more easily.)

Enjoy! And please add any great portable-lunch ideas or recipes in the comments.

1. “Baby Ploughman” Cheese curds/cheese pieces, fruit (strawberries, blueberries, melon, or grapes), dried apricots and baby’s favorite crackers. (Pairs well with some grown up cheese and wine…. if you’re picnicking)

2. Almond butter and pear wraps. Almond butter is soooo healthy, and a juicy pear is the perfect compliment. This can be made in a tortilla, pita, or really any kind of soft, thin bread.

3. Hummus and tomato mini-pita. (Kids love mini-pita. Tzatziki is another great option. Or chopped egg. Or tuna. Or all.)

4. Zucchini muffins! (from Food.com)

5. Eggs! , scrambled with cheese, in a frittata or a quiche. They travel really well.

I’ve also been rabidly collecting snack options and ideas for toddlers and writing posts about my findings. Let’s call it “the snack chronicles” –  you can read Part 1 of “let’s talk snacks” and Part 2, here.

*For all of the lunch ideas, you’ll need a little lunch bag with an ice pack. Food should never be left at room temperature, or allowed to get hot in a car. Trust me. We went to the zoo today, and brought cheese. And had no ice pack. And it melted. : )

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 ; )