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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The 7 habits of one happy little eater

As I sit here, my daughter is devouring a kumato tomato, one of her (and my) favorites. I couldn’t help wondering, based on some of her eating habits, if maybe it’s partly genetic… partly learned… who is to say? Babies seem to come with their own sleep agendas, and food agendas. RZ has never been a ‘great’ sleeper, but when it comes to eating – she’s remarkable. Although I have been warned that the terrible two’s bring terribly picky habits.

Eat!
Eat!

I guess it’s that whole autonomy thing. Once you know how to read a menu and ask for what you want, why settle for what’s served right? I wouldn’t trust a waiter who just brings me whatever he thinks I should eat… unless. …. he was a chef… who was hand-picking his special one-night-only choices…. You see what I’m getting at?

Perhaps… part of a child’s attitude toward food is based on how much they trust the restaurant? In any case, here are the habits of our a happy little eater (and for the time being, I have credibility!)

1. RITUAL 

Just like the importance of night time ritual that so many parents rave about, we have a very distinct high chair ritual, and I  believe that it has had a very positive and Pavlovian effect on RZ’s eating habits. Once she’s sitting in her chair, I put a dinner napkin on her lap (a dish towel. This evolved out of necessity, as a food catcher, not as a proper etiquette thing!), then a bib, then roll up her sleeves and put the high chair tray on. Then, if the plate’s ready, I’ll set it down with her spoon, or if it’s not and she starts whining, we say “patience…. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5” and that sort of works, for a minute. ; )

She has breakfast at 7, lunch at noon, and dinner at 5. We have barely ever wavered from this for many, many months. It’s not always easy but who knows – maybe it’s helped.

2. PLAY 

The high chair is their sandbox. Anything goes. 

I started giving RZ solids early, around 6 months (maybe sooner actually). This came with its challenges.

We still see a lot of mixing, sliding, spreading, emptying/pouring, sorting, mashing, spitting, splashing, relocating – and all is fair game. The only thing I’m strict with is dropping on the floor. Everything else is allowed… a complete mess, but allowed.

I hope this has perhaps encouraged her to associate food with fun… with freedom… with experimentation. All the things that we associate it with ourselves.

3. CONTROLLED VARIATION

Paediatricians advise parents to wait a few days before introducing new foods to infants. For some reason I was really uptight about that and kind of still am. So I’ll cook something on a Sunday, and she’ll have it for dinner and then lunch or dinner the next day. And maybe a third day if it’s something like pasta or something else that lasts.

All in all this ends up meaning that RZ will have the same meal 2 or three days in a row. And I think it’s helped in some ways, by giving her a sort of mastery over whatever is being served. She learned about the taste, the texture, the challenges, the best way to attack the plate, and by the third day (max) she’s probably super bored of it!

4. ADVENTURE 

With parents that will eat anything and everything, and try to do just that, we’ve most definitely shared our enthusiasm for adventurous eating. I think that it’s led us to let her try things that might not be considered baby friendly. (Fois Gras at 7 months old…?!)

The thing is, I think she knows that the adventure is for all of us. When we all try something new together – it’s a shared experience, and she learns that we try new things just like she does. We say “ooh, ahh!” and our eyes light up – that’s behaviour she will likely mimic.

5. SELF-REGULATION

A few months ago, just before she turned one, RZ refused to eat much, for quite a few days. We thought she was hitting a picky phase, or just being difficult. Then one night that week she threw up. And within a few days….we ALL got the stomach flu.

Toddlers have reasons for not eating at certain times or certain foods. RZ has been through phases of liking just carbs, and other phases of liking just veggies.

Texture issues are valid. Preferences are valid. Accommodating them has brought us no trouble at all. I actually feel like her personal chef on most days.. but I’m kind of ok with that! (read: Dream job).

Respect for little tummies and little preferences is ok, I think.

6. CONSISTENCY

Breakfast at 7, Lunch at 12, Dinner at 5. We have rarely wavered. I’m not suggesting that this is a pre-requisite to healthy eating habits, but it does take some of the guess work and strain out of meal time. She eats in her high chair, 98% of the time. Which means no chasing her around the house to eat or wondering if her belly is full. Sometimes meals are in the car or out at friend’s houses – and to be honest, it’s not as easy.  Wondering if your baby has a full tummy is kind of no fun.

The consistency is not completely altruistic ; ) But it has definitely trained her to have an appetite at all the right times.

7. GENETICS

I don’t know where I get my enthusiasm about food, but my daughter definitely has it already – whether by nature or nurture.

Where did it come from? Probably from us, her crazy food fanatical parents. Or my grandmother who is religious about flavour and cooking times (overcooked chicken will get you thrown out of the family), or my mom who has a psychic connection with vegetables. Maybe from my aunt who barely needs to stock her fridge because she’s at the farmer’s markets so often. Or my cousin, who’s a veggie farmer. Maybe from my husband, whose eyes will almost roll back in his head from a good piece of meat.

We’re surrounded by passion for food and I try to put that love and passion into every recipe…sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (last week she hated my lasagna. I was crushed. She gobbled up brown rice that week instead… go figure.) Moral of the story is… our efforts have been in sharing our love of food. We don’t get offended when it’s not workin’ for her… but we do aim to please!

Happy cooking! Please let me know if you’ve found any great habits to your toddler’s happy eating! Maybe together we can win over the kids who still haven’t gotten the knack of loving all the world’s beautiful, tasty food : )

 

 

 

7 ways to rock out with watermelon (Six toddler friendly. One very adult friendly)

I was relieved to discover that seedless watermelon is a natural variety, not a GMO DNA BLA BLA BLA concoction. Even the square ones are just innocently grown in… squares…!

You just can’t hate watermelon. It can star in a cocktail, complete a BBQ, refresh a cold soup, cure a hangover, make a pretty awesome popsicle, and summer-up a salad.

1. Sculpt it. Kid friendly, right? Party idea for sure. 

watermelon carving, watermelon ideas, baby showers, fruit art, #fruitart
watermelon sculpture

This idea and many others, plus recipes, are from the National Watermelon Promotion Board. (who knew?)

2. Watermelon pops.

Watermelon Pops
Watermelon Pops

(Recipe from Martha Stewart)

3. Blend it into juice. (It’s addictive. So good) It also happens to be an amazing hangover cure.

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4. Cocktail.

Jason (hubbie/bartender/co-chef) says: Blend watermelon, dash of cayenne, and gin with club soda or sprite, a dash of lime and some agave… Add ice, garnish with mint and citrus. Oh yeah. Yes please. Okay.

Watermelon cocktail
Watermelon cocktail. I want one.

5. Watermelon gazpacho.

Watermelon Gazpacho


We had a spicy gazpacho like this at an amazing resort called La Samanna in St. Maarten and it was divine. If you’re thinking of a family friendly version, you could still try this Martha Stewart one, and potentially blend it, but leave out the jalapeno.

6. Watermelon, feta, and mint salad. This is one of my favorites ever. Delish!

Watermelon-Salad(Recipe from POPSUGAR MOMS)

7. Slice it up and eat it!

Watermelon

15 Minute Meals: Quinoa Sliders (I literally made these between 8:00 and 8:20 on Tuesday Morning)

Toddler Quinoa Burgers
Toddler Quinoa Burgers
Toddler Quinoa Burgers

No one can argue with Quinoa. It’s the pinnacle of healthy food with all it’s protein and amino acids. I’m sure you’ve heard lots about it, I won’t go into the nutritional preaching, but I will say – it’s an EASY, forgiving grain. It cooks in 15 minutes – not 45 like some of the other super-healthy grains.

I have made these slider burgers several ways, but the recipe below is the one I use when I literally have almost no time to cook. We’re talking super fast action in the morning, while Raquel does laps around the kitchen island.

What you need: 

1 cup Quinoa
1 cup water
2 tbsp steamed, minced carrots*
1 heaping tbsp almond butter
1 heaping tbsp hummus
Dash of vegetable salt (herbamare), Olive oil, tamari, and other spices to taste

*Or minced dried fruit like apricots or apples, or steamed peas, or whatever you have handy. They’re fine plain too.

Directions:  

1. Rinse quinoa in a metal sieve.

2. Cover with water (the 1:1 ratio means quinoa should be just covered.)

3. Bring to a boil, then simmer with lid on (on low, but still an active bubble or two). After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit in the pot, cover on, absorbing all the extra moisture.

4. Check for doneness – if too hard (it should be bouncy but not crunchy), simmer longer. Add water if it’s completely dry.

5. Add almond butter, hummous, salt, olive oil and tamari and stir until distributed.

6. Take a small handful and squish like it’s a little mud pie, so it sticks together (as pictured).

7. Lay patty in shallow, wide container to cool. Refrigerate (or eat when cool).

TIPS: If this is your first time making quinoa for your little one and you’re not sure how it will go over, just make a few patties. The rest you can eat yourself (it’s yummy), especially if it doesn’t go over well. You can also bake or fry these if you like, but that’s extra work and extra oil. These patties are crumbly, but even baked and binded with egg, they’ll still be crumbly, just harder.

SERVING TIP: Serve with the leftover soft steamed carrots or another vegetable or sliced fruit.

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. : )

What’s so great about Organic?

Today Parents Magazine had a feature on When to Buy Organic. It was well done, educational, and actually scarier and more factually accurate than I expected. Like Global Warming, there’s a stigma attached to buying Organic  – and where you fall on the spectrum means someone on the other side thinks you’re crazy or snobby or a bad mom.

Bananas for Organic Bananas
Bananas for Organic Bananas

Sometimes I feel I have to defend my choice to buy organic produce, milk, and meat. Why am I purposely spending more money on food that has questionable differences from the other ‘normal’ food? Does it make me a rich bitch? A hippie? Both? In most cases, people resolve themselves to one side of this argument or another, and feel that they’ve made the right decision for their family.

Well, here’s my take.

We don’t do it for the environment. Sorry environment. Guess I’m not a hippie after all. Or because it’s shinier and fancier. Because usually it’s not. We don’t do it as a mark of pride, either. It’s actually shameful that we have to buy a food that essentially stamped “not toxic!”.

In our family, we buy Organic out of evidence-based, factual reasons that it will do LESS harm. In other words, we fear the hormone and pesticide soaked ‘regular’ stuff.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees:

“Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity. Acute poisoning risks are clear, and understanding of chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging. Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”

 – American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Environmental Health

Does that sound extreme? I just don’t want to take the chance on my daughter’s health. My husband’s family suffered with Grave’s disease and Lymphoma. My side of the family has turned up insidious diseases like Multiple Myeloma and Amyloidoisis. All of these have been linked to environmental factors. There is enough out there on the outside that puts us at risk. I want to try to limit the toxicity she’s battling from the inside.

Simple, easy, healthy meals for picky, busy, hungry toddlers!

Corn Salads

Cold salads aren’t the first thing you think of for little people with 8 or so teeth, but these are kid-approved. I’m kind of obsessed with them right now actually, because they are so easy, and perfect for the warmer weather.

1. Toddler’s Picnic

  • 2 cups of cooked corn
  • 3 -4 hearts of palm and/or artichoke hearts in oil (diced. Don’t use the tough leaves either, just the tender ones.)
  • As many Cherry tomatoes as you can dice before getting bored (around 6?)

Dressing: a dash of mayo, a dash of lemon, some olive oil, and Herbamare or sea salt

2. Monster Pasta Mix (some cooking required) 

  • 2 cups Rotini (spiral pasta)
  • 1 bunch Asparagus Tops (steamed well in water first, chopped diagonally is good)
  • 1/2 Avocado (Diced)
  • 1/2 cup Peas

Dressing: Olive Oil, Lemon, Mayonaise (a dash), Dill (a dash), Soy Sauce/Tamari (a splash), Herbamare  

3. Cleopatra’s Quinoa (some cooking required)

  • 1 cup Quinoa
  • 1 cup cooked carrot or sweet potato chunks (steamed or roasted until soft)
  • 1 handful rehydrated dried raisins or cranberries

Dressing: Olive Oil, Lemon, Mayonaise (a dash), Dill (a dash), Soy Sauce/Tamari (a splash), Herbamare. Quinoa can be a bit dry, so you could also add yoghurt or a little extra olive oil to taste.   

4.  Bambino Risotto (some cooking required) 

  • Brown Rice or Orzo, or Arborio Rice
  • Banana
  • Apple
  • Blueberry

Dressing: Creme Fraiche (Fancy!?), Sour Cream + Cinnamon

5. Cloud and Rainbow Salad 

  • Cottage Cheese
  • watermelon (diced)
  • honeydew
  • strawberries

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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 ; ) 

Markets with Toddlers. Makin’ it work.

Ask any Torontonian about how packed St Laurence Market is on a Saturday morning and they’ll tell you there’s barely room to move WITHOUT an oversized stroller.

But we do it. And I hope you dare to do it too.

That being said …. I Can’t wait for Spring and the open air local farmers markets.

But here’s a few shots from St Laurence yesterday….

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