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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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

 

 

 

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

Baby Led Weaning. SO FUN! …but oy, what a mess.

On introducing Solids/baby led weaning….

I’ve been pretty resilient so far, and I’d say successful, at this parenting thing. My daughter is almost 8 months old and hasn’t had a cold or a bruise yet. Nor has her mother had a nervous breakdown.

But baby led weaning is kind of breaking me, because it’s SOOOOO MESSY! It’s the cutest thing to see your baby Om Nom Nom whole pieces of broccoli or rice or whatever, but in the wake of this fun is basically a baby, high chair, bib, and floor covered in tiny bits of damp, sweep-resistant food. Between the time it takes for her little pincers to get enough food eaten and then the clean time, lunch can be a 2 hour ordeal. Or more. And I still find the occasional hardened bit of something on the floor… which drives me… up… the…. wall…

Maybe we should buy a hoover (or a dyson?!) but until that happens, here are my tips for not letting BLW break you like it’s breaking me:

1. Plastic disposable floor liner/sheet.

2. Always expect to hose baby down. Sink works.

3. Use a bib with sleeves. Or a naked baby. Don’t even bother with cloth bibs. You need plastic or plastic-covered. In large quantities. Preferably with a lip at the bottom for at least attempting to catch the offshoot bits.

4. Did I mention disposable floor liner or sheet? Mandatory!

5. Get a heavy bowl, or one that’s edgeless so that baby can’t lift/shake/hurl it. We love the Boon brand of plates and bowls.

Boon Plate

6. Follow baby’s phases…. you’ll see trends toward carbs or fruits only or veggies only. Go with those.

7. Make friends with the idea of easy meals. Your kid needs you happy more than they need you to be the perfect BLW mum. Get those little astronaut pack things like these Ella’s kitchen ones or these by Baby Gourmet. My friend Emma introduced to these and they changed my life forever! Our daughter holds them herself, but no mess. (*Note, even at 19 months, they still save the day when the day calls for fast, easy. It’s easier for THEM too!) Make sure you introduce these in a sure-to-love flavor (peas for us, strangely!) so the association is good. You actually have to look a little harder for the more veggie, LESS SWEET ones…. it’s worth it. Look for squash and green veg over all fruit like ‘banana blueberry etc. etc.”

8. Always clean wet messes with wet clothes and dry messes with dry cloths. Trust me, it helps.

9. Yes, it gets better.

10. I survived piles of sticky brown rice on my floor for months and lived to tell the tale. You will too. And your kid… will never remember any of this!!! : )

Eventually, you get to here, and it all seems worth the ride:

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