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.

IMG_8363

Advertisements

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. 

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.

The Oranges of Species

20130412-173116.jpgYesterday RZ, in her typically adorable fashion, pointed to the five oranges in our fruit basket and said her favorite word: that! (‘Dat’)

She wanted an orange, or so I thought.

I passed her an orange and she squealed with glee at the rollie-pollie object on her high chair tray. Then she did it again: ‘dat!’

Until she had 5 giant oranges on her tray and was loving every minute of getting overtaken by giant orange balls.

But then she pointed to the bananas: ‘dat!’ And I started wondering if this was less about shapes and more about her first inklings of understanding where food comes from.

We spent a while playing with the oranges and bananas, and then I took the opportunity to open them for her and let her have at them: that’s when the real fun began.

Happy to report, a 13 month old baby can probably eat a whole fruit better than you’d expect. In fact, it’s easier almost than those bits and bytes we make for them.

Food for thought!

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Will this baby eat leeks soup?

A review of Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckermana.k.a. Why you’ll never catch a Parisian mother with a Ziploc bag of Cheerios….

I should start by saying I’m a total francophile. I pretty much adore the language, the land, the people, and the snobbish culture that has endured and persisted despite global sophistication killers like le Big Mac and Paris Hilton. More than anything, I love the way they dress their babies… those knits!

So it’s no surprise that I’m a little taken with this book that spills the secrets of french-style parenting. A book that, incidentally, might help us all bring up better behaved, less bratty babies — and therefore preserve our sanity.

Think… a leisurely glass of wine at the end of the day because you can, not because you have to…

Bringing up Bébé is about how the french (once again) do things a little bit different, and maybe a little bit better. The book introduces crazy ideas like:

  • Parents enjoying long adult conversations while their children play quietly. (Mon Dieu!)
  • Birthday parties where 5-year-olds sit patiently at tables waiting for their slices of cake.
  • Babies who sleep through the night at just 2 or 3 months old.
Yeah, these certainly got my attention. And then more:
  • Kids that act more grown up: The idea that kids don’t need you to applaud and entertain them at every second. Kids can learn autonomy, and will be more self-sufficient if they understand that while they ARE the centre of your universe, their universe is not the only one. Mommy needs mommy time.
  • Civilized meal time: Eating is about flavor, taste, and the experience — not just food in, food out. French babies have a snack time once per day (4:00) and eat better because they aren’t noshing from morning to night.
Do I plan to be a french-type mom? Uhh.. yeah. There is nothing so far that turns me off the idea, I’ll say that much! So probably yes, in many ways, I will strive to have a food-appreciating, parent-respecting, sophisticated child. Yes indeed. Yes please.

This is an interview with the author of Bringing up Bébé, Another article here, from the Wall Street Journal

and here, from New York Times

In other news…. Wish me luck! We may have a bébé ourselves by the time I post next. Somehow I think I’ll probably sneak one more in under the wire though. Hard to believe the pregnancy journey is nearly complete and the parenting one is just beginning. My first three months seems like a lifetime ago…. Time is about to start flying, isn’t it??

9 months pregnant belly with 9 days left….