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

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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!

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.

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. : )