Veg-enriched tomato sauce with pasta

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It’s Spring in Canada and I’ve started picking from my garden. Mostly I’m getting asparagus but I’ve also got fresh herbs. I’ll do a post about asparagus soon but tonight I managed to sneak a new vegetable into my picky eater – and that’s always worth sharing!

Tomato sauce isn’t always a hit with my son. He doesn’t like it chunky or with too many herbs. He doesn’t like to see the onions but if they’re chopped small and we’re at a restaurant, he may just ignore them. That’s a huge step for him but he might be doing it just to get more white bread or gelato after his dinner. I still consider it a win.

At home, I usually chop the vegetables that he doesn’t like in big pieces so it’s easy for him to find them and pick them out. There have been times when an onion accidentally made it into his mouth and he wouldn’t eat any more dinner as a result. So I know with my family it is not a good idea to hide vegetables.

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Until tonight. I was making a tomato sauce and we had some nice mushrooms, peppers and the canned tomatoes were diced. I knew I’d have to puree them to make a sauce my son would eat so I decided to puree the whole lot together.

I will often puree red peppers in the tomato sauce – it makes for a really great, sweet sauce that the kids love. If you have picky kids, give it a try. Sweet peppers are a great source of Vitamin C and other nutrients and they make an excellent addition to a tomato sauce.

For this sauce, I fried up garlic in olive oil, added chopped red pepper and mushrooms. After a few minutes, I added the can of chopped tomatoes and pureed the mix. Then I let it simmer. I added a few sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden for flavour.

I had a few asparagus from the garden so I chopped them small and added them to the sauce as it simmered. I didn’t want to puree them since we love asparagus. And that’s it. It made for a delicious sauce and I managed to get my son to eat mushrooms happily for the first time!

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The sauce is served on whole wheat pasta with chopped basil (from the garden) and a mix of hemp seeds, nutritional yeast and salt for a savoury topping. And as you can see, it was served with store-bought bread because I can’t always bake my own bread.

The protein question

I’ve recently been asked about protein. How do I get my protein if I don’t eat animals? Well, it’s not really something I worry about since I eat a good variety of whole foods. Protein is made up of amino acids. Whole proteins are made of all the amino acids our body’s can’t make themselves – essential amino acids. These are found in animal meat. But our bodies have to break them down to use them anyway so there is no advantage to getting our essential amino acids all together.

Vegetables are also full of amino acids but they don’t have them in same combination that we need. But as long as you’re eating a variety – and in this meal we have mushrooms, peppers, whole wheat, hemp seeds and other plant-based sources of amino acids – we’re getting everything we need.

And as I said above, since our bodies need to break them down anyway, there’s really no difference between getting them all in one place or getting them in a variety of places. If you’re getting your protein from a variety of vegetable sources, you’re also getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs too.

So there you go – as long as you’re indulging in a variety of plant-based foods, you’ll get the protein you need.

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We finished this meal with homemade ice cream made from coconut milk and cashew cream. And that was another great source of protein. The vegan chocolate chips and marshmallows – those were just treats. The bananas just happen to be healthy treats.

Oatmeal cakes with berries

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It’s Victoria Day here in Canada so I thought I’d make something special for breakfast. My kids would be disappointed if I made anything but pancakes but I wanted something different. These pancakes are made with oats.

They are as hearty as you’d expect from a bowl of oatmeal and more nutritious than your average pancake. Topped with berries, they were delicious and the kids were so happy to see I had made pancakes for breakfast!

 

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The recipe comes from Thug Kitchen. It’s quite simple: let the oats soak up almond milk for a few minutes before adding the rest of the dry ingredients and fry them up like pancakes. Next time, I’ll make a double batch – they disappeared too quickly with a family of four.

The berry sauce is simply simmered berries in a bit of sugar, fresh lemon juice, splash of water and vanilla extract. Thug Kitchen calls for blueberries but I had this frozen berry mix with cherries, blackberries and blueberries that the kids love. They’re full of antioxidants and flavour.

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For those of you who are here in Canada, have a great long weekend! We’ll be heading out for a nice, long bike ride as a family with peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch along the way. I hope you’re making memories too!

Deconstructed burritos

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I was at the grocery store with my son yesterday and I asked him which vegetables we should buy. Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli? I asked. He chose all of them. Plus asparagus, cherry tomatoes, peppers and avocado. It wasn’t along ago that he didn’t eat much aside from cucumber but I’m glad to report he’s broadened his taste.

So how did I get my picky eater to eat more than just cucumbers and white rice? Obviously there were many factors and it helped to have a big sister who loves vegetables. But there are two things that I credit the most with his transformation to a little rabbit.

My vegetable garden

I have a vegetable garden. And the kids help me choose what to plant and they’re welcome to eat anything from the garden at any time (as long as I get the first ripe tomato). There was a year that (thanks to my daughter) we planted purple varieties of everything: peas, broccoli, carrots, beans. And that was the year my son decided he would only eat orange carrots. I guess a guy’s got to draw the line somewhere! So the next year I bought orange carrot seeds and planted more traditional varieties of vegetables. Goodbye lemon cucumbers!

My kids get really excited about the veggies growing in the garden. They graze on whatever they find. They eat pea shoots, berries, and they love parsley stems. One year I thought I had a regular rabbit visitor but it turned out my daughter thought the carrot tops were parsley.

I try to get them to help in the garden as much as I can but if all they’re doing is eating from the garden, that’s great too. And when we pull a nice orange carrot from the ground, it’s something everyone is excited about. I think being involved and eating from the garden has made my son appreciate fresh vegetables.

Setting a good example

The other thing that I think we’ve done to encourage him to eat a bigger variety of vegetables is to eat them ourselves. The three of us love all kinds of vegetables and we eat them all the time. When my son turned his nose up at most vegetables, we always made sure we had his favourite vegetables at every meal but we also fit in the zucchini, beets and squash. We enjoy them – and he sees us enjoy them. And I think if he tries them a few times, he warms up to them.

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You’ll notice a few ingredients in my bowl that I don’t put in his. Onions, mushrooms, salsa, cashew cream and even orange vegan cheese are on his list of things he won’t touch at the moment. But that list is shrinking every day and I’m proud of him for following our example and being adventurous at the dinner table.

Quick veggie, chickpea and tofu bowl

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Here’s another quick weeknight meal. It’s one I reach for when I’m really short on time. Chopped raw veggies with beans over couscous takes only minutes to prepare and it’s a reliable kid-pleaser.

Today, I cubed tofu, covered it in olive oil, a splash of apple cider vinegar, garlic clove and oregano and put it under the broiler while I prepared the rest of the food. I added chopped broccoli under the broiler for the last five minutes and it was delicious.

For the grownups, I made a tahini-miso sauce. A couple tablespoons of tahini mixed with a tablespoon of each olive oil, miso and water to thin it.

Rinse the canned chickpeas under hot watch to get rid of some of the sodium from the can and warm them up. The couscous is ready about 5 minutes after the water boils – my kids like the rainbow couscous.

The best part – altogether, it takes about 15 minutes to prepare. What’s your easiest home-cooked weeknight dinner?

Tofu Florentine with home fries

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We don’t have a lot of Easter traditions because we don’t eat eggs (or decorate with them) and we’re not religious. Rather, we use this weekend to celebrate the coming of Spring. It’s not always here on Easter weekend but early signs are everywhere. The snow is gone and the robins are back with their trilling birdsongs. When the sun comes out, it’s really nice to be outside. I even put my super warm winter coat away – though our light winter coats are still needed.

This morning, the kids played together nicely enough for me to sleep in. And when I got up, I craved this breakfast that I used to make often before the kids were born. It’s one or two steps too many for most weekend breakfasts (and the kids are often begging for pancakes or oatmeal) but with the extra sleep I got last night, I thought I’d make one of my favourite breakfasts.

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If you start the potatoes first, it isn’t time-consuming to make. Start by boiling the potatoes. While the tofu is broiling, fry an onion until golden, add the potatoes and whatever spices you like. Steam the spinach and make the hollandaise sauce. There are a lot of really nice vegan hollandaise sauces but this one is so simple that it’s always been my go to. Sometimes, simplicity just wins.

Hollandaise sauce

  • 2/3 cup vegan mayo
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • ┬ápinch cayenne
  • pinch turmeric
  • salt

Combine the ingredients. Done.

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Because I was generous with the cayenne, I topped my daughter’s breakfast with plain mayo (which I know she likes) and a sprinkling of paprika. My son won’t eat spinach or mayo so his english muffin is buttered and topped with tofu with the potatoes on the side. He’ll eat his veggies at another meal.

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Some day he’ll look at our meals and realize he’s missing out when he skips the veggies and sauce but we’re not there yet. That’s okay – we’ve got time. The truth is, we’re making progress and every month he becomes less strict about the foods he eats. Last month, he happily ate parsley and halved cherry tomatoes for the first time instead of just whole cherry tomatoes. I think this summer, we’ll win him over to regular-sized tomatoes. Fingers-crossed!

Happy Easter everyone! How do you celebrate?

Eating carbs as a vegan

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I was on the train commuting to work the other day when the people sitting across from me in our 4-pack of seats was talking about fitness and diet. They were speaking so loudly that I found it impossible to concentrate on the words of my book and even my podcast couldn’t drown out their conversation so though I was completely uninterested in their babble, I couldn’t avoid hearing their conversation in full.

They were congratulating themselves on their fitness regime and after giving full details about their favourite gyms, they started talking about their diets. They agreed that sugar is evil and should be avoided at all cost. Salt bad. And then one of them started on the carbs. “If you’re limiting your sugar, you should limit all carbs. They’re so bad for you.”

He suggested she continue eating whatever it was she liked to eat, “keep that steak the same size but eat less rice.” He told her that rice is terrible for you and pasta too.

I find this blanket statement ill-informed.

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I completely agree with limiting processed carbs – you’re not getting much out of a piece of white bread. But as long as you’re eating a variety of whole grains, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot more credible science to back a whole foods diet than a meat-centred diet.

As a vegan, it’s the carbs that fill me up and make me feel satisfied after a meal. Quinoa, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat bread is a wholesome and satisfying part of any meal. And as long as you’re eating a variety of whole grains and not processed white rice for each meal (although, really, it’s not that bad to eat white rice), there’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Carbs are a satisfying comfort food so it is easy to overdo it with large portions. And if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, watching your carb intake is a good place to start. But don’t eliminate it completely. If you really want to shed some weight, ditch the dairy and meat. That’s how you’ll get the best results.

Sweet potato biscuits and breakfast sandwiches

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Before I had kids, I used to make biscuits every weekend. They’re easy to make and only take 15 minutes to bake in a hot oven. Even half asleep, I can whip these up quickly and have my butter melting on a fluffy, crumbly biscuit to have with my morning coffee.

I don’t make them nearly as often now because as soon as I walk into the kitchen on weekend mornings, my kids are asking for pancakes. But I made a double batch of pancakes yesterday so when I walked into the kitchen this morning, my daughter was pouring maple syrup on leftover pancakes and quite happy with her breakfast.

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We had some leftover sweet potatoes so I worked them into the biscuits for a special treat. They were delicious!

Sweet potato biscuits

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

Preheat the oven to 425. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a medium-sized bowl, mash the sweet potato and mix with the butter. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until the butter and sweet potato mix is evenly distributed throughout. There should be small clumps – this will make the biscuits fluffy when the butter melts. Add the milk and mix until the dough is evenly moistened.

Form the dough into 8 large biscuits. Bake for 15 minutes.

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For the breakfast sandwiches, I had marinated some tofu before I started the biscuits. I sliced the tofu into four thin slices and then in half to make 8 squares. I marinated them in soy sauce, turmeric and dijon mustard with a bit of water. Once the biscuits were finished, I fried the tofu.

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My son’s breakfast was a deconstructed breakfast sandwich (a buttered biscuit with tofu on the side). My daughter’s sandwich is above – it has a slice of tofu, a slice of vegan lunchmeat and a slice of Daiya cheese.┬áMy husband and I had ours with an herbed cheese made with coconut milk. Served with coffee, of course!