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.

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?

Miso-glazed eggplant

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This meal was a combination of two things I love: miso and Japanese eggplant. The eggplant bakes until it’s buttery soft then it’s brushed with a glaze and broiled until the glaze is bubbling. We had it with wheat noodles topped with broccoli, yellow pepper, carrots and tofu.

My kids are iffy with eggplant – and I’m okay with that. They don’t have to love all the vegetables I love as long as they’re getting enough variety on their plates. I wasn’t planning on sharing these eggplants with the kids but I decided to let my daughter have a taste and she loved it. So I had to share.

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Miso-glazed eggplant

  • 2 Japanese eggplants (long and thin)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp mirin
  • 1.5 Tbsp miso (whatever kind you like – the light miso is the mildest)

Preheat the oven to 400. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise. Brush them with one Tbsp of sesame oil and bake for 15 minutes with the skin up.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining sesame oil with mirin and miso. Stir until mixed.    (I’ll admit, I wasn’t so patient with this step!)

When the eggplant is soft, remove it from the oven and flip them over so the skin is down. Slice it a few times – not through to the skin but through the soft interior. Brush the glaze on the tops of the eggplants. Place them under the broiler and broil until bubbly (only a few minutes).

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The kids simply had noodles, veggies and tofu with sesame seeds on top. The sauce is light – sesame oil, mirin and soy sauce.

I bought them starter-chopsticks and they’re learning to use them quite well. They didn’t give up and switch to forks! It’s great for their small motor skills.

That’s all for tonight – have a great night and let me know what you’re cooking!

Another sushi bowl

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Everyone around us is sick. People at my office, kids at school – it seems the flu is going around. It’s in times like this that it’s so important to eat whole foods and veggies in every colour of the rainbow. I’m convinced that the extra servings of veggies helps us fight off infection.

This bowl was inspired by sushi – it’s not the same as my previous sushi bowl recipe – this one has roasted tofu, sweet potato, bok choy and king mushrooms. I’ve included the veggies from all our favourite sushi rolls. We crumbled nori on top but only remembered after I took the photos and we had dug in. These are the flavours we love so the meal disappeared quickly!

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My son’s bowl has cubed roasted tofu, sweet potato, cucumber, red pepper, grated carrots, avocado and sesame seeds over white rice.

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My daughter’s bowl has the same but also includes bok choy. The tofu was marinated in a couple tablespoons of white miso, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a tablespoon of mirin and a tablespoon of sesame oil. I let it sit in the marinade while the oven preheated to 350 F and then just poured it all on a cookie sheet and cooked it, flipping once, for about 20 minutes. They’re savoury and delicious.

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The grown-ups had spicy king mushrooms as well. The recipe is from The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East: 150 Asian-Inspired Recipes–from Soba Noodles to Summer Rolls. They had a spicy sauce that was really nice with the rest of the meal.

This kind of a meal really works well with kids who like to keep their flavours separate. Everything may be touching (this can be an issue) but it’s easy to pile in only the foods you know your kid will eat. It’s nice to encourage new foods but every meal doesn’t have to include a challenge to overcome. This meal has lots of variety and points of entry with kid-friendly foods (cucumber, shredded carrots, avocado, sweet potato, white rice).

Fake chicken fingers and fries

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This isn’t an impressive dinner but it’s a weeknight and it was quick and easy. My son has been under the weather – just overtired with a low-grade fever. His immune system is working overtime fighting something off so he stayed home from school today to snooze all day. I’m able to work from home to be with him – but I had a lot of work to do so he spent most of the afternoon in front of the TV while I was working away in my office.

So when I shut my computer down for the evening and went to have dinner, he asked me to play with him. I chopped some potatoes, slathered them in olive oil, nutritional yeast and salt (makes for really nice french fries), tossed in some fake chicken fingers and frozen seitan I had made in December (when I had all the time in the world). And went to help my son build a car out of straw-like connecting toys.

The cucumber sticks are my gateway into dinner. Even when my kids are grumpy and don’t feel like eating, the cucumbers tempt them into eating and once they start, the momentum grows… they’re often grumpy BECAUSE they’re hungry. But they won’t hear it. You can’t reason with kids when they’re hangry – this is when a crispy, cool, irresistible cucumber works wonders. A few bites and they’re back to their sweet selves.

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My husband and I had this spicy barbecue seitan that I made in a huge batch and froze in dinner-sized portions. That’s the best way to make seitan because it requires simmering and then baking or frying – it’s time consuming to make from scratch. But if you make a big batch, it’s a great last minute meal.

Superbowl dinner and snacks

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Superbowl Sunday calls for a spicy chili and plenty of snacks to nibble on while watching the game. This year, we didn’t bother making a kid-friendly chili because they never like it much anyway. So we threw in the jalapeño pepper and didn’t skimp on the flavours. It’s topped with a dollop of spicy cashew dip for a creamy kick.

The chili was served with homemade pretzel dough cut into little “bites.” I got the idea from Vegan Richa (this dip is delicious and super easy too). I love the fact that the pretzels take no time to shape at all. Fresh out of the oven, there’s nothing like them! Aside from the hour it takes to let the dough rise, they’re quick to bake. Once you try them, you’ll be craving them again and again!

They’re served with a spicy cashew dip but we also dipped them in the chili. I usually make cornbread with chili but this was a really nice change. The recipe made enough pretzel bites for leftovers – even after we all ate our fill.

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For the kids, I fried up some vegetables and tossed leftover rice and lentils in the pan for a very easy kid-friendly meal. It’s flavoured with just sesame oil and soy sauce. Not too complicated but it makes the kids happy.

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Lentils and rice are a great pair that can be dressed up however you like them. If you have leftover rice and lentils, fry up some onion and garlic, add any vegetables you have on hand and spices that you like, add the rice and lentils, and you have a really nutritious and delicious meal.

If you’ve never cooked lentils before, they’re really simple and quick to cook. Just wash them well, checking for stones, cover them with water and simmer for 20 minutes. You can add your flavour in the water at the beginning or cook the lentils in plain water without any salt or seasoning. Fry onions and vegetables while the lentils are simmering and then throw the lentils in at the end. Give them a try!