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!

Savoury spiced popcorn

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I don’t give my kids microwaved popcorn. The bag lining includes a chemical that could cause cancer (google it) and the popcorn itself is very salty with questionable additives and it’s rarely vegan. But air-popped popcorn or popcorn popped on the stovetop is a whole food that makes a great snack for everyone. We often make extra to put some aside for lunches – in a sealed container, it won’t go stale before it’s eaten.

Making popcorn on the stovetop is really simple and quick – simply heat some oil, add the kernels and cover the pot with a lid. When they start to pop, shake the pot regularly until the sound of the popping stops for a few seconds. Pour them into a bowl and season them as you’d like. If you’re used to microwaved popcorn, buy some kernels and give it a try. It’s inexpensive, easy and you can season it as you like.

For popcorn seasonings, I like to experiment with different spices but it’s always topped with vegan butter, salt and nutritional yeast. In the image above, I used the recipe that follows.

Savoury spiced popcorn

  • 2 tbsp vegan butter
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • savoury masala (mine is a spicy mix so the kids had theirs plain)
  • sea salt
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Pour the butter over the freshly popped popcorn. Add the spices and mix well. Enjoy!

Carrot and cauliflower pakoras

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My favourite pakoras are packed with sweet onions and spicy chilies. But when I decided to make a little snack this evening, I wanted to make something the kids would enjoy too. So I left out the chilies and swapped the onions for carrots and cauliflower. It resulted in these little gems I can share.

On the side is some Curried apple chutney that I made in the fall. It’s a bit spicy so it makes up for the missing chilies in the pakoras. This recipe is based on Vegan Richa‘s pakoras.

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Carrot and cauliflower pakoras

  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 Tbsp rice flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 tbsp non-dairy yogurt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup finely chopped cauliflower

Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add garlic, ginger, yogurt, lemon juice, oil and water and stir well to combine. Add veggies and mix.

Scoop batter into 2 tbsp balls on to the parchment paper and bake for 18 minutes.

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.