Sunflower seed butter and pear jam sandwiches

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Packing nutritious school lunches can be a real challenge for anyone. The kids get limited time to eat – generally in their classrooms with minimal supervision. It’s noisy and rushed on the best of days, from what I gather. They want to eat and go for recess with their friends. But my kids know they’re expected to eat their whole lunch before they eat all their snacks. If they eat a treat before they’ve finished their lunch, they won’t get a treat the next day.

My son’s a little rule follower so if he runs out of time to finish his lunch, he’ll eat it during last snack. If he feels the lunch we’ve packed was too big, we hear about it after school – through tears. My daughter, on the other hand, has a good appetite so the challenge with her is packing enough calories for her to consume in the time allotted.

Generally, we pack leftovers from dinner – if we can. But we have a few tricks for those days when we can’t pack leftovers or if the leftovers won’t translate well into cold lunches (like soup).

Hummus and cucumber sandwiches are a good choice for my picky eater. I’ve mentioned frozen leftover pizza. Another easy lunch is peanut butter and jam, of course. But since the kids’ school is nut-free, it’s sunflower seed butter and jam.

Sunflower seed butter has more protein and fat than peanut butter so it’s a good choice for energetic, growing kids. I know my kids get plenty of vitamins but the whole foods we eat are generally low in fat. Kids need plenty of healthy fats to energize their growth spurts. These sandwiches are topped with homemade pear jam for that touch of sweetness they crave.

Vegan pudding
Chia seed pudding is delicious and full of protein to power you through the morning.

For high energy snacks, I’ve mentioned chia seed pudding, which is one of my daughter’s favourites. Overnight oats is preferred by my son. I always include chia seeds in his oatmeal for added protein. We also include snack mixes of dried fruit, seeds, whole grain cereals (like Shreddies), pretzels or a couple crackers. This week, I’ve added a couple heart-shaped candies to the mix as a special treat.

Other snacks include fruit, apple sauce, baked goods (like muffins or leftover pancakes) or sliced veggies (generally carrots and cucumbers).

Coming up with quick and easy lunches for the kids can be a real challenge, so I’d love to hear your ideas. What do you pack in your kids’ lunches?

Noodle soup with vegetable pancakes

We spent the afternoon outside hiking and feeding the chickadees in the mild winter weather. As soon as we got out of the car, we were spotted by some chickadees who called to us to feed them. These friendly birds followed us throughout our hike – singing in the trees and keeping us in their sight.

We were in an area owned by the local public school board where the staff host nature walks for their schools. The birds are wild but used to kids feeding them. The blackcapped chickadees are very tame.

We didn’t just see our the friendly chickadees. We saw two kinds of woodpeckers and a couple other little birds we weren’t able to identify. But the chickadees were the only ones interested in our seeds and brave enough to approach us.

 

We got home just before dinner time. There’s nothing like a steaming bowl of noodle soup after being out in the cold. This soup has wheat noodles, tempeh, mushrooms, greens and shredded carrots. The broth has coriander and star anise and it’s garnished with cilantro.

vegan noodle soup

We had asian-style vegetable pancakes on the side with a spicy dipping sauce for the adults and a soy dipping sauce for the kids. The pancakes are a simple flour, salt and water mix but when cooking, I press pre cooked, shredded vegetables in the batter.

vegan vegetable pancakes
Vegetable pancakes with shredded carrots and cabbage.

The end result is delicious – I almost didn’t get a picture because the kids ate them all before I got the camera out! But my son asked for more while I was still cooking the adult pancakes. I made him one more with the remaining batter – as you can see, his fork got to it before I took this picture!

The difference between the adults’ pancakes and the kids’ pancakes is that I added mushrooms and onions to the adults’ pancakes. The kids’ only have cabbage and carrots – although my daughter liked them enough to eat one of the adult pancakes, onions and all, without complaining.

vegan vegetable pancakes

Vegetable pancakes

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup water
  • thinly sliced or shredded veggies (try onion, carrot, mushrooms, etc.)
  • oil for frying

Fry the vegetables in oil until cooked. Set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients together and heat a griddle. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot, lightly greased griddle and spread the batter around. Add a spoonful of the veggies and press them into the batter.

When the sides of the pancakes look ready, flip the pancakes and cook for a couple minutes on the other side until the vegetables are seared and the batter is cooked.

Make a dipping sauce with soy sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, hot pepper flakes and minced garlic. Or just dip it in soy sauce.

 

Surprise! Jam-filled bran muffins

vegan muffin
These little muffins are the perfect size for snacking.

Whenever he’s given the chance to choose his muffin, my little picky eater goes for the bran muffins over cookies or other kinds of muffins. And I sit there and watch in amazement as he happily gobbles it down. Vegan kids don’t necessarily need the extra fibre from the bran but why should we miss out on all the branny fun?

By definition, a vegan diet is high in fibre. Fibre comes from plant foods but isn’t present in animal products. Everything we eat is a source of fibre unless the fibre has been removed through processing (like white flour). Fruit is a great source of fibre – the little seeds in raspberries are a good example of a fibre-rich food.

I won’t go into detail but suffice it to say that a clean colon is a healthy colon. When foods move through the body smoothly and waste is eliminated daily, we’re able to extract all the nutrients from the food we consume and the risk of many diseases are reduced.

Here’s a little muffin that will make you go and make you smile too. It’s loaded with fibre from bran, whole wheat flour, chia seeds and depending on the jam you choose to use, you may get fibre from that.

But the best thing about these muffins is the jam at the centre. I’ve used my favourite jam – it’s apple pie jam that I made from the apples we picked at a local farm in the fall. It contains all the goodness of pie in a form that I can use every day. Mmmm! The recipe is from this book: The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes.

This muffin recipe makes 24 small muffins. I like to bake huge batches of baked goods on the weekends so I can freeze some for snacks to pack in the kids’ lunches during the week. If I only make 12, they’ll be gone before I get to freeze some. These little muffins fit nicely in our reusable containers even when frozen solid (an important feature for me)!

The recipe is based on one from The Joy of Vegan Baking: The Compassionate Cooks’ Traditional Treats and Sinful Sweets. The ingredients have been adapted based on what I had on hand and what my kids like to eat. They’re also nut-free so they can be sent to school.

Surprise! Jam-filled muffins

  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cups bran
  • 2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour (can use all-purpose or regular whole wheat)
  •  1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 heaping tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cup vegan milk (I use soy)
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 jar of jam

Preheat the oven to 425 and grease muffin tins for 24 muffins.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the chia seeds with water and put them aside to allow the seeds to absorb the water.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

Tip: Use a whisk to make sure there are no clumps of brown sugar.

Add the milk and the canola oil to the bowl with the chia seeds. Use the whisk to make sure you break up the large clumps of chia seeds.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine – don’t use a whisk because you don’t want to over mix the batter.

vegan jam muffins
Add one teaspoon of jam in the centre of each muffin.

Scoop 1/3 cup of batter for each muffin into the tins. Add a teaspoon of jam in the middle of each muffin. Then distribute the rest of the muffin batter to top each muffin. You want the jam in the middle of the muffin – if it sinks to the bottom, it will stick to the bottom of the tin. If it’s not covered with batter, the sugary jam would show and ruin the surprise.

Bake for 20 minutes. Let it cool a few minutes before removing them from the tins.

vegan muffins for snacks
Not too little, not too big.

 

 

Black bean and corn enchiladas with Mexican rice

vegan enchilada
The enchiladas are topped with a tofu sour cream.

Got home today to the spicy, tomato smell of dinner almost ready. My husband, who has been craving Mexican food since we went to see Coco over the Christmas holidays (we’ve had a few meals that just didn’t satisfy his craving apparently), made enchiladas from scratch with a side of Mexican rice. And I had to take pictures and share them since it was so good!

The enchiladas are stuffed with refried black beans, corn and vegan cheese. The enchilada sauce is made by blending my hot homemade salsa with diced tomatoes and onions into a smooth sauce. It’s poured over the enchiladas and baked, covered in foil for 40 minutes. It turned out delicious.

vegan enchilada without sauce
The enchilada sauce is a bit spicy for the kids so their version is plain but topped with vegan cheese.

The spanish rice was inspired by this recipe. It was (not surprisingly) not appreciated by my picky eater. He only eats his tomatoes as cherry tomatoes and whole. Tomato sauces don’t always make the cut but sometimes they do. I’ve tried to understand it but I don’t.

In the summer, we pick the sun-warmed, vine-ripened tomatoes from our garden and eat them like apples. If the seeds squirt and juice drips down our faces, we don’t mind. But this seems to be the very thing my son doesn’t like. If a tomato doesn’t fit in his mouth whole, he won’t touch it. There’s something about those slimy seeds that turns him off tomatoes.

The enchiladas are topped with my quick sour cream made from silken tofu. It doesn’t taste as good as a cashew sour cream but it’s the quickest way to get sour cream on the table and it’s delicious when combined with salsa and topped with vegan cheese melted under the broiler. I also use it as a base for a French onion dip.

Vegan sour cream

  • package of soft silken tofu
  • 2 Tbsp grape seed oil or other neutral oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt

Put it all in a blender and blend until smooth. That’s it!

Enjoy!

 

Prepping for the week

vegan meals ready to cook

This week, things are going to be different around here. I’m starting a new job and will be focused on learning everything I can about a new industry so I can write about it with authenticity. For the next few weeks, I’ll be making a longer commute to my new office – as I learn as much as I can from my new colleagues.

I’m not going to abandon this blog – but my posts may be more of a weekly or bi-weekly nature rather than a daily one. Since I won’t be the first one through the door, I won’t be making dinner.

My husband is going to be shouldering most of the family work until I can find some balance between work and home. He’s a great cook and we’re in good hands. We’re very lucky.

I’m doing my best to support him by stocking the freezer with supplies, helping with the meal planning and making fail-safe back up meals for those days when starting dinner from scratch is just too much to ask.

Some days, everything is not okay. The kids are feeling battered and bruised emotionally from something that happened at school (these are often little things to us but feel huge to my sensitive little ones – like someone saying my son’s tuque looks like an acorn or squabbles between friends). On these days, the littlest thing triggers tears or an argument.

Of course, we may have come home from challenging days as well. What’s left of our energy is spent restoring calm between siblings or soothing raw emotions. In the midst of this chaos, it’s nice to have dinner in the can (so to speak).

We’ll be meal planning throughout the week but these act as super simple back ups for when we need them. These meals are “just add water” or very simple steps.

Lentil and pasta soup – just dump the jar in boiling water and cook 12 minutes or until the lentils are done.

Lentils masala – this is one of my favourite meals but the list of ingredients is daunting. I’ve premixed the spices in a bag in the jar. Cook the lentils and at the same time, make a savoury sauce. The only actual prep is chopping an onion and opening a can of tomatoes.

TVP taco meat – one of our most relied-upon mid-week meals is tacos. The kids like them with black beans, avocado and whatever else we have on hand. But us parents want something different. Just pour boiling water over the TVP and wait 10 minutes and it’s good to go. Not gourmet but quick and sometimes that’s good enough.

These are also great to have on hand for babysitters. You can find plenty of options for these kinds of meals in Vegan Food Gifts: More Than 100 Inspired Recipes for Homemade Baked Goods, Preserves, and Other Edible Gifts Everyone Will Love.

How do you prep for busy weeks?

Pumpkin and apple spiced pancakes

vegan pancakes
Pumpkin apple spiced pancakes are as good as they look.

Yesterday, my husband made a really nice tofu scramble with onions and peppers, and put the whole thing in under the broiler to melt some gooey vegan cheese on top. When he brought it to the table with a bit of pomp and ceremony, my son said, “When can we ever have pancakes again?!”

So for breakfast this morning, I made a huge stack of pancakes. And because I had some canned pumpkin left in the freezer after making the peanut butter balls, I thought I’d use it up in my pancakes. What’s better than pumpkin pancakes? Pancakes with the flavours of my two favourite pies: pumpkin and apple.

The combination works. Pumpkin, apple, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a dash of cloves combine to make a heavenly treat smothered in maple syrup. This recipe was inspired by the pumpkin pancake recipe in Vegan Brunch: Homestyle Recipes Worth Waking Up For–From Asparagus Omelets to Pumpkin Pancakes. It’s a great book to have on your bookshelf. I highly recommend it!

vegan pancakes

Pumpkin and apple spiced pancakes

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cup vegan milk (I used soy so I could send leftovers to school)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, if you have it, or ground nutmeg
  • pinch ground cloves

Preheat a griddle so it’s nice and hot when the pancake mix is ready. I like it really hot and grease it lightly with oil before cooking the pancakes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. add the dry ingredients and stir to combine – try to eliminate the clumps but don’t stir too much or the pancakes won’t have a nice texture.

I like to make lots of small pancakes – I can cook the batch more quickly and I know they’ll be cooked nicely in the middle. Spread about 1/3 cup of batter on the griddle and push it around so it’s not too thick. The batter will stick to the griddle until it’s cooked so don’t mess with it until you see that the sides are looking cooked and it’s bubbling in the middle. Flip and cook the other side.

pumpkin apple spiced vegan pancakes

If you’re thinking this stack looks too big for a family of four, it’s hard to predict how much the kids will eat. Sometimes they just eat and eat. But I make the huge stack because I save the extras for snacks and breakfasts during the week.

They can be frozen and popped in the toaster for an easy weekday breakfast. They can be stored in the fridge for the kids to help themselves to (you’d be amazed how quickly they get eaten when the kids know there’s a stack of pancakes in the fridge).

And they can be packed and sent to school as a snack. My kids will eat them at school without maple syrup – these pumpkin apple pancakes don’t need the added sweetness. You can send a little container of syrup if you trust your kids won’t get it everywhere!  My kids eat in their classrooms so I don’t dare take that chance.

Vegetable soup with kidney beans

Vegan vegetable soup

We started the day with above seasonal temperature. It had been lightly raining much of the night and the snow piles had melted. Farmers’ fields were showing their soil. At noon, there was still a light drizzle and it wasn’t very cold yet. But this morning, they cancelled school buses because the forecast was calling for nasty weather.

Everything changed after lunch. The rain turned to ice pellets clacking at the windows. By three o’clock, there was blowing snow. Now it is below freezing (-11), the wind is blowing and we’re back into mid-winter. We decided to stay in tonight since the roads are a mess.

When the kids got home, they were miserable and exhausted after a long week. They needed some comfort food and fast. It’s a good thing I was working on dinner. Vegetable soup and fresh flatbread to go with it.

For the flatbread recipe, I made a quick pizza dough with whole wheat flour and added some herbs de provence and nutritional yeast. I let it rise for about 20 minutes and then rolled it out like a pizza, brushed it with olive oil and sea salt and baked it like a pizza (but without the toppings) on a pizza stone. It wasn’t exciting but it was something quick and fresh to sop the soup up with.

This is a clean-out-the-fridge soup with everything in it. I chopped a bit of everything (onions, carrots, celery, potato, sweet potato, orange pepper, broccoli and mushrooms). I added herbs de provence for a bit of flavour. Threw them into a pot with some olive oil to soften them, added broth and a can of diced tomatoes and simmered for 25 minutes. About halfway through that time I added orzo (because we had it). After the vegetables were soft and the orzo was cooked, I added a can of beans.

It’s a great way to get rid of any vegetables that are starting to wilt in the fridge. I hate to let fresh vegetables go bad in the crisper so this is an easy way to use things up. Another way would be a stir-fry but on a snowy day like today, there’s nothing like a nice soup.