But if images of dull pureed lumps of vegetables make you turn as green as your child's peas, then fear not. Even if you have children that are still enjoying their meals from a food processor or a jar, you can feed everyone the same foods, just prepared in slightly different ways.
My "Whole Family" Diet is based on the idea that the family needs to eat together at least a few times a week, with the same foods on everyone's plate. When we take as much care to feed ourselves the same foods as our children, we eat healthier and take in more nutrients. When our children see that their plates are the same as ours, they are more likely to grow up with a more developed pallet and an appreciation for good foods, especially when they reach the age where they can help in the kitchen and take ownership of the food they prepare.
Bonus: All of these meals can be prepared in about 30 minutes!
Meal 1: Baked Chicken Tenders With Vegetable Couscous.
Baked chicken has a bad reputation of being boring and bland. When marinated in a tasty dressing and served with couscous mixed with steamed vegetables, you can turn a Plain Jane kind of dish into a colorful, flavorful plate.
Coat the tenders with a dressing/marinade of your choice. Stick to classic Italian-style flavors; my favorite is Drew's Organic Smoked Tomato dressing. Allow tenders to marinade at least 15 minutes in the fridge (see my "pro tips" at the end of the blog to help consolidate your cooking steps!) Once marinaded, bake about 20 minutes at 350°F, or until there is no meat and its internal temp is 165°F.
In the last 10 minutes of cook time, prepare a box of quick-cooking couscous according to package directions. (I like Near East couscous, in roasted garlic or parmesan). Once the couscous is cooked, add another TBSP or two of water and a couple handfuls of mixed frozen vegetables, such as a "California" mix with carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Toss until veggies are steamed through and season to taste. I also enjoy combining a box of Green Giant Steamers (prepared in the microwave) in the Healthy Heart or Antioxidant blend with my cooked couscous.
Spoon out the couscous veggie blend onto the plate, placing the sliced chicken over top. For younger kids, just chop up the chicken and veggies into smaller pieces. For babies, puree the chicken in a food processor with a little warm water and do the same with the couscous and veggie blend. If you are concerned about seasoning, spice up your own plate to taste after cooking with fresh ground pepper. Stick with plain steamed veggies for the littlest kids and use the "steamers" for yourself if you like!
I know it's tempting to boil some pasta and just open a jar of sauce, but with just a tiny bit more work you can really amp up the flavor and nutritional content of this family classic with lots of hearty vegetables.
Fill a large pot with the appropriate amount of water for the pasta you'll be cooking. Place over high heat, salt the water (just a handful- this will season the pasta just a little bit, but also keep it from sticking too much). Cover the pot with a lid.
In another large pot or skillet over medium heat with a light coating of olive oil, then add gound beef or turkey, a pinch of salt, 1 tsp minced garlic (save yourself time- buy a jar for your fridge) if you like, and half of a sweet yellow onion, diced. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks. When mostly brown, add about 12 oz. (half a jar) of organic tomato sauce. It can be plain, or "tomato basil", or whatever flavor you prefer. Keep in mind that if your sauce is well-seasoned, you should not add much salt to your meat. Bring to a simmer. Once sauce is bubbling, add a mix of diced carrots, bell pepper and peas (fresh or frozen). After adding the veg, bring back up to a simmer, lower the heat to med-low, and simmer for at least 20 minutes).
Once your sauce is in its simmer stage, start the pasta according to package directions. Since you already have the water boiling, it won't take long at all. Once cooked, drain and add back to its pot with a drizzle of olive oil (to avoid stickage). You can either leave the pasta plain or, once the meat sauce is done cooking, combine some of that sauce right in. Plate and serve with the optional addition of "snow cheese" (my daughter's favorite - grated parmesan cheese).
For babies, you can combine everything, pasta and all, with water in the food processor.
Alternative Preparation: If looking for a protein-packed vegetarian alternative, simmer the sauce with the veggies first, then in the last 5-10 minutes of simmer time add vegetarian meat-less crumbles. I like Gardein's crumbles.
A great way to introduce bold flavors and expand your child's tastes is with a sweet and savory curry. There are plenty of pre-made mild sauces on the market, or with the right spices on hand you can create your own flavor blend.
In a large, non-stick skillet warm 2 tbsp vegetable or light olive oil (not extra-virgin, the flavor is too strong) and 1 tbsp butter over medium heat. Once melted, at 1 small chopped onion and 1 tsp salt and stir till translucent or lightly browned. Add a mix of your favorite chopped vegetables - I like carrots, bell pepper, and green beans with an additional sprinkle of salt. As the veggies heat through, add a few teaspoons of your favorite curry power to taste. Or try the following blend:
*1/2 tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander, ground ginger, and ground chili.
*1/4 tsp each ground ginger and ground turmeric
*Add more or less according to your taste. The chili powder is the only thing I use that may have some heat. Simply leave it out for sensitive taste buds.
Toss/stir until the veggies are warmed through and browning slightly on the edges. Add 1 can (12 oz) unsweetened, light coconut milk and 1/4 c. 2% fat plain Greek yogurt. Bring back up to a simmer, then lower heat to med-low and cook through for 20 minutes. If you need to avoid nuts or dairy, you can substitute whichever kind of milk you prefer so long as it is plain and unsweetened. Yogurt is meant to thicken the curry but if you can't do dairy but still want a more stew-like texture, sift a couple tsps cornstarch over the mix using a sieve, stirring as you go.
As the curry simmers, prepare quinoa according to package directions. I like Seeds of Change, which can be done in a microwave-safe bowl and takes about as much time as you need the curry to simmer. When finished, spoon the quinoa into individual bowls and serve the curry over top.
For babies this is another meal that can simply be blended together. Again, use a little warm water to aid in processing the food, and er on the light side with seasoning, maybe adding additional curry powder to your own meal after you portion out your child's dish.
- When using fresh veggies, pre-portion and chop what you are going to use for the week ahead of time. Spending just 20 minutes one on day doing a little prep work for the rest of the week will save you lots of time when it comes to actually cooking.
- When marinading meats, do it the night before or morning of. This will help you check off another step of the cooking process without cutting into your actual cook time. Steaks enjoy a good overnight dry rub. Chicken can be removed from its packaging and placed in a seal-able plastic container with your favorite marinade before you go to work.
- Take advantage of BO-GO and other grocery deals. Make sure you never run out of your most often-used pantry items to ensure that you can whip up one of these meals any day of the week. I always stock up on BO-GO pastas, canned goods, and frozen veggies. When meats are on sale, I use what I need and freeze the rest (vacuum seal, or double-wrap w/ plastic wrap then foil).
- Get the kids involved. It can be stressful worrying about entertaining children while cooking. Give them something to do! Babies can simply observe you as you talk to them. It sounds silly, but I would talk to my daughter as if I were actually presenting a dish for a cooking show. If you have older children that aren't knife-ready, have them help wash the produce and then let them continue doing water play in your (clean) sink. Older and more dexterous children can begin to learn to peel and chop with supervision, and I feel it's very important to see parents set the example for kitchen safety.
- Just get it on a plate. I know we would ALL love to have our own organic gardens and greenhouses with an endless supply of fresh produce, but sometimes, you just need to get the darn vegetable on the plate. So turn a blind eye and deaf ear to all the fuss about the best way to cook our foods, or if we should even cook them at all. Ounce for ounce, fresh is usually best, nutrient-wise. But that is not ideal for a baby without teeth. As your kids get older, you may find they prefer crunchy items they can pick up with their hands instead of being cooked. So save some carrot sticks on the side the next time you cook a meal. Everything I shared today can be adapted in some way, even if that means keeping all the components separate for kids who can't stand different foods touching each other. Me? I hate mushy carrots. Like, HATE hate. I always add them last to whatever I'm cooking so they are still crunchy!
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