Simple Real Food Toddler Lunch Ideas

Packing a lunchbox can really pull on those creativity strings. Especially when you have to make 5 a week. And that’s just for one kid. My sister has 4 kids at school – that is 20 lunchboxes a week. Argh! I will share some inspiration today with simple toddler lunch ideas. They might work for bigger kids too – I just know that they work for my little one.

Try these toddler lunch ideas for your little one. You can pop them in a lunchbox or eat them at home. I share my best toddler lunch ideas.

My toddler goes to childcare 5 days a week and we need to supply his lunch. The childcare prepares morning and afternoon tea (often vegetable sticks, rice crackers, etc). I also know that my little one isn’t one to sit down for a big serve of something hot for lunch. He’s a nibbler, a muncher and likes variety. That’s why I chose a bento style lunchbox for him when he started childcare last year. We have a Yumbox lunch box – which you can look at here. Alternatively, my favourite online healthcare shop, Shop Naturally, has a wonderful variety of bento style lunchboxes here.

The Yumbox is extra helpful because each of the bento style compartments are labelled with a food group: vegetables, protein, grains, dairy, fruit. Some may find this really obvious – but I actually like the gentle reminder.

Quick Tip: Pack the Lunchbox the Night Before

Honestly – this is the BEST tip for getting out the door in the morning. We pack our lunchboxes either during dinner – or just after, as we clean up. We then pop them in the fridge. That way, in the morning, we simply grab them and go. Easy.

That being said, even if we are at home – I still serve lunch in his lunchbox, or just on plate. Consistency is a big hit with my little one, so keeping to the lunchbox sometimes works well. Occasionally I miz it up a bit for a surprise. We might have a picnic on the floor, or eat on the couch. Whatever way you choose, I hope these toddler lunch ideas help you fill your little one’s plate.

To share my ideas, I’ll group them in categories too – and you can take your pick for what you’d like to include in your next lunchbox.

Toddler Lunch Ideas: Vegetables

  • Carrot, celery, cucumber sticks
  • Capsicum slices
  • Snow Peas
  • Leftover roasted vegetables
  • Mashed pumpkin, sweet potato or potato
  • Frozen Peas (they defrost, but they are yum!)
  • Corn (frozen or tinned – although check the ingredients for any hidden nasties)

Toddler Lunch Ideas: Protein

  • Hummus (homemade is easy, or if you buy it – check those ingredients!)
  • Bean Dip (there are lots of recipes for a good bean dip, like this one)
  • Leftover Meat (sausages, roast lamb or beef)
  • Chili Con Carne
  • Chicken Breast (easiest way to cook them? check this out)
  • Grilled Haloumi
  • Sunflower Seed Butter (make your own – it is simple. A great alternative to peanut butter for school days).

Toddler Lunch Ideas: Grains

  • A simple sandwich (do try and avoid white bread though – try something hearty like a rye or a sourdough)
  • A wrap with banana, or Vegemite, or Sunflower Seed butter, or grated cheese and carrot (check the ingredients on the wraps though. I am going to give these wraps a try soon).
  • Pasta salad (this can be as simple as leftover pasta from dinner, tossed with some olive oil and lemon juice and some
  • Brown rice (cooked in broth for a little extra flavour) or with a teensy bit of tamari or soy sauce added
  • Quinoa mixed with salsa (less mess this way as it all sticks together)

Toddler Lunch Ideas: Dairy

  • Cheese – be creative though. Slice up some block cheese into triangles, use a small cookie cutter to make shapes, or buy some pre-packed little cheese bites (check those ingredients!)
  • Yoghurt with sultanas or granola or blueberries. Yoghurt can be a notorious sugar source – so make sure to choose one that does not contain added sugar. Ideally opt for a full-fat greek style and you should be fine.
  • If you are going dairy free – you could try something here like a good nut or seed butter, some cashew cheese or other plant based alternative.

Toddler Lunch Ideas: Fruit

  • Small Fruit – like blueberries, grapes (cut in half), blackberries, raspberries
  • Chopped Pieces – apple, pear, peach, nectarine. You can squeeze some lemon juice on the apple to stop it going brown
  • Whole Fruit – a small apple, a mandarin – will all be a good size for a toddler
  • Melon – always a hit in my house. Watermelon, rockmelon, honeydew. Or a little mix of everything. Again, try and be creative – use one of those old-fashioned melon ballers to cut out spheres of the fruit.

 

How are those toddler lunch ideas? What will you write on your shopping list this week? Tell me in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you’ll choose.

2017 – A Year of Vegetables, Recipes and Pantry Organisation

Where did 2017 go? It seems to have sped on by in a whir of vegetables, recipes, pantry organisation and loads of travel adventures for me.

I feel like I have blinked and we are in January 2018. Happy New Year!

2017 was a big year here at The Empowered Cook – thank you to all of you who have followed me and read my articles, liked a few posts on Facebook and made a few of my recipes. I’ve loved sharing with you all – and it has also given me a creative outlet, which I have enjoyed immensely.

A Year in Review for The Empowered Cook - pantry organisation, vegetables and recipes!

Here’s what you liked the most this last year:

  • My Pantry Organisation ebookyou can get that here. Read the post and enjoy the ebook to get yourself organised in the pantry. Such a great way to start 2018!
  • Getting connected over social media – whether it was Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest – we connected this year! Come follow along if you’re not already.
  • You loved seeing me, my kitchen and my little one. I guess I will just have to share more this year??

Woodboard Love with Toddler Hands

 

And what did I love this year? Well so many things – our family trip to New York. Spending time seeing my little grow and learn to love his Montessori childcare. Experimenting in the kitchen and learning some new recipes. Maintaining a daily sadhana (meditation practice) which has made a huge difference to my days.

I also loved following along with these two:

Elena Brower – check her out on Instagram and also here on her website. She released a book this year: Practice.You and I seriously love it. You can see it here. A guided journal filled with beautiful artwork – it is a great creative pursuit for this year. Order it!

Carrie-Anne Moss – her Inner Circle was what led me to really commit to the daily meditation. And I haven’t looked back. I’ve grown to accept that it will most often not be perfect and I will rarely get to finish without interruption from my little one. But just taking that moment first thing in the morning – is just so needed. You can see more from Carrie-Ann here.

And as always – I loved exploring the web and following along with my favourites: Live Simply, Heather Bruggeman, and many others.

2017 felt like it needed some inspiration – and I found it in the above.

So what’s next? What will 2018 bring? Who knows. And I love that.

 

5 Ted Talks on Feeding Your Family

I find watching Ted Talks incredibly inspiring. And there are so many. And they are short. So I devour them readily.

My particular favourite area of research and learning is about food, and about how I can feed my family better.

One of the first Ted Talks I ever watched was Jamie Oliver. His talk is incredibly moving and passionate – and therefore so inspiring. That easily makes it on to my list.

But there are others too – some that simply offer an alternative viewpoint, or they explain a scientific concept in simple and easy to understand language.

The speakers are all passionate about their particular niche – and they easily captivate the audience: including you.

Ted Talks are motivational and inspiring. These are my Top 5 Ted Talks on how to better feed your family - including the captivating Jamie Oliver.

Here are my Top 5 Ted Talks – all about feeding your family.

#1 – Jamie Oliver

This is perhaps my favourite Ted Talk. I love his passion, his nervousness, his enthusiastic plea for us to feed our children better. His talk is captivating – and it will make you think about what you feed your child.

You can see it here.

#2 – Sam Kass: Want Kids to Learn Well? Feed them well

I love the connection here between education and food. Sending kids to school with a full belly is critical – but it is more about what we feed them. Getting them nutrient dense food – and giving them the best start as they open their minds to all that knowledge.

It does have an American slant – because it does mention their infamous school lunches – but the message is still clear: feed them well.

You can see this Ted Talk here.

#3 – Mark Bittman: What’s wrong with what we eat

This is just an eye-opener. Mark Bittman is great to listen to – and he has a strong statement to make. He links food to the climate, and to the environment. He takes our kitchens global – and really gets us to consider the impact our food choices have on the world. Be prepared to be shocked. And be prepared to be asked to change.

You can watch this one here.

#4 – Tristram Stuart: The global food waste scandal

Something that is ‘current’ due to the recent documentary “War on Waste” – this Ted Talk is right on the money. Another eye-opener. Such an incredible point – that food is produced but we actually don’t need it. The talk is fact based – and those facts will blow your mind. Why do we produce so much food, if we do not need it?

Watch this Ted Talk here.

#5 – Graham Hill: Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian

There has been a meatfree movement for a while now. Do you adopt it in your house? Meatless monday, vegetable heavy meals, or just vegetarian completely? This talk might just make you rethink your intake of meat.

Watch this one here.

What about you? Do you have others to share? What other speakers do you love to listen to? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Need some motivation? The Best Channels for YouTube Kitchen Motivation

There is something about watching an everyday person tackle the same problems we all face, that is really motivational. YouTube has provided this awesome vehicle for people around the world to share how they do their daily tasks – like cooking, cleaning, making dinner, dealing with laundry and kids and working full time, and staying at home… I could go on. There is very possibly a YouTube video for any topic you google.

I am an avid YouTube watcher – it started when I was pregnant. I really enjoyed watching other birth stories – the amount of women who have shared their birth via YouTube is amazing. But then I found that these same women generally were ‘vloggers’ (video bloggers) and that they shared much more than just the birth. I’ve since subscribed to a whole bunch and regularly check-in with how their lives are going.

I’ve learnt a bunch of tips and tricks to do with raising Ollie, but also in terms of keeping my house clean and what to cook for dinner.

YouTube can also be incredibly overwhelming though – there is a LOT of junk on there. And you can easily slip into the void of the YouTube universe and lose hours of time searching and clicking on boring old clips…

So – let’s do this The Empowered Cook way. I’ll share my top YouTube Kitchen Motivation channels with you and get you started. This is the list I wish someone had given me when I started!

The Best Channels for YouTube Kitchen Motivation from The Empowered Cook

Join the Jacksons

Ash, James and their three kids (Heidi, Archie and Louie) are an Australian family who post a YouTube video every single day. That in itself, is an awesome achievement. Their daily videos are well worth a watch just to see how another family lives their lives, but they also have some really practical advice to share too. There are a bunch of good recipes included too – I particularly like James’s cooking videos – they are super simple and easy to make.

Ash has just started her own spin-off YouTube channel too: Ash Jackson. So far the videos have been really great – and are more specially filmed and edited content, rather than the vlog style of their original channel. She has shared some great tips here too!

Live Simply

I am a HUGE fan of the Live Simply website. The recipes are amazing, but so are the natural cleaning tips and instructional guides. She is a great presenter too – and this is clear in her YouTube videos. Her quick recipes are shot beautifully, and she makes things look super easy – which is really motivational! I’ve tried a bunch of her recipes, and they have all been delicious. Highly recommended.

How Jen Does It

This YouTuber is a classic for cleaning and organisation. She also has a bunch of great recipes – especially slowcooker recipes. I followed her daily while they completely renovated their new home (I’d recommend those videos!). She also has some really great cleaning routine videos – showing you how to create a routine in your home, how to zone clean and she also has a complete series on how to get your home clean in 15mins a day. A great watch and completely achievable!

Homemaker on the Homefront

I really discovered this one when I was looking for motivational cleaning videos. What? Yes. Sometimes watching someone else clean up or organise their home is incredibly motivational. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

This YouTube has a great collection of ‘speedy’ ones – they are sped up videos set to music showing her clean her kitchen at night. It starts out a complete mess with dinner everywhere, dishes all over and just general household junk all over the counters. But in a few minutes (love the sped up version – if only it was this fast in real life!) the kitchen is tidied up, and cleaned down.

This is something I’ve adopted in our house – the kitchen is always clean before we go to bed. It makes such a HUGE difference in the morning waking up to a clean kitchen. It makes me want to cook breakfast and start my day. I got this idea from my Mum originally, but it was this YouTuber who really demonstrated the difference it can make. And her kids are gorgeous – they often pop up in her videos, pulling cheeky faces at the camera. Check her out.

Our Farmhouse Life

I’ve followed along with this one for awhile now – the couple are just super cute and homey. They are slowly renovating their home – so we see them working together to build a family home. The kitchen itself now looks amazing. But she also shares some really great personal goals as she makes her way through all the challenges that come with having your own home. She is also a fan of The FlyLady – and has a great challenge series, where she explains various chapters of The FlyLady’s famous book. Again – a great watch.

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And there you have it – the best motivational YouTubers that I follow. Next time you’re in the kitchen chopping up veges for dinner, or you need some motivation on a Saturday morning to actually get up and clean the house – pop on some YouTubes. You’ll find it does work!

Already a YouTube fan? Who do you watch? Please share your favourites in the comments below. I’d love to add some more to my list!

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How to Stay Motivated in the Kitchen: And Still Get Dinner on the Table

Sometimes getting dinner on the table is the hardest part of the day – especially when you cannot stay motivated in the kitchen. There is no inspiration to begin. I know what it is like. You have kids hanging off you, you and your partner are trying to decide whether to fold up the mountain of laundry, tidy up the mess of toys or just open a bottle of wine and admit defeat.

And then The Question: “What’s for dinner?”

It can toll like a bell of dread in most households. It is difficult to make a decision when you are in the midst of chaos. So you opt for something less than great, which no one really enjoys let alone eats, and then you just have a mountain of dishes to do.

This is the chaos I want to help you change. I want the early evening to be a time of family – when you can enjoy each other’s company. And if there is a screaming toddler, it’s ok – because dinner is already organised and sitting in the slowcooker, ready to be served up for everyone.

HowtoStayMotivatedintheKitchen

If there is one thing I’ve learnt from being a Mama, it is this: that if you have to force it, it’s not the right thing for that moment. You can’t force a child to go to sleep. You can’t force a child to eat. You basically can’t force them to do anything.

But you can have a system or a routine, that gently shows them the sequence of things: that we eat dinner, we play and then we bath. After the bath we put on some warm jammies and read some books. And then pretty soon after that, it’s bedtime.

If we skip any of these steps, or try to rush them – we get pushback. We start to force the issue. And it won’t work. We all get frustrated, and someone is going to end up in tears.

So – I’ve started to use the same process in how I approach dinner. I set myself a system / routine that is simple, easy and is basically a set and forget. We all know what is going to happen and when, and if disaster strikes, we know what happens next, so either of us can jump in and do the next step.

My routine is made up several ‘fundamentals’ – and these don’t all happen on the night. They are things I do prior to the dinner hour – and they get me in a really good place early on in the week, so that when Thursday night rolls around and that takeaway pizza is looking so appealing, I can just fall back on these ‘fundamentals’ and we’re all good.

#1 – Meal Plan

I dedicate some time at the start of the week to meal plan. This is such a HUGE topic, and there are so many ways you can do this – but start simply. Just write down a list of the dinners that you’ll likely make this week. 

Meal Planning means I don’t have to decide each night what to cook. I can make all the decisions on a Sunday afternoon, while Ollie is playing with his Dad on the floor and I can have a cup of tea.

We discuss anything that is coming up during the week – late work nights, football games, etc – and plan easy meals (baked beans on toast! Or a meal from the freezer) for those nights.

For the weekends, I generally batch cook – so it’s big hearty meals that I can double up and freeze for leftovers.

Do we always eat what we plan? No. 80% of time though – yes we do. And if we don’t, it’ll likely be that we’ve swapped a day around, or changed our mind about what to eat from the freezer. We rarely just throw in the towel and buy take-away.

Whatever way you choose to do this – just take the time to write it down and then stick it on your fridge. Everyone sees it – and knows what is for dinner well in advance.

#2 – Make the Process Easy

No one wants to be rummaging around looking for stuff to help make dinner. So get yourself organised. Keep utensils close to the stove. Keep placemats and napkins on the table so that you can easily set the table. Set the table early in the afternoon (or even before you leave for work!), so it’s ready before the rush. Start dinner earlier in the day, and then reheat it later.

Use the same plates, cutlery and glasses each night. Use the same placemats and napkins. Less decisions means the process is easier.

While waiting for your toast to cook, or the kettle to boil in the morning – get out any serving dishes you need for dinner and pop them on the counter. Get the meal from the freezer to defrost. Grab the packet of pasta from the pantry. Break the process down into tiny steps that you can complete during the day.

When I was at home with my little one, I would often do dinner prep during his morning nap. The amount of times this saved me – I cannot recall. I remember being in tears when Brendon eventually came home at the end of the day some days – because I was tired and Ollie had worn me out. But it was such a relief to simply turn on the oven and pop a dish that I had already prepared in to cook. It just made everything better.

And you know if the process of getting dinner made is easy – you are more likely to actually do it.

#3 – Take the Path of Least Resistance

Sometimes, you just need to take the easy way out.

So your meal plan says that tonight you are going to eat spaghetti bolognaise. But your toddler is teething or your teenager has a last minute exam tomorrow, or your partner is stuck in traffic and will be late.

Change it. Take the path of least resistance.

Now this path will be different for everyone. Our path means we eat baked beans on toast, or bacon and pea pasta. Something so easy that we don’t need to think, and it takes less than 15mins to make.

Your path might be to let everyone get their own dinner. It might be to let the kids have cereal for dinner. It might mean that you whip up a big batch of french toast and everyone has breakfast for dinner.

Whatever it is – when you need to, do it.

Just don’t make this an everyday occurrence – if it is, then you need to take some time to really assess where the issue is. And go back to basics.

#4 – Play Music. Sing. Dance. And Be Silly.

I doubt that anyone can stay in a bad mood if you throw on some trashy music and dance like a crazy person. You will giggle. You will belly laugh. I guarantee it.

No one sees you in your own home. No one can see how bad you are at dancing. And if your windows are closed, no one can hear you belt out a good tune!

There is something about cooking with music on. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it just makes the process better. And I know that my food tastes better when I am happy cooking it. That is the truth.

And I am happy when I watch my little one bounce to a good song – or watch my partner twirl him around the room. Or even better, have my partner twirl me around the room.

Just take a moment to be a little silly. It helps shake out the dust of the day – and gets you back to you.

#5 – Clean Your Sink

I know what you’re thinking – this is the last thing you want to do. But it really does make a good starting point. I know that if I have a clean sink – all the dishes away, and the sink is nice and sparkly – then good things will happen.

This is a lesson from my Mum – she always started the day and ended the night, with a clean sink. And if she was ever stressed about something or didn’t quite know what to do, you’d be pretty sure that you’d find her in the kitchen scrubbing the sink with a tea towel over her shoulder. That’s just the way she was.

So I started to do this too. I will start dinner by first clearing the sink of dishes, and then giving it a quick wipe down and rinse. I’ll grab some fresh teatowels and cloths – and make it look welcoming.

Dinner always comes easier after that.

Adopt just one of these ideas and see how it changes your “Dinner Hour”. Tell us in the comments below any other suggestions you might have on staying motivated and getting dinner on the table.

And – make sure to sign up to The Empowered Cook’s newsletter and get more tips like these!

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Need some new recipes? Skip Google and instead try these websites!

When you’re after a new recipe for chicken, where do you go? Do you simply just go to Google and type in Chicken Recipe? Or maybe head to Pinterest and do the same? If you need new recipes, skip google!

While this will give you plenty of results – it is hard to know for sure if these recipes will work or even taste like something your family will eat. We’ve all been there: a pinterest fail. My best was a slowcooker beef one – oh it is easy, they said. Just throw it all in the slowcooker, they said. Hmm… A liquid, flavourless soup of beef was the result. A complete waste of good quality ingredients. Let’s just say I don’t use that website anymore.

And I’ve also changed the way I search for recipe ideas on the web. If I need a really specific recipe like how to make a butter chicken dish, then I still search via Google or Pinterest. But if I am just after ideas – I instead turn to websites that I know and trust, and I search there.

But how do you know what websites are good and what are not so good? Well – that’s where I can help!

I’ve listed my favourites below. I also subscribe to the email updates on most of these, and I follow them on social media. It keeps the inspiration there for me – but mainly I know why I need to go to each site.

But first, I can already hear your question: So why doesn’t The Empowered Cook make an appearance on this list? Well – because The Empowered Cook isn’t a recipe website. There are plenty of those for you to find and love. The Empowered Cook is here to show you and teach you how to actually make those recipes that you find and to give you strategies to help get dinner on the table every night of the week. 

And this all starts with finding recipes that your family will love.

Need Some New Recipes? Skip Google and instead try these websites from The Empowered Cook!

Stonesoup

Jules from Stonesoup is amazing. She has a background in food science – so she understands the flavours and the techniques of cooking. BUT – she makes the most simple meals. Her book – 5 Ingredients, 10 minutes – is a staple in our house. And her meals are actually achievable in 10 minutes. I’ve tested a lot of them. But they are also full of flavour and very healthy – the ingredients are common too – so no need to rush out to some fancy store to buy something you’ll only use once. She is a huge fan of beef mince – as am I – and as a result, she has some really great recipes for this staple ingredient. Check out her Beef and Broccoli Stirfry and her Beef Rissoles. I also love her Green Curry Broccoli Soup.

Live Simply

I love this website. I find the meals here to be super healthy, but still very family orientated. They are generous, hearty and delicious. But most importantly for me – they are all Real Food recipes. Made with real ingredients, from scratch, without any packaged items. A simple, cheap and very delicious way to feed the family. Her method of writing recipes is also really easy to follow. I particularly like her Bacon Lentil Soup (straight from freezer to the slowcooker) and her Vegetable Spaghetti Sauce (super kid-friendly).

Nourished Kitchen

This one is a little more fancy, and very American focused – but still a really great place for inspiration. She has truly healthy, wholesome, wholefood recipes on her site – and while some are a little technical, there are other very basic recipes that you can begin with. See her recipe for Lentil Stew and Roast Chicken Stock for example. If you’re feeling adventurous – try her recipe for Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Soup).

Planning With Kids

These recipes are the super basic, family style recipes. They are also very hearty – as she has a lot of kids to feed (5 kids!). Her slowcooker options are really delicious too – we’ve tried and loved: Slowcooker Chicken Satay and Slowcooker Risotto.

Feeding Finn

A babyled weaning extravaganza – but the site is chock full of kid friendly, healthy, vegetable centered recipes. There are some really good, slightly different recipes here that we often experiment with. The Red Lentil Lasagne is one that we’ve tried and it was an absolute hit. I’ll be trying this Slowcooker Sausage Hotpot soon!

 

Now that I’ve shared these with you – what do you do? Browse them, and pick ONE recipe to try this week with your family. I know it’s hard to pick one – but give it a go. Also – follow The Empowered Cook on Pinterest and you’ll find even more inspiration!

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And one last thing: do you have some favourite recipe sites that you use? Please share in the comments below so that we can all visit and take a look!