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A to Z of Vegetables: C is for Carrot

And we’re back with another article in our A to Z of Vegetables series. We are up to C – and C is for Carrot. The humble, cheap, buy a bag of them, carrot. I personally love carrots. We always have a bag in the fridge, and then form part of my weekly meal prep every week without fail. I prepare carrot sticks for snacks, and I prep sliced carrots for steaming during the week. Roasting them adds a delicious caramel flavour and makes them even sweeter.

The Empowered Cook shares the A to Z of Vegetables: today is C for Carrot - including health benefits and recipes that you can make for your family.

They are also high up my favourite list because they are CHEAP. A bag of carrots will only set you back a dollar or so – and you can make so many different options out of that one bag.

The risk is the monontony of course. Simply having carrot sticks every day can be boring. Or just boiling them for dinner is just… well… boring.

The carrot needs some love. It needs to be dressed. To be dipped. Seasoned. Roasted.

Fun Fact: Carrots were not originally orange. They were purple and yellow. Keep an eye out for some different varieties at your farmers market. They might just bring a little something extra to your plate.

Carrots contain antioxidants (may protect against cancer) and they are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. All good things for our bodies. This Medical News Today article provides links to specific studies for several types of cancer (lung cancer, colorectal and leukemia) that have positive effects from eating carrots. I personally think that choosing to eat more vegetables in our daily meals is always a good thing – but targeting the ones you eat to help your specific health concerns is just smart.

Bonus Toddler Tip: My little one loves orange and apple juice. I will make this for him in our cold-pressed juicer – but I will sneak in a couple of carrots. They don’t change the colour of the juice – and they simply add some more sweetness – along with a whole heap of good nutrition.

Carrot Recipes to Try:

Harissa Roasted Carrots from Naturally Ella – add a little spice to your carrots

Scallion Roasted Carrots from Naturally Ella – another way to serve carrots as a side dish

Sweet Glazed Carrots from Jamie Oliver – this a great way to serve carrots with the evening meal, but with a twist to keep them interesting

Carrot Dip (yoğurtlu havuç)  – a delicious Turkish recipe from SBS Food. This would be a great one for little ones to try.

Spiced Carrot Muffins with Millet from Naturally Ella – I know this is the third recipe I have shared from this website, but I love it. And this recipe is too good not to share. The little crunchy millet balls in these are just right.

 

Want to read more in the A to Z of Vegetables series? You can – just click here to see the other articles.

 

 

What My Toddler Ate This Week – Toddler Food Ideas

Let’s be honest – my toddler can either be an eating machine or he will simply take a bite and run off to play. It is impossible to predict which toddler will be joining us for a meal. Unless, of course, I am serving mashed potato and sausages – because he will ALWAYS devour those. I thought the best way to show you some toddler food ideas was to actually share with you what my toddler ate this week. Real life toddler food ideas.

I thought the best way to show you some toddler food ideas was to share with you a week of what my toddler eats. Real life toddler food ideas. Join me as I share breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for my toddler this week.

Toddler Food Ideas: Breakfast

For breakfast, my little one is a child of routine. He pretty much has the same breakfast every single morning for weeks at a time. He went through a period of time where we ate weetbix with oat milk or soy milk. Then he had honey on toast for about a month. And now – we’re on to pancakes. I bulk cook these every couple of weeks and store them in the freezer. We simply pop one in the toaster in the morning, and serve it with strawberries, apple or sultanas. And a drizzle of maple syrup.

He will sometimes have two pancakes, if he has woken up extra hungry. I only make small ones – about the size of my palm. Freezing them has been one of the best ways that I can prep breakfast – it has saved me so much time in the mornings.

I use a variety of recipes – but I find these ones to be the best:

Toddler Food Ideas: Lunch

My toddler goes to childcare 5 days a week. We prepare his lunch for those days, while the childcare provides a morning and afternoon snack. Those snacks are generally very similar to what we have at home: carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus, rice crackers, fruit, yoghurt. All very simple.

For his lunch, we prepare a lunchbox. I’ve already shared what we include in there in this post – and there are some great lunchbox toddler food ideas there. Go have a read.

On weekends, his lunches are very similar to his lunchboxes. A variety of things – all wholefood items. Or he might have a simple sandwich. If we have leftovers, he will sometimes share those with us.

This week, we’re all about the lunchboxes. We’ve had leftover sausages chopped up, some cheese, sultanas, crackers. I also added some leftover sweet potato mash – my toddler has always been happy to eat this cold, so it works well in the lunchbox.

For a sweet treat, I like to include a medjool date. This is a wholefood treat – and just a little something for him to eat as part of his lunch.

A toddler lunchbox - real toddler food ideas.

Toddler Food Ideas: Dinner

For dinners, my little one simply eats whatever we eat. I rarely make anything different for him. I may serve it differently – I learnt this tip from an awesome cook book that I highly recommend: Feeding the Family*. In this book, there is a suggestion around serving the components of the meal separately. I tried this recently with a tofu noodle dish. It was meant to be served as a combined pile of noodles and tofu and vegetables – but I instead served it up as a small pile of noodles, a few pieces of tofu and kept the vegetables separately. Even a little pot of the sauce for dipping. You would not believe my surprise when my little one not only ate the tofu – but asked for seconds. I was one proud Mama that night.

This week, we’ve had sausages and mashed potato with vegetables – where my little one ate the carrots, but chewed and then spat out the green beans. That is progress – at least he is putting them in his mouth! 🙂

 

Toddler Food Ideas: Snacks

As I mentioned above, snacks are kept simple. Vegetable sticks, cheese, sultanas, fruit. We do buy some prepared snacks – but I highly recommend reading the ingredients on all of these. We have chosen a brand that only has whole food ingredients – and there are no preservatives or additives.

My little one also LOVES smoothies. His particular favourite is Chocolate Banana. This is so simple: a cup of oat milk, half a frozen banana and 1/4 tsp of raw cacao powder. We then whiz this up with the stick blender. I’m confident he could make this himself – he knows all the ingredients and is pretty great at pouring the milk (thanks Montessori childcare!).

Toddler Food Ideas: Toddler Smoothie

 

What about you? What does your toddler eat? Do you have any major successes? Please comment below and share with us. I’m sure we could all do with some new toddler food ideas!

 

*Note that this is an affiliate link. If you choose to purchase via this link, I will receive a small amount from Book Depository.

A to Z of Vegetables: B is for Broccoli

Welcome back to the A to Z of Vegetables series. You can read the rest of the series here. Today – we’re up to the letter B, and I’ve chosen Broccoli. Why? Because very few people in my house love broccoli – and I feel it needs some extra love and attention.

The Empowered Cook shares the A to Z of Vegetables: today is B is for Broccoli - including health benefits, recipe ideas and a personal loved recipe for broccoli.

We buy a head of broccoli every week. I eat it for breakfast with scrambled eggs, in my salad at lunch and in a multitude of ways for dinner. My toddler on the other hand, not so much. He will find the tiniest little floret of broccoli hidden in his mash potato. It is like he has a super power for finding this stuff. But – I persist. I always serve it to him, in the hope that he’ll eat it.

Health Benefits

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable – just like cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. It is now a commonly held understanding that these sorts of vegetables are high in cancer fighting properties. Broccoli in particular, is also reported to have many other health benefits like better wound healing, liver protection, and improved fertility. Not to mention, it is delicious and versatile in the kitchen. And – you only need to eat about 2 spears to have this count as one serve in your 5-vegetables-a-day quota.

Have I convinced you to add this to your shopping list yet?

Recipes to Inspire

Cheesy Broccoli – this combo is fast and delicious

Green Curry Broccoli Soup – I know this might sound weird. But really – give this a try. Please. And then let me know how much you love it.

Broccoli Noodles – I think this could be a great recipe for young kids. I haven’t made this – but I love everything that Heather at Beauty That Moves makes, so I’m confident this is a winner. Will be adding to my meal plan soon!

My Favourite Broccoli Recipe

I have always loved broccoli. And when I discovered roasted broccoli – oh my. A whole new level of love opened up for me. This recipe now forms part of my weekly prep. I use the roasted spears in my salads for lunch and I throw a few in with my scrambled eggs in the morning. Roasting the broccoli adds a wonderful depth to the sometimes bitter broccoli – and once you add a few extra spices, it takes on a life of its own. Enjoy.

Roasted Broccoli Recipe
Ingredients
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper. 

  2. Chop your broccoli into individual florets. You might like to chop the larger ones in half or quarters - until they are all about the same size.

  3. Scatter these onto your baking tray and drizzle with olive oil.

  4. Season with the onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Then, using your hands, gently toss the broccoli to coat it with the oil and seasonings.

  5. Place in the oven and cook for 20-30mins. Keep an eye on it - and when it is nice and brown around the edges, remove from the oven and serve immediately.

  6. Note: you can store this in the fridge for about 3 days. Add to salads or reheat for a later dinner. 

 

 

5 Freezer Meals to Make This Weekend

Do you want dinner on the table fast and with minimal effort? Are weeknight dinners a problem for you? Do you often opt for takeaway, purely because you just don’t have enough time to get a meal on the table? All you need is a few hours – here are 5 freezer meals to make this weekend.

My freezer is our saving grace during the week. With both of us working outside the home for the majority of the week, we often don’t arrive home until 6pm. That means we need to have dinner on the table fast if we are to get our little one to bed at a reasonable time. I use my weekends to prep our meals for the week. And my freezer is stocked with great meals that we can simply defrost and heat up in the oven.

Want dinner on the table fast? These 5 freezer meals to make this weekend will see you feeding your family with ease next week.

Here are our favourite 5 freezer meals to make this weekend.

#1 – Chicken Parmesan Casserole

I whipped this one up last weekend. I had spent the day making chicken stock – so I had a whole lot of chicken to use. This dish was perfect.

And it was SO easy to whip up. It was just an assembly process really. Layer it all in the pan (I use an aluminium foil pan) and then cover, label and stick it in the freezer. All done in less than 15 minutes – and dinner #1 is done.

You can check out the recipe here.

#2 – Roasted Butternut Pumpkin Macaroni & Cheese

You can hardly taste the pumpkin in this one – but it is such a bonus vegetable in an otherwise pasta only dish. As a Mama of a little one, any chance I can include another vegetable is a win in my books.

I followed the instructions on this one to freeze it. I made it well ahead of time – and it was still super delicious once we defrosted it.

It does take a little more prep time than the other meals – but it also makes a LOT. I’d suggest dividing this up into smaller freezer meals, and serving this as a side dish with sausages and some green vegies.

You can find the recipe here.

#3 – Four Cheese Baked Penne

This is another one that I whipped up last weekend. It was super simple again – I really love the ‘assembly’ style freezer meals. If you manage your time right, you can prep a whole bunch in just a couple of hours.

I opted to include the additional parmesan and skip the feta in this one – so technically it was a 3 Cheese Baked Penne in my house. But oh yum – it was delicious.

Check out the recipe here.

#4 – Spaghetti Bolognese Sauce

I always have this in the freezer. Always.

Honestly – all you need to do is cook up a batch of pasta, reheat this sauce (no need to even defrost this) – and dinner is served.

I make a large batch, and divide up into sandwich size snap lock bags. I lay these flat in the freezer until they are frozen, and then I can stand them upright – kinda like a “library of sauces”.

Definitely give this one a go.

#5 – Burgers

Now this is not technically a meal – more a prep technique. But still – it is a time saver. And you can make a whole lot in bulk – and they’ll last months in the freezer.

All you’ll need to do is have some buns, and some salad items ready – and you can have a burger made for dinner in no time at all.

Check out the method here.

 

Get cracking this weekend – and you can have dinner for next week sorted. These 5 freezer meals to make this weekend will see you stock your freezer in no time.

What other recipes do you like to make as a freezer meal? Tell us in the comments below.

How to Eat Brussels Sprouts

Knowing how to eat Brussels Sprouts is important. No more soggy, boiled sprouts. No one likes those. Brussels Sprouts can be delicious – you just need to know how to eat them.

I grew up with steamed or boiled sprouts. I still ate them. But not many others did.

Today I’ll share my favorite options for how to eat Brussels Sprouts. Even if you try just one – do it. Buy some sprouts and enjoy them. You’ll be surprised.

Three delicious options for how to eat Brussels Sprouts - stir-fry, roast and hash. All easy and fast - to help your family eat their Brussels Sprouts!

#1 – Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts

When I was at University, I lived with a Thai flatmate for a while and she made the most delicious sprouts. They were stir-fried with garlic and fish sauce – and served with rice. Wow. I still salivate thinking about them.

You’ll need to chop up your Brussels Sprouts for this one. I chop the bottom off, and then slice into quarters. Yes, the leaves may fall off – but that’s ok. You’ll also need to chop about 4 cloves of garlic.

To cook: start by heating your wok (or frypan) until hot, and then add a dash of oil (I use rice bran oil or coconut). Add your Brussels Sprouts and stir-fry until they are softer but still crunchy. Add your garlic and quickly stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Then season with fish sauce. About a tablespoon is how I like it. Alternatively, you can use some soy sauce.

Serve immediately over some steamed rice.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

#2 – Roasted Brussels Sprouts

While working on the options for how to eat Brussels Sprouts – I knew I needed to include a roasted option. This is probably my favourite way to eat them. Firstly, because it is easy. And secondly, because I’ve had success with others this way. My little one is still pretty hesitant – but he has eaten them this way.

To roast them, I cut the bottoms off, and slice in half. I put these on the tray (lined with baking paper) and then drizzle with a good amount of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can throw on some garlic cloves if you like too.

Roast in a hot oven (200 degrees celsius) until crispy brown on the edges.

I particularly like these served with something creamy. They are super delicious served alongside a creamy pasta – like a macaroni and cheese. Trust me. They are yum.

Also – feel free to simply add Brussels Sprouts to your tray of roast vegetables. Nestled among potatoes, pumpkin and carrots – they are a great addition of greens and another bonus option for how to eat Brussels Sprouts.

#3 – Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Hash

Bacon makes everything taste better, doesn’t it? Adding bacon can entice even the most hesitant family member to try these.

To improve my chance of success even more – I like to make hash. This means shredding everything up, nice and fine and cooking into a big delicious mess.

To make this dish, I shred my Brussels Sprouts in a food processor using the grater attachment. You can finely slice them by hand of course, but the food processor just makes the prep faster.

I also slice some leek (or onion), and some garlic. Chop a few slices of bacon too.

In a hot frypan, add a little olive oil and start to cook your bacon. After a couple of minutes, add your leek or onion. Cook until the onion is soft. Next – add your garlic, quickly followed by the Brussels Sprouts. Now, keep stirring this, but press it down as you cook it. You want the sprouts to fry off in the bacon fat, and to start to crisp up.

This should take around 10 minutes or so.

I like to serve this hash with a poached egg. Again, the runny egg yolk with the bacon becomes the dominant flavour – and the Brussels Sprouts simply become a dose of green in the background. Really yum.

How do you eat your Brussels Sprouts? What do you think of my options? Are you going to give it a go? Add it to your weekly meal plan? Tell me in the comments below.

Recipe: Sausages in the Oven

I grew up with the humble sausages, mash and veg being a family dinner staple. This has continued into my adulthood. My family and I love sausages. We eat them every week. This recipe for how to cook sausages in the oven has meant that we can enjoy these often, but without the hassle of a greasy kitchen! And they are a set and forget kind of meal – an added bonus with a hungry toddler at your feet.

Are sausages a family favourite in your house? This recipe for how to cook sausages in the oven is fast and easy. It also keeps your kitchen splatter free!

I used to fry my sausages on the stovetop. Just a little swizzle of oil, and fry away. This method worked well when I could keep my undivided attention on the frypan, and had an uninterrupted leisurely cleanup at the end of dinner.

Now – with a toddler running around, frying anything on the stove is really just not an option. Plus, our after dinner routine needs to be quick and easy – our priority is to get our little one in the bath, and in his pajamas so that bedtime can happen.

So I came up with this method to cook sausages in the oven. We experimented a couple of different ways – but this is my favourite way to cook them.

Note

The addition of the leek is interchangeable with other onions, but also you can just as easily leave it out.

Recipe: Sausages in the Oven
Ingredients
  • 1 leek
  • 6 thick sausages
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius.

  2. Cut both ends from your leek. Because we're effectively roasting the leek, we can use both the green and white parts. Make sure to rinse the leek really well (I slice it long ways and then rinse under running water). Slice into 1cm wide slices. 

  3. In the bottom of a baking pan (or casserole dish), drizzle a couple of tbsps of olive oil. Scatter the leek over the oil.

  4. Lay your sausages over the leek. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. 

  5. Pop into your oven, and cook for approx. 45mins. You will need to check these and turn the sausages over at least once, half way through. The cooking time will depend on the thickness and size of your sausages - so keep an eye on them. 

  6. Serve with mashed potato, and steamed vegetables. 

 

Recipe: Chicken and Spinach Pie

It is getting colder here. The autumn coolness is giving way to the chill of winter. This is my favourite time of year – not just for the great layers of clothes and scarves, but also for the cooking. I do my best cooking in cold weather – hearty, wholesome food. This Chicken and Spinach Pie is no exception – it is tasty, easy, and a family favourite.

The Empowered Cook shares her Chicken and Spinach Pie recipe - a hearty, wholesome pie made with leftover chicken and silverbeet, topped with puff pastry.

I make this using leftover chicken. Often this is as a result of making chicken stock – where I’ll be able to use the stock and the chicken to make this dish.

The Empowered Cook shares her Chicken and Spinach Pie recipe - a hearty, wholesome pie made with leftover chicken and silverbeet, topped with puff pastry.

Recipe Note

I have a square casserole dish that I use – mainly because it is the perfect shape for a single piece of puff pastry. Obviously you don’t need to have one like this, but you’ll just need to find a dish that works well with the puff pastry that you have.

Now – on with the recipe!

 

Chicken and Spinach Pie
Ingredients
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions diced
  • 3 sticks celery diced
  • 1 bunch parsley chopped (stalks kept separate)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups cooked chicken shredded
  • 4 cups silverbeet chopped
  • 1 sheet store bought puff pastry
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius. 

  2. Heat a large pan on a medium high heat. Add your olive oil.

  3. Add onions, celery and parsley stalks to the pan. Sweat (stirring frequently) for around 8 minutes, until soft. Add salt if starting to brown.

  4. Add the bay leaf and garlic, and cook for another minute or two (careful not to burn the garlic). Note: at this point, you can also add any leftover chicken skin (cut into small pieces). This gives it a chance to get a little crispy. 

  5. Add the butter to the pan and give everything a good stir, as the butter melts.

  6. Add the flour to the pan, and cook it out for a few minutes. Stir constantly. 

  7. Next, add the chicken stock and continue stirring. The mix should thicken at this point - so feel free to add a little dash or two of water, if it starts to get too thick. 

  8. Season with salt and pepper and give it a taste to adjust. It should be full of flavour at this point. 

  9. Add your chicken and stir through. 

  10. Add your silverbeet and continue to stir. Remember that silverbeet will wilt down quite a lot, so don't be alarmed at the amount at the beginning. Just keep stirring, and it will wilt down to nothing. 

  11. Finally, add your chopped parsley leaves. Taste again and adjust seasoning if needed. 

  12. Place this filling in your chosen pie dish, and cover with the puff pastry. Remember to pop a little hole in the middle of pastry too. 

  13. Place your pie in the oven for around 25-35mins - until the pastry is golden brown and puffed. 

Recipe Notes

Serve this pie with mashed potato. It's also just good by itself though - and super delicious reheated the next day. 

Surprisingly, it also freezes well. Just portion up any leftovers and freeze. Alternatively, freeze the pie filling once cooked - and then simply assemble the pie with the puff pastry on the day of cooking. 

Get Dinner on the Table: 5 Things To Do Before You Start Dinner

How to get dinner on the table can be one of the most stressful times of your day. This is especially true when you have a toddler pulling at your legs, or teenagers arguing as they try to avoid their homework, or a partner coming home late from work, or – well, any of the other myriad of things that can go wrong during the dreaded dinner hour. Today – I’m sharing 5 Things to Do Before You Start Dinner. These will put you in the best possible position to get started and help you get dinner on the table. Once done, you can start preparing dinner with a clear mind, clear space and without distraction. Come on – let me show you.

The Empowered Cook shares 5 things to do BEFORE you start dinner that will help you get dinner on the table for your family.

#1 – Make Space

I don’t know about you, by in my home, my kitchen is the centre of our home. We congregate there – we dump our lunchboxes on the bench, the mail goes on the counter, we have glasses and plates on the sink – you get the drift.

Before I even start to contemplate dinner – I need to clear this away. I need space to prepare a meal. And I can’t do that amongst lunchboxes and dirty dishes.

Ideally, you’ll have adopted a clear sink in the morning (we do this – and it makes the world of difference). This means that whomever is last to leave (normally me) – makes sure that everything is loaded into the dishwasher. We run our dishwasher after dinner – so that in the morning it is clean. We simply unload it while making breakfast, and then reload it after breakfast. This keeps the bench and sink clear.

If you don’t have a dishwasher, then try and do the breakfast dishes before you leave the house. Even if they are left on the sink to dry naturally – this will help at the end of the day.

Generally – the more you do in the morning, the easier your night routine will be.

Spend a few minutes putting away anything that is lying on your bench. This could be the mail you’ve just collected from the letterbox or your hat and scarf. Or toy cars. Whatever it is in your house. Put it away.

When we get home – the priority is to unpack lunchbags and wash lunchboxes. I pack lunches after dinner – so we need the lunchboxes clean and ready to go. So whomever is home first (normally my partner), will wash and dry our little one’s lunchbox. If you have older kids, this could be part of their after school routine. It was when we were little – we would come home, unpack our bags, clean our lunchboxes, have a snack and then get changed. Once homework was done, we were then free to do whatever we wanted until dinner time. This also gave Mum the room to actually make dinner. Bringing me to the next item on the list…

#2 Distract the Kids

Not having kids at your feet will not only make preparing dinner easier – it is also safer. I can still hear Mum’s voice in mine when I say: “Out of the kitchen, the oven is on”. Having kids run around in the kitchen is just not a good idea – especially when you’re trying to multi-task amongst the oven and stove and cooking a family meal.

So we need those kids outta there. If they are older, this can be the easier – simply get them doing homework – or if they are finished, give them free time. We used to have to do homework at the dining table – a social activity, but also so that Mum can answer questions or just supervise I guess.

If they are younger – try to have special activities that they only get to do during dinner hour. This could be some sort of Art and Craft activity that keeps them focused and therefore engaged and quiet for a period of time. Let’s be honest, 10 minutes of engagement is a lot for a toddler – so set them up with something, and then use this time. I’ve never known how much I can get done in 10 minutes until I had a toddler. I can whip up dinner, do some laundry, pack a lunch, and clean the kitchen – all in the 10 minutes of free time I get at the end of the day. Work fast, work hard.

#3 – Have a Plan

The value of those 10 minutes should not be eaten away with you wondering what you are going to cook, or what you’re going to do. You need a plan. You need to know what you are going to cook – BEFORE you even start dinner hour.

In our house, this is a weekly meal plan. But sometimes it is even just a conversation that morning as to what we’ll eat for dinner. And on some occasions, this is even a text message conversation between my partner and I, on my way home from work. Yes, even The Empowered Cook has those days.

But we rarely commence the dinner hour without already having decided on what we’ll be eating. That is just a disaster waiting to happen.

My Mum’s motto – and therefore now mine – was ‘If there’s going to be panic, let it be organised”. This is certainly true for the dinner hour. You need a plan, and you’ll be able to tackle whatever comes your way.

The added benefit of a plan is that you and your partner can also tag team. If we both know the plan – we can sub in and sub out as needed. My toddler will sometimes just want me – which means I need to stop and get out of the kitchen. At this point, my partner will sub in – and take over dinner duty. This works best if he knows what we’re having, and where I’m at with cooking it. If I’m making something that he has no idea about – you can bet your bottom dollar that that will be the night that my toddler will simply demand Mama time, and therefore dinner will be failure.

#4 Set the Table

Having a set table is important to me. I find that we eat better, and have a more enjoyable dinner if we sit at the table as a family. And it is a lesson that I want my little one to learn – that we eat dinner as a family at a table with placemats and napkins. It is something that we did as kids – and I am thankful for that. All the best conversations were over dinner – including when we were teenagers, and didn’t really want to talk to anyone – let alone our family. But dinner let us do that.

You can choose to set the table for dinner way earlier in the day too. Just set it whenever you have a spare 5 or 10 minutes. That way, it’s done – and you can concentrate on cooking dinner.

Or even better – allocate this to one of the kids. Being able to set the table is a critical development activity: knowing where to put knives and forks is a big step for a little one. The sooner they start doing this chore, the faster they’ll learn.

#5 – Put a Pinny On

Wearing an apron is synonymous with being in the kitchen. It is certainly critical for me when making dinner. It is the thing that triggers that cooking is about to begin, that dinner is going to be made. Even my toddler knows that when I wear my apron, something “yummy” is coming. He will even wear his apron if he wants to help me in the kitchen.

An apron is also just a really helpful kitchen tool. It protects your clothes, you can use it to wipe your hands, clean spills, etc. My sister even made me an apron with a tea-towel attached to the front – so useful! I have been grateful many a time when making a good bolognese sauce, and having it splatter my apron instead of my white shirt. Trust me – you need an apron.

 

And that’s it. These 5 things to do before you start dinner will help you actually get dinner on the table for your family. Give them a go.

Recipe: Homemade Chips

This recipe for Homemade Chips is inspired by Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. This manifesto is all about how to eat real food – and he presents this in a series of ‘rules’ to govern the way you eat. One of his rules is that you can eat all the junk food you want, you just have to cook it yourself.

I like this rule. It reminds me of being a kid. We would rarely buy dinner – unless it was the weekly fish+chips. But we would eat burgers, chips, hot dogs, milkshakes – but Mum (or Dad) would make them. And because they are fiddly, and not easy to make – we wouldn’t have them very often. Self-regulating treats.

My homemade chips are my version of a take-away dinner. My toddler loves chips – and he eats these practically by the handful.

The Empowered Cook shares a simple, easy recipe for homemade chips - potato baked in the oven with garlic and herbs. A toddler friendly and healthy recipe.

Serving Suggestion

I’ll serve them with meatballs, steak, schnitzel, or even a fried egg. Sometimes just a big salad is a good accompaniment.

Recipe Notes

You can also use this same recipe for any root vegetable. Sweet potato, carrot or pumpkin are all delicious. But so is parsnip, turnip, swede or even beetroot. Get adventurous – throw in a chopped turnip and give it a go. Your family probably won’t even notice.

Don’t have herbs? Skip them. Don’t have garlic? Skip it too. This recipe is flexible like that. The garlic and herbs add a wonderful flavour – but they aren’t at all necessary.

I will often use this recipe to prep food for the week. These are actually delicious cold (in our lunchboxes).

Homemade Chips
Ingredients
  • 4 large potatoes washed
  • 1 head garlic
  • 6-8 sprigs thyme
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
Instructions
  1. Begin by preheating your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a large baking tray with baking paper. 

  2. Cut your potatoes in half, and then into "chip" size shapes. I do this by cutting the potato in half, laying it flat, and then slice the potato in long strips. Any that are too think, get chopped again. 

  3. Place these "chips" onto the tray - making a single layer, and no overcrowding too much. 

  4. Break your head of garlic into individual cloves - no need to peel. Place these cloves among your "chips" on the baking tray.

  5. Scatter the thyme over the tray too. 

  6. Drizzle olive oil over the "chips". Season with salt and pepper.

  7. Mix together so that everything is well coated.

  8. Pop in the oven for about 45mins to an hour. Check the "chips" after about 30 mins, and cook until soft, and crispy to your personal taste. 

Recipe: Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

This recipe for Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta came from a ‘challenge’ week in our house.

When we returned to work following our Christmas break, I had stocked the freezer to the brim with dinners, lunches and snacks.

This was more helpful than I ever thought it could be – and I doubt we would have eaten as well had I not done this. With both of us working outside the home for 3 days a week – dinner is almost impossible, unless it’s a simple heat and serve.

After the last few months though, that freezer supply is dwindling. We’re starting to see the bottom of the freezer again.

We need to restock. But before we do that – we need to eat the last of everything.

The Challenge

Eat from the pantry and freezer – without buying anything new.

It wasn’t as hard as you might expect. We were able to eat the last of a few frozen dinners, as well as knock together some quick and easy meals using whatever ingredients we had on hand.

The Recipe

This Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta is one of those meals. I literally had: a packet of pasta, a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, and some chicken breast. Voila – this dish was born. It was delicious. And it will be on our meal plan again soon!

The Empowered Cook shares an easy, fast recipe for chicken and sun-dried tomato pasta. A delicious weeknight dinner recipe the whole family will love.

Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic diced
  • 500 grams chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp oregano dried
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes optional
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes chopped
  • 375 grams pasta
  • 1 head broccoli chopped
Instructions
  1. Fill your pasta pot with water, and bring to a boil on the stove top.

  2. While waiting for the water to boil, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. I used a big cast iron casserole dish for this. The pan needs to fit the cooked pasta at the end of cooking - so choose something big. 

  3. Once the olive oil has heated, add the onion and cook for a few minutes.

  4. Add the garlic and chicken breast to the onion. Continue cooking until the chicken breast is just cooked. 

  5. By this time, your water should be boiling. Add your pasta and give it a good stir. 

  6. Once the chicken is cooked, add your dried oregano (and chilli flakes, if using). Give it all a good stir. 

  7. Add your sun-dried tomatoes to the chicken also. Give this a good stir. Once these have heated through, you can remove from the heat.

  8. A few minutes before your pasta has cooked, add your broccoli to the pasta water. This will cook the broccoli at the same time - and save dirtying another pot!

  9. Once cooked, drain your pasta and broccoli. Add this to your chicken pot. Give everything a good stir - you may like to add a little more olive oil to the pan at this point. Or even better - use the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes. This will give an even better flavour hit. 

  10. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

This recipe is also delicious the next day as a cold lunch. Simply pack up any leftovers, and refrigerate until lunch time.