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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.

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.

Simple Playdough Recipe

My Mum taught me how to make a simple playdough recipe. I have her recipe – and the memories of rainy play days. Playdough would often be made on rainy days. Keeping a bunch of kids inside for an extended period of time? Playdough is a great entertainer!

All you need are some very simple ingredients – likely already in your cupboard! – a few minutes, and you are done!

A simple playdough recipe, using ingredients you will likely already have in your cupboard and taking just minutes to make!

My little one has grown more and more interested in playdough, and this simple playdough recipe has been tried and tested in our house.

As I only have one bub, this simple playdough recipe is also perfect for just one amount. Feel free to double or triple or quadruple the mixture.

Note

A note too on the colouring. I try and use natural colours as much as possible. Your pantry and fridge hold loads of options: think cinnamon for brown, tumeric for yellow, beetroot juice for red, carrot juice for orange. I also used a dash of liquid chlorophyll once – and the playdough was a gorgeous vivid green.

You can also buy natural food colourings. Like these ones here. I prefer these over the normal colours you can buy in the supermarket – just a healthier option in my opinion.

Pinterest also has a bunch of ideas to try – check it out here.

Get your thinking caps on, and inspire your kids – in the very least, keep them entertained for a few minutes while you get on with making dinner.

Simple Playdough Recipe
Ingredients
  • 1 cup flour can be plain or self-raising
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Natural Colouring
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt.

  2. In a separate bowl, add the hot water and oil, and your natural colouring. Mix these to combine.

  3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and mix until a rough dough forms.

  4. At this point, you might need to add a splash more water or a touch more flour - you want the playdough smooth but not sticky or dry. 

  5. Once the liquid has been mixed in, use your hands to knead the mix into a ball. I find the more I do this, the smoother the playdough gets. 

  6. Once done - hand over to your kids - along with some cookie cutters, a rolling pin and anything else you can find. Enjoy the few minutes of peace this brings - or alternatively, join right in!

Weekly Food Prep Fridge Tour

I have a special weekly food prep fridge tour for you today. But first things first, how did you spend your weekend? We spent Saturday out and about visiting a local market (and perhaps eating too many mini donuts), and then playing for a long while at the park. Our little one hasn’t stopped talking about the ‘markets’ since. Clearly the visit was a hit.

I did however, need to do my weekly food prep. This is a non-negotiable in our house. I make a big concerted effort to do this every week – most often on Sundays.

This weekend was especially important, because we are all suffering from a cold. The weekend was also a little constrained, because my partner was heading out about 2.30pm for a football game. So I had a couple of hours at the absolute most to get it done.

So – how did I do it? What did I make?

First, I had prepared by organising to have some online shopping delivered late Saturday – after we had come home from the markets. That way, all we had to do was unpack it and put it away. While doing it, I made a mental note of what vegies I had, so that I could prep those the following day.

On Sunday – I needed to get into action and start chopping. I chopped leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots – all of which we will use this week as steamed vegetables. Grabbing a handful of these each night is just easy. And far less hassle than having to cut and prep a small amount each night. Much better use of my time to spend 30 minutes chopping ALL of them at once.

I also wanted to roast a bunch of vegies too. These are absolutely perfect to take for work lunches. I had bought some leafy greens in my shopping order, and so I also knew I wanted to make quinoa to go with these.

But before I got started on those, I decided to tackle the biggest thing first. We were having a roast chook for dinner – and because I would be solo-parenting for the pre-dinner routine, it made sense to cook this ahead of time. That way, my partner was still around to keep an eye on our little one.

So I started with roasting the chicken, and while that was cooking, I prepped my roasted vegetables and made my quinoa.

By the time the chicken was done, I had vegetables for the week cut and in the fridge, a container of quinoa ready too, and a tray of roasted veg ready for the oven.

While that last tray of veg was cooking, I also whipped up some chocolate bliss balls (similar to these).

And that was it. Done. Just shy of 2 hours in total time.

To show you the end result – I also did a weekly food prep fridge tour video, so you can see what it looks like following my weekly food prep.

I should forewarn you that this is a ‘real life’ weekly food prep fridge tour video – because my toddler thought it would be hilarious to take a ‘starring role’. So here you go – hope you get a giggle.

Do you food prep? Let me know in the comments below!

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. 

How to Eat Real Food While Travelling

We are big travelers – both my partner and I get restless if we don’t travel often. We will travel for short weekend trips fairly regularly – but will always choose to travel overseas as often as we can. How to eat real food while travelling is also very important to us. Yes – we’ll eat some treats, but ultimately, we need our diet to stay pretty much the same. That is: whole foods, fruit and vegetables – minimal processing.

That being said – room service is very, very tempting. Especially with a toddler.

The real goal for us is to be consistent with what we usually eat – but to allow ourselves a couple of special treats. Convenience is important – but a picnic on the floor of the hotel can be just as convenient as buying some fast food, and is certainly far healthier!

Today I’ll share our top tips for eating real food while travelling – including how we do it with a toddler!

The Empowered Cook shares her family's tips on how to eat real food while travelling: packing snacks and enjoying the hotel buffet.

#1 – Live the 80/20 rule

Eat real food 80% of time, and for the other 20% of the time – eat what you feel like. For us, this will mean that breakfasts will be whole foods – the hotel buffet is always a good choice. There will be fresh fruit, toast, eggs, etc – and we can choose what we would like to eat.

Lunches while travelling can be just as easy – we will sometimes buy things like crackers and cheese, fruit, cut vegies, dried fruit. It can just be like a picnic – lots of little snack items.

Dinners are usually where we do our 20%. We’ll eat out at a restaurant – or we’ll order room service. I will often take the opportunity to order a good steak or something else I don’t cook very often at home. We will make sure that our little one still has something vegetable heavy too. But we won’t be too strict on this. Usually we will have had a big day – so he’ll be tired. It’s better to focus on him getting lots of vegies at breakfast and dinner – rather than trying to tackle dinner with a cranky toddler.

#2 – Pack your own transport snacks

Avoid the airline food. Avoid being hungry while on transport. You won’t be so easily enticed to buy junk if you’re not hungry.

Pack your own snack items. Try a variety of different items. Have something crunchy, something sweet, something filling. That way – you can make sure that you have a good variety to choose from.

We will pack: sultanas, carrots, fruit, crackers, dark chocolate, trail mix. We’ll also include some minimally processed items like wholefood muesli bars or maybe some homemade bliss balls.

None of these items are too messy to eat and they don’t require cutlery. I’ll pack these into snap lock bags (which I will reuse for the trip home). I will also pack a few napkins, just in case.

#3 – Drink water (sparkling for a treat)

Sparkling water is what I choose when I have a treat. It has been a long time since I’ve had any form of soft drink – and it has made such a difference to my health. It also makes such a difference when I am on holiday. If you are anything like me – the lead up to a holiday can be really exhausting. I used to get quite run down just before my holiday – and then wham! As soon as we arrived at our destination, I would get sick.

I’ve found now though that if I keep myself really hydrated – and don’t overload on sugar – I do much better.

Keeping hydrated is much easier if you carry a water bottle. I have one like this. Drinking from a glass bottle is so much nicer than plastic. And it is better for you – and the environment.

#4 – Enjoy the Buffet – but don’t go crazy

As I mentioned above, the buffet breakfast at a hotel can be really delicious. But before you go devouring a huge hot breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausages – or worse, eating muffins and croissants – try and have something healthier first.

I like to start with some fruit, yoghurt and muesli. Just a small portion. I will also have a small juice and a big glass of water.

From there  – I then have another small portion of a hot breakfast – sticking to bacon and eggs, with the occasional sausage. Skip the highly processed hash browns, and choose whole foods as your sides: mushrooms, spinach, for example.

Coffee or tea is also nice to include – but always have another big glass of water at the end of the buffet. This gives you such a good head start on your sight-seeing day.

For my little one, he enjoys the buffet too. He gets to have a taste of many different foods – and we’ll share everything we eat. Fruit, toast, bacon, sausage, juice. But he’ll also have water, just like us.

#5 – Eat in

Eating out at restaurants each night you are on holidays can be expensive – but it can also be a very easy way to over indulge on not-so-good food choices.

How about eating-in? It is possible – even in a small hotel room.

There are loads of crazy Pinterest ideas to cook in your hotel room using your kettle – but I would skip those.

We just have a little picnic on the floor. Some things we include are:

  • a baguette
  • cheese (try something a little fancy, like brie or Camembert)
  • fruit (something with little preparation – like grapes or apples)
  • sliced meat (avoid the nitrate and chemical heavy options, but a few slices of ham off the bone, or fresh chicken, is lovely)
  • nuts (raw or roasted, without salt)

All of these can be easily bought at a local supermarket. They don’t require much preparation or cutlery to eat. It is finger food, easily eaten – and easily cleaned up. And – mostly, very healthy.

It is completely possible to eat real food while travelling. Will you try these tips for your next getaway? What else do you do for your family while travelling?

 

 

Lunchbox Treats: Mum’s Chocolate Slice

We were always the kids at school with the homemade lunchbox treats. The homemade biscuits and slice, wrapped in paper. I desperately wanted to fit in – i.e. not stand out – so I would often unwrap my lunch inside my bag, so that people wouldn’t see that it was wrapped in paper. They were delicious though – and everyone knew that. I would often get asked to swap Mum’s Chocolate Slice with a store bought muesli bar.

Now that she is no longer here – I would love some homemade lunchbox treats from my Mama. I do still have her recipes, and her Chocolate Slice is still a firm favourite in our house. I know that I’ll be sending my little one to school with homemade lunchbox treats when he starts school in a few years time.

Do you need some lunchbox treats for your family? The Empowered Cook shares her Mum's recipe for Chocolate Slice - fast, easy, and cheap - and delicious.

This recipe was a staple at our house. Mum would make this very regularly. She would make it in bulk and freeze it too.

I make this now and also freeze it. Having a selection of homemade lunchbox treats in the freezer is such a helpful thing for packing lunches. You can easily grab a couple out, and once you’ve added a sandwich or wrap, you have a lunch made.

Looking for other lunchbox treat ideas? Follow me on instagram, where I share some snaps of my little one’s lunchbox.

 

Mum's Chocolate Slice
Ingredients
  • 2 cups desiccated coconut
  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 250 grams butter
  • 1 batch chocolate icing optional
  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut, extra optional
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to moderate (190-200C). Prepare your tray - I use a lamington tray or two square cake pans for this slice. Line with baking paper or lightly grease with a little butter or coconut oil.

  2. Melt the butter.

  3. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

  4. Add the melted butter and mix well.

  5. Press this mixture into your tray. I use the wooden spoon to do this, but often finish the job with my hands.

  6. Bake in the oven for 15-20mins. Be aware of your nose - once I can smell the slice, I know it’s done!

  7. Remove from the oven and let cool. It is easier to cut when still slightly warm.

  8. You can then top with chocolate icing, and a sprinkle of coconut, and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container for about a week or freeze for longer.