Gourmet Veggie Mama

Tag Archives: Finger Foods

Happy blogiversary to me!

It has been a year since my first post. How time flies! But, at the same time, it seems like I’ve been writing this blog forever. Funny, that’s just about how I felt on Nora’s first birthday. I simultaneously couldn’t believe she was already a year old, and felt like I had been her mommy forever and couldn’t imagine life without her.

Not that I’m likening my child to my blog… Well, maybe just a little bit. Taking care of both of them has become a labor of love. Nora, and writing about food and life with Nora and other miscellany, have both brought richer meaning to my life.

In honor of my first blogiversary, I am making a list, in no particular order, of my 10 favorite posts from the past year. Enjoy, and please let me know if you’ve tried any of the recipes out — I’m always looking for creative feedback.

1. Black bean burgers — finally!

I have to include this one, solely because it took so long to puzzle out what I think is the perfect recipe. Who needs frozen Gardenburgers when you’ve got these babies… and even quinoa burgers for a change of pace now and then.

2. 10 Easy Salad Ideas. This has been a really popular post, and I’m happy that people seem to have found inspiration for lunches here. Kudos to my friend Melissa for making a special request for this post, and for test-driving several of the recipes.

3. Pasta with Sun Gold tomatoes.

I don’t know what it is about this pasta, but it is just about my favorite tomato dish ever. The Sun Gold tomatoes (which grow like crazy in our back yard) have the sweetest, mildest flavor, and the sauce is so silky and delicious.

4. Grilled pizzas.

I’m psyched that my whole wheat dough came out well, and I love being creative with toppings. Grilled pizzas just may be my favorite meal!

5. Vanilla jasmine martini.Of all the drinks I’ve tried over the past year (and with Cocktail Thursday, there have been a lot!) this is my favorite. It’s such a lovely, elegant flavor.

6. Vegetarian cassoulet.

I just like that this is a classic dish, vegetarianized… and not in a way that leaves you missing the meat. I also love that it’s winter comfort food, and that it takes a long time (but most of it non-active time) to make.

7. On Choosing. I have to include this one for sentimental reasons. I spoke from the heart, and I’m glad that my daughter will someday be able to look back and know how I came to live this particular part of my life the way I have.

8. Pumpkin pancakes.

So good. Such excellent, excellent breakfast-y goodness. I can’t wait until it’s fall again.

9. Grown-up mac and cheese.

I am a noted mac-and-cheese enthusiast, and this is my favorite. It’s all grown up… and delicious. I have to mention, as an aside, that Nora has started asking for “mac” by name, at least a couple of times a day. She truly is my daughter.

10. Broccoli cheddar bites.

I haven’t made a batch of these in a while, but I really should. Nora loves them, and I love to sneak a couple off her plate, too! They’re super-simple, freezeable, and one of my most popular recipes.

It has been quite a year, and going back through these posts has really brought it all back. Thanks for coming on this journey with me, and here’s to more years to come!

10 easy lunches for a toddler

It can be really hard to come up with inspiration for quick, easy lunches for yourself, let alone a toddler, too. Since Nora goes from zero to famished in 3.2 seconds (and I am sure she is not alone in that), I like to have something quick at my fingertips so we can maximize our play time, and minimize the amount of time I spend with a whiny toddler hanging on my legs as I try to put lunch together.

Sure, now she’s satisfied.

Here are some of my favorite lunch ideas, in case you’re in need of inspiration:

1. Mac and cheese. Cook some pasta (macaroni or whatever small pasta you have handy), mix it with shredded cheese, a little butter, and a splash of milk on the stovetop, and voila! Throw in some veggies (my favorites are broccoli or baby greens like spinach or kale), or serve some on the side for a complete meal.

2. PB&J. You can’t beat a good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a quick, easy, and cheap. Peanut butter is good protein, and kids love it on a sandwich with the extra sweetness of jelly. If you don’t like jelly, you can always do peanut butter and bananas or even nutella instead. Be sure to serve it on whole grain bread for added fiber and protein.

3. Grilled cheese. As long as we’re talking sandwiches, a grilled cheese is easy and tasty, too. Serve with fruit and veggies for munching on the side. Nora still prefers hers cut into bite-sized pieces, which she pulls apart and devours cheese-first.

4. Quesadilla. Along the same lines, a quesadilla is basically a grilled cheese with tortillas instead of bread. Easy-peasy, and you can sneak some extra veggies in, too!

5. Cottage cheese. I love cottage cheese and crackers for lunch, and guess what — so does Nora! She gobbles the stuff down with a spoon. It’s great protein, and you can either mix in some fruit (pineapples, anyone?) or serve fruit or veggies with it.

6. Yogurt with fruit and graham crackers. Nora eats YoToddler for lunch once every couple of days, because she loves it so much, and it’s so darn easy and healthy. Serve it with some berries or a peach, and add a graham cracker as “dessert,” and we’re in business!

7. Whatever you’re eating. This is my go-to lunch for Nora, actually. I often eat leftovers from dinner the night before for lunch, and save some extra for her. She loves eating what Mommy is eating, and it’s so much better not to have to fix two separate meals.

8. Edamame and rice. You can buy frozen, cooked edamame and reheat it in the microwave. Add some leftover rice, and it’s a lovely Asian-inspired lunch.

9. Cream cheese and black olive sandwich. This is another easy, favorite sandwich, and I love it, too! Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches are lovely, too. Add some fresh berries or baby carrots to munch on the side.

10. Hummus with carrots and pita. Oh, how I wish my child loved hummus like I do! It’s such a good, healthy protein, but she won’t touch the stuff. Maybe someday — I keep trying. If you are luckier, you can tempt your little one with hummus and carrot sticks and/or pita bread for dipping.

Please share your favorite quick lunch ideas in the comments. I can always use some new inspiration!

Baby scramble

My new favorite dinners for Nora are egg scrambles. Since dinner is the only meal we don’t eat together,* I’m always trying to come up with new and interesting ideas for her that are balanced and involve plenty of good protein. Eggs are just the ticket!

*She’s an early bird, since she goes to bed at 6:30-ish, and I prefer to enjoy my dinner later, thank you very much.

Scrambles are extremely versatile, since you can throw pretty much any veggies you have into them. I made one the other evening with pieces of quinoa polenta, frozen mixed vegetables (Trader Joe’s Organic Foursome), cheese, and some fresh snipped chives.

Dinner time!

Nora loved it, and it was super-easy to whip up, especially with the frozen veggies.** I’ve also made scrambles with spinach and other greens, peas, squash, potatoes… you name it. As long as there are eggs and cheese, she gobbles them up.

Om nom nom.

**Like many parents of toddlers, frozen vegetables are a staple for us, since they are quick and easy to prepare. Kids this age tend to go from perfectly happy to starving and cranky in 0.2 seconds, no joke.

It’s as easy as making scrambled eggs — just add the veggies, cheese, and any other goodies to the eggs after you’ve scrambled them, and cook over medium heat in a lightly oiled skillet. Frozen veggies can go in without even thawing. How easy is that?

Orzo mac and cheese

One of my favorite quick and easy dinners for Nora is orzo mac and cheese. It’s soooooo much easier and better than mac and cheese out of a box, and it really doesn’t take any more time. So I guess the question is, why wouldn’t you make this instead of the stuff in a box?

This is the stuff.

There isn’t really an official recipe, but I follow my beloved Grandmommy’s method for stovetop macaroni and cheese. I cook some orzo*, drain it in a colander and return it to the pan, and then mix in plenty of shredded cheddar cheese, a nice pat of butter, and a dash of milk. Season with salt and pepper, and it’s dinner time!

* Other kinds of small pasta are fine, too, but I liked orzo when Nora was littler since it’s not a choking hazard by any stretch of the imagination and was easy for her to pick up.

Nora is a huge fan of this mac and cheese, and I don’t feel guilty letting her have it… as long as she eats her veggies, too.

Okay, Mom.

Try it, and your little one may become a mac and cheese connoisseur, too!

Tricks of the trade

I am often asked how I got Nora to be such an adventurous eater. The answer, of course, is that I’m just lucky. She is a naturally good eater, and I’ve just taken advantage of that by offering her lots of different tastes and textures.

My little adventurer.

That said, sometimes she doesn’t really want to eat, or doesn’t really want to eat what I’m giving her, so I have figured out a few tricks along the way.

I have to preface this by saying that I’m not pretending to be an expert. I’m only an expert on my kid (and even that is debatable!). So, naturally, my first tip is to know your child. I know that Nora likes trying new things (usually), that she’s independent, and that she likes to figure it out herself, which guides my approach. If your baby is different, your approach to feeding him will be, too.

My main advice is to try and go with the flow, as much as you can. If the meal I’ve prepared for Nora isn’t something she’s into, I offer a little something else, and if she’s just not having a very hungry day, that’s okay, too.

I think one of the biggest feeding pitfalls for most parents is catering too much to your child’s preferences. I’m not saying don’t give them food they like — I’m just saying give them lots of new foods and re-try foods they haven’t liked in the past, too. Unless your child has an issue with gaining weight appropriately,* try not to stress too much over how much they are eating, or how much they eat at a particular meal. You baby knows his appetite better than you do!

* If your child does have problems with weight gain, you should obviously be following your doctor’s advice, not mine.

So, with all that said, here are some of the tricks I’ve figured out over the last few months. I hope they’re helpful to someone out there!

Tips for transitioning to table foods/self-feeding:

  • Start slowly: Try to sit your baby down when she isn’t super-hungry yet and offer her some finger foods. She may just play with them, but that’s okay. Eventually some will find their way into her mouth! Offer purée to top her up afterwards.
  • Practice makes perfect: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of processed foods, but puffs worked wonders for us in helping Nora develop her pincer grasp. They stick a little bit to your fingers, which makes it easier for baby to pick them up, and they dissolve in his mouth so they’re not a choking hazard. You can move on to more “real” finger foods once he gets the hang of it.
  • Get a grip: Coat anything that’s a little slippery (sliced strawberries, tofu) with some wheat germ to make it easier to pick up. It adds some nutrition and a little sweetness, too!
  • Learn from my experience: I’ve put together a couple of lists (here and here) of great beginning finger foods. Try some of them out!
  • Stick with it: The transition to table foods won’t happen in a day or a week. It’s a process. The important thing is just to keep trying every so often, even if you’re sure it won’t strike your little one’s fancy. One day it may just be like a switch was flipped!

Tricks for more seasoned eaters:

  • Switch it up: If your little one is not loving the apple slices she had previously scarfed down, try giving here a whole apple and see how she does. You might be surprised. Or, if she’s not wanting to gnaw on whole fruit, try small chunks or slices instead. Another option is to grate up fruit or veggies, or even cheese. Nora had grated cheese for the first time the other day and flipped for it. You can also try peeling fruit, if the texture of the skin seems to be icking her out.
  • Save the best for last: If I am giving Nora one of her all-time favorites (pears with cinnamon and vanilla, blueberries, or sweet potato, lately), I try to save it for after she’s eaten the rest of her meal, like dessert. Otherwise, she won’t want anything else until she’s had her fill!
  • Tickle the palate: Conversely, when your little one just doesn’t seem interested in eating, try offering a bit of one of his favorite foods. Sometimes that can be enough to get his appetite going, and he’ll start eating the other things you’re offering, too.
  • I’ll have what Mommy’s having: If there’s one thing toddlers especially like, it’s doing what the big people are doing. If Nora isn’t interested in something, and I take a bite and offer it again, all of a sudden, she’s all about it. Better yet, just give him food from your plate — it’s easier to only cook one meal!
  • Feeding the animals: Sometimes Nora likes to eat from my hand, like a little birdie. It’s pretty darn cute. She also likes a helping hand at times when she’s trying to take a big bite out of an apple or other fruit.
  • Be cool: I recently discovered that when Nora is teething, frozen berries are a great snack. I let them sit out to soften for a few minutes so they’re not a choking hazard, and then let her go to town. The cold feels good on those sore gums.
  • I’ll do it myself: I recently read this great tip from Half Pint Gourmet on helping your little one learn to use a spoon, so we are now giving Nora her own spoon when we feed her things like yogurt or multigrain porridge. She sort of gets the concept, but definitely not enough to reliably feed herself… but practice makes perfect!

The most important part, in my humble opinion, is to just keep trying new things until something sticks. Guess I could have just said that and saved myself some time in writing this post! I think that simple principle would just about put the publishers of parenting books out of business, though…

Do you have any favorite tricks for getting your little ones to eat? I’m always looking for new ones, since everything seems to work for a while, and then it’s back to the drawing board again.

Roasted parsnips with apples

I never really know what to do with parsnips when they show up in our CSA box. Thankfully they keep well, since it gives me some time to come up with uses for them, other than making veggie broth or throwing them on the compost pile.  However, I read recently that they’re quite nutritious*, so I decided to try them in a recipe for Nora.

* I will confess that I am a little prejudiced when in comes to veggies and fruits, since I tend to feed Nora (and myself, for that matter) by color. The more colorful a meal is, the more diverse nutrients it must have. This is a pretty good shorthand, but there are some tricky colorless foods out there, like parsnips, that are nutritionally valuable.

Personally, I think parsnips are pretty boring on their own, so I added some apple to the mix and roasted everything with a nice coating of butter.

Butter makes everything better.

They were a hit with Nora, and, as an added bonus, I was able to freeze the leftovers in baby-sized portions for use in future meals. Gotta love that!

Butter-Roasted Parsnips with Apples

3-4 parsnips (depending on size)
1 apple
1 Tbsp butter, melted

Peel the parsnips and apple. Chop the parsnips into coins, and the apple into bite-sized chunks. Toss the parsnips and apples with the butter. Spread in a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, or until tender. Serve or freeze in individual portions for later use.

Sweet potatoes with cinnamon and molasses

Sweet potato was one of Nora’s favorite first foods, and sweet potato purée was one of the last things she’d let me feed her when she started rejecting purées. I’ve tried homemade sweet potato “fries” (just sprayed with olive oil and baked), but she wasn’t a huge fan, so she hasn’t really had them in a while.

With winter upon us, however, and our CSA on hiatus until the spring, I am running out of “creative” veggies, so I picked up a sweet potato at the store and decided to experiment a little. Feeling inspired, I made a dish loosely based on what my mom has always made for Thanksgiving dinner: sweet potatoes roasted with honey and pecans. However, honey and nuts are on the no-no list until one year, and Nora hasn’t had them yet, so I mixed it up a little bit. I omitted the pecans, added a sprinkle of cinnamon, and rather than honey, I used just a drizzle of molasses (which happens to be a great source of iron).

Om nom nom.

She dug into them at dinner last night, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be making more of these in the future.

Tasty.

Fortunately, one large sweet potato made plenty to go with several dinners, so I have more in the freezer. Bonus!

Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon and Molasses

1 large sweet potato
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
generous sprinkle of cinnamon
1 Tbsp molasses

Preheat the oven to 400°. Scrub the sweet potato and pierce it several times with a fork. Place it directly on the rack, with a sheet of foil on the rack below it, just to catch any drips. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the sweet potato seems to have shrunk a little bit inside the skin and is a little oozy.* Remove it from the oven and let it cool a bit. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.

Once the sweet potato is cooled, remove the skin using your hands (it should slip off easily). Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch to 1-inch chunks and arrange in a baking dish. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the sweet potato, then sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle with molasses.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring and tossing a couple of times, until butter is melted and the sweet potatoes are very tender.

* Yes, that is a technical term.

Cinnamon apple chips

Fall is here in full force, and that means it’s apple season! The tree in our backyard is dropping apples faster than I can keep up, and we keep getting bags of apples in our CSA box, so I am constantly looking for new ways to use them before they have to be thrown in the compost pile.

Nora likes apples, but I can’t blame her for getting bored with eating them the same way over and over. Enter cinnamon apple chips!

Apple-licious.

A friend mentioned trying to make these recently, but hers were unfortunately a fail — they burned. My interest was piqued, though, so I decided to give them a try.

I simply peeled, sliced and cored several apples, sprinkled the slices with cinnamon, and baked them at 200° on a parchment-lined baking sheet. After an hour, I flipped the slices, and baked them for an hour on the other side. They turned out perfectly — crisp, but not burned.

Nora loved them. She gobbled them up like candy, and she seemed to enjoy the slight crunch. The grown-ups were not as thrilled with them (really, they were just kinda boring), so we’ll just leave these as a baby treat. I’m sure Nora won’t mind — more for her!

Pomegranate, revisited

Just a brief follow-up to my pomegranate post from last week…

Firstly, I took Emma’s suggestion to seed the fruit underwater — brilliant!

Less mess.

It not only makes the process less messy, it’s also a lot faster, since you don’t have to be extra-careful not to pop any seeds (which you’ll end up doing anyway). Also, any pith floats to the top, making it easy to skim off.

Secondly, on my latest trip to Whole Foods*, I somehow managed to pick up organic POM pomegranates instead of the conventional fruit I was going for. Since pomegranate isn’t one of the dirty dozen, I don’t stress too much about whether it’s organic, and since organic was priced at $3 apiece, but conventional was still $2 apiece, I meant to grab the conventional.

*Also known as Whole Paycheck. I shop there too much.

However, either someone piled organic pomegranates on the wrong pile, or I accidentally grabbed the wrong thing, because they rang up as $3 apiece. Being Budget Betty, naturally, I asked if they had rung up properly, and, after checking, the clerk ended up giving me the lower price, assuming they had been misplaced.

I got lucky — the organic pomegranates were fantastic quality, and yielded lots of juicy, deep red seeds. In fact, one fruit yielded over 10 ounces of seeds!

Score.

That’s compared to 8 ounces from the conventional pomegranate. Doing the math, at full price, that’s $0.30 per ounce, versus $0.25 per ounce for conventional. I’d say it’s worth it to buy organic next time, since the price per ounce is similar, and the quality is superior.

Thus endeth Part 2 of a way-too-in-depth analysis of the price of pomegranate seeds. But I can’t help it — it’s what I do.

A two-fer

Last week’s CSA box came with a glut of delicata squash. Although it keeps well, I was feeling industrious, so I decided to cook two of them at once — plenty to serve as a side for our dinner, as part of Nora’s dinner that evening, plus some leftover to freeze for later baby dinners. All that, and it’s only a little more effort than just making one squash, so why not?

Nora loves delicata squash. In fact, she likes it much more than butternut squash, which tastes pretty similar to me. Not sure if it is the cooking method (I tend to roast butternut squash) or the actual type of squash, but, either way, she has a discerning palate already!

Baby-approved.

The best part is that this particular recipe works just fine for babies and adults alike. In fact, I don’t usually think of winter squash as a side, but I stole a bite off Nora’s plate recently, and it was good, so I wanted some of my own!

Sautéed Delicata Squash

1-2 delicata squash
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut the ends off the squash, and then cut in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and strings, and chop into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat, and sauté the squash, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Simple as that!

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