cooking with kids

Quick Weeknight Meatballs

I'm all for letting my kids have a say in their breakfasts and lunches. Their choices aren't a free for all; I customize the foods available to them by managing the Food Library on our LaLa Lunchbox and LaLa Breakfast apps and the rest is (well documented) history. The process makes my life easier, and as a working mom of 3, it's exactly what I need to survive. 

Quick Weeknight Meatballs

But dinner is all mine. I love thinking about and talking about what to cook and what to eat for dinner. While I appreciate the occasional request, and even ask my family what they're in the mood for when I'm in a dinner rut, I like being Queen of the Dinner Castle. Lately I've been making turkey meatballs with tomato sauce and pasta about once a week. It's a meal that comes together in under 30 minutes, it's filling and satisfying and if I'm lucky, there are leftovers (usually requested for lunch by my 3 year old). Despite the fact that 2 of my 3 kids won't go near a tomato, somehow they like it in the form of sauce, so this is a meal that all five of us can enjoy together. Major victory. 

Here's the secret: A couple of months ago, we harvested a bounty of basil from our tiny garden and I pureed it to make vegan pesto with garlic and olive oil and froze it in small containers. It's the "flavor pouch" to our meatballs, and as long as I can remember to defrost one of those containers in the morning, everything else falls into place. It's easy to find basil even if it's not in season, so don't fret – just puree a large handful of basil leaves with one clove of garlic and 1/4 cup of olive oil and you've got it. Here's the confession: I don't always use homemade sauce. Time is tight. There are a few places by me that make a good marinara sauce (and in a perfect quantity) so if there's no time to make this one, I outsource the job. Bottled sauce also works perfectly well. 

easy ingredients for quick weeknight meatballs

These Quick Weeknight Meatballs have just 5 ingredients: 
1.5 pounds of ground turkey (I prefer dark meat to white meat)
3/4 cup panko (or unseasoned breadcrumbs)
1 jumbo egg
2 tablespoons pesto
1 scant teaspoon salt (or salt to taste) 

Preheat the oven to 375. Combine all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl and form meatballs about 2-3 inches in diameter. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. 

Turkey meatballs, ready to be baked

The meatballs will be fully cooked. You can eat them just like this! Or you can place them in a pan, cover with tomato sauce and heat until everything is warmed. While this is happening, cook the pasta as directed. We make 1 pound of pasta for our family of 5, and because it's not a ton of pasta, the meatballs really take center stage. While you wait for the water to boil, it's a great time to enlist the help of kids to quickly gather and wash salad ingredients, peel produce or do some basic chopping, if they're old enough. Dinner will be on the table in 30 minutes or less. Score! 

Pasta with Quick Weeknight Turkey Meatballs

What are your go-to weeknight meals? 

Avocado Chocolate Cookies

Okay, I know. It sounds weird. But when I came across the photo of these Avocado Chocolate Cookies on Pinterest, they looked so good, I just had to see for myself. Plus, I had all of the ingredients in my house, so it was an easy experiment. And when I showed the photo to my sweet-toothed son, he was game to make these with me. I mean, look at these things! 

avocado chocolate cookies

I made one substitution in the original recipe (granulated sugar for coconut sugar) and added three ingredients (baking powder, salt and cinnamon). Our recipe noted below. 

ingredients for avocado chocolate cookies

First we cracked an egg and added it to our mixing bowl. Next we used about 3/4 of a large avocado and mashed it. 

avocado and egg for cookies

Next, we added sugar and cocoa. This batter is looking good! 

cocoa and sugar added

Finally, we added baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and then the chocolate chips.  

"Mama, can I taste it?" 

"Mama, can I taste it?" 

We spooned the batter onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet and baked at 350 for 9 minutes. 

avocado chocolate cookie batter

Wow. These things! Gooey. Rich. Satisfying! A keeper, for sure. 

avocado chocolate cookies

Here's the recipe: 

Avocado Chocolate Cookies (adapted from the Fit Ninja)

1 extra large egg
3/4 very ripe avocado, mashed
1/2 cup sugar (I used raw sugar. The original recipe called for coconut sugar)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the egg and mashed avocado and mix until the lumps are mostly gone (be careful not to overbeat). Add sugar and cocoa powder and mix well. Add baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and stir until you have a nice batter. Add the chocolate chips and mix one final time. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon the batter onto the baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. This recipe makes about 24-30 cookies. Keep in the refrigerator. Enjoy! 

Carbonara for Food Revolution Day 2014

My kids are frequently in the kitchen with me, and conversations about where our food comes from and how to prepare it healthfully and deliciously is part of our family fabric. Today is Food Revolution Day, and this year's message from Jamie Oliver really hits home: "I believe that it's every child's right to be taught about food, how to cook it and how it affects their bodies. Without this fundamental knowledge, they'll grow up without the skills or even the desire to eat better." Beyond the knowledge, I want food and food preparation to be fun for my kids. I'm excited for them to try new flavors and develop their palates and taste preferences. Experimenting in the kitchen exposes them to new flavors and helps to free them of inhibition to taste new foods. It also sends a message that setting aside the time to prepare real, whole foods is a family priority. I'm thrilled that Jamie Oliver has been so successful with Food Revolution Day; it is now celebrated in 117 countries! 

Today I've come across loads of events, recipes and blog posts recognizing Food Revolution Day. I absolutely loved this one by Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray about home cooking as a political act and agree wholeheartedly with her when she says "I want them to learn by osmosis that we don't need Big Food to feed us, and that we can actually do a better job when we take back control of the cooking."

Today in honor of Food Revolution Day, my kids and I made Pasta Carbonara - a family favorite. This recipe has four ingredients. Three ingredients for my littlest one, who is dairy free and therefore eats the version without cheese.  

pasta, eggs, bacon, parmesan. 

pasta, eggs, bacon, parmesan. 

First, we boiled the water to cook the pasta. The classic carbonara is all about spaghetti but my kids love this twirly shape best. Meanwhile, we fried up the bacon. I use Applegate's organic Sunday uncured bacon and I like to put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes before making this recipe so that it's easy to chop before frying. 

When the pasta is done cooking, I reserved 1/2 cup of the pasta water to use in the recipe (full recipe below). My daughter added it to the bacon and then added the cooked, drained pasta. 

I added the eggs and stirred quickly to incorporate them into the pasta without making scrambled eggs. I set a portion aside for my littlest one. My older kids then added cheese and stirred. Yum! Because the pan is still hot, the cheese melts beautifully. 

DSC05684.JPG

This dish is easy to make with kids in the kitchen. It uses simple, real, pronounceable ingredients. And it's a crowd pleaser! 

Pasta Carbonara
1 pound of dry pasta
4 large eggs
8 ounces of bacon, chopped
1/2 cup of finely grated parmesan
pepper to taste
salt for boiling water
 

Method
Boil the pasta in salted water as directed, until it's al dente. While the pasta cooks, fry the bacon in a pan over medium heat for approximately 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, crack the eggs and lightly beat them. Set aside. In another small bowl, grate the parmesan. When the pasta is done, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water before draining. 

Turn the heat back on to medium on the bacon pan. Add the reserved pasta water and stir. Add the cooked pasta and continue stirring until the water has evaporated and the bacon is evenly distributed. Take the pan off the heat again. Let sit for one minute. The pan will still be hot. Add the eggs slowly and mix quickly to thicken the sauce and to prevent the eggs from scrambling. At this point, you can add black pepper to taste for a dairy free version of carbonara. Otherwise, add the grated parmesan and stir well to combine. The cheese should melt immediately into a rich, creamy delicious sauce. 

Serve immediately. (this recipe serves 4-6 people)

Happy Food Revolution Day! 

LaLa Granola Bars and Food Revolution Day 2013!

As I've mentioned, (here and here) I've got nut allergies. It's really difficult to find a good tasting granola bar that's made without nuts, but beyond that, it's hard to find a granola bar that's made simply. So we take matters into our own hands at my house and regularly make our own, and affectionately call them LaLa Granola Bars. They're nut free, dairy free, full of delicious flavor and have zero added refined sugar. They are snacks that I feel great about packing for my kids' lunch and that I can safely consume myself. Win-win! 

My son spreading granola bars onto a cookie sheet for Food Revolution Day 2013

My son spreading granola bars onto a cookie sheet for Food Revolution Day 2013

In honor of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day 2013, my son and I rolled up our sleeves and made these delicious and simple granola bars. Here's a link to the recipe we used. The whole process took less than 20 minutes but it's 20 minutes of well spent time together. I'm proud to see my son wielding a spoon, ready to help out. I believe that one of my many responsibilities as a parent is to teach him the importance of good, fresh ingredients and to show him the joy that comes from making meals ourselves. Today our Food Revolution Day celebration took part on a small scale but I believe that real change happens both from the bottom up and the top down and therefore, all of these small moments matter. I look forward to hearing him tell the story of our adventures in the kitchen this morning when we serve these granola bars to guests this weekend. 

Homemade LaLa Granola bars! 

Homemade LaLa Granola bars! 

Banana Muffins - Dairy Free and Egg Free

Transient

My little guy is turning 2 on Friday. Hooray! In preparation for his party, I bought fun cupcake liners yesterday and when he found them on the kitchen counter this morning, he pleaded, "Mama! My want a muppin peez." Really, how can you say no to that? 

Transient

As it happens, we had four bananas that were desperate for muffin making, so we set to work. My son gets a big thrill out of pouring and stirring -- this particular batch has about three times the recommended cinnamon - but he was having such a good time, I just let it go. They still taste pretty good! And with no added sugar, these are a nice snack. 

Transient

Years ago, my daughter went to preschool with a child who had dairy and egg allergies so I found and refined a recipe for vegan banana muffins that I could safely bring into her classroom. It has become my go-to recipe any time I'm baking with my kids. They love to lick the bowl so this egg-free recipe is a winning solution for everyone. 

Dairy and Egg Free Banana Muffins

Ingredients: 

  • 4 super ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 1 c applesauce 

Preheat oven to 350. 

Mix all dry ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, mash the bananas. Add vanilla extract, vegetable oil and applesauce and mix together. Add dry ingredients to wet ones and stir to combine. We like leaving the banans slightly chunky. 

Pour into muffin pan lined with cupcake liners and bake for approximately 22-24 minutes. Makes about 12 muffins. 

Let cool for 10 minutes and enjoy! 

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