sweet potato

DIY Family Meal Ideas

I grew up with family dinners pretty much every night. I’m not sure how old I was when it started, but the memory is a strong and happy one. Some days I feel awful that I can’t figure out how to make this happen with my own family. My kids eat dinner at 5:30, and most nights, my husband isn’t home that early. Perhaps family dinner will come at some point for us, but it’ll have to be when the kids go to bed later, and I don’t see that happening for a while.

There are days I feel terrible about this. I’ve read article after article about the benefits of daily family dinners. Somehow though, we can only make it work on weekends. And even then, sometimes it’s only on Sundays. I guess it’s better than nothing. Most nights, I serve my kids dinner and sit with them while they eat. Sometimes I eat dinner with them, and sometimes I wait until later.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that regardless of the number of parents at the table, a fun, interactive dinner vibe makes the rest of the evening flow more smoothly. Most nights, we play a game called ‘Petals and Thorns’ where we go around the table and talk about the best part of our day (the petal) and the worst part of our day (the thorn) to get the conversation going. Beyond that, food that gets the kids talking makes the evening more fun. Enter: DIY meals.

Here are some of our favorites lately:

DIY Sweet Potato Bar

DIY Sweet Potato Bar

Sweet potatoes are fabulous all year ‘round, and this dinner hits all the high notes with me and my crew. You can make it hearty with bacon and cheese; it’s a great way to add veggies with broccoli, peppers, onions or radishes; it can be sweetened with cinnamon; it can be spicy and sharp with salsa and scallions.

Here we’ve got bell peppers, scallions, caramelized onions, salsa, cheese, radishes, sour cream, avocado, broccoli, cinnamon, bacon and pea shoots. Something for everyone! You can also add black beans, leftover chicken… the sky’s the limit!

DIY Tacos

DIY Tacos

Raise your hand if your family loves tacos! My family loves them, but they each have different opinions about what should be included. Having the ability to customize makes everyone happy. And here’s my favorite part about this meal: leftovers are absolutely divine. Here we’ve got grilled chicken, guacamole, red onion, avocado, cilantro, lettuce, radish, beans, tomato and cheese. There’s salad and brussels sprouts on the side, but this dinner has no rules… those are welcome to go in too!

 
Toast Bar

DIY Toast Bar

Breakfast for dinner is always a hit here, and lately we’ve been all about banana toast. Offer some various breads, nut butters, jams and fresh or dried fruit and you’ve got something magical. The best part here is that you can go sweet or savory. Add smashed chick peas or hummus, leftover chicken, avocado, and it’s a whole new angle!

My favorite thing about DIY Toast is that you’ve got options to keep it simple or make it more complex. Either way, make sure to start with some really amazing bread!

DIY Wafflewiches

DIY Wafflewich

If you’re into the DIY Toast idea, you are definitely going to love my DIY Waffle Bar. It starts with homemade savory waffles (recipe here) and grows from there. This can be wonderful for any meal, not just breakfast.

Bonus points for serving a rainbow of colors. :)

Our family favorites include cheese, bacon, jam and avocado. Here we also have berries, cream cheese, radish and tomato.

Do you have DIY meal favorites? I’d love to hear about it! Shoot me an email or let me know on Instagram or Facebook. If you make one of these meals and post it, be sure to tag @lalalunchbox #lalalunchbox!

Beet & Sweet Potato Soup

Ever since my husband and I became parents (almost 11 years ago!) we've been celebrating Valentine's Day with a home cooked meal instead of going out. He's quite talented in the kitchen but he's not home in time on weekdays to cook. Valentine's Day is one of those holidays where he lets his cooking skills shine, and frankly, I love it. This year, though, we're sharing the kitchen and I'm making one of our favorites as a starter: this beautifully red, earthy and delicious Beet Sweet Potato Soup. 

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Look at that color! This is Mother Nature at her best. Starting our special meal with a chock-full-of -vitamin soup is just perfect. Did you know that beets are loaded with folate (a B vitamin), potassium, fiber, magnesium and vitamin C? And sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin B, potassium, manganese and fiber? It's a powerful combination!

My husband is the son of immigrants. He ate a lot of borscht as a kid, and while this isn't a traditional borscht, it's kind of related. The best part is, it's something we both love to gulp down. I may serve this in tea cups, because it's got the consistency of a smoothie, so why not drink it?! 
The prep takes about 10 minutes and it cooks for about 40 minutes. Pureeing takes about 5 minutes so this soup is ready in under an hour.

However you choose to celebrate, I hope it's festive. ❤

Here's what you'll need:
5 beets
2 sweet potatoes (I used the Japanese white flesh variety) 
3 tablespoons avocado or neutral oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: sour cream or sea salt yogurt to garnish

Here's how:
1. Peel the beets and sweet potatoes and cut into 2-3 inch chunks. I like to use gloves when I do this to prevent staining.
2. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions in the oil on medium heat.

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3. After about 5 - 7 minutes, add all of the beets and sweet potatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir for 2-3 minutes so that the oil and onions are evenly distributed.

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4. Add the vegetable broth and water and turn the heat up to high. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
5. Add the fresh dill, stir, cover and cook for 40-45 minutes.

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6. Purée with a stick blender. Sometimes you'll miss a spot and there will be a chunk of beet or sweet potato. That's ok. Life isn't perfect; soup doesn't have to be either. 😊
7. Taste and see whether it needs more salt or pepper.
8. Pour into bowls and garnish with dill (and sour cream, if using).

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Lentil Curry Soup with Sweet Potato and Kale

I'm knee deep in winter soup obsession. 

I'm pretty sure if there were a log of my cooking patterns, I'd see repetition every January with hearty soups. So when I saw this recipe for Sweet Potato Lentil Curry Soup on Food52 posted by Sarah Kieffer of The Vanilla Bean Blog, I got all kinds of excited. 

Typically, I wanted to make it immediately, but I didn't have exact ingredients, so I made some substitutions. That said, I do plan to make the original recipe and am certain it's amazingly delicious. 

The first change I made was in the lentils; I only had black beluga lentils, not brown. Additionally, I didn't include the red pepper or carrot and I cut the amount of garlic in half and increased the amount of ginger. As long as I was making changes, I figured I'd add the last bit of lacinato kale that was in my fridge. We're all friends here, so I suppose I can admit that I had three bowls of this in one sitting. 

Give this a go! It sure hit that must-heave-hearty-winter-soup spot for us! 

Lentil Curry Soup with Sweet Potato and Kale

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1/3 cup peeled and minced ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (I used mild) 
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (or roughly 2 1/2 - 3 cups)
1/2 bunch lacinato kale, chopped 
1 14 oz can of coconut milk (I used full fat with the cream)
2 cups black beluga lentils
1 teaspoon salt 
7 cups vegetable stock (or water) 
Juice of 1 lime
1 bunch of minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup tamari

Method: 
1. In a large pot, saute the red onion, garlic and ginger in olive oil for about 10 - 15 minutes, or until onions are translucent. 
2. Add the curry powder, hot pepper flakes, sweet potatoes and kale. Sauté for 5-8 minutes or until the seasoning has evenly coated the sweet potato. 
3. Add the coconut milk, lentils, salt and vegetable stock. Simmer and cover until the lentils and sweet potatoes are tender, approximately 45 minutes. 
4. Add the lime, tamari and cilantro, stir and enjoy! 

Strummin' on the Old Banjo

Life is good.

I came across something on Twitter the other day that basically boiled down to 'slow down to recognize all of the wonderful things you already have around you.' Always a good reminder. 
As an aside, my infant is teething. I've been up every hour for two nights and have reached a new level of exhaustion. Or delirium. Or new normal - I'm not sure.  It's hard to notice the wonderful things around you, let alone celebrate them when you're in these kinds of trenches but today I was spending the morning with my son and at some point realized that I was giggling! Loved.That.  

Cooking Banjo Muffins with My Toddler

Cooking Banjo Muffins with My Toddler

My son is regularly this smiley; it makes him a delightful companion. And when it comes to cooking, he scoops and measures with gusto; he pours in cinnamon like there's a present at the bottom of the container; he acts like he's the luckiest guy on earth when he gets to sample the goods along the way. And the best part? He'll often jump off of his "helper chair" in the kitchen and run into the playroom to get a prop and pretend to be the Entertainment Committee, playing his guitar, belting out a song at the top of his lungs. Lately, he's all about being in the kitchen with Dinah, strummin' on the old banjo. And there we were, singing it loud and proud - working on the railroad, fee-fi-fiddly-eye-oh-ing. I felt happy deep in my cells. 

Pretty much everything that I bake, I bake with him. It's all toddler-friendly measuring-pouring-scooping stuff around here. If there are any more complicated steps, I can get those done while he's in the midst of his musical interlude. Anyway, so today he wanted to bake muffins and use our Dora the Explorer cupcake liners. We devised this recipe together, tossing in some beet and apple for color and sweetness. Once cooled, he gobbled one down and declared it "dah-lisheey-ohso!"

Ol' Banjo Muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup grated sweet potato (basically one medium sweet potato, peeled and grated)
1/4 cup grated apple (one medium apple, peeled and grated) 
1/4 cup grated beet (one medium beet, peeled and grated) 
1/3 cup coconut sugar (* you can substitute brown sugar) 
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons flax meal
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup oat milk (* you can use whatever milk you'd like... we made this dairy free) 
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Method
Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin pan with liners (this recipe makes 12). In a bowl, mix together all of the dry goods. Add grated veggies and fruit and mix well to combine. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, oat milk, oils and vanilla. The coconut oil may be clumpy so using a whisk is probably best. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients. Scoop into muffin tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
Let cool for 5-10 minutes and enjoy. 

Cold and Flu Season are No Match for This Soup

I wholeheartedly believe in the connection between what we eat and how we feel. If someone has a cold coming on, I make chicken soup. Got a cough? Have a pear. Have a sore throat? Slice up some fresh ginger and add to hot water. So when cold and flu season is upon us - even before anyone gets sick, I always make loads of carrot soups. Carrots are high in beta carotene which is thought to help build a strong immune system. My son hates raw carrots but loves this soup. My daughter loves carrots in all forms so this is always a welcome item to the dinner table for her. Added bonus: carrot soups freeze beautifully. 

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Yesterday I made a batch of carrot ginger soup and added sweet potato - a super food that is also high in beta carotene. Look here for a great list of super foods that fight colds. The news stories about this year's flu season are a little overwhelming. Nothing is fool proof, of course, and even people who eat the healthiest of diets get sick every now and then. Hopefully this easy-to-make soup and the other healthy stuff that comes out of our kitchen will provide us with some extra protection.

Carrot Soup with Ginger and Sweet Potato

1 lb carrots - peeled and cut into chunks
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/3 bunch of fresh dill
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
Juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)

Add carrots, sweet potato, ginger, onion and dill to a soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper and puree with a stick blender.

** For added richness, you can use chicken broth instead of water or you can add a can of great northern beans to add protein and thickness.