Cooking for Kids : The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook

In Australia the recommendation for when babies are to start solids is to start purees at 4 months and solid foods at 6 months. How to do this though can be a minefield, especially for first time parents like us. For some though, when to transition to a full “solid” diet can be the most difficult part. As an example, I was recently involved in a market research group where some of the parents where still feeding their one year olds pureed foods out of “pouches” bought from the supermarket for the majority of meals. For me though, while I started by pushing banana through a sieve and finely processing sweet potato for Adventure Girl, I soon realised that this wasn’t the direction we wanted to take. Simply, and honestly, I was too lazy to do it all myself, didn’t want to use pouches and wondered if there was another way. In my  research for alternatives, I came across the practice of Baby Led Weaning which encourages not feeding your children purees and instead, holding off until your child is 6 months and at that stage introducing solid food. I’m no expert but this has been the best thing for us as a family and this is the direction we’ve taken with Dash as well.

One of the greatest concerns with this form of feeding is choking. The best advice I ever read on this was from Baby Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. It said that the gagging reflex is entirely natural and something a parent doesn’t need to be concerned about. The trick is to know when it’s gagging and when it’s choking. To do this it’s simple: count to three. When your child is eating (yes, you really should be there with them!) if they start to gag/choke count to three, if they’re still doing it after the count of three THEN you intervene (watch this video from St John’s ambulance for more details on what to do if they choke). If they sort it out themselves, good work kid! And good work parent… I reckon it’s more stressful for us sometimes than them – I don’t think I’ll ever stop counting 1..2…3 if I see a child gagging.

9781408807569The premise of baby led weaning is that, from a young age, they and you eat the same things – not adults eating purees but kids getting to eat real food that hasn’t been processed already for them. The book that has helped us the most is The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook. The recipes and knowledge within it enabled us to have the confidence to make this step and enjoy it. I’ve loaned it out to a few friends and each of them has gone on to purchase their own copy. It’s a great resource and one of our regularly used cookbooks. I can remember the first time I made the courgette [zucchini] polpettes and how Mr Incredible exclaimed that he couldn’t believe they were in a baby cookbook. The flavour, especially with the lemon zest and garlic, was great. We make them with quinoa rather than breadcrumbs but otherwise leave the recipe as it stands and I include it below as an encouraging “taster” for you to try, especially if you have young kids.

Courgette Polpettes [aka zucchini balls)

River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook, by Nikki Duffy

Author notes: These vegetarian ”meatballs” are inspired by a wonderful recipe from Italian food writer Ursula Ferrigno. Her original uses aubergines, but I really like this fresh-tasting zucchini version. You can easily double the quantities but you’ll probably need to cook the zucchini in batches.

Freezer-friendly: freeze the uncooked polpette. Defrost before baking.

For babies: these make nice finger food and will introduce your baby to lots of different flavours.

For grown-ups and older children: try adding a few toasted pine nuts to the mix.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp canola or olive oil
  • 500g zucchini, finely diced
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 generous tbsp grated parmesan, pecorino or other well-flavoured hard cheese
  • 1/2 ball of buffalo mozzarella (60-70g), diced
  • 50g breadcrumbs or cooked quinoa
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Oil a baking tray or line with a non-stick silicone liner.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the zucchini for about 10 minutes, until tender and golden. Set aside to cool a little, then combine them with all the other ingredients to make a thick, sticky mixture. Season if you like (remember that the cheeses already contain salt).
  3. Take walnut-sized blobs of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden.
  4. Serve hot, warm or cold, on their own or with pita bread and a tomato salad or sauce.
  5. Makes about 12.

 

Finally, a gluten free bread we can make at home

Almond and Chia BreadPrevious to Mr Incredible being diagnosed with a wheat allergy we made all our bread at home. We often still do for the kids and I but I lost a lot of drive to do this after diagnoses. Firstly, he couldn’t eat it and he ate a lot of it. Secondly, for those who love bread, the smell of a good loaf baking that you can’t eat can be classified as torture. Instead, we’ve been purchasing Ancient Grain’s Oat or Breakfast breads, really great alternatives for the wheat free (no additives, wheat free, tastes great and good textures) but expensive… really expensive (between $8-10 a loaf and as I said, Mr Incredible loves his bread).

I’ve been looking everywhere for a good loaf recipe but have been turned off by xantham gum and quinoa/coconut flour loaves that didn’t resemble the cravings of my hubby’s dreams. In fact, when I told Mr Incredible that I’d found a great recipe his first comment was “it’s not with quinoa flour is it?”. Thankfully, it wasn’t and finally, thank God, we’ve discovered this loaf (huzzah for amazing social media pages!). Not only is it easy to make, has ingredients we stock in our pantry already and tastes great (none of the awful texture in most GF breads), it’s also highly adaptable. Here come home made Olive and Rosemary or Fig and Walnut or Fruit loaves! Oh, and the only “kitchen equipment” you need is a bowl, a whisk, measuring implements and an oven… awesome.

Almond and Chia Bread

By Tania Hubbard of www.glutenfreegrainfree.com.au

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds (soaked in 30 mL of water)
  • 30mL water (this is used to soak the chia seeds (do this whilst preparing the dry mix))
  • 3/4 cups arrowroot or tapioca (remember to sift this to remove any lumps)
  • 1 teaspoon bi-carb (baking soda) (sifted with the starch to remove any lumps)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or use lemon juice if you cannot have vinegar)
  • 3 eggs (usually no larger than 60 gram eggs)
  • pinch salt

Method

  1. preheat oven to 175C
  2. soak chia seeds in water whilst preparing the dry mix in a bowl. Stir to make sure the seeds are in the water
  3. sift arrowroot and bi-carb (baking soda) into bowl
  4. add almond meal and salt and mix well
  5. use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients to help break up lumps and distribute ingredients evenly
  6. add eggs, soaked chia seeds and apple cider vinegar
  7. combine everything well until there are no lumps (about 1 minute of whisking)
  8. don’t be tempted to add any liquid – this mix is meant to be thick
  9. pour mix into a baking tin lined with non-stick baking paper or a silicon bread mold lightly oiled with olive oil
  10. bake for 25-30 minutes until the bread is firm (single loaf) to the touch and bounces back when lightly pressed and a skewer comes out clean. The top will be golden in colour and firm to the touch.
  11. Remove bread from the oven and turn out onto a cooking rack.
  12. Adjust cooking time to 45-50 minutes if cooking a double mix (larger loaf)

COOKING NOTES:

  • This is a small loaf – a single mix – it won’t rise and rise like traditional bread so you need to use a small baking mold to “force” the rise – I purchased a single size loaf tin once I was happy with the recipe but previous to that used a pyrex dish lined with baking paper. If you don’t the bread won’t rise very well. You’ll end up with more of a focaccia loaf… which might be nice for a change anyway!
  • BIG LOAF: you will need to double the mix and bake in a loaf tin or 20 cm or smaller cake tin (lined with non stick baking paper)
  • Missing buns and rolls? Make the recipe in a muffin tin for individual GF buns.

For more information, check out the recipe on Tania’s page and read the comments for information on freezing etc: http://www.glutenfreegrainfree.com.au/gluten-free-almond-chia-seed-bread/

Weekly weeknight dinner: Chicken and Veggie Pasta Bake

We make this meal at least once a fortnight and we’re not board with it yet! The best thing about the meal (as we make it) is that with the additional load of vegetables it makes enough for our family (including leftovers for lunch) as well as a meal to give to another family, or a meal to freeze. I find that cooking on a budget often means boosting the vegetable to meat ratio in most of the recipes I find. Even though we eat organic vegetables, it still works out MUCH cheaper (and healthier) to use more veg than is often specified. As I heard someone say yesterday, meat in meals should be an addition rather than the main ingredient.

The base of the recipe is from Amanda at Foodbefore5, however, as you’ve likely guessed by now, I’ve made a few changes! The main change is that I’ve included a LOAD of veg (again, are you surprised?). Try it – unless you’re a vegetarian you won’t be disappointed… but if you are a vegetarian, i reckon it would work without the chicken and bacon too!

Ingredients

  • 500g packet dried pasta
  • 500g chicken thigh (if you get your chicken from a butcher, ask them to dice it for you – it saves so much effort and makes the meal able to be easily prepared with a wee one at your side!)
  • 100g bacon – chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic – finely diced
  • 600ml cream
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste (salt free)
  • 50 gr semi-dried tomatoes – diced (more if you like – I just ask for a small scoop from the deli so there’s no wastage, or I make my own if tomatoes are in season)
  • 50 gr olives (more if you like,  I just ask for a small scoop from the deli so there’s no wastage)
  • 1/2 cup cheese – grated (plus extra for topping)
  • 1 broccoli – finely chopped including most of the stalk
  • 2 zucchinis – chopped
  • 3 flat mushrooms – chopped
  • 1 bunch silver beet – chopped (Kale, spinach or beetroot leaves can also be used)

Method

  1. In a large saucepan, cook pasta according to packet directions
  2. While pasta is cooking, fry chicken, bacon & garlic in a frypan over high heat until chicken is cooked through
  3. While chicken mix is cooking, in a large bowl whisk together cream and tomato paste.
  4. Add chopped veg, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and 1/2 cup of cheese to the cream mixture and combine
  5. Add cooked chicken mixture (minus the oil – I use a slotted spoon to only get the bits I want)
  6. Drain the pasta and line the bottom of the dish you want to use with the pasta (as the meal makes quite a lot, I use about half the pasta for a standard casserole dish)
  7. Add the proportionate amount of the food in the bowl (i.e. if you used half the pasta use half the mixture)
  8. Mix that together in the casserole dish (if you have an enormous bowl you can mix it with the pasta before putting them all in together, I find though that this is much less messy)
  9. Once combined, top your pasta bake with cheese
  10. Either cover and refrigerate until required or cook immediately. If cooking immediately, cook for 20 minutes covered and a further 10 minutes uncovered. If cooking from having been refrigerated, cook for 30 minutes covered and then a further 10 minutes uncovered.
  11. With the remaining food, make up another pasta bake for friends or else pop it in a freezer bag (combining the pasta and mixture) and freeze for up to three months.

How we eat cheap meat that’s ethically produced

I’ve been very impacted by Philip Lymbery’s book Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat and reading it cemented and refined my desire to be careful about what our family consumes when it comes to animal products. On a limited budget though, eating only pasture fed, chemical free and sustainable produce can be difficult – for all types of food, meat, dairy or otherwise. It’s a challenge though that I relish in and finding produce we can afford that fits our mindset is one of the things I like about being a stay-at-home-mum and having more time on my hands to find the bargains. Most of the time when it comes to meat I’ll shop at the gourmet supermarkets and only buy something when it’s marked down due to soon reaching it’s use by date. Often I’ll be able to pick up incredible (mostly organic) products at 1/3 or 1/4 of the price – into the freezer they go! We hardly ever eat steak though and mostly feed on “secondary cuts” or mince largely supplemented by beans, legumes and vegetables. Belted Galloway Beef BoxFor a long time I’ve been on Feather and Bone‘s mailing list, waiting for the time when available finances, freezer space and suitable product collide. A fortnight ago they did and today, on return from our Thank God it’s Friday Adventure, a courier was waiting to deliver our Ashrose Belted Galloway Beef Box. Dry aged for 4 weeks, pasture fed and chemical free, this sustainably raised beef would usually be way out of our budget. The beauty of shopping around though has meant that we can afford 10KG of this meat and feed off it for the next 3 months. What Mr Incredible is excited about is that we get steak!! The box was filled with both “prime” and “secondary” cuts that will make both of us happy, along with knowing where our meat has come from and how it’s been produced. In the future we’d like to buy direct from a farmer for all our meat, and buy more of the whole animal, but until we can afford a deep freezer 10kg is our maximum purchase. Making intentional choices about what we consume can be hard to follow through with. When we manage to fulfil those intentions with actual buying decisions however, and can see consistent success with living a certain way, the satisfaction can be immense. That’s how it is with me at least, and I look forward to brining our steak to BBQs in the near future – just in time for summer! Why we buy pasture / grass fed animal products:

  1. It’s better for you. For both milk and meat, the research indicates that grass fed animals have a higher concentration of Omega 3 content and in meat, lower levels of saturated fats than grain fed cattle. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/7905466  http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/15023647 http://www.pariscreekbeef.com.au/did_you_know02.php
  2. It’s better for the animal. There’s a lot of research on this one (and it’s also covered convincingly in Farmageddon) but it doesn’t take a lot of research to tell you what’s obvious to anyone observing the animals.
  3. It’s better for the environment. As Feather and Bone write: “For these producers, whose holy grail is the achievement of a perfectly balanced, harmonious orchestra of soil, plants and animals in the patch over which they have custodianship, the name of their farm is shorthand for their entire approach to life. Because farming for the long term, without the habitual use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other artificial inputs, requires a level of acute observation, responsiveness and agility that many farmers either aren’t prepared to give or feel would compromise their short term productivity too seriously to be viable.” To read something directly from a farmer go to : http://www.blackwoodvalleybeef.com.au/index.php/our-philosophy
  4. It tastes better.

Research each of these points yourself though – there’s a lot of information on the www and differing views. At the end of the day we all need to make our own choices.

Obesity in Australia and the implications for our family

Last night after delivering a cake to a friend who’s just started the HSC (this is the NSW version of a student ranking exam for university entry) we picked up a pizza as a treat (Adventure Girl had already eaten a much healthier dinner!) and sat down to watch some TV. Ironically, the show we turned on was ABC’s 4 Corners episode on Obesity in Australia, Fat Chance. It was horrifying to hear and see that 70% of adults and 1 in 4 children in Australia are obese. One of the people interviewed, Deb Slorach, made a comment that is still ringing in my ears. In talking about her children and family’s eating habits she said how her children were brought up on junk food and she “look[s] back now and like that’s one of my biggest regrets in life. I think you know I set them up to fail you know and I hate that you know it… it hurts me that I’ve actually done this to my kids.”.

It was at this point in the program that Mr Incredible reached over and said “thank you for taking care of us”. Wow. What a wake up call and encouragement to make sure that take-a-way and processed food remains a treat, even after days that are full. We were thankful for the reminder that it should only be a treat and that bad habits are easy to form and even easier to pass on to our children. I admire Deb and the others who are reversing obesity in their lives with very hard work. I also admire the many who are intentional at stopping this trend and being responsible for what they eat and what they feed to their families.