Keiki Plates

Once upon a time, getting our daughter to eat her veggies was a a breeze. She absolutely loved my broccoli vichyssoise. For breakfast she'd either have homemade applesauce with baby oatmeal, or an organic spinach and monterey jack cheese omelet. Brandon & I used to congratulate ourselves for producing such an awesome gourmand.

The moment Emi started walking, she suddenly turned into the picky toddler all the mommy books warned me about. Now when I try to spoon feed her cereal or yogurt, she scrunches up her face in a frown and slaps both hands to her forehead dramatically. Over time I've discovered that she will eat fruits and veggies, but it has to be on her terms. They have to be cut a certain way, or have a certain texture. Some days she'll eat cauliflower, others not so much. 

So for the past several months I've found myself trying to invent ways to hide fruits and vegetables in food that Emi will eat regularly such as bread, rice, potatoes and crackers. There have been numerous failures - whole wheat apple pancakes, broccoli slaw latkes, spinach and feta spread, to name a few - but here are some that actually worked.


Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread

This recipe is adapted from one I found on another mom's food blog. I substituted white sugar with organic agave syrup from Trader Joe's and cut out all-purpose flour entirely. I also doubled the amount of zucchini and walnuts, since I wanted Emi to get as much veggies as possible, and even added a grated carrot into the mix.

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup agave syrup
2 cups grated zucchini (roughly 2 medium-sized zucchini)
1 cup grated carrot (roughly 1 medium-sized carrot)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. (If you're making a loaf, grease and flour an 8x4 inch loaf pan. Otherwise, insert mini cupcake holders into cupcake tin.)

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Mix in oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nuts. Add to wet ingredients and stir to mix well.

Pour into loaf pan, or spoon into cupcake holders. I like to use a cookie-batter scoop. Loaves take about 60 to 70 minutes to bake, while my mini-muffins only took about 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 1 loaf or 45 mini-muffins.

Spinach Cream Cheese

Emi is a carbolholic, like her mommy. I wanted a nutritious spread or filling that I could put on slices of whole wheat bread, pita or crackers and not feel guilty. After trying several variations - broccoli slaw and cream cheese, spinach and feta (which I loved and continue to make for myself) - I finally came up with a winner that the whole family enjoys. 

4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 lb. organic spinach
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbs. olive oil

Heat olive oil and garlic in a pan on medium heat, making sure the garlic doesn't brown. Add spinach and a couple pinches of salt. Stir until greens wilt and remove from heat. Mix the spinach and cream cheese in a food processor until smooth. If you have any fresh dill, throw that in the Cuisinart, too.

Serve with crackers, toast points or as a dip for vegetables. You can even spread it on sandwiches.

Colcannon with a Twist

This recipe is kind of a cross between Irish Colcannon and broccoli vichyssoise sans the broth. Whatever you want to call it, Emi loves this dish. I invented it the morning after Brandon's birthday duck confit dinner, using leftover celery root puree. I felt like a culinary genius after my picky toddler gobbled down two servings! 

After St. Patrick's Day, I made another version using leftover boiled potatoes that I mashed up and cabbage and spinach instead of broccoli.

1 cup celery root puree or mashed potatoes
1 cup finely minced broccoli (you can also use chopped spinach, cabbage or a mix of both)
1 shallot, minced
half a leek, minced
2 tbs. olive oil

Heat olive oil in a pan and add the leek and shallot. Sautee until shallots are translucent, then add broccoli and stir until soft. Remove from heat. Combine the veggies with the celery root puree or mashed potatoes and mix well. 


Veggie Pizza

Long before we became parents, Brandon & I loved spending a relaxing weekend watching TV and munching on homemade pizza. I came up with this nutritious, toddler-friendly version so Emi could join us on our lazy weekends. This recipe blends two of her favorite food groups - cheese and bread - to camouflage a serving of veggies. And for extra nutrition, I replaced all-purpose flour with whole wheat.

1 envelope dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar

4-6 broccoli florets, finely chopped (I blitz it a few times in my mini-food processor)
1 cup of your favorite pizza sauce
1 cup of your favorite cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine water and yeast and stir, allowing the yeast to dissolve. Note: Make sure the water isn't too hot, or it will kill the yeast. Too cold and the yeast won't activate.

In a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour, salt, sugar, olive oil and yeast. Mix until the dough forms a ball and comes away from the bowl. Note: Whole wheat flour tends to be drier than all-purpose flour, so if the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon or so of lukewarm water.

Separate the dough into fourths, and form into balls. Flour your board and roll out one ball into disks approximately 1/4-inch thick. Roll out remaining dough, or wrap in plastic and refrigerate.

Generously spread pizza sauce on the surface of the dough, followed by broccoli and finally cheese. Place on a baking pan or pizza stone and bake for 10 minutes. For a crispier crust, remove the pizza from the pan and continue baking it directly on the rack for another two to three minutes.

Don't be afraid to experiment with different veggies such as asparagus spears, chopped spinach or zucchini slices. Try my spinach pesto (below) for a saucy twist. When I'm really in a hurry, I just use a slice of whole wheat bread instead of homemade pizza dough, add the sauce and toppings, then stick it in the toaster oven for a few minutes.


Spinach Pesto 

This garlicky sauce goes great with pasta and pizza, as well as meats such as chicken or fish. Packed with flavor and nutrition, it's the perfect food for a growing toddler. Warning: After Emi had some of my pesto pizza, her grandparents and daddy complained about her "garlic breath," so keep a toothbrush handy.

3 oz. spinach leaves (I use organic baby spinach)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup olive oil

Combine spinach, pine nuts, cheese and garlic in a blender, or mini-food processor, and mix into a paste-like consistency. Add olive oil and blend until smooth. Can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, or in the freezer for up to a month.

This pesto tends to be thick, so when serving with pasta, be sure to reserve some of the cooking water to thin it out. The starch in the water also helps the sauce stick to the pasta.

I recently tried a version of this pesto using peas, and it turned out great. To cut down on the strong garlic flavor, I crushed a clove of garlic and sauteed it in olive oil on low heat before combining the oil and garlic in the food processor with about a cup of peas and a quarter cup of toasted pine nuts. Emi loved it!


Beefy Sauteed Carrots

I came up with this recipe after Emi wolfed down the potatoes and carrots in Brandon's beouf bourginon. Apparently, she doesn't like raw carrots, but cooked carrots that have plenty of flavor are a whole other matter.

baby carrots, sliced in half lengthwise
fresh ground pepper
1 tbs. beef broth
1 tbs. margerine

Heat butter in a pan and add carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook carrots on medium high until lightly caramelized. Add beef broth and lower heat, cooking until carrots are tender, but still firm.