Quick for Kids
Here’s a quick way to add some ambiance to a family meal that you want to make a little special (and yes at my house it’s required that you say ambiance with a fake French accent–the worse it sounds, the better).
I have my kids cut up fruit into small pieces to put into water goblets. Add seltzer (or club soda) water and you’ve got a fancy, colorful drink.
I’ve found some kids are reluctant to try seltzer water (La Croix is my favorite). The sugarless, fizzy water is an acquired taste but it’s such a great replacement for soda it’s worth trying to get your kids to sample it.
How did I get my kids hooked on seltzer water? Well, I used to drink it all the time and my kids would ask for sips. At first they didn’t like it, but I kept drinking it. Fast forward several tries and my kids are regular seltzer drinkers.
If your kids tend to be especially picky, my suggestion is to mix half seltzer water with half juice. We’ve tried the half-half approach with apple, orange, lemonade, grape…and pretty much any other juice we might have on hand (tomato juice the big exception, of course).
Now, I haven’t mentioned the best part–once you’re kids have downed their drink they can eat the fruit. And the fruit will be “fizzified” (yes, it’s true we do make up words at our house). The carbonation in the drink works its way into the fruit giving it a bit of a bubble bite.
This past weekend my parents were in town so of course we needed to make something fun in the kitchen. The idea? Pepperoni pizza cake. I hunted down some ideas online, like this pizza cake recipe from Serious Eats. For my version, I wanted to try to make it look a little more realistic.
The cake ended up being simple to make–and a crowd pleaser.
Step #1: Bake a yellow cake mix in a 10″ spring form pan.
Step #2: Place the cake in the fridge to cool and to become firm. Use a serrated knife to trim off the top part of the cake. Make sure to leave the edge untouched to look like a pizza crust.
Step #3: Spread raspberry or strawberry jam over the inside of the cake, working out toward the edge of the cake, but leaving a 1″ crust.
Step #4: Sprinkle shredded coconut over the pizza to look like mozzarella cheese.
Step #5: Create “pepperoni” from berry fruit leather. You can use a cup to make the pepperoni shape. We actually emptied a salt container to make our pepperoni.
Step #6: Serve your pizza cake in a pizza box.
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It’s that time of year–my kids (and I) are getting bored with their sack lunches. So I try to come up with fun ways to reinvent the same old ingredients.
For veggies, I squirt a little bit of ranch dressing into the bottom of a small plastic glass and then fill it with baby carrots and pea pods. I’ve found that shot glasses from the party store make the perfect fit. I wrap these up in aluminum foil so they don’t spill in their lunches.
This snack has quickly become one of my youngest daughter’s favorites. You could also put peanut butter in the bottom or cream cheese.
My kids know that I like to “fancify” meals. I’m sure there’s some sort of French word for our made up one. The idea: to present your food in a fun way. Make it a little fancy. Our fancifying comes from different places: sometimes we try making something we ate at restaurant, sometimes it’s a creative way to get my kids to try something new. But this time, it was all about using up an ingredient I didn’t want to go bad in the fridge.
I made Asian Mex avocado egg rolls earlier this week so I still have a few wrappers on hand. So when I was making a stir fry the other day, I wanted a cool way to put the rice on the plate–enter the egg roll bowl. I found a recipe for mini morning quiches from Nasoya, which I still want to try, but I thought I could use the same technique. These bowls were so simple and fun to make my kids kept brainstorming during dinner other ways we could fill them. I’m thinking a dessert egg roll bowl would be good–wouldn’t it? Maybe a bananas foster egg roll bowl…
Servings: As many as you want!
Prep time: 10 minutes + baking for 10
Large egg roll wrappers (Nasoya wonton wrappers work well)
Fillings–let your kids decide
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Spray the underside of your muffin pan with cooking oil.
- Working with one wrapper at a time, drape the egg roll over the inverted muffin cup to form a cup. For folds, I brushed a little water on the wrapper to help them stick together when baking.
- Bake for 5-8 minutes. Watch carefully! These bowls will burn easily.
- Gently pop the bowls off of the muffin pan.
Traditional gyros require hours of time and special equipment. Anyone have a vertical broiler handy? Yeah, me neither. Instead, I fake it with chicken marinated in Greek dressing. The better the dressing you can find, the better your gyros–Matsos is my favorite. If I have time, I’ll also grill the chicken breasts whole. But if I need dinner in a hurry, I’ll cut them into thin strips for fast cooking on the stove top.
Prep time: 30 minutes + marinating time
4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup Greek salad dressing
4-6 good pitas
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 fresh lemon
1 tomato, sliced in wedges
1/2 white onion, in slices
2 Tbsps. olive oil
Thinly sliced cucumbers (opt.)
- Cut the chicken breasts into thin strips and marinate in the Greek dressing at least 30 minutes. (I usually put the chicken strips in the marinade in the morning so there’s one less step come dinner time.)
- In a large saute pan, bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Add the chicken strips and cook through. Squeeze the juice from 1/2 a lemon at the end of cooking along with salt and pepper.
- In a small bowl stir together the Greek yogurt and garlic cloves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. I also like to add in some cayenne pepper. Mr. Squid adds a little bit of extra Greek dressing too–I like to keep mine with just a garlic zing.
- Warm up the pita bread in the microwave or on a heated nonstick pan.
- Prepare each pita by slathering it with Greek yogurt dressing, then add chicken strips, 2 tomato wedges, a few onion slices, and a bit of feta cheese (and cucumbers if you’re using them).
This Easter my kids are going to be taking care of breakfast. And yours can too with these easy ideas and recipes:
Yeasted waffles: Let your kiddos mix up the batter and use the waffle iron.
Mini quiches: Encourage your kids to make their own mixins’ like broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, and more.
Mini bread: Yeah, I’m on a mini-streak, but kids love to make things that are their size.
Break out the cookie cutters: Deck out your brunch with cheese, thinly sliced veggies, bread, and other little goodies your kids create.
Appoint a fruit salad crew: My youngest loves to make fruit salads. It doesn’t need to be exotic fruits–apples, bananas, and oranges do just fine.
My tween went on a hunt today to find something green to wear tomorrow so that she won’t get pinched on St. Patrick’s Day. Her quest got me thinking that this holiday might just be the perfect
excuse inspiration to encourage kids not just to wear green, but to eat more green.
Here are a few ideas that seem to be working around my house:
Keep it smooth
My teen and youngest are now hooked on my magic smoothies, which include spinach and go from green to red once you add in berries.
Add it in!
Whenever I make pasta I try to throw in some spinach or other greens too. I figure the more my kids see it on their plate, the more likely they are to eat it.
Make it easy
I make little baggies of cut up veggies and put them in the fridge so my kids can grab them as a quick snack.
Use the power of TV
While there are plenty of TV shows and ads that might have your child reaching for junk food–there might just be a few that could encourage them eat their veggies. For example, my youngest is a huge fan of the BBC Merlin series. She’s entranced with all things English. So when I mentioned that there were “English” cucumbers she decided they’re now her favorite.
Be an example
If you like greens, chances are your kids will too.
I’m always looking for ways to cut cooking times while still making meals flavorful. I’ve found one way to do that is to double up on ingredients when I’m making meals.
Last week I roasted a whole pan of yellow and red peppers and onions for fajitas on one night. With the leftovers I pureed the peppers into a shrimp dish the following night and still had some for rice too.
Here’s a few ways you could go through a pan of roasted peppers during the week:
- Puree them into spaghetti sauce
- Chop up to use in quesadillas
- Add into omelets
- Mix into casseroles
- Toss in with pasta dishes
You get the idea!
Easy roasting: Cut 4-5 red and yellow peppers into strips along with 2 medium-sized white onions. Place all of the slivered veggies into a plastic bag and add in 1 tbsp. olive oil (I used garlic olive oil). Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt. Shake the bag to coat the veggies with the oil. Pour onto baking sheet sprayed with cooking oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or until the ends just begin to get crisped.
Lately, I’ve noticed little cake desserts popping up from tavern-themed restaurants to Italian restaurants. I like it. They’re akin to a deconstructed cake–all the flavor, much less work.
This weekend I made my own version using cake leftover from my daughter’s birthday party cupcakes.
Cake: 2 cups cooked chocolate cake (it doesn’t need to be pretty you’ll be making it into chunks anyway)
Warmed Raspberry sauce or raspberry jam
Chocolate custard ingredients:
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups milk
3 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract (opt.)
1 tsp. Black onyx or Espresso powder (opt.)
Chocolate custard directions:
- In a medium-sized sauce pan over low heat, melt the chocolate and butter then stir in the sugar.
- In another bowl, whisk the cornstarch into the milk.
- Stir the milk mixture into the melted chocolate and add in the cocoa, salt, and Espresso powder.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stir frequently until it thickens.
- Take the pan off the hat and stir in the extracts. Spread the butter over the top of the thickened chocolate to avoid developing a skin.
- Cool the chocolate custard.
To assemble the mini chocolate raspberry cups:
- Press about a tablespoon of chocolate cake into the bottom of the cup.
- Pour about 1/2 tablespoon raspberry sauce over the cake.
- Spoon a tablespoon of chocolate custard in next.
- Repeat cake, sauce, custard and finish off with cake.
- Add a dollop of whipped cream on top.
- Dust with cocoa powder or an extra drizzle of raspberry sauce.
Tofu is tasteless. Really. That’s why I was a little nervous that my kids might not like it. So I came up with a bit of a strategy for introducing them to the mashed up soybeans. First, it had to be firm tofu cut into little squares. I was going to make the squares up myself but I was happy to find that firm tofu comes in pre-cut squares (and they were on sale this week). Second, I needed a sauce that would soak into the tofu and add a burst of flavor. Last, I wanted to put it in something that was already familiar. Tacos.
I ran across a recipe in a recent issue of Cuisine at home that seemed to fit all my criteria. I tweaked the recipe to pass along here. The recipe starts by having you make your own flour tortillas. I was all for DIY tortillas but let me tell you for the amount of work you put in, I’d suggest buying smaller flour tortillas instead and brushing them with sesame oil before toasting. Same flavor, a lot less mess (my youngest was covered in flour head to toe). I also added in fresh basil to give the filling a needed zing (Thai basil would have been even better, but you work with what you have, right?). It’s optional, but I recommend adding some fresh herbs into the mix–cilantro or even parsley would work here too.
Prep & cook time: 30 minutes or less (unless you make your own tortillas, in which case, it could be hours)
4 green onions cut into 1-inch pieces (I cut those in half too)
1/2 cup shredded carrots (had these out, totally forgot to use it)
1/2 red pepper cut into slivers
3 cups shredded Napa cabbage
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups firm tofu cut into squares
1/4 cup basil, cut into slivers (opt. but very, very good)
Small flour tortillas (often located in the refrigerator section at the grocers)
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
3 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (opt.)
1/8 tsp. white pepper (opt.)
- Toast the flour tortillas in a medium-hot skillet, brushing them with sesame oil before adding them to the pan. Cook until warm and slightly crisped and place in a tortilla warmer or wrap in a clean kitchen towel until the filling is ready.
- Whisk together the sauce ingredients and set aside.
- In a non-stick cook pan or a wok (preferred) bring 1 teaspoon sesame oil to medium-high heat and add the eggs. Cook through and remove from pan. Slice into thin strips.
- Add another 1 teaspoon sesame oil to the wok and add the tofu. Cook until the squares start to crisp. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add 1/2 of the sauce. Cook just until the cubes are coated and remove from the wok.
- More sesame oil. Yup, add another teaspoon to a medium-high pan and then cook your veggies in this order: red peppers, carrots go first for about 2 minutes, then add the green onions. Wait a minute. Finally add in the cabbage, basil, eggs, and tofu.
- Now you have a choice: Do you kiddos like it saucy? If so, add the rest of the sauce, if not, serve it as a side. (I went less saucy myself.)
- Mix the vegetables together for about a minute and then use as a filling for the tacos.
- Serve the tacos alongside rice. (My kids liked adding the extra sauce to their rice.)
Kids’ reactions: Clean plates all around. None of my kids even noticed the tofu. My two youngest kids picked out each and every red pepper sliver, but not a piece of tofu remained. Even Mr. Squid was a fan. I even made tofu fried rice the next day.