Healthy toddler meal, sardines, sweet potato, turnip, and green beans

Quick Healthy Dinner For My Toddler & Me

  I've been debating on what would be a good first blog post and tonight I decided, no more debating, just go for it, so here goes.  Had a bit of a weird day so got started on dinner later than usual, still wanted a healthy meal but wanted something fast.  I was so glad there was plenty of leftover sweet potato from last nights dinner, so instead of the usual 40 minutes at 400 F in the oven it was a nice 18 minutes and honestly could have been ready in 10 probably but I wanted to time it with our veggies.  My toddler absolutely loves green beans, which she calls "mean beans", toddlers say everything so cutely don't they?  Glad the beans aren't actually mean...just green....  so back on topic we had just enough green beans left for dinner and after a quick glance through the veggies in the fridge I grabbed a turnip too, they actually taste a lot like a radish before they're cooked, really mild after they're cooked though.  My toddler loves "free Costco samples" when I'm cooking, so she was happily munching some thinly cut little turnip sticks while I was whipping dinner together.  I slice them thinner if I want them ready quickly, I've learned how to cut almost any vegetable to be ready in 20 minutes at 400 F so that I can cook almost any vegetable to have variety but still make dinner on autopilot. 

  I literally cook almost every single dinner entirely in the oven, it keeps me from going crazy while trying to get healthy, fresh, home cooked meals on the table every night.  I don't buy everything organic or anything because that can get expensive fast, but I do try to cook with as many whole foods as possible and avoid processed foods, organic or not, as much as I can, because don't let the label fool you, processed food is still processed food, and fresh regular food, beats organic processed food every time.  Also healthy eating on a budget tip, root vegetables tend to be remarkably cheap compared to some of the other vegetables, think carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, rutabaga (still have to get around to trying that one), and a number of others that just aren't coming to mind right now, but they do exist, I promise.  Green beans are often a good deal too.  I have a bit of a 2 veggie rule, I always try to include 2 veggies in dinner, cutting things right to be the same cooking time really helps with that, some trial and error involved.  My motto is pretty much, if you can eat it, you can roast it! I've tried roasting all kinds of weird stuff with varying results, but I did figure out you can roast broccoli!  My daughter attacks roasted broccoli.  Although to be fair she does attack just about anything if it's edible.  I'm convinced she could cook a full 5 star meal if she had a bigger body and the motor skills.  She loves to watch me cook, and then there's the free samples...  I think it's great though for little ones to learn where food comes from, what it looks like throughout the various stages of getting to their plate, and also that a lot of effort went it to that meal that was lovingly prepared for them.

  Back on topic, as for the sardines, Clara prefers them straight from the can to her plate, she loves the fishy flavour, I guess it is less work her way so I just let her have at it.  Me on the other hand I need my sardines a little crispier to convince myself to eat them, fried a few minutes in olive oil and flipped once.  Yes, I fully admit, I'm a pickier eater than my toddler, but to be fair she eats EVERYTHING so the standard's a little high, I'm not that picky, just pickier than her, and she might very well be one of the world's least picky eaters exist...  I don't take full credit for introducing her to lots of flavours early, it's not like a magic formula, it certainly could help, but personality and taste buds definitely play a role too, so no judgment here.  So there you go, in case you're wondering why I've made myself learn to not mind sardines, like would be too strong a word, it's because they're an inexpensive way to get some omega 3s in your diet and as a very small fish they're also very low in mercury.  And I do believe that eating real food is the best way to get all the nutrients you need.  (Update:  My toddler who is now 2 is no longer one of the least picky eaters to ever exist, she's still not very picky, but she now has a number of things she doesn't like, it mainly has to do with texture I think, she now doesn't care for creamy soups, although she adores any other kind of soup or stew, I think, and she won't eat swiss chard or spinach or any leafy greens that have been sauteed with garlic and butter, but she will eat roasted kale, we've even tried roasting swiss chard, and she's been giving zucchini the cold shoulder lately, further proving that regardless of what you do everyone is likely to have some things that they don't like to eat, and small children, just like adults for that matter, will go through phases of things they don't like for the time being but may like again later.)

  When I first read somewhere that sardines were a healthy food for toddlers I honestly thought they were a little crazy, I thought, what toddler is honestly going to take a bite of sardine and think, oooouuu this is delicious, can I have some more?  Clara proved me wrong, she was completely delighted with her sardines tonight, she calls them neen, and she gets excited as soon as she sees me grab some from the cupboard.  Yes, truly, she gets excited, Mommy was a little more excited about the quick easy meal aspect than the flavour.

  I feel like with busy schedules these days healthy eating can be intimidating and look like so much work, some people are really good at batch cooking and advanced meal prep, but others, myself included, are like, when do I even find the time to do that advance prep.  That's why if you can eat it, I will attempt to roast it...  I'm happy to share tips on roasting in the comments, but I just looked at the time and I guess the need for sleep means this is the end of the blog post whether I feel like I was done writing or not.

  From a busy sleep deprived Mommy, I wish you all a good night, or a good day, depending on when you're reading my ramblings.  Signing out... zzzzzzz


Someone mentioned that I didn't give instructions on my recipe, oh dear.  Here it is.

First thing I usually do is walk into the kitchen and preheat the oven to 400, could require trying 390 or 410 fahrenheit depending on whether or not your oven runs hotter or cooler. 

Then I line a baking sheet with some parchment paper which if you're not familiar with it should be available at most grocery stores probably in the same aisle as the tin foil.  Please never try to substitute wax paper, wax paper is not rated for these temperatures, I'm not sure if it's rated for baking at all, but definitely not for baking at 350 and over, it could pose a serious fire risk as well as get wax in your food, yuck.   

I personally like to cut the parchment paper just a little bigger than the tray to avoid any olive oil from getting underneath the paper, parchment paper really saves on cleanup.  Sometimes for meat I'll put 2 layers of parchment paper to handle the juices.  Sometimes the tray might still need a little cleaning after, but not nearly as much, and I prefer not to cook directly on aluminum either, so the parchment paper helps solve that problem too.

The amount of sweet potato will depend on the size of the sweet potatoes in question, as well as the number of people, the size of their appetites, as well as whether or not you'd like leftovers.  One tip is to get out the maximum amount you think you might need, but then wash one and cut one as you go, so if you realize part way through that you have enough sweet potato already, you can put the unwashed sweet potatoes right back in the cupboard for next time.  I usually set the sweet potato on the cutting board and cut it in rounds/slices somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 an inch thick, thinner cooks faster, I wouldn't suggest going any thicker than half an inch.  I then arrange the slices on the tray as close together as they'll fit and drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil, and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then into the oven they go for 40 minutes.  I set the oven timer and start working on the veggies.  In this case it was green beans and turnips.  although on Clara's plate you seem them cut up small, I did that for hers after cooking, if I'd roasted them at that size they probably would have shriveled up to nothing, so I only washed them and cut off the ends, and put them on the tray whole, although cutting them in half might be ok too.  I arranged them close together, makes it easy for quick drizzling and sprinkling without wasting too much seasoning on bare tray.  I then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and garlic powder same as I seasoned the sweet potatoes, that's basically my standard seasoning for sweet potatoes or any veggie when I'm roasting them.  The veggies go in the oven when the timer for the sweet potatoes reaches 20 minutes, I typically roast almost all my vegetables for 20 minutes, occasionally giving something very hard like beets some extra time, and more delicate vegetables maybe a little less time, some trial and error involved here, asparagus roasts up really nicely but it's thickness will determine how long you roast it.  

For the turnips I probably sliced them somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch, definitely thinner than the sweet potatoes.  After washing I first cut off the ends, then I place it on one of its ends and cut it in half, those halves are now much easier to slice into half circles.  I usually prefer smaller turnips as they're generally more tender and easier to cut, same goes for many other root vegetables.  I then placed them on the same tray as the green beans, seasoning is the same, I usually cut both vegetables, arrange them on the tray and season them at the same time, sometimes a little sprinkle of paprika can be nice depending on the vegetable in question as well as your personal preferences.

The vegetables then go in the oven when the timer is down to 20 minutes.

In case you're wondering why sweet potato?  The answer is they taste like dessert and yet still have a lower glycemic index (this involves how much it spikes, or doesn't spike, your blood sugar) than regular potatoes.  They also are said to pack about 10 times the nutrients compared to regular potatoes, so delicious and nutritious.

For sardines, I prefer the ones packed in olive oil, there's a whole world of sardine options, I had to try a few options to find my preference.  they are ready to eat straight from the can, which is how Clara prefers hers for maximum fishy flavour, frying them will reduce some of the fishiness which is exactly why I do it.  So for mine I put them in a nonstick pan with olive oil on medium heat, I usually heat the pan first before adding the sardines but beware of splashing of hot oil when putting them in and make sure any little ones are a few feet away from the stove at least, also during cooking because they did come packed in olive oil, so as they heat they can occasionally shoot hot oil suddenly, maybe one of those mesh covers people sometimes use when cooking bacon could be a good idea.  I usually add a few seasonings, skipping the salt because they already have quite sufficient salt no matter their packing method.  I often add some black pepper and maybe some oregano, possibly some hot pepper flakes.  I fry them a few minutes on one side, and then flip once and fry a few minutes on the other side and then serve, the exact time will depend on how crispy you want them.  So now you have the recipe, in this dinner I'd used leftover sweet potatoes so they didn't take any longer to cook than the veggies, but I thought I should include the starting from scratch recipe for the sweet potatoes, when I'm reheating the sweet potatoes I just put them on the tray and don't add more olive oil or seasonings because they're already sufficiently seasoned.

If I'm not having sardines I usually roast meat at the same time as everything else, I've roasted the meat from fresh or frozen and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper just the same, frozen just means it will take a little longer than fresh.  If the oven is already full and you happen to have a toaster oven that's a great place to roast the meat.  I'd advise not going over 400 fahrenheit for the temperature as parchment paper can actually catch fire at certain temperatures, the parchment paper should say what temperature it's rated for, and if you're broiling the meat at the end, make sure no pieces of parchment paper are sticking up anywhere near the coils, and I'd advise not to broil for more than 5 minutes at the most if using parchment paper, also if using broil it shouldn't be higher than 400, generally you should have an option for broil temperature, if you don't have a temperature option, it might be broiling at 500 and I would absolutely advise to never broil at those temperatures with parchment paper as that could pose a fire risk.  Also want to reiterate that wax paper is not a substitute for parchment paper when baking things, it could pose a fire hazard as well as get wax in your food, yuck.)



Because it's got to be done.  Please be aware that this is no substitution for medical advice (anything I write).  Also I feel it's important to mention that it can take up to 3 hours for signs of allergic reaction to show up in little ones, if they're trying something new, please be aware of this, it can be better to time it at least 3 hours before bed or a nap and when you're able to keep an eye on them for those 3 hours.  Please keep in mind that just because one toddler eats certain things without issue doesn't mean it's the same for everyone, we're all unique.  Also I've heard that sometimes an allergic reaction to some foods doesn't show up the first time, so please keep this in mind, and also it's a great idea to ask your doctor about allergic reactions or research it so you know what to do if one ever happens as well as strategies to help avoid things turning serious.

For people of any age, always be aware of possible allergic reactions, the warning signs, and what to do.  And surprisingly plenty of foods can interact with medications in strange ways so that can be something to talk with your doctor about as well before making any sudden changes to your diet.  Your doctor might have to adjust the dose of certain medications due to dietary changes.

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