Tuesday Timesaver: Cheesy Veggies in 20 Minutes

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Last weekend while we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, I hung out my cousin Tracey. I’ve always adored Tracey but now that we’re both moms we’re even closer. At one point Tracey mentioned that her 2-year-old son Ethan has become a pickier eater as he’s gotten older. Mason will eat just about anything right now but it’s entirely possible that he’ll follow in his big cousin’s footsteps. Many kids turn into picky eaters as toddlers and the boys could be brothers with their blonde hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. (Watching them play together made me yearn to follow in Berit’s footsteps and try for #2!) Tonight I came up with a super easy veggie side dish that I think both boys will love. It’s a medley of cooked veggies tossed in a homemade cheese sauce. I chopped up the veggies then stirred together the cheese sauce as they were cooking. So simple and you can also puree it if your babe isn’t eating chunky food yet. The entire dish came together in just 20 minutes. I’d love to hear what you think if you try it out. What are your go-to side dishes?

Cheesy Veggies

Ingredients

Large carrot
2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli, stems removed
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
Shredded cheddar cheese
Milk, formula, or breastmilk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Directions

1. Wash veggies. Peel carrot and chop into tiny pieces. Chop broccoli into tiny pieces, removing stems.

2. Fill a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat until bubbles are soft. Cook carrots and broccoli for 10 minutes or until tender. Add peas to the water for the last 5 minutes.

3. As the veggies are cooking, prepare cheese sauce. Set aside to cool.

4. Drain veggies and rinse in cold water. Pat dry with a paper towel to remove excess water.

5. Combine veggies and cheese sauce in a medium-size bowl. Mix well until veggies and sauce are combined. To puree, dump it all in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

6. Divide veggies into 2 ounce portions and freeze leftovers for up to 3 months.

Yield: 8 two-ounce side dish portions

Tuesday Timesaver: Baby-Friendly, Fresh Tomato Sauce in 15 Minutes

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We dig fresh tomatoes in our household and now is the best time to enjoy them:  Peak season for harvesting tomatoes in most areas is late July to early September. Mason enjoys raw tomatoes chopped and drizzled with olive oil so I thought he would enjoy tomato sauce on veggies or pasta, or as a base for chicken and brown rice mixed together. I wanted something very simple so I tried out the Fresh Tomato Sauce published in the August issue of Better Homes and Gardens (I’m the magazine’s senior digital food editor but I didn’t develop the recipe). I liked that the recipe only has 5 ingredients — that way if Mason didn’t like it I wouldn’t feel like I had wasted a lot of money on groceries. It’s also fast to make; you can cook it in 3 minutes in your microwave or 5 t0 7 on your stovetop. I made one batch of plain sauce and a second batch with veggies. You’ll find the basic recipe and veggie mix-ins below. Mason loved both variations — hope your babe enjoys it too. Let us know what you think. Share your top tomato sauce recipe, or dish on your babe’s fave way to eat tomatoes!

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Ingredients
3 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. packed brown sugar (optional)
1 tsp grated ginger (optional)

To add veggies:
1/4 cup each of chopped spinach, shredded carrot, and shredded zucchini

Directions

Place tomatoes, onion, and ginger in microwave-safe bowl; sprinkle with vinegar and brown sugar. Cover loosely. Micro-cook on high (100% power) for 3 minutes or until skins burst and tomatoes are soft, stirring once. (Stovetop directions:  Simmer 5 to 7 minutes in a medium saucepan or until skins burst and tomatoes are soft.) Serve warm or chilled.

Tuesday Timesaver: Brown Rice in 90 Seconds

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Brown rice is a healthy, easy way to get babes used to food with texture as they transition from smooth purees to chunkier purees to finger foods. I use brown rice to make Mason’s fave cheesy casserole with peas and it’s a great side with so many dishes, including veggie-filled meatballs, baby cheese sauce, chicken-apple soup, and roast chicken. Rice is certainly a snap to make but I was delighted to discover this whole-grain brown rice that heats up in the microwave in 90 seconds — perfect for those nights when I’m really tight on time.  It’s all-natural and it packs 5 grams of protein per serving. The caveat is that it has more sodium than the boil-in-a-bag variety from Uncle Ben’s, but Mason only eats about 2 ounces at a time so the amount of sodium that he’s getting per serving is still very low. We generally have four Mason-size servings left so I freeze the leftover rice. It thaws overnight in the fridge and keeps in the freezer for up to three months. What are some of your fave ways to serve rice to your babe?

Tuesday Timesaver: Homemade Cherry Applesauce in 18 Minutes


One of our fave parts of summer is all the fresh produce. This summer we’re especially loving cherries, one of this year’s “in” ingredients according to trendspotters at the annual Fancy Foods Show, which took place in Washington, DC, last week. Mason first tried and enjoyed cherries in oatmeal. When I picked up a carton of cherries at the market last Thursday, I decided to combine some with organic Gala apples to make cherry applesauce. In addition to all the fiber from the apples and vitamins from both fruits, the cherries pack a powerful punch of antioxidants. The applesauce still tastes like applesauce but with a slight hint of cherry and it has a gorgeous rosy color. I cooked and pureed the rest of the cherries to make cherry yogurt (2 ounces of cherry puree + 3 spoonfuls of full-fat Greek yogurt). I made cinnamon-spiced applesauce with the rest of the apples.

Of course I could have just gone to the store to buy the cherry applesauce but the brand my store carries has 17 grams of sugar and 15 milligrams of sodium. No thanks. If there were an all-natural brand at my store and I were to walk there  to buy it — I live in New York City and never drive  — it would take 30 minutes round-trip, plus I’d have to haul Mason in his stroller. It only took 18 minutes to whip up the cherry applesauce after Mason went to bed (I already had the fruit on hand as part of our summer staple). I felt great knowing that the vitamin-rich applesauce I was going to feed Bug the next morning was totally natural — and that I saved time making it. Does your babe like applesauce? If so, do you mix it with other fruit?


Homemade Cherry Applesauce

Ingredients

10 fresh cherries
2 Gala apples

Directions

1. Wash cherries, remove pits, and slice in half. Set aside.
2. Wash, peel, core, and dice apples. Fill a medium saucepan halfway full with water. Bring water to a boil then reduce heat until the bubbles are very soft. Add apples and cook for 9 minutes; add cherries and cook both fruits together for 3 more minutes.
3. Drain and rinse the fruit under cold water. Puree for a smooth texture or mash with a potato masher for a chunkier texture. Makes about 10 ounces.
4. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to 3 months.

Cherry Puree

Ingredients

Fresh Cherries

Directions

Wash cherries, remove pits and slice in half. Fill a medium saucepan halfway full with water. Bring water to a boil then reduce heat until the bubbles are very soft. Cook cherries for three minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Puree for a smooth texture or mash with a potato masher for a chunkier texture. Freeze in 2-ounce portions for up to three months.

Cinnamon-Spiced Applesauce

Ingredients

4 Gala apples
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Water

Directions

Wash, peel, core, and dice apples. Fill a medium saucepan halfway full with water. Bring water to a boil then reduce heat until the bubbles are very soft. Cook apples until tender (about 12 minutes). Puree until smooth, adding in cinnamon halfway through.  Add water if needed. Makes 16 ounces. Freeze leftovers for up to three months.

Tuesday Timesaver: Homemade Mac 'n' Cheese in 1 Minute

Eating_Macaroni2Best for Babies 10+ Months

OK, you do have to do a bit of work in advance but I’m not kidding: You can have multiple servings of homemade mac ‘n’ cheese in less time than it takes to make it from a box. The key is to make a batch ahead and freeze it in single-serving portions.  When you’re ready to serve it pop a serving in the microwave, heat for 45 seconds to one minute (depending on how big the serving size is), and boom! Rich and creamy mac is ready for your babe’s dinner. Sure, you’ll spend a bit of time upfront but you save way more time night to night by making it ahead. This trick is one of my fave timesavers for busy nights and mac ‘n’ cheese freezes really well, so it’s a no-brainer. I serve the cheesy pasta with cooked and dice veggies and fruits and some yogurt and Mason has a well-rounded dinner in minutes. Sometimes I even chop up veggies into tiny pieces and hide them in the pasta. If your babe isn’t quite in the finger food stage, you can also mash up the pasta and cheese sauce or even puree it. Here’s our mac ‘n’ cheese recipe (that’s Mason flashing a mouthful of it, above). Try it out and let us know what you think, or share your fave mac ‘n’ cheese recipe with us.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Elbow macaroni noodles
1/3 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup milk*

 

Directions

1. Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool slightly. Set aside.

2. Prepare cheese sauce; we like the basic one from Annabel Karmel’s Top 100 Baby Purees: Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour to make a smooth paste, and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the milk, bring to a boil, and cook for a few minutes over low heat until thickened and smooth. Stir in the grated cheese until melted. (Recipe makes 8 ounces of sauce.)

3. Toss pasta with cheese sauce. Freeze extras in single-serving portions for up to three months.


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Tuesday Timesaver: Frozen Veggies & Fruits


Use frozen veggies and fruits instead of fresh. It’s that simple if you’re looking for a shortcut. You don’t have to wash frozen veggies and fruits, and many of them don’t need to be chopped (think broccoli florets, corn, and spinach) or peeled (think peaches and plums). Frozen veggies and fruits don’t spoil before you have a chance to prepare them. You can still go organic if you’re shopping in the freezer case instead of the produce section of your supermarket, and you’ll save money going frozen instead of fresh in winter. Additionally, frozen fruits and veggies might be more nutritious than fresh, according to an article published by EatingWell.com, because fruits and veggies are frozen at their peak ripeness when they’re most nutrient-rich. (This assertion was also supported by a study that was released by the UK-based Institute of Food Research last March.)

As an aside, I avoid canned produce, generally. In some cases, such as green beans, it can have much higher levels of sodium than fresh or frozen. And fruits are oftentimes packed in a heavy sugary syrup. If you’re going to go the canned route, be sure to check sodium levels first and buy fruit that’s packed in water, not sugar.

Of course, I’m not advocating that you give up fresh veggies and fruits for good. For anyone who likes to cook, there are few things more pleasurable than a lazy Sunday afternoon at the farmer’s market in search of seasonal gems. Furthermore, if you’re buying fruits and veggies locally chances are they’ve just been picked and the produce is still nutrient-rich. I’m just saying that if you’re tight on time (and what mom isn’t?) there are distinct advantages to going frozen, at least some of the time.

I go both ways. I love chopping veggies and fruits, and chilling at the farmer’s market, so I purchase fresh produce every week — but my freezer is also packed with frozen veggies, especially green beans, peas, peaches, broccoli, and asparagus. I puree both frozen and fresh produce, and I chop and steam both types of produce for healthy finger foods. For my money (and my time), cooking with both fresh and frozen produce is the way to go.

Editors Note: Oops, I goofed when I scheduled this post so this week’s Tuesday Timesaver is coming out on Wednesday! Mommy brain:)

Tuesday Timesaver: Chicken for a Week

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Best for Babies 8+ Months Old

Mason adores rotisserie chicken. Adores it. We first discovered his passion for it while we were at a friend’s house. Chris was eating takeout roast chicken and he broke off a few pieces and gave them to Bug. Mason is not one to go out of his way to feed himself — the child still refuses to hold his own bottle and you know about our sippy cup woes — so I was amazed when he stuffed the chicken in his mouth as soon as it hit his tray. No coaxing required. And then he reached for more! Finally, a healthy finger food more substantial than puffs and easier to pick up than squishy bits of banana or avocado.

Inspired, I picked up an organic rotisserie chicken on the way home from work last night. At home, I cut up the whole chicken and removed the skin. Then I removed the meat from the bones, shredded it into thin, short strips and divided the chicken into two-ounce portions. One portion went in the fridge for Bug’s lunch today and the remaining six went in the freezer for later. Seven portions of a healthy protein for just over $1 per serving (in New York City) — and the entire process only took about 15 minutes!

I loved this chicken shortcut because it was healthy and it saved time. It was also so inexpensive! Of course, you can save even more money by roasting your own chicken at home, which I often do, but last night time was more important to me than saving a few bucks. (Mason’s affinity for roast chicken also means no more pureeing chicken, thank God). You can stretch this timesaver to cover your entire family too. If Chris weren’t out of town, I would have whipped up this Dijon-crusted variation with Brussels sprouts for us (it’s one of our fave chicken recipes), then frozen the leftovers for Mason. Dinner doesn’t get much easier than that!

What are your favorite dinnertime shortcuts?

 

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*This post is the first in my new weekly series about saving time and money on eats for your babe. Hope you enjoyed it! If there’s a topic you’d love to hear about, please let me know.

 

Top photo: Evan Sung, Parents.com