Homemade Tomato Sauce

There is no getting away from it: kids love tomato sauce.

I never thought that I would be the parent who would turn to tomato sauce to get her child excited about a meal. I honestly thought I could keep my son away from the stuff until school-going age (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get my drift).

The reality, however, is that when my son stumbled upon some earlier this year, I witnessed a love affair that I knew – there and then – I would not easily intercept. Ever since that day, he will spot the shiny red bottle in any eating environment, with the precision of an eagle, demanding that he dips (or “dit” in his case) whatever he may be eating.

Tomato sauce actually provides a number of health benefits to growing little people, including its high lycopene content. Lycopene is an antioxidant, which means it protects the body’s cells from free radical damage, fighting off disease and cancer. Each serving also packs in a powerful punch of vitamin A for healthy skin, eyes, hair and immune functioning.

The problem with store bought tomato sauce is the sugar content (high glucose corn syrup and cane sugar): each tablespoon serving includes anywhere from 4 grams of sugar, which equates to roughly 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of sugar. According to The American Heart Association, children should be consuming no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar daily to avoid a weakened immune system, flu symptoms and tooth decay (amongst a host of other nasties). If your child is laying on the tomato sauce with most meals, over and above consuming sugar in other food and drinks, they are most probably exceeding this recommended daily limit.

Light tomato sauce options, whilst lower in sugar or sugar-free, are packed with artificial sweeteners: OK in moderation but not regarded as nutritionally substantial enough for the growing needs of children.

With this in mind, and knowing that some sugars are unavoidable in certain foods, I wanted to make my own sugar-free sauce that packs in the flavour, but without the unnecessary sugar. In this recipe I have used unsweetened apple sauce to add in a natural sweetness, but you could also use unsweetened pear, date or prune purèe.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 tin crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup Passata sauce
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce/purèe
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (1/2 large lemon)
  • 1 Tbs All Spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cracks black pepper

Method:

  • Bring all of the ingredients to the boil
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 45 minutes (until the mixture has reduced by half)
  • Remove from the heat
  • Remove the bay leaves
  • Purèe until smooth
  • Store in an airtight, glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one month

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

Mindful Parenting & Fussy Eating

With a two year old son of my own, I am no stranger to trying every trick in the book to get him to expand his repertoire of beige foods (chicken nuggets, fish fingers, potato, pasta, bread, bananas, cereal – you get the picture?) and embrace some colours (or maybe one other) of the rainbow in his diet.

Experts say that fussy eating is more common in children with heightened sensory sensitivity and it has been traced back to genetics. What’s important to note is that most picky eating habits kick in from about the age of two and generally disappear anywhere between three to six years old. Neophobia is the fear and anxiety associated with any new foods (most commonly experienced by two year olds) however, as they grow older and learn to cope better with the unknown, so their anxiety dissipates.

Since embarking on the journey of becoming a mommy and starting this blog, I have become hyper aware of how parents react to and deal with their children’s eating habits  – including my own!

This is a topic that I take especially seriously because parental behaviour around feeding times is one of the greatest influences on our little people’s relationship with food for the rest of their lives. We sometimes aren’t even aware that we are behaving in a certain way, or that our own bad habits now have a greater impact, and it requires taking a step back to consider how our actions (including all the little things we say) may be internalised in all the wrong ways by our children.

Now, while we have limited or no control over some of our  children’s challenges with food, we absolutely have some control over their relationship with food. Here are some tips to keep in mind the next time you serve something up to your little ones:

Never EVER force the issue 

‘Gently guiding’ a spoonful of food into your child’s clenched jaw is never ok – as tempting as it sometimes may seem to get them to just taste something. The consensus amongst feeding professionals however is that any type of extreme pressure or force is traumatising for a child. Sometimes the things that you may perceive to be minimal may, in fact, be severe for your child: your child’s reaction will guide you (tears, crying or vomiting are loud and clear red flags that your are causing extreme pressure for your child.) Watch for and listen to the signs, even when they aren’t able to yet vocalise how they feel.

Repeated exposure is recommended as the most effective tactic to overcome neophobia: a child should be exposed to the same food between 10-15 times, without any pressure to eat it. Feeding your child the things they actually like is a good thing (even if you feel a little boring) but do it in conjunction with exposing them to new foods. That means that persistence is key (even when your pet is the one eating the carrot and cucumber batons that have been artistically sprinkled all over the kitchen floor).

Ditch the labels and name-calling

Us parents are quick to find names for our kids, especially the ones we hear other parents talking about, leading us to quickly jump to the assumption that our child is/has something based on what we believe may be the ‘tell-tale symptoms’. If you label your child as a ‘fussy eater’ or any similar names – and then proceed to call them this in their presence – you are setting the scene for them to conform to these expectations.

Don’t get caught up in ‘the worry cycle’

 One sure way to elevate your child’s anxiety around mealtimes is a parent who notably stresses about how much their child is getting into his/her tummy. Now as parents, it is our natural instinct to worry about our children’s growth and development: that is our role as nurturers, after all. The problem is that – largely due to the endless amount of information at our fingertips at any given moment – we worry ourselves about our children’s challenges around eating, which may be totally unfounded. The result is some seriously anxious parents who, in turn, transfer that stress onto their kids, and so begins a vicious cycle of worry and anxiety for both the parent and the child (something that has been termed ‘The Worry Cycle’). Remember two little words: KEEP CALM.

Avoid shame, guilt and bribes

From the less severe  – “If you have one more bite of these yummy veggies, you can watch Paw Patrol”– to the slightly more so – “If you loved mommy you would eat these vegetables.” and to the downright extreme – “If you don’t eat your veggies, you’ll be punished.” – all of these ‘tactics’ are often  potentially damaging to your little one’s relationship with food for the remainder of their lives.

Whether to please you or to avoid punishment, you don’t want your child to learn to eat for all the wrong reasons: something that will no doubt stand in the way of them developing a healthy awareness of their own internal cues, now and later on in life.

Rely a little less on distractions

We are all guilty of it…turning on the TV or iPad to get your child to sit in their chair and taste the meal you desperately want them to like. Whilst we may believe that turning on a screen may get a few more bites in, what actually happens is that kids zone out: something that experts believe interferes with a child’s ability to tune into their own appetite in the long-term. Over and above this, children can actually become too distracted to eat in the moment. I have seen it, first hand, with my own son: he becomes so utterly transfixed by the screen that he is unable to focus on taking another mouthful of food (I’m convinced that if I got all dressed up in a Barney the Dinosaur suit, he wouldn’t even glance my way).

We are human and sometimes we turn to these distractions in sheer desperation but the point is everything in moderation: don’t make a habit of turning on the TV/iPad with every meal. Sit down together for real family interactions during mealtimes, keeping the distractions as the exception rather than the norm.

My two cents:

A simple rule that every parent should remember during mealtimes  – from picky eating experts Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin –  is to take a step back and remember their role: for the parent, it’s deciding when, where and what should be offered. For the child, it’s deciding whether and how much to eat. Pretty simple, no?

*If you are genuinely concerned that your child’s growth and development is suffering as a result of their restrictive diets, speak to your medical practitioner for some guidance.

*The above should never replace the advice of your GP, Paed or Nurse.

A Balanced Diet 101

I’m know I’m not the only mom out there who stresses constantly about whether my child is getting in all the right nutrients. This is then further compounded by those times when my son will refuse to eat anything other than toast, yoghurt and bananas. At twenty months, my son decided to stop drinking milk altogether. I have tried just about everything to tempt him to enjoy some milk with a meal, simply to get in more calcium, but it appears that no amount of cocoa powder is going to convince him otherwise. He has become a master at shaking his head profusely, whilst repeatedly saying the most defiant (and the cutest) ‘No’.

I know every parent has a story like this to share, and the concern that comes along with it: is my child getting enough of all the good stuff? 

With global child obesity rates and learning disorders resulting from poor nutrition on the rise, never has there been a better time to become more aware of the nutrients consumed by our little ones.

The American Association of Paediatric’s recommends a whole balanced diet for children, to ensure that they are getting in as many nutrients as possible, and that parents limit or avoid the empty calories found in processed and refined foods (not an easy feat when you have two doting grannies with treats on hand for every occasion).

Parents also need to steer clear of over-feeding or forcing their children to finish meals, and to rather offer regular healthy meals that will, in turn, teach their child about self-control and to self-regulate. Most importantly, children should be getting in a healthy dose of protein, whole-grains, fats, fruits and vegetables.

So you’re probably thinking that this is not exactly new news at all, and yet life gets busy and we tend to compromise on nutrients for convenience (no wonder why the Chicken Nugget Nation is a real thing!).

According to the British Nutrition Foundation the magic number(s) is 5 5 3 2:  that means 5 starchy foods, 5 fruits and vegetables, 3 dairy foods and 2 protein foods daily. They have provided the below guidelines for a toddler that should in no way confuse parents, but show you more or less what your child should be getting into their tummy on a daily basis. I have selected popular food choices but this does not cover every option around. It is simply a guideline. If your child is older than 3, then you have a good starting point to build on (remember that children under one should be consuming milk as their primary source of nutrients).

Starchy foods: an essential source of energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Opt for wholegrain and fortified choices wherever possible, and serve starchy food with, at least, every main meal. Choose 5 servings per day, where one portion is equivalent to:

  • 1/2 – 1 slice bread
  • 3 – 5 Tbs cereal
  • 2 – 4 Tbs cooked rice, cous-cous, pasta
  • 1 – 2 rice cakes
  • 1 – 3 Tbs mashed potato
  • 1/4 – 1/2 baked/ boiled potato
  • 2-4 potato wedges

Fruits and vegetables: one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre around. The good news is that if your child is not a big fan of veggies but loves fruit, they are still getting in enough goodness! Offer your child a fruit/veggie serving with each meal and in between for snacks. Fresh, frozen, canned (no sugar or salt) and dried varieties all count however dried fruit should be reserved to one snack serving per day due to the high sugar content. Choose 5 servings per day, where one portion is equivalent to:

  • 1/4 – 1/2 medium apple/ orange/ mango/ pear
  • 1/4 – 1 medium banana
  • 3 – 8 rasberries/ strawberries/ grapes/ blueberries
  • 1 – 3 dried apricot halves/ figs/ dates
  • 1/2 – 2 Tbs dried raisins/ cranberries
  • 2 – 4 Tbs canned fruit
  • 1/2 – 2 Tbs cooked squash/ greens/ sweetcorn/ green beans/ peas/ leeks/ spinach/ broccoli/ cauliflower/ baby marrow/ roasted vegetables
  • 1 – 3 cherry tomatoes/ button mushrooms
  • 2 – 6 carrot sticks

Dairy: an essential source of calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and B vitamins for energy. Children under two should only receive full-fat dairy options, and those older than two can be switched to low-fat dairy provided that they are eating well. Choose 3 servings per day, where one portion is equivalent to:

  • 100ml milk (cow’s milk/formula/breast milk/ calcium fortified non-dairy milk)
  • 1 – 3 Tbs cheese sauce (cooked with veg/ in a recipe)
  • 1 cheese string/ cheese triangle
  • 2 – 3 Tbs grated cheese
  • 1 pot yoghurt (125ml)
  • 2 small yoghurt tubes
  • 1 pot soya yoghurt/ dessert (calcium fortified)
  • 5 – 6 Tbs dairy-based dessert

Protein: the essential building blocks of our bodies. Your little one should be getting in at least 2 fish servings every week, where one is oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel). Choose 2 servings per day (or 3 for vegetarian diets) where one portion is equivalent to:

  • 1/2 – 1 slice beef/ turkey/ pork
  • 1/4 – 1 small fillet hake/ small fillet salmon/ burger patty
  • 1 – 2 fish fingers
  • 1/2 – 1.5 Tbs tinned tuna/ salmon/ sardines
  • 1 – 2 Tbs peanut butter/ hummus
  • 2 – 3 Tbs dhal/ chickpeas/ lentils/ baked beans/ kidney beans/ scrambled egg
  • 3 – 4 Tbs minced meat (beef/ ostrich/ lamb/ chicken/ turkey)
  • 1/2 – 1 boiled egg/ poached egg/ fried egg

For the full British Nutrition Foundation leaflet, download it here.

It’s easy to see how – if you child is eating a number of empty calories throughout the day through processed and refined foods – your little one may not be getting in the required amounts of quality nutrients to sustain their growth and developmental needs.

Remember that these habits need to start in the home: if you are setting an example of eating unbalanced meals when on-the-go and seldom sitting down to enjoy a healthy meal as a family, then it cannot be a surprise when your child starts demonstrating the same bad eating habits.

Our little people are depending on us to create healthy associations for them from the onset – to ensure that they have a happy relationship with food throughout their lives. and it all starts right here.

*The above should never replace the advice from your nurse, paed or GP.

Beef & Veg Lasagne

If your child is averse to munching on veggies at the best of times, and you are finding it increasingly difficult to get them into his or her little tummy, you aren’t alone.

I played around with a family favourite –  lasagne – to find a lip-smacking way to sneak in the veg and cram in the nutrients…all unbeknownst to my son!

If your family or child doesn’t eat red meat for any reason, then this recipe can also be made with chicken mince, tuna or just veg.

Although I used egg lasagne noodles in this recipe, you can really use any pasta of your choice (penne,  fusilli or farfalle could all work). A little trick I discovered is that the noodles don’t need to be pre-cooked, as long as they are coated in enough sauce!

Get creative with adding in different veggies, and process them as chunky or finely as your child will tolerate.

If your child is lactose-intolerant, go for lactose-free cheese options and substitute lactose-free/almond milk for the cow’s milk.

This recipe can be made ahead of time, refrigerated and then popped into the oven before serving. It also freezes extremely well: all you need to do is thaw it ahead of time and then bake it as below (you could also make extra mince and veg mixture, and then freeze that in individual portions to use at a later date).

This recipe makes around 12 portions.

What you’ll need:

  • 1kg free-range beef mince
  • 1.5 boxes egg lasagne sheets (roughly 350g)
  • 3 x tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin tomato purèe
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3-4 large leeks, finely chopped
  • 3-4 large carrots
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 large peppers (any colour)
  • 2 Tbs parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 tsp crushed/minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan

For the cheese sauce:

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups grated white hard cheese (mozzarella, gouda)
  • 4 heaped Tbs wholewheat flour
  • 1.5 litres milk
  • 3-4 cracks black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Method:

  • Heat the oven to 180°C
  • Combine the carrots, broccoli florets and peppers in a food processor and pulse until fine (about the same size as mince meat)
  • In a large pan heat 1 Tbs olive oil and garlic on a medium-high heat
  • Add the leeks and stir until softened
  • Add the mince, stirring to get rid of any large pieces
  • Once browned, add the vegetables and mix together, cooking for a further 5 minutes
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purèe, water, oregano and parsley
  • Turn up the heat and bring to a boil
  • Lower the heat to a medium heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes
  • In the meantime you can get started on the sauce

To make the cheese sauce:

  • Heat 1 Tbs olive oil on a medium heat
  • Add the flour, using a whisk to mix it together with the oil in the pan
  • Slowly add the milk, whisking the mixture constantly
  • Add the black pepper and the nutmeg
  • Allow the mixture to thicken (not allowing the mixture to catch in the pan, rather turn down to a low heat if needed)
  • When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (not too runny and not too thick) you can remove the pan from the heat completely and add in the cheese, whisking it into the mixture until smooth
  • Your sauce is now ready!

To assemble the lasagne:

  • Using a large oven-proof dish, start with 1/3 meat & veggie mixture, followed by a layer of noodles and then 1/3 of the cheese sauce. Repeat 3 times.
  • Sprinkle parmesan over the top.
  • Bake for 50 minutes, until browned and bubbling (if the top begins burning, turn the heat down)

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

Mushroom & Coconut Chicken

Food for thought: mushrooms are have been hailed as a superfood due to the impressive punch of nutrients found in each serving. By including mushrooms in your child’s diet, you are adding in a significant amount of B vitamins, fibre and, most importantly, selenium. Selenium is one of the most powerful antioxidants that is required by the body to fight off harmful free radicals. In addition, selenium has been linked to controlling blood glucose levels, and preventing brain nerve tissue deterioration and cancers. 

On a mission to come up with a tasty meal using the humble (and nutrient-dense) mushroom, this recipe is simple, ideal for cold, wintery days and can be dished up to the entire family (unless there are a few fussy eaters amidst the pack!).

The mushrooms work brilliantly with the flavour of the coconut milk, and the saucy consistency makes it ideal to serve over whole-wheat noodles, basmati rice, brown rice or even over mash. If you would prefer to keep this recipe dairy-free, then hold off on the cheese and use nutritional yeast flakes instead. Alternately, using cow’s milk and parmesan will be equally delicious. If your child has a soy allergy, then opt for tamari in place of the low-sodium soya sauce.

This recipe also freezes really well! I would however recommend freezing the chicken and mushroom mixture and then, once thawed, serving it with the fresh starch of your choice.

What you’ll need:

  • 1-2 packets chicken breasts (6-8 chicken breasts), cut into strips
  • 2 punnets mushrooms, finely chopped (any mushrooms will work)
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 heaped Tbs almond flour (or any wholewheat flour)
  • 2 heaped Tbs nutritional yeast flakes / grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbs olive oil for frying
  • 3 cracks black pepper
  • 1 Tbs low sodium soya sauce/tamari
  • 1/4 cup chicken/vegetable stock (low sodium is preferable)
  • Noodles/rice of your choice (wholewheat, brown or basmati is preferable)

Method:

  • Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat.
  • Brown the chicken strips for about 1-2 minutes on each side, then remove the chicken from the pan set the chicken aside.
  • Add the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil to the pan, followed by the garlic.
  • After a minute of frying the garlic, add in the chopped mushrooms, black pepper and soya sauce/tamari.
  • Cook out all the liquid from the mushrooms, until the mushrooms begin browning (around ten minutes).
  • Add back the chicken, followed by the stock, and the coconut milk.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn down the heat and allow the mixture to simmer on a medium heat setting for 5 minutes.
  • Add the flour and the nutritional yeast/parmesan and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the mixture thickens.
  • Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and set aside (the mixture will still thicken when off the heat).
  • Cook the noodles/rice according to the package instructions.
  • Serve the noodles/rice with the chicken mixture, with an extra sprinkling of parmesan/nutritional yeast flakes on top.
  • Makes 6-8 portions, depending on the age(s) of your child(ren).

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

Creamy Veggie Mash

I know I’m not only the only mommy out there who gets a hard time from my child when it comes to getting veggies into his mouth. He has become a master at tossing the steamed pieces of carrot and broccoli onto the floor  – that I have lovingly placed on his plate – for none other than our Bull Terrier to lap up.

My favourite secret weapon to cram in a number of veggies into my son’s diet, is through a trusted childhood favourite….mash. In place of refined white potatoes and heaps of butter, however, I combine a number of tasty flavours and nutritious ingredients, to ensure that each mouthful is packed with goodness.

What I love about mash recipes is that; mash can be served to children of all ages (starting from when little one’s are still on their first foods); you can get creative with any veggie combinations you choose; mash freezes fantastically; and you can serve mash up with just about any protein. I keep a supply in the freezer to ensure that I always have a healthy dose of veggies on hand, to serve up with the rest of my son’s meals.

For babies younger than 12 months, it is recommended to rather peel all fruits and vegetables, given that skins and peels can lead to tummy upsets in less developed digestive systems. If your child is a little older, you can keep the skins on for an added boost of nutrients. Remember to always wash all fruit and veggies thoroughly, even if you have bought organic produce.

You can use any milk in this recipe based on your child’s dietary needs. For children younger than two, it is recommended to opt for full-fat dairy whenever possible.

Tip: Every now and then I toss a handful of spinach/kale into this recipe for an added kick of calcium and iron.

Food for thought: orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables, as well as green leafy vegetables, are powerful sources of beta-carotene. This recipe contains an impressive kick of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A is necessary for healthy immune functioning, growth and development and for improved eyesight.

What you’ll need*:

  • 1.5 cups chopped pumpkin/butternut (skin removed)
  • 1.5 cups chopped sweet potato
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • Handful spinach/kale (optional)
  • 1 apple
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 Tbs olive oil/coconut oil
  • 2 Tbs milk

*These amounts are simply guidelines. There is no wrong or right with this recipe. Have fun and experiment with spices and ingredients and make it as runny, smooth or lumpy as your child likes!

Method (makes around 10-12 servings):

  • Steam the pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato and apple for around ten minutes, until soft.
  • Steam the spinach/kale for two minutes.
  • Combine all the ingredients into mixing bowl and purée until the desired consistency.
  • Serve with your choice of protein. For left-overs, dish out the remaining mixture into individual servings and freeze.

*The above may need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

Nutritional Yeast Flakes

This is something that I discovered when attending a vegan, raw food ‘cooking’ course in Cape Town a few months ago. For all the lactose-intolerant or dairy-intolerant little ones out there, this is one of the best ways to add a cheesy flavour to any savoury dish for your family.

Essentially, nutritional yeast flakes is the deactivated extract from yeast, and is harvested and dried to form a flakey ingredient that can be easily sprinkled into recipes. Because the yeast has been deactivated, there is no chance of nutritional yeast flakes contributing to any of the inflammatory issues that are associated with the commonly known ‘bad’ yeast Candida Albicans. In other words, nutritional yeast flakes offers none of the negative side-effects of other yeast strains, only goodness!

Each serving contains a powerful punch of vitamins, minerals and proteins: it contains nine out of the eighteen essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce, a daily dose of vitamin B, and a solid serving of fibre, iron and zinc. If you are worried that your child isn’t getting in enough protein, this is a smart and sneaky way to get that added boost of protein in!

For those who won’t combine meat and milk for religious or personal reasons, this is an excellent way to ensure that the amazing recipe you found doesn’t need to taste all that different to the way it was intended.

This is a truly brilliant way to create ‘cheesy’ dishes with an ingredient that is soya-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and low sodium. Sprinkle it into sauces, marinades, crust mixtures or directly sprinkle it over veggies, scrambled eggs, omelettes, soups, pastas and even popcorn!

You can find it at most health stores and it can be stored in an airtight container in a dark place for up to a year.

I’m a huge fan of this flavour-filled, nutrient-dense discovery!