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!

Herb & Parmesan Crusted Salmon

It’s no secret that omega fatty acids are one of the most important sources of fuel for growing little people. DHA and EPA are the most optimal sources of omegas (needed for brain development, emotional development and concentration), and are abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna. Although plant-based oils, which are high in omega 6 – including avocado, flaxseed, soy and canola oil – offer a number of health benefits and are converted to DHA and EPA by the body, it remains far more beneficial to consume fatty fish sources when it comes to brain development.

So, exactly how much of this fatty acid should children be consuming?

Experts recommend at least two servings of fish per week, where fatty fish is preferable. If you plan on giving your child more than two servings a week, then it is best to avoid high mercury options (high levels of mercury can be toxic to the body when consumed in high quantities).

In an attempt to get my son to eat more salmon, and the omega 3’s that come along with it, I wanted to make a delicious salmon dish that would get him excited at the prospect of eating fish. The parmesan creates a subtle saltiness in this dish and the crumbled feta adds some creamy texture. Although I opted for almond flour because it adds a delicious flavour to the herb crust (amongst an added kick of omega 6), wholewheat flour could totally work in this recipe too.

What I really love about this recipe is that it is a healthy and flavour-packed dinner option that the entire family could enjoy. If your child is lactose intolerant or has a dairy allergy, then look out for lactose-free or dairy-free alternatives (a fantastic one is Nutritional Yeast Flakes that can be found in most health stores, and can replace the parmesan in this recipe).

What you’ll need:

  • 4 small-medium fillets fresh salmon
  • 1 handful fresh mint
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • 3 heaped Tbs parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 heaped Tbs almond flour
  • 2-3 cracks black pepper
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs water
  • 1/4 cup feta, drained, crumbled

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180°C.
  • Place the salmon fillets on a greased baking tray.
  • Combine the rest of the ingredients, apart from the feta, in a food processor and process until semi-smooth.
  • Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto each salmon fillet and spread to coat the surface (you will need roughly a heaped tablespoon per fillet).
  • Sprinkle over the crumbled feta.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.
  • Serve with wholewheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potato fries or vegetables of your choice.

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

*Always double-check fish for bones before feeding it to your child.

*Never leave your child unsupervised while eating.

Superfood Chocolate Mousse

As my son nears the age of two, I am becoming more and more aware that developing a sweet tooth is a real thing. No longer can I convince him to eat the fresh strawberry or organic rice cracker placed in front of him, when anything loaded with sugar is near in sight. Although I try and keep sugary treats to a special or weekend occasion, it is a difficult thing to keep under control (especially as a full-time working mommy who relies on a number of helping hands to feed my boy while I’m at work). There has never been a better time to get creative with sweet treats that are totally delicious, healthy and loaded with nutrients.

This recipe is truly scrumptious and ideal for vegan and lactose-intolerant children. In fact, it’s ideal as a super-healthy dessert for any child of any age (unless your child has a food allergy to any of the ingredients of course). Although I chose to use almond milk  -a flavour packed alternative to dairy – you could really use any milk of your choice.

What I love most about this recipe is that it makes use of 3 superfoods for growing little people:

  • Avocado: the superfood that needs no introduction, packed with omega fatty acids for healthy brain development, amongst a multitude of vitamins, minerals and fibre for healthy functioning. Using avocado in vegan dessert recipes is a smart and wholesome way to create a creamy and silky texture to sweet treats in place of dairy.
  • Cocoa powder:one of the most flavour-filled superfoods around, cocoa is packed with flavonoids – the compound associated with lowering cholesterol and promoting optimal heart and oral health – vitamins, minerals and fibre. It adds a deliciously, bold flavour to desserts, smoothies, yoghurt, and even to oats or porridge. Opt for unsweetened and organic varieties where possible to maximise the amount of antioxidants in each serving, without the unnecessary sugar. Because of the high content of caffeine-like compounds found in cocoa (theobromine) you’ll want to limit the amount you pass on to your little one (everything in moderation!)
  • Cinnamon: this nutritious powerhouse has been proven to control blood-sugar, which means less chance of your little monkey’s sugar crashing after eating (it is therefore an ideal addition to any glucose-intolerant/diabetic diet). It’s a healthy way to add in flavour to a number of different meals and snacks from porridge and oats in the morning to yoghurt, baking and even in sweet vegetable recipes (pumpkin, carrots, butternut and sweet potato pair brilliantly).

The best part about this recipe is that you can whip this up in a matter of seconds, without any cooking or refrigerating time needed (for warmer weather you can choose to serve this chilled by popping it into the fridge for 30 minutes before serving). The banana adds a natural sweetness to this recipe, so the honey could be left out for children younger than one.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 ripe, medium-large banana, skin removed
  • 1 ripe, medium avocado, pip and skin removed
  • 1 Tbs sugar-free nut butter
  • 2 Tbs almond milk
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs honey

Method:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process for 10-20 seconds or until silky smooth.
  • For an added boost of antioxidants, serve with fresh berries of your choice.
  • Enjoy!

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

*Never leave your child unsupervised while eating. 

Oat Crunchies

Some recipes remind us of childhood and, for me, this is one of them. I have vidid memories of my mother serving these babies up with afternoon tea in the garden: they’re a comforting taste of sweet and oaty goodness.

Constantly on the look out for healthy snack ideas for my son (ones that won’t land up being fed to my Bull Terrier after being called ‘Kaka’), I wanted to try my hand at making my own scrumptious version of the classic oat crunchie… but with a healthy twist.

Coconut oil has a number of excellent health benefits for growing little people, and that’s why I used coconut oil in this recipe in place of butter. Having said that, if you prefer butter then that could totally work too.

I have opted for a mixture of wholewheat and coconut flour in this recipe: wholewheat flour is packed with fiber and vitamins that are not found in the white variety. Coconut flour is a fantastic source of fibre and protein, and it adds a delicious flavour to any recipe. It is also an ideal alternative to wheat-based flour for gluten intolerant children. If your child is gluten intolerant, then simply substitute the wholewheat flour with additional coconut flour or even almond flour.

For additional texture, fibre and natural sweetness, I added in some dried fruit that becomes totally delicious once it caramelizes in the oven. I used chopped dried apple and dates but you could use any dried fruit you prefer (the younger your child, the smaller these pieces should be).

Although I have specified 30 minutes for baking, each oven is different and the mixture can dry out and burn quite quickly. I would advise checking on it every five minutes after the 20 minute mark.

If you are planning on serving them as biscuits, then you’ll need to cut the mixture into squares as soon as it comes out of the oven, before it cools.

What I love most about this recipe is that you can either serve the biscuits ‘straight up’ or you can crush them to create the most irresistable muesli/crumble to serve with yoghurt and fruit for breakfast (allow an additional 5-10 minutes baking time for the muesli/crumble). Either way, biscuits or muesli can be stored in an airtight container and kept in the pantry for up to three months.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup wholewheat flour
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 cup diced dried fruit of your choice (chopped into small pieces).
  • 1.5 cups coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup honey/maple syrup

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 160°C
  • Combine the flour, oats, coconut flour, bicarbonate soda, dried fruit pieces, cinnamon and vanilla essence in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
  • Place the honey/maple syrup and the coconut oil in a sauce pan on the stove at a medium heat.
  • The coconut oil and honey/maple syrup mixture will begin turning to liquid, stir and once it begins bubbling, remove it from the heat (the mixture should be a runny glue-like consistency).
  • Pour the coconut oil and honey/maple syrup mixture into the large mixing bowl, covering the other ingredients.
  • Using clean hands, combine until you have a crumbly mixture.
  • Place the mixture onto a medium-sized, greased oven tray and pat it down using your hands (ensuring you have about a 3cm-4cm thick, evenly spread mixture).
  • Place the oven tray into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and cut into squares using a sharp knife.
  • Allow to cool before serving.

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

*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.

Healthy Snacking 101

The American Association of Paediatrics recommends 2-3 healthy snacks per day for little ones  i.e.: one in the morning, one mid-afternoon and possibly one before bedtime.

In a recent report published, 86% of toddlers consume some type of sweetened beverage, dessert, sweet or salty snack in a day, and that they are more likely to consume these culprits than whole fruit and vegetables. This isn’t exactly surprising if you stop and take note of the types of snacks mamas are dishing out at play dates, in lunch boxes and when on-the-go.

Snack time doesn’t need to mean rolling out the red carpet for the processed, sugary or salty treats: it needs to be viewed as a time for your child to meet their daily nutritional requirements. To ensure your child is getting in the recommended 5 starch, 5 fruit and veg, 3 dairy and 2 protein portions daily, you need to keep your fridge and pantry packed with healthy snacks to tide your little monkey over between meals.

Here are my (and my son’s) top 10 favourite healthy snack foods:

  1. Mashed avocado/ guacamole: by far one of the most popular items in our fridge at home! Not only is this superfood crammed with goodness for growing little people, but it makes for an easy snack without much preparation required. Packed with unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and fibre, eating avocado means that your child is getting in all the building blocks needed for a healthy heart, developing brain and nervous system. Serve it it as a smooth/chunky dip for your little one to dip other healthy foods into. Your child will love the novelty of being able to dip, making snack time exciting (even if a little messy!).
  2. Hummus / bean dip: another low-sodium and sugar-free snack that makes for a healthy and nutrient-packed dipping food. Beans in general are a fantastic source of healthy fats, fibre, protein and carbohydrates for little people. Make your own with any bean/lentil of your choice, by pureeing soaked/cooked/tinned varieties with a splash of olive oil, garlic/ a squeeze of lemon juice and seasoning until the desired consistency.
  3. Cheese: another brilliant source of dairy in your child’s diet and something that always seems to go down well (unless your child is lactose intolerant, that is). For children over 2, it is recommended to rather opt for light-coloured, pasteurized, low-fat (not fat free) varieties given that they no longer need all the additional fat in their diets that was needed when they were babies. Try low-fat cream cheese, low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan. Serve on wholegrain crackers or rice cakes, or as slithers for a quick and healthy finger food amidt the activities. Remember that the more processed the cheese, the more additives and preservatives hiding inside, so always compare food labels (the longer the list of ingredients and the more ingredients you don’t recognise= more processed).
  4. Pieces of fruit and veggies: organic, fresh produce, loaded with vitamins and fibre, is still the healthiest way to enjoy fruit and veggies (versus juice or dried fruit). Dried fruit should be limited to no more than once per day due to the high sugar content. Veggie battons can be steamed for easier eating, and then served with a variety of healthy dips to keep things exciting. To ensure that the fruit or veg you are giving you little one has the most nutrients possible, have a look at some guidelines on preparing and storing baby food.
  5. Pâté: packed with flavour and simple to whip out the fridge, pâté can be served as a spread or dip. Mix it up with different types: liver, tuna salmon, egg or even veg. Liver pâté is only recommended for children older than one. Remember that whilst liver is a very wholesome food with a high vitamin A content, too much of it can be a bad thing. Rather limit liver servings to once a week.
  6. Wholegrain rice cakes or crackers: containing more vitamins, minerals and fibre compared to the white and nutrionally empty variety, it is recommended to opt for wholegrain snack options wherever possible. Ensure you have a pantry supply of these good-for-you items to serve with delicious spreads or toppings, or when on the go. Store in an air-tight container to lock in the freshness.
  7. Home made baked treats: whilst the store bought kind is tempting for us time-strapped mommies, by making your own baked treats at home means that there is a better chance of the good stuff going into every serving. Instead of sugar and additives, you can get creative with so many healthy alternatives (and you can even sneak some veggies in too!). If your child has a food intolerance, you have better control over what is going into their little body.
  8. Sugar-free nut butter: healthy and convenient, nut butters can be served with apples, celery, crackers or toast fingers. The American Association of Paediatrics recommends it as a food to offer to fussy eaters (unless they have a nut allergy) because it has been found that children are more likely to trial a new food if it has been dipped in nut butter! Opt for the sugar-free variety and mix it up with different types (peanut, almond, macademia and cashew), you’ll have a fantastic protein source on-hand in a matter of seconds.
  9. Boiled eggs: super easy to keep in the fridge and serve with ease, without any additional fat or oil required to prepare them. Each egg contains 6 grams of protein, which equates to just under half of your child’s daily protein requirements. An excellent source of vitamin D and B12, choline, amino acids and omegas for healthy development. Always ensure that eggs are well done or hard boiled, and store them for no longer than a week in the refrigirator (upeeled).
  10. Yoghurt: a delicious and healthy way for your child to get in their daily dairy requirement (one 125ml pot of yoghurt is the equivalent of one dairy serving). Opt for the unsweetened, plain kind to bypass up to 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving in sweetened yoghurts, and get creative with delicious flavour combinations and refreshing creations: smoothies, fruit lollies and parfaits to name a few. If your child has a dairy allergy then opt for soya yoghurt that has been fortified with calcium.

Tip: Remember to always offer your little one their snack with water (or diluted fruit juice) to ensure that they are getting in plenty fluids throughout the day.

Keep a look out for some inspirational recipe ideas using the healthy ingredients mentioned!

*The above information should never replace the advice of your GP, paediatrician or nurse.