Jazzy Spinach

Jazzy Spinach
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Green vegetables really are all they're chalked up to be.

Bursting with cancer-fighting phyto (plant-based) nutrients, as well as fibre, vitamin C, B vitamins like folate and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron (great for vegetarians!), green vegetables have been an integral part of many healthy ancient diets.

Sadly, the intake of green veggies in the West today is far from optimal, with debilitating health consequences. 

So what's the big deal about greens anyway? Can't we get all the same nutrients from 'tastier', more kid-friendly veggies? Not so fast. 

A recent study shed even more light on the benefits of green veggies, which contain an important type of sugar called sulfoquinorose. Complicated nomenclature aside, these SQ sugars are food for the good bacteria in our guts. A healthy gut means a healthy you - this makes gut-friendly greens even more critical in our diets. 

Getting kids to eat their greens, however, isn't always an easy task. 

We have likely tried and failed, facing vehement rejection. We may have occasionally snuck them into soups, stews, fritters and frittatas in an effort to get our tots to enjoy their umpteen benefits.

While there's nothing wrong with occasionally disguising veggies, I was determined to get my almost 4 year old son to embrace and celebrate greens in their natural, pure, unadulterated form, in order to set the stage for a lifetime of 'green veggie loving' (wishful thinking?).

And so, I played around with a bag of frozen spinach until I found a recipe that was a home run. I share it with you today in the hope that your kids and families will enjoy it as much as we have.

Here's to loving our greens! 

A Note On Spinach And Oxalates
Spinach and some other greens contain oxalic acid which reduces the absorption of calcium from that same food. As long as you are not eating boatloads of spinach daily or relying on it as your main source of calcium, this should not be an issue. For this reason I also suggest varying your greens. Kale, Swiss Chard and Collard Greens are all worth bringing into your rotation.

Serves a family of 3-4

1.5 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tomato, finely chopped
250 g / 8 oz of frozen spinach (fresh is fine too)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (adults only :)) 
salt to taste
squeeze of lemon juice

In a saucepan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle but not burn, about a minute. 

Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Add the turmeric and mix well until the spice opens up, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and sauté the mixture for 3 minutes. 

Stir in the frozen spinach and cover the pan with the lid for 5 minutes stirring the mixture every couple of minutes. This will speed up the thawing process. Take the lid off, lightly salt the spinach and sauté for 5 additional minutes. Add the cumin and coriander powders and sauté for 2-3 minutes until most of the water has evaporated. Check for salt and adjust seasoning. Shower with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Serve as a delicious and nutritious side dish. Layer onto a grilled cheese sandwich to make it ultra healthy or roll in a pita bread with hummus for the perfect, quick lunch. Stir into yoghurt for a cool summer side or serve on top of crackers as a snack. 

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

6 months+

No thanksgiving meal is complete without the quintessential autumn squash, sweetly named butternut <3. This spiced butternut squash soup, served as a starter, is sure to wake up your taste buds, revving them up for the feast that follows. Toddlers and kids will love it too for the generous sweetness and creaminess on offer. The crunch from the toasted pine nuts is a heavenly match to the luxurious, buttery quality of the soup. 

Science Corner
Butternut squash is not only delicious but alive with nutrients - carotenoids (that become vitamin A in the body), antioxidants, anti-inflammatory molecules, types of starches that aid in blood sugar regulation, B vitamins, including folate and surprisingly, a bit of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha linoleic acid, also a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Squash is abundant in winter and affordable so there really is every reason to make it part of your family table. Combined here with antioxidant-rich spices that regulate blood sugar, exhibit antibacterial effects  and boost digestion, to name a few of the benefits, this delicious and soul-warming soup is sheer health and deliciousness in a bowl. 

2 adult and 2 toddler servings

Note: Use the higher spice amounts if you like a more intensely flavourful version or the lower amounts for a more subtle taste
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 leek, white and light green parts, chopped
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 medium butternut squash peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato peeled and chopped
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 to 11/2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
1/8 cup pine nuts (optional)

In a pot for which you have a lid, heat the coconut oil on medium until shimmering. Add the leeks and sauté until translucent and softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the squash, sweet potato, ginger and stock and bring to a gentle boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the potato and squash are soft.

If garnishing with pine nuts, while the soup is cooking, heat a skillet over medium and toast the pine nuts until golden for 1 minute, shaking often to prevent burning. Set aside to cool. 

Uncover the soup. Stir in the cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander and salt to taste. Cook for another 3 minutes covered. Take the pot off the heat and alllow the soup to cool some. Transfer to a food processor or blend well using an immersion, hand held blender. Stir in the butter for added creaminess and sheen, top with a sprinkling of the toasted pine nuts and serve. Pretend not to be disheartened when toddler asks you to pick out all the 'white things'. It means more deliciousness for you! ;) 

You can also skip the salt and pine nuts and offer it to babies for a delicious and nutritious baby meal. 

Cinnamon Banana Oat Pancakes

Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
As discussed in a previous post, cinnamon has a plethora of science-backed health benefits like anti-diabetes, cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-Parkinson's and female hormone balancing activities - all in once spice, that's pretty darned remarkable. Oats contain a special kind of fiber called beta-glucan which has been shown to lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, boost immune function, stabilize blood sugar and even prevent breast cancer. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium which is critical for heart function. Creamy and naturally sweet, they contain fiber to promote digestion and are a 'PREbiotic' - food that feeds the good bacteria in your digestive tract. All of these nutritional powerhouses join forces with anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich berries and omega-3 and calcium-rich chia seeds in this delicious and decadent breakfast that is the perfect, sustainably energizing and nutritious way to start your tot's (and your) day. 

8 pancakes


For the pancakes
2 bananas
2 eggs
1 cup oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional, for an added health boost)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (preferable Ceylon as discussed previously here)
Butter or coconut oil for cooking

For the berry compote
1 cup frozen or fresh mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water

In a small saucepan, cook the berries, ginger and water over medium low flame for 10 minutes until the fruit is soft and mashable with a fork. While the compote is cooking, blend all the pancake ingredients except the butter / oil in a food processor into a smooth batter. Set aside. 

Turn the heat off the compote, stir in the honey and taste for sweetness, adding more honey if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and allow it to cool. 

In a skillet or non-stick pan, heat 1 teaspoon of coconut oil or butter over medium heat. Using a 1/4 cup measure, pour in the pancake batter and cook until it sets, 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for about a minute. Wipe the pan clean with a dish towel between pancakes to prevent burning. 

Serve the pancakes with a generous dollop of cooled berry compote. The compote is also wonderful with plain yoghurt or spread on buttered bread. 

Mouthwatering Mushroom Pizzas

Toddler, Kid, Adult

Mushrooms are a MEGA superfood and so earthy and delicious but sadly for this mama, toddler hates them. Determined to find a preparation that he will eat, I created these portobello pizzas with the mushroom as the base and my homemade veggielicious paprika pomodoro as sauce. When two whole 'pizzas' were inhaled in our first test, I knew we had a winner on our hands. 

Science Corner
Mushrooms are powerful regulators of our immune system, keeping unwanted inflammation at bay while simultaneously activating microorganism-fighting capability. As a result of their anti-inflammatory effects, mushrooms are protective against cancer, particularly breast and prostate cancers, and cardiovascular ailments, both diseases linked to high levels of unwanted inflammation. Mushrooms contains powerful anti-oxidants like selenium, manganese and zinc and also boost anti-oxidant enzyme function directly. They also contain ergothioneine, a compound that works as an antioxidant and prevents DNA damage. I once heard a cancer biologist say that a mushroom a day is all you need to keep cancer away! An oversimplification most likely but these earthy delights are worth incorporating into a healthy lifestyle regularly. 

2 toddler servings

4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper to taste
1.5 cups pomodoro (try my deliciously simple and ultra healthy recipe here)
Block of mozarella cheese sliced into 4-6 1/4 inch slices or grated cheese if you prefer
Chopped basil for garnish
Sweet paprika for sprinkling

Preheat the oven at 375F/180C.

Brush the mushrooms with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them stem side down on a roasting pan and roast for 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the oven and spoon in the pomodoro until the cavity is filled (about 2 tablespoons each mushroom). Place the mozzarella slices on top and place back in the oven for another 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly golden. Let the mushrooms cool a bit, sprinkle with chopped basil to humor yourself (toddler ALWAYS rejects the 'green things'), sweet paprika and enjoy! 

Cumin-y Refreshing Spinach Soup

As far as I'm concerned, kids can't eat too many green veggies! This cold and refreshing spinach soup has been a surprising hit with my toddler and also works beautifully on the family table. Serve it with a hot grilled cheese multigrain sandwich for a satisfying and nutritious lunch or summer supper. 

Science Corner
Spinach is one of the most nutritious veggies we can give our kids and families. It's rich in carotenoids (converted into vitamin A in the body), vitamins B, C, E, K and minerals like iron, magnesium, manganese and calcium although the calcium in spinach is poorly absorbed because of it's high oxalic acid content. One way around this is to boil the spinach (which we do here) to reduce the oxalate content. Combined with Greek yoghurt, digestion boosting and antioxidant rich cumin and lemon, which boosts the absorption of iron, this cool and refreshing spiced soup is yummy and healthy for all. 

2 adults and a toddler as a side dish or starter

5 cups spinach leaves
1 cup water for cooking the spinach
1 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste
1/2 lemon juiced
olive oil for drizzling
1 teaspoon fresh chopped coriander

Place the spinach leaves and water in a pot with a lid. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Puree extremely well in a food processor or using an immersion blender. Allow it to cool. If your toddler/kid is averse to texture, particularly shreds of spinach (mine is!), you can strain for a smoother soup texture or feel free to leave as is. 

Mix the yoghurt with the cooled spinach and stir in the cumin, salt, sugar and lemon. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and coriander (if your kid doesn't hate "green things") as a refreshing and nutritious starter or side. 

Spiced Semolina Porridge

12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

In the way that is typical of toddlers, my 2 year old has, out of the blue, boycotted his staple morning oatmeal. I am a big believer in a nourishing, warm bowl of porridge for breakfast, especially in the cooler months of the year, so I started rummaging around my pantry frantically for an alternate solution. Enter semolina! Made from ground durum wheat and yellowish in color, it's richer in iron and protein than wheat - having used it in the Lebanese Sfouf we shared recently, I had some lying around so decided to give it a go. It's been three days and it's all toddler wants. And naturally, he calls it 'Goldilock's Porridge' <smile, wink, heart slightly melting>

2 toddler servings

1/3 cup fine semolina
1 cup full fat milk plus 1/2 cup water 
1 1/2 cups almond milk
2 cardamom cloves lightly smashed to expose seeds 
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons maple syrup 

Add the semolina, milk, water and spices to a pot and bring to a gentle boil stirring constantly about 3 minutes. Once starting to bubble, reduce heat to low and stir for another 30 - 60 seconds until the porridge is as thick as you like. Transfer to a bowl, add the maple syrup and serve. If it gets too thick by the time it cools, add a splash of milk. Using this as a base, you can stir in raisins, chia seeds, slivered almonds - the list is endless. Happy breakfasting!