Keeping the Whole Family Happy

One of the reasons “Zoë’s Kitchen” was born was because I was tired of a turned up nose every time dinner time came around. It’s been a wonderful project to have both of my girls more involved in the preparation of dinner and they do appreciate the food more.

However, I still hit a wall when I try to serve them some kind of salad. They don’t do lentils in any form, barley is a no-no unless it’s in a soup and beets are way too brightly coloured to be sensible food (don’t talk to me about brightly coloured crayons, I don’t have an answer to that).

Still, I refuse to stop making salads. I know how important it is for the girls to see what we eat and enjoy and their tastes will develop as they grow older. In the meantime, I have to include something on the table that they will like with the ultimate goal being able to sit and enjoy dinner with the whole family without having to get up. Haven’t achieved it 100% yet but ever hopeful!

Tonight’s dinner was Barley and Lentil Salad with Beets. It’s a one-pot sustaining dish that is yummy but the girls, I know, wouldn’t touch it. So I defrosted some soup I had in the freezer and served it alongside a basket of bread. Following the principles that Ellyn Satter outlines in her books, it’s important to have something on the table that everybody will eat. Even if it is bread – be patient and the bread will become boring and the interest for the salad will pique. I’ve seen this happen in my older daughter – who will now venture into a green salad – but that’s not to say I wasn’t doubtful along the way. It’s hard to imagine, but rest assured – it will!

Meanwhile, the Lentil and Barley Salad was delicious. It wasn’t based on a strict recipe – as salad so isn’t but it’s something like this:


1 cup pot barley, cooked*
1 cup lentils, cooked*
1 cup cubed beets, cooked*
1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup sliced red onion
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1/2 fennel, chopped (optional)
3 miniature sweet peppers, alternative colours, chopped
2 cups shredded arugula
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
6oz chopped goat cheese

Salad Dressing:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp mustard
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
1/8 cup flax oil (can substitute with extra-virgin olive oil)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Set your ingredients out so everything is ready to mix together.

Set your ingredients out so everything is ready to mix together.

Always keep an eye on toasting nuts. Pine nuts can go from pale to burnt in seconds

Always keep an eye on toasting nuts. Pine nuts can go from pale to burnt in seconds

In a stainless steel skillet over a medium heat, brown pine nuts, then set aside to cool.









I love my Magic Bullet for making dressings.

I love my Magic Bullet for making dressings.

Make salad dressing using a blender or chopping all ingredients finely and shaking vigorously in a mason jar. Set aside.

Chop vegetables (carrot, celery, fennel if using, onion and peppers). Set aside in a small bowl. Prepare torn arugula and cilantro and set aside.

Mix cooled barley and lentils together in a large bowl. Pour in enough dressing to coat and flavour ingredients. Add in cubed beets and mix until pink hue spreads evenly. Add in pine nuts, carrot, celery, onion, peppers and cilantro.

Distribute salad on a serving platter and sprinkle crumbled goat cheese over top.


Colourful, nutritious and delicious salad.

Colourful, nutritious and delicious salad.


Note: Flavour intensifies over time so make sure you save some for tomorrow’s lunch. These types of salads are even better the next day.

* Cook barley in salted water for 45 minutes, then drain. Cook lentils until soft (30-40 minutes) in salted water, drain. Scrub beets and roast with skins in 400ºF oven for approx 1 hour. Let cool slightly before peeling and chopping.


An alternative to juicing

Carrots, Beets, Apple

I’ve been wanting a juicer for a long time. But I have neither the budget nor the counter space to accommodate one. So I continue to pretend it doesn’t matter because I have my blender and make plenty of green smoothies in it.

I realized tonight that as I looked a beet, some carrots and an apple on my counter (3 very popular juicing ingredients), that I could grate them with the grating attachment on my food processor (you can also do it by hand if you have the patience).

Homemade coleslaw is the bomb. And so, so, so much better for you and tastier than the store bought stuff. Make it at least an hour before you want to eat it and all the raw vegetables soften up, sweeten up together and are so yummy. Probably better than a juice!

Food Processor Coleslaw

This is  my favourite coleslaw recipe but feel free to cut out the red cabbage and bump up the beets and carrots.

Coleslaw Recipe

What’s Cooking? Sweet Potato and Pear Soup

The LCBO isn’t just about booze, it has a great magazine and website with hundreds of great recipes. Most are designed for entertaining, since that is what the magazine is all about but I have some favourites I use everyday.

This soup is amazing. Every member of my family loved it. I don’t make it exactly as the website lists it, mine is adapted.

Here’s the original:

This is my version. I feel the maple syrup makes it too sweet and it’s creamy enough without the cream.

Sweet Potato and Pear Soup

1 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
¼ cup chopped carrot
¼ cup chopped celery
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 pears, peeled and diced
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
5 cups chicken broth (low sodium carton or homemade)
2 tsp lime juice or to taste
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

In a pot, heat butter or olive oil on medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add carrot and celery and sauté for 1 minute. Add sweet potatoes, pear and thyme and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add paprika and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until sweet potato is soft.

Puree in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pot. Add lime juice.

Simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into individual bowls and add swirl of cream (if adding) and a few parsley leaves.

Soup can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.
Serves 8.
Recipe adapted from LCBO Holiday Dinner

Toppings for Greens

We all need greens in our diet but it’s hard when you struggle to eat them. Adding toppings can totally change the flavour so you can really enjoy your food and benefit from these wonderful vegetables at the same time.

Steam the greens for 2 minutes, drain them and toss them with any of these toppings:

– Sliced mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil until browned. Add 1 tbsp of chopped parsley, salt and pepper and a slash of balsamic vinegar. Cook for 1 more minute before mixing with the greens.

– Saute 3 cloves sliced garlic with 1 cup drained and diced no salt added canned whole peeled tomatoes in 2 tbsp olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup shredded parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

– Toast 1/4 cup pecan or walnut pieces in a skillet until browned. Add to greens with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

– Saute a large sliced onion in 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet until golden brown and caramelized, approximately 10-15 minutes. Season with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. This goes well with the toasted nuts above.

– Whisk together 2 tsp toasted sesame oil, 1 tbsp tamari and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Add 2 tbsp sesame seeds and 2 tsp grated fresh ginger.

Ideas adapted from The Healthy Cook at Nutrition Action Newsletter

Zoë’s Kitchen – Coconut Chicken Fingers

This is probably one of the most successful meals I’ve made for the kids. The whole family enjoyed it and it made for an awesome lunch. Because I am at home with the kids and therefore, we live on one salary, I can’t justify the ready-made chicken strips to make this so I cut up a whole chicken, included the legs and made broth from the bones. (I’m only telling you this because the picture isn’t going to look like perfect chicken finger strips).

We made the chicken fingers, and the sauce, Zoë had Mark help her BBQ the corn from this week’s organic box and we steamed some broccoli for our greens.

While serving up, we put some chicken fingers in a bento box, with some dipping sauce and pieces of steamed broccoli that Zoë can dip in as well tomorrow at school. Add a bread roll, the cinnamon apple and the snacks and ….. done. It all went. I’ll definitely make this again.


Coconut Chicken Fingers with Lime Dipping Sauce

For Chicken Fingers:
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 tbsp plain flour
1/8th tsp sea salt and freshly ground pepper (each)
2 tbsp plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

For the Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp lime zest
1 tsp lime juice
1 tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the chicken into 1/2″ strips if not already. Place in a bowl and sprinkle flour and seasoning. Toss to coat, then add the yogurt and coat well.

In a resealable bag, place the coconut and the garlic. Add the chicken, close and shake to coat.

Remove the chicken and lay in strips on the baking tray. Make sure all the strips are covered well.

Bake, turning halfway through, until chicken is golden brown and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the sour cream, lime zest, juice and honey. Set aside 1/4 cup for lunch and enough chicken strips for lunch. Serve remainder immediately.

Recipe adapted from Eshun Mott, author of Whining and Dining.

The Plan

Since I received so much positive feedback from yesterday’s post (thank you!), I will continue for at least today.

First of all, many thanks to my friend Krista who introduced me to the Holy Grail of lunch boxes; the Go Green Lunchbox. I already ordered mine from Grassroots so go nuts, they are on sale right now for $39.99.

Following my own tips, I have divided the day’s food into 3 sections. My daughter’s teacher has requested we use 3 different bags or containers, labelled Snack 1, Lunch and Snack 2. Reason being the kids may eat the entire thing at their first snack and consequently whine (or vomit) the remainder of the day.

Morning Snack is based on fruit and a protein:
1. Plain yogurt with honey and fruit pieces
2. Ants on a Log
3. Trail Mix
4. Fruit and Cheese Kabob

Lunch is an entree that includes a carb and protein plus fruit and/or vegetable:
1. Bagel and Cream Cheese, Hard Boiled Egg, Kale Chips, Peach Slices
2. Chicken Fingers and Dip, Cinnamon Apple
3. Bento Box Selection
4. Noodles with cucumber, pepper & dressing, 2 Baby bel cheese, Banana

Afternoon snack is mainly carb based:
1. Granola Bar, eg: Barbara’s cereal bar
2. Seasonal homemade muffin (wildberry this week)
3. Rice cake with Sunflower butter and Apple Butter
4. Cookies – homemade or Barbara’s.

Then you just combine them based on what you have available. Here’s how I would do it to cover me for the few weeks:

Choice 1: AM1 + L4 + PM3
Choice 2: AM2 + L1 + PM1
Choice 3: AM3 + L3 + PM4
Choice 4: AM4 + L2 + PM2

Give your child the choice if you want, have them plan it! Then all you have to do is get the ingredients and the worst part is over.


Packed Lunches

It’s the day after Labour Day and all over the country, parents spent this morning (or the super organized did this last night) staring at their cupboards and fridge for inspiration to start that daily ritual of packed lunches again. It’s. Back. To. School.

But there is no need to dread it. Turn it into a creative outlet for yourself. You’ll make your kid smile and it’ll make the process a lot more enjoyable. Really, it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming.

Readers without school-age children, bear with me as I help those out that are moaning and groaning about this chore. That includes me!

TiPs AnD nOtEs

1. Gather the right containers and tools. Gone are the days when saran wrap and plastic bags were acceptable. We need to be more environmentally responsible now.
You’ll need Bento box containers, reusable cutlery, thermos, snack bags. Napkins don’t hurt either if you don’t want your child to wear their lunch.

2. Use muffin liners (paper or silicone) as dividers inside bento boxes.

3. Sandwich cutters and cookie cutters (to cut fruits and vegetables) aren’t essential but they do liven things up.

4. Menu plan for the week so you don’t have to go through the process of planning each day. Make a batch of sandwiches for the week and freeze them, taking them out in the morning so they defrost in time for lunch. Bake a batch of different muffins each week and freeze them. Make a batch of smoothie once a week and store and freeze in individual containers to use throughout the week. Bag up a weeks worth of snacks; raisins, pretzels, granola bars etc. Wash and cut up fruits and vegetables to use throughout the week (store them in airtight containers in the vegetable section of the fridge).

5. Establish a routine that works for you; e.g.: morning snack: piece of fruit, lunch: entree and dairy (for instance sandwich and yogurt), afternoon snack: carb snack (muffin or crackers).

6. Get your kids involved. Write a list of options and have them choose.

7. Research your go-to foods and snacks. Popular choices like Goldfish crackers are actually garbage, full of chemicals and colours. Choose an alternative brand such as Annie’s for a cleaner choice. Yogurts that are marketed to kids are often full of undesirable ingredients and too much sugar. Make your own instead using plain yogurt (preferably organic) with honey and fruit such as cut up pieces of seasonal peaches. Look out for “healthy” choices such as cottage cheese which is very high in sodium.

8. There are lots of resources that are available for ideas. Suggestions I have had include Pinterest, Today’s Parent Online, LunchBots and Actually there are lots of blogs with new ideas, keep note of interesting ones you come across for future ideas.

For now though, I have put together some ideas to get the school year going. They are all nut-free as most schools ban nuts but they do include seeds which are permitted. I’ve divided this into Snacks, Hot Entrees (using a Thermos) and Cold Entrees.


1. Sliced apple sprinkled with cinnamon
2. Nut free granola bars
3. Yogurt, granola and berries (use plain yogurt with homemade granola (from this site) on the side. It will get soggy if you mix it in before.
4. Kale chips (wash, dry, roughly chop. Rub olive oil into the leaves and spread in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400°F. Season with salt.
5. Cheese strings (use white ones only) or Baby Bels.
6. Hard Boiled Quails Eggs
7. Trail mix using a variety of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) and dried fruits (raisins, apricots, cranberries)
8. Rice cakes with sunflower butter and apple butter.
9. Cheese and fruit kabobs (make 5 at the same time and pack 1 a day).
10. Ants on a Log has a ton of variety. Use cream cheese or sunflower butter spread on a piece of celery sprinkled with sesame seeds and/or raisins.

HoT eNtReEs

1. Pasta with pesto sauce.
2. Pasta and bean soup
3. Tomato soup with a cheese sandwich
4. Chili
5. Mac ‘n Cheese (homemade please!)
6. Tuna Casserole (find a recipe that avoids the use of condensed soup)
7. Minestrone Soup.
8. Pasta with tomato sauce and chickpeas
9. Vegetable and Barley Soup
10. Warmed noodles with butter and parmesan

CoLd EnTrEeS

1. Quiche
2. Chicken (using leftover roast chicken) Sandwich
3. Coconut Chicken Fingers with dipping sauce*
4. Spanish Tortillas*
5. Bagel and Cream Cheese
6. Bento Box mixes:
– Hard Boiled Egg, Broccoli, Crackers, Grapes
– Baguette slices, Cheese chunks and Peach slices
– Hummus, Crackers, Carrots, Sliced Peppers, Blueberries
– Sausage** pieces, Hard Boiled Eggs, Cherry Tomatoes, Blackberries
– Ham** Roll Ups, Pita Bread Slices, Carrot Sticks, Granola Bar, Raisins
– Croissant, Brie or Baby Bell, Ham** Slices, Grapes, Cucumber
– Dip – either Guacamole, Salsa or Sour Cream & Dill, Broccoli, Carrot Sticks, Baby Bel, Mandarin Pieces – this version will need protein heavy snacks surrounding it such as egg or yogurt.
7. Left over roast meat chunks and cubes of pineapple on a kebob stick and a dip
8. Sandwich shapes (use a cutter)
9. Wraps (Bean, Salsa and Cream Cheese)
10. Cut left over pizza into fingers to revive it into lunch
11. Noodles with cucumber and pepper with a dressing
12. Sushi
13. Savoury Muffins (who says they have to be sweet?)

* These recipes will be featured in Zoe’s Kitchen for the next 2 Thursdays. I don’t like to post recipes that I haven’t tried myself but I love the idea of making dinner and lunches at the same time. If they turn out to be terrible, I will let you know and remove them!

** When choosing sausage and ham, look for locally produced nitrate free meats.

My sincere thanks to the Oracle for helping me compile this list!