Ever tried to get a toddler to eat? No, really. You need some serious patience, a lot of time and realistically, no one has time for it. It doesn’t matter what principles or weaning methods you use, but the time your child is 18 months old, you’re better off throwing the food on the floor and walls yourself and saving time.
We decided that we would use Baby Led Weaning (aka The Rapley Method) when the girls were around 7 months of age (adjusted age was 5 months). At first we were like all new devotees – steaming foods so they were soft, jumping at every gag and puke, to eventually sitting at the dinner table egging Miss T on as she stuffed her 4th strawberry whole into her mouth and chewed with gusto. We were so blessed and even had our own ‘sanctiparent’ moments as we bragged out kids would eat anything in front of them. ANYTHING. We were gods amongst parents!
Then, they turned 18 months old. Food was no longer a friend. We suddenly realised that our god like status was merely an illusion. Our kids became … fussy. Meals became 101 one things to do with pasta, tomatoes, chicken/fish and cheese. Broccoli became poison, and carrots had to be sliced into coins as carrot sticks made the best nose picking tools out there … thankfully they still ate fruit.
One of the creative methods to make them eat vegetables was to buy Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. Seriously, the cauliflower mac and cheese is pretty good. But they soon cottoned onto the fact that there was an evil, and craftily hidden member of the cabbage family in their favourite treat …
Desperation started as a staple diet of refined flour, cheese and meat wreaked havoc with their digestive systems, and they cottoned onto the whole ‘pasta with hidden vegetables’ bullshit.
Purely in desperation, I stumbled across what I deem ‘Lazy Lasagne’.
Let’s get one thing straight. It can be, but it is not always lazy. The beauty of this recipe is that you can pretty much be as fundamentally lazy as you like, or you can go all Pinterest on it’s arse. What makes it lazy is the fact there is no obsessive layering with sheets of instant or fresh pasta. It’s 2 layers. A meat layer and a cheesy mac & cheese layer. You can make it with canned sauces! Or, you can make your own… and I’ll share my 2 sauces. This recipe fed 4 with leftovers.
The Cheesy Part.
Cook 2 cups of dry pasta of your choice. (this is around 3 cups of cooked pasta)
250 grams fresh ricotta
1 cup cream (I did not ever say I’m into dieting.)
1 clove garlic, minced.
1/2 cup grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste.
optional – crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese. – around 1/4 cup.
Warm all ingredients in a saucepan and melt together (but don’t boil!). Mix through cooked pasta. Set aside to cool – this is important as it will make your layers easier. (Alternative – use a jar of store bought bechamel sauce and add some grated cheese as you mix it through. Seriously, noone will judge.)
The Tomatoey Meaty Part.
Meaty Balls of Awesomeness
500 grams beef/pork/chicken/insert favourite animal minced meat
1 cup assorted, finely grated vegetables. I used zucchini, carrot, potato and sweet potato.
1 onion, finely diced.
1 clove garlic.
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup diced bacon/ham
1/2 cup grated cheese
1 cup cooked rice. (I used brown rice – it’s all about the fibre!)
1 teaspoon powdered stock like Vegeta (note, you can use just plain salt, but do this to taste – powdered stock just adds a bit of extra flavour.)
Pepper to taste.
Flour for rolling your balls in
Throw all ingredients into a bowl. Don’t pansy around with adding one thing at a time. Just throw it in, and start mixing the crap out of it. Squeeze it, thump it, get out all that aggression you’ve been holding in this week. Do this until it resembles a cohesive, meaty, vegetable-y lump.
Roll into balls and dust in flour – brown them off in a little oil in the frying pan (this helps them hold shape when baking). The best size I find is around golf ball sized, but slightly larger is ok. The smaller the balls, the more chance there is they will collapse.
Layer into an ovenproof dish. (By layer I mean, dump them all in a dish that won’t explode in the oven and rearrange them so they look like they weren’t dumped in there.)
The Tomato Sauce of Wow!
Take a can of tomatoes (400g) and blitz the crap out of it with your hand blender (or even better, tomato puree). Pour into the saucepan.
Add half a can of water, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 beef stock cube (crumbled), 1/2 diced onion, 1 clove garlic minced, herbs to taste. I went all fancy in the herb garden of doom and added freshly torn basil leaves (mostly because my children decided to rip them off earlier in the day.) Dried herbs are awesome and should never be forgotten. Salt and pepper if you want. heat through and reduce to approximately 3/4 of original volume. (Alternative – use a jar of sauce. Again, noone will judge you.) Allow to cool slightly.
Pour tomato sauce over balls. Make sure all the balls are covered in sauce! At this point you can layer in some grated cheese on top, but that’s optional.
Next, start to spoon on your cheesy pasta mix directly on top of your balls. You’re aiming for a nice, clean layer of meatballs in sauce and a clean layer of mac&cheese. Spread evenly. Sprinkle the top with grated cheese, or for the Pinterest look, slices of buffalo mozzarella. Or whatever floats your boat. Really, your kids will not care less if it’s organic, locally sourced, grass fed buffalo milk mozzarella bought at a farmer’s market or if it’s cheap cheddar from the supermarket.
Bake in the oven until the cheese is brown (around 30 minutes) at 180 degrees Celsius. Serve with desperation and hope that they don’t discover the vegetables and rice hidden in the meatballs and smothered in tomato sauce. Serves 2 adults, 2 fussy beasts of toddlers and has enough leftovers to taste awesome the next day scoffed cold out of the fridge because you haven’t got enough bread to feed everyone for lunch.