I love pretty much anything that involves pumpkin. My kids love pretty much anything that involves cheese. So this is like a slice of heaven for all of us.
The great thing, though, is that the pumpkin flavor isn’t very prominent, which helped my Picky Eaters not turn up their noses. Instead, the pumpkin just adds an amazing creaminess. Plus, in keeping with the Deceptively Delicious concept, the pumpkin adds some great extra nutrients.
1 16-ounce package macaroni noodles, cooked to al dente
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup pumpkin puree (click here to learn how to make your own)
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1. Preheat oven to 350. Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook approximately 1 more minute.
3. Stir in the milk. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring, for 1 minute.
4. Reduce heat to low and stir in the nutmeg, mustard, and pumpkin. Add 2 cups of the cheese and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted.
5. Remove from heat. Carefully mix in the pasta, until thoroughly coated. Spoon into a greased 9×13 baking dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and sunflower seeds.
6. Bake, uncovered for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
I’ve been experimenting a bit more with my crockpot these days. When I first got it, all I ever used it for was roasts. Later I branched out into some soups and later some meat dishes like BBQ Chicken and Chili-Lime Chicken Tacos. With the hectic season of life we are in right now, I find myself thinking more and more about how I can use my trusty old Crock Pot to help streamline and simplify my days.
So, I did a little research last week about making lasagna in the crock pot. The main reason was that I had all the ingredients on hand, leftover from other recipes, and I wanted to use them up before they went bad. But I really didn’t feel like taking the time to boil my noodles (the kind I had on hand weren’t the no-boil kind), or assemble and bake the lasagna right before the dinner hour.
After reading a few different recipes, I threw together what I had and walked away. I knew Brian and I would probably eat it no matter how it turned out, and I had a package of hotdogs on hand, in case my Picky Eaters rejected it. I was mostly concerned that the noodles would be either mushy or crunchy.
To my great surprise, it turned out beautifully! The kids actually loved it! The only thing I’m not wild about with this recipe is that you do have to brown the meat beforehand. I almost always stick to Crock Pot recipes that only involve dumping everything in the pot. But I made an exception this time, since the one extra step was a simple one. If you want to avoid this step you can use my friend Michelle’s advice and brown all your hamburger when you get home from the store and freeze it in meal-sized portions.
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 jar spaghetti sauce
lasagna noodles (I used 6 noodles, which was enough to fill my crockpot halfway)
cottage cheese (about a cup and a half)
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup water
1. In a large skillet, brown the beef with the onion, garlic, and spices. When completely browned, turn off the heat and stir in the spaghetti sauce.
2. Mix together the cottage cheese and the 2 eggs. (I usually just crack the eggs straight into the cottage cheese container and stir – saves a dish!)
3. Spoon a small amount of sauce (with as little meat as possible) into the bottom of the crockpot. Place a single layer of noodles on top of the sauce. You will need to break some of the noodles to make them fit.
4. Smear some of the cottage cheese mixture on top of the noodles. Top with about half of the sauce. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella over the sauce.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the crockpot is as full as you want it. Finally pour the water all over the lasagna. Top with Parmesan and cook for 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low.
Serve and enjoy!
Note from Liz: This post was originally published before Thanksgiving last year. I thought I’d repost it as an encouragement to those of us facing the daunting mountain of trying to enjoy Thanksgiving with a Picky Eater.
Thanksgiving is one of those holidays most of us really look forward to. It’s a pretty low-pressure holiday: there are no gifts to buy, no major traditions that require lots of work. Most people look forward to a day of eating LOTS of good food, relaxing, and having fun with family members.
But if you are the parent of a Picky Eater, Thanksgiving can be one of the most dreaded days of the year.
After years of struggling through Thanksgiving with my Picky Eaters, I’ve come up with the Top Ten Ways To Enjoy Thanksgiving with a Picky Eater. That’s right, not just survive the holiday, but really enjoy it with them! Here you go:
10. Start talking to them well in advance about the foods that will be on the Thanksgiving table. Many times, pickiness is rooted in more of a fear of the unknown. There are several foods we eat at Thanksgiving that we never (or rarely) eat the rest of the year. To a picky eater, new foods can be like a flashing neon sign: Don’t eat me! So, start today letting them know what will be served and explaining what each food is.
9. If possible, prepare some of the foods your family will enjoy at Thanksgiving ahead of time. If, for example, you are making some porkchops one night, why not make a pan of stuffing to go along with it? Be sure to point out to your child that this food will be on the table on Thanksgiving day too. By pairing a food that your child used to with a new food, he or she is more likely to at least try the new dish.
8. Allow your child to request one food that will be included in the Thanksgiving day spread. We started this tradition several years ago for Naomi. She would frequently be in tears on the morning of Thanksgiving, dreading the upcoming meal. Finally one year I allowed her to request one food – regardless of what it is – and I would make it for her. Usually it’s some sort of bread, but last year Naomi requested cous-cous. So there, beside the turkey and mashed potatoes, was Naomi’s little dish of cous-cous. It has really helped our kids to feel like their opinions of what should be served are valuable too.
7. Involve your kids in making the foods you plan to serve. As with #10, this can take some of the mystery out of the new foods. When kids find out that stuffing is basically just bread crumbs and veggies, they might be more willing to give it a try. And even if they don’t, it’s still fun to share the kitchen with a little one!
6. Focus on the meaning of Thanksgiving, instead of the food. Sometimes we as adults tend to get so caught up in the preparations for the Thanksgiving meal that we neglect to talk to our kids about the meaning behind Thanksgiving. Check out some books from the library about the first Thanksgiving and read them a day or two before you serve the turkey. One year we even prepared a short skit about the first Thanksgiving to show the grandparents. Talk about the importance of a thankful attitude in everything and help them practice being grateful.
5. Enjoy some of the fun non-food related Thanksgiving activities. Watch the Macy’s Day Parade, tune in to the Presidential Turkey Pardon, and enjoy a family game of flag football after the meal.
4. Keep your foods “traditional.” Although as adults we sometimes get bored of having the same old foods every November, to a kid that repetition can be like a safety net. (This is particularly true for older kids who remember last year’s Thanksgiving. For younger kids, the foods tend to feel “new;” in that case, refer to #9 and #10.) So instead of trying to reinvent the cheese wheel, try keeping the foods simple and predictble.
3. Be understanding that your kids just might not like the foods being served. I was also a picky eater as a kid, and I started dreading Thanksgiving as soon as Halloween was done. My Thanksgiving plate consisted mostly of bread. I have told my kids this story to let them know that I understand their struggle with this holiday.I’ve also told them that even to this day I’m not really in love with turkey, mashed potatoes, or stuffing. I eat them on Thanksgiving, but rarely make them during the rest of the year. I have told my kids to watch my example on Thanksgiving Day. I try to model an attitude of thankfulness to those who have worked hard to prepare food for me. I focus on the best parts of the day – spending a fun day relaxing with people I love. My kids know this and watch to see how I will handle the foods I’m not wild about.
2. Relax about the rules. While you might normally require your kids to finish all their food or eat at least two bites of everything, it will make the day much less stressful for you and for them if you put those rules to the side for the day. After all, it is just one day out of the year. They will likely survive if all they eat is olives and croutons for one day.
1. Have fun with them. If all else fails, ignore the pickiness and just have fun with your kids. Don’t allow this meal to become a battle. Instead, focus on loving on them. Practice thankfulness yourself and keep the day lighthearted.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written about my Picky Eaters, hasn’t it? Well, in some ways that’s because they are still much the same. Dinners are still a bit of a battle, and it is still embarrassing at times to take them out to eat or to dinner at a friend’s house and have them cry at the table about the food they’ve been given.
But there have been a few bright spots of improvement too. Like this one last week:
I had made Italian Pork Chops with mashed potatoes and green beans. I needed to be somewhere right after dinner, so I set the food on the table for the kids to start eating, while I stepped into my room to change clothes. If you recall, Naomi basically hates all forms of meat, and William basically hates all forms of potatoes. Ryah loves anything on a plate, and has recently earned the nickname of “The Green Bean Queen.” So, you can imagine that two thirds of my offspring were unexcited about this meal.
However, as I was changing clothes I overheard Naomi tell her brother something that made me stop right in my tracks.
She said, “William, did you know there’s a verse in the Bible that says ‘Do everything without arguing or complaining’? Yeah, it’s really in there. So I guess everything means everything.“
William mumbled, “Even about this dinner?”
“Yeah,” his sister surrendered.
And they both picked up their forks and ate their dinner.
I just about fell on the floor. YES! That’s what I’m talking about!!
Our first two weeks of homeschool were spent learning about space. We focused a lot on the sun and the moon. One day while we were learning some space facts I brought out a fun snack. The kids got a good laugh about it and we all munched while we finished our work.
We made Sunshine Peaches:
It was super simple. Cut a large peach in half and remove the pit. Then arrange very thin carrot slices around the peach. A delicious, fun, and easy snack!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve told you about several new, tasty salads. I hope you are finding it easier to incorporate more fresh vegetables into your diet. Here’s a recap of the salads I’ve introduced:
For several years, I struggled to convince my Picky Eaters to eat salad. They were sometimes willing to eat the components individually, but usually they made a big fuss about everything being tossed together. Finally I began to experiment with different salad dressings. Success! I discovered that Naomi was happy to eat salad when it had raspberry vinaigrette on it. Will, on the other hand, is a Ranch guy. Ryah loves both Ranch and Italian dressings. If you are still having a hard time getting hooked on fresh vegetables, I’d recommend buying a couple of new kinds of salad dressings next time you’re at the store and see if that makes your salad-eating experience more enjoyable.
When I post our weekly menus, I frequently have an item on our breakfast lists that generates some questions in the comments. We call it Sparkly Toast.
Sparkly Toast is nothing more than cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top of a slice of buttered toast (usually made with our homemade sandwich bread).
Naomi came up with the name years ago. I set it down in front of her one morning and she joyously cried, “Oooo! This toast has sparkles on it!!” She was very much in the princess/pink galore/the more sparkles the better stage, so this quickly became her most requested breakfast item. The name stuck.
And that, my friends, is Sparkly Toast.
Two weeks ago, I was going to make tostadas for dinner. I was really looking forward to putting these on the table, because as far as I can remember, I haven’t made these since Naomi was the only kid running around this joint. I think I must have forgotten about them or something. But I thought these might be something fun for my picky eaters; maybe they would be more open to eating beans and lettuce and black olives when they were eating them out of a boat. Maybe?
Anyway, I had everything ready for dinner, when I looked in our downstairs pantry for what I thought was going to be the last can of refried beans. Apparently I used the last can of refried beans the week before for bean and cheese burritos. Sigh. It was also the end of the paycheck, so I had planned on doing these tostadas sans meat. But, um, cheese, lettuce, and olive tostadas weren’t exactly what I had imagined for this dinner.
So, I did a little more digging, hoping to find a jar of pinto beans. No luck there. Nor did I have black beans or kidney beans, much to my dismay. All I found was one solitary little can of garbanzo beans, way in the back behind some tuna. I don’t even remember buying it.
I stood there in the kitchen with the can in one hand and the can opener in the other for a long time. Was I seriously brave enough to try this? I mean, truthfully, it didn’t even sound that good to me. How could I possibly expect my picky eaters and meat-and-potatoes husband to not gag?
Finally, I thought, “I’m going for it!” And without giving myself another moment to second guess the decision, I opened the beans, drained them, and tossed them into the food processor. I added about a teaspoon and a half of each of the following: garlic salt, chili powder, and cumin. Then I added about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and turned on the food processor. I let it run until it had the consistency of hummus. Then I added about a Tablespoon of water, scraped the sides to get all the last little bits down in, and ran it another minute or two until it was creamy… like refried beans.
I heated it in the microwave just before we all sat down. I dolloped it artistically into a pretty bowl and set it down on the table without saying a word. (You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was pretty; I completely forgot to take even one picture of this creation!) Everyone was (as I had hoped) excited about the new shape of the tostada shells. They kids had fun pretending they were boats, piling them with all sorts of “cargo.” We ate almost all of my secret refried beans. The kids made no comment about the slightly different taste and texture of tonight’s refried beans.
Only after everyone had left the table did Brian comment, “Did you do something different with the beans tonight?” I smiled and told him what I’d done. He said he was surprised – they were pretty close to pinto beans and he hadn’t hated them!
So, it was a totally on accident, complete success!
I happen to be one of those rare people who truly love cauliflower. Not just like it – I love it.
My family happens to be some of those more common people who despise cauliflower. Not just dislike it – they hate it.
I don’t think I’ve really prepared cauliflower in about three years. Whenever there’s a dish that even Brian turns his nose up at, I tend to avoid making it and therefore avoid the deep rejection by my family at the dinner table.
But I miss cauliflower. Sometimes when I go to Spoons, I get their Cream of Cauliflower soup… and I cry a little while I savor it.
But recently I found this recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan. I’ve had pretty good luck getting my family to eat a wider range of winter vegetables when I roast them, so I perked up a little bit at the title. (Plus, everyone except Naomi loves Parmesan, and she will at least tolerate it, so I thought there was a good chance this might work.)
So, I tried it out tonight. My ace up the sleeve was that I had prepared a bunch of other stuff for dinner that I knew they all loved: BBQ chicken, Blue Eyed Corn Muffins, Homemade Applesauce, and Cinnamon Rolls for dessert. I set down dinner and everyone cheered. Score one for Mom. Then I explained that we were trying something new tonight and that I really did want all their honest opinions on it. However, I told them that it would absolutely taste the best fresh and warm. So I requested that they all try a bite of the cauliflower before trying anything else. Everyone went along with the plan.
Ryah immediately spit the cauliflower out and said, “Eeewww!” But everyone else chewed thoughtfully and then one by one told me they really, really liked this recipe. (Score two for Mom!!) Naomi ate all hers up right away (score three for Mom!) but William turned to the other foods on his plate and left the remaining cauliflower for last. He regretted this decision. You see, this is just one of those foods that is absolutely at its best when it is nice and hot, and fresh from the oven. Lesson learned.
Anyway, I am very happy to have at least one way that I can easily serve cauliflower to my family. Check out the recipe here by Dinner with Julie. Let me know what you think!
If you are struggling with getting your kids involved in the kitchen (it’s hard to teach them the skills, it makes a big mess, everything takes 10 times longer…) let me give you some encouragement of what it can be. I began cooking with Naomi just before she turned three-years old. As I mentioned in my post last week, in the beginning it was very basic. We worked on counting and stirring without sloshing things over the side of the bowl. It was messy, and it did take much longer than I would have by myself. But we kept on cooking.
Later, I began to lay out all the ingredients (pre-measured) and have her work on dumping them into the bowl. She learned how to turn on the mixer one speed at a time. We talked about the food groups and what each food gives our bodies. And we kept on cooking.
Around first or second grade, I started to give Naomi more complex tasks. I taught her how to use a knife correctly, how to move things in and out of the oven safely, how to crack an egg, and about flavors that go well together (garlic and onions, corn and Mexican food). We were having fun by now. So we kept on cooking.
Bit by bit I handed more and more culinary freedom over to Naomi. She handled it great. I was always there to supervise and answer a question if she had one, but her hands were the ones doing the slicing, mixing, pouring, and turning.
And then, one day it was like a flower blossomed in our kitchen. Ryah was a couple of weeks old. Brian was working out of town four days every week, and I was absolutely exhausted. I think we’d had cereal three nights in a row for dinner. I was in my bedroom nursing Ryah, when I heard some clattering in the kitchen. I waited until Ryah was done, then I laid her down to sleep and went out to investigate. What I saw brought tears to my eyes: Naomi had looked through the cupboard and found all the ingredients to make spaghetti. All on her own, she had boiled the noodles, made the sauce, and laid out some slices of bread with butter. When I walked out she was cutting up some vegetables to make a salad.
I swooped her up in a huge hug, thanking her over and over again. She smiled shyly and said, “Oh, well, I thought maybe you could use a night off from cooking.” That meal was one of the best I’ve ever had in my life. I knew that every noodle, every slice of carrot was heavily doused in love and care from my daughter.
Though that was the first time Naomi had independently made an entire meal by herself, it wasn’t the last. Each time she does it, I am so thankful for her heart and for the hours and hours she and I put in over the last eight years giving her the skills to be able to cook like she does.
Here is the most recent dinner Naomi made for us (all by herself!):