The Magic ingredients …. in my humble opinion

My cupboard is a maze of recycled jars of cheap goodness!

My cupboard is a maze of recycled jars of cheap goodness!

Being the organizing-obsessive person I am , I am big on having a well stocked dry store – a cupboard filled with things that can create something , even on those lonesome “broke weeks” ( that come far too often for us!). There’s something really satisfying about knowing you have made something of what you had on hand without the price tag of some recipes out there.

There are a few “magic” ingredients that I have found real gems in the chaos of baby/toddler feeding. Little somethings that can give something simple a nutrition boost without needing lots of it  – as i like to call it “Filling the gaps” – and in my experience, there can often be plenty of gaps in little people’s diets!

Here’s my prize picking’s of special little somethings –

1. Date spread

i always have a jar of dried pitted dates in the cupboard, they are super duper sweet but all that sweetness come from a natural, whole source. Yes, you have to go easy on them unless you want tummy troubles, but used in small amounts they can make the bland dry biscuit or cake suddenly sweet and moist without adding any raw sugars.

 Date Spread is simply dates, just covered with water and soaked overnight or simmered in boiling water, then blended to a paste. It keeps well in a fridge for at least 2 weeks.  The uses for this spread are endless – i first came across it’s genius when I really wanted something fruity to go with natural yogurt for my baby boy, or spread on peanut butter bread to get that “PB and jelly” feel.

– spread it on crackers

– in sandwiches ( great with cream cheese, cheese, Peanut butter …)

– a T or so to add a dose of sweetness to biscuit or cake mixes.

– mixed with cream cheese for a healthy “icing” for cupcakes and cakes.

– for baby puree’s to cut through the tartness of some fruits.

– cut a whole banana, skins on, in half lengthwise  spread some date spread in there, and cover in foil. Bake in the oven about 15 and you have a sweet, healthy, mushy dessert.

– and much much much more. anywhere that needs sweetness to carry over – you have date spread!

# You can also make healthy option fruit spreads with any dried fruit, dried apricot works especially well and is kick-butt for baby puree’s as it is a source of iron.

2. Almond Meal (Ground Almonds) 

Now, I used to think that anything that wasn’t used in the Edmond’s Cookbook or in my mums kitchen as a kid was just plain ‘weird’ and expensive – However, I have really learnt a new respect for Almond meal and other ground nuts as a great way to get protein and good fats into little ones , an extra bonus especially in sweet baking.

Great for those who are Gluten Free, although not so great for those with nut allergies, I have managed to substitute in almond meal to most baking recipes for flour, usually a 1/4 a cup here and there.  But its not just baking ….

– apple crumble as a dessert just got healthier with almond meal in the crumble.

–  use to thicken sauces while adding a protein boost – take your typical tomato sauce for pasta, add a T or 2 of almond meal and the sauce gains depth and texture.

– stirred through yogurt for dessert – i did this a lot when Noah was slowly weaning  ( be cautious of those early nut allergies though)

– to crumb chicken fingers – my killer mix is almond meal, Parmesan and a little pepper – or fish fingers. i also crumb potatoes, rolling cooked potatoes in melted butter then crumb mix, grilling or roasting to golden. Great make ahead and healthier than fries!

– Smoothies, sweet sauces, nearly any dessert, baking, savoury baking can benefit from the goodness of nuts, and ground nuts are so easy and so GOOD for you , You’ve got to buy some!

( I find it is relatively cheap, in the baking section you can find almond meal already ground for you – though it is easy as to whiz up roasted nuts in a blender or mortar – just store really airtight , I keep mine in the fridge.)

3. Lentilslentils

Yes – those awful bloody things , But I implore you, they really can be not-so-awful and in my opinion, gold when cooking for babies and toddlers. I found it near impossible to get meat into Noah at every meal there was the texture to contend with , i felt limited to mince and chicken for a start and also the cost – buying whole pieces of meat that gets thrown mostly on the floor can be a real disheartner!

And then there came lentil. The first time i used them was for a baby puree that fast became a favorite – a combination of lentils, carrot and cheese –  and from there i realized what “magical beans” they surely were, able to be added to soups, sauces, bakes and salads without detection. I could take vegetarian recipes, such as pumpkin soup or vegetable curries, and add protein to ease my mind.  My lentil of choice is the red split lentils that are a glorious orange color when dry, but there are a range of lentil’s available.

lentils are super easy to cook , cheap as anything ( I buy them from the bulk section a spoonful at a time and store in a jar) and dont require all that pre-soaking like beans. With soup they can be added to simmer away and be cooked ready to blend up  with the rest – they added a great texture too for my litt-ens soups, making them that little bit thicker.

I have already shared a recipe that uses lentils in Pumpkin Soup with Punch. Try them in tomato soup, casseroles ….. and let your mind rest peacefully in the wisdom you’ve filled tummies expertly 😉

( if you want to read more on them try here – http://www.foodsubs.com/Lentils.html )

More Gold choices to come, I hope I’ve convinced you to try these little gems !

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