So I’m not going to lie. It’s a given that having children is not easy. It’s emotional (in the best way possible) and pretty rewarding (IMHO). When my daughter was born, I wanted to “do everything right” — famous last words. I wanted to ensure that I provided her with nutritional experiences that set her up to be in love with food and eating. I tried to eat all of the “right” foods while I was pregnant, then while nursing (I’d heard somewhere that this is where babies develop their initial tastes), and then when she started solids I was going to start her off “right.” The road to hell is often paved with good intentions and while I tried (and am trying every day) — guess what? My toddler has a mind and preferences all her own. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great thing except I wish that cooking each meal was easier. This is where Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh, the minds behind the fabulous site Sweet Potato Chronicles, enter into the picture.
In some ways I was prepared that eventually my darling would go through a “picky” stage — Matthew Amster-Burton‘s Hungry Monkey: A Food Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater does warn parents that no matter what kind of foods babies start off eating, toddlers go through a stage where they become more choosy about what they eat. On average a baby will triple it’s birth weight in a year. You can’t do this without something in your stomach, so for the most part I don’t think babies are super choosy about what they eat. They’re excited because a new world has opened up to them, they see you eating and hey (!) that looks like fun, and it’s the beginning of their independence. My daughter ate everything as a baby and we always encouraged her to try all sorts of foods and she rewarded us with her devotion to this new process of eating. This process started to change around the time she got her first molars (about 16 months) — all she would eat was puree. After that, dinner was a fraught experience. She was beginning to have a love-hate relationship with foods — one day she loved peas, the next day it was like I was trying to give her poison.
Cooking is a passion and I try not to take it personally when she tosses that beautiful meal on the floor or just gives me that look of disgust. I remind myself that: if she’s hungry she’ll eat, to continue to offer her a variety of foods (even if some days she hates what’s offered), and, most importantly, that I love her (and sometimes parenting is a thankless job). It’s all good though. Around this time when the shift in my baby’s eating patterns happened, I stumbled onto a great cookbook (and website): How to Feed a Family: eat healthy, live happy, stay sane: The Sweet Potato Chronicles Cookbook. This is where I’ll be clear (since all of my reviews have centered around vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free cookbooks) — this cookbook has a variety of recipes that include dishes that support a variety of diets. There are meat recipes. But this is o.k. because part of using this cookbook is not just about the recipes it’s about the strategies that Laura and Ceri offer. The strategy I find I use most often is “batch cooking” — having extras for left-overs or to freeze is a time saver. Another of their strategies (I think this one is outline more on their website) is meal planning — another huge time and money saver (this is where I’m trying to improve — I’m a little spontaneous in the kitchen. If I see a recipe on the web in the morning, I might decide to make it for dinner.)
I find it refreshing that they don’t advocate the “meat and potatoes” model that I think is most familiar to people — it was how I was raised at least. Their approach is flexible and “flexitarian” — and I’ve found that most of their recipes can be modified into vegan or vegetarian recipes or provide a great idea for making a vegan/vegetarian version. This is where I got the idea to make vegetarian Mini Meatloaves — when I saw the meat-version of this recipe in their cookbook I loved the idea of serving a classic recipe on a “kid-friendly scale.” So I made my own vegetarian/vegan version and served it with a vegan mushroom gravy:
Breakfast for dinner is a huge thing at our house — mainly because it’s one of my favourite things but also because it seems like my daughter is more okay with breakfast foods than other things. A pretty quick and painless recipe from their book is the Oatmeal and Strawberry Blender Pancakes. I love that it includes whole grains and fruit (I’ve made it with preserves or fresh fruit — both work in this recipe). I find that texture is often an issue for my daughter, so this is a sure way not to offend that sensibility. Also the Sweet Potato French Toast is really awesome too — sneaking veggies into a meal is a bonus (hey Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese this means you too)! This recipe also introduced me to a new idea — preparing and freezing batches of pumpkin and sweet potato puree. This ensures I always have some on hand when I need it (I also freeze it in 1/4 cup containers so that I don’t need to measure it).
Their website is also a wonderful place to find recipes — I’m not sure how I could live without those Pumpkin Maple Scones! That recipe was very easy to convert into a vegan recipe — I used homemade almond milk and chilled coconut oil. Similarly, their Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies are pretty special too and this is another recipe I challenged myself to make into a vegan recipe. I subbed a spotty, ripe banana in for the egg AND sugar (my hope was that the banana would act as a sweetener and as a binder). I also added the vanilla plus 1/4 tsp of baking soda, then made them with strawberry chia jam and cooked as directed. The resulting cookies were delicious and healthy! One caveat — if you don’t like the taste of bananas, there is a hint of banana (I think it was alright especially when paired with the PB & J). Also these cookies need to be eaten the day they’re baked. I tried to save a few in a container but I think the banana made them go a little funny.
One of our favourite days of the week is Friday because it’s family pizza night! Since I started to use this cookbook, I’ve included the Kale and Red Pepper Cheesy Calzone (cousin to the pizza) into the pizza night rotation. The whole gang loves them — my husband even requested them on Grey Cup Sunday. What could be better than calzones and football???
I love the easy-going and approachable tone Laura and Ceri convey. It’s nice to have a couple of genuine people in your corner with loads of helpful tips and strategies (not to mention delicious recipes). The most important strategy I’ve learned is that it’s all in how you package and sell your food concept. When I served the mini “meat”loaves I had a problem. At first my babe had one bite and wouldn’t have anymore. So I gave her something that would make eating a little more interesting — I gave her a mini ice cream scoop. She was thrilled and proceeded to eat that dinner. Crisis averted. Clearly it was the fork’s fault right?
If you’re curious to see what else I’ve cooked from their cookbook or website, check out the Instagram hashtag: #sweetpotatochroniclesse. As I continue to cook from SPC, I’ll keep adding pictures to that hashtag. Since it’s the holiday season and I’m feeling in a giving mood, I’m going to give you a fantastic SPC recipe (link here) that will pull double duty: Chocolate Avocado Chia Breakfast Pudding. This tasty dish is healthy enough to serve at a holiday brunch but sinfully delicious to serve after a meal (a truly wonderful dessert!). If you have a family and find it challenging to feel inspired to cook on a daily basis, I hope my review has convinced you to give How to Feed a Family and the Sweet Potato Chronicles a try. Promise you won’t regret it. I’m taking a quick break from reviewing but I’ll be back with some new year cheer and a new review January 5th. Happy Holidays everyone!