Banana Carrot Spinach Oat Muffins

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Stop.

Do not look at this muffin and say, "EW! It's green!"

Instead, I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you're eating a mini banana bread muffin.

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Now open your eyes.

This is when you discover that this same weird green muffin tastes just like banana bread.

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But instead of using banana bread ingredients, I’m using a bag of spinach, some carrots, oats, bananas, and a touch of maple syrup to create a muffin that packs some serious nutritional punch.

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And it's as simple as throwing everything in your food processor, blending it up, and baking.

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I’m telling you, every time I eat one, I have to remind myself that they're good for me.

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And if you’re on board, maybe your kids will be too.

And if you have a little one like mine, they might not yet realize that most kids think a green muffin is a scary thing. 

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Banana Carrot Spinach Oat Muffins

servings: 36 mini muffins

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed + squeezed dry (about 1 cup after squeezed)
  • 2½ cups rolled oats, more for a garnish
  • 3 medium ripe bananas, sliced
  • 2 cups grated carrots (about 6 ounces)
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Add the spinach to a blender or food processor and pulse until it is finely chopped and almost pureed.
  2. Add the oats, bananas, carrots, maple syrup, eggs, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt to the spinach, then pulse until all ingredients are well-combined and the mixture is almost pureed, but not quite smooth. You may have to stop and stir the mixture a bit to make sure it doesn’t contain any large chunks.
  3. Scoop the batter evenly into 36 cups of a mini muffin tin prepared with cooking spray, then top each muffin with a light sprinkle of the reserved oats.
  4. Bake the muffins until a knife inserted into the center of one of the muffins comes out clean and dry —24 to 28 minutes.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Toddler PB + J with Quick Frozen Fruit Jam

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There are a lot of delicious peanut butters out there, but not as many good jams. 

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So I'd like you to imagine an incredibly tasty jam—a jam that is made simply of fruit and a touch of sugar.

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And now that you're conjuring up this super appetizing vision, this is where I say, “Oh, but you can make a jam like that yourself!”

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And then you snap out of your jam-filled fantasy and say, “Um, Nikki? I really don’t have time to be making my own jam.”

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But here's the thing—you do!

It's as easy as grabbing a bag of frozen berries, adding a tablespoon of sugar, and cooking for only 15 minutes.

That’s it!

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And if you want to combine this amazing new jam (that you made!) with some peanut butter and hemp seeds on your favorite bread, you suddenly have a seriously awesome lunch for yourself!

Oh, and your kids, too, of course. ;)

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Toddler PB + J with Quick Frozen Fruit Jam

servings: 1 sandwich with ¾ cup of jam

Quick Frozen Fruit Jam:

  • One 10-ounce bag frozen fruit (such as mixed berries)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Toddler PB + J:

  • 2 slices sandwich bread (such as whole wheat)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon hemp hearts
  • 2 tablespoons Quick Frozen Fruit Jam

Quick Frozen Fruit Jam:

  1. In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the frozen fruit, 2 tablespoons of water, and the sugar. Bring this mixture to a high simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up the fruit with a spoon.
  2. Continue cooking the fruit mixture over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick enough to leave trails in the pan when stirred—10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer the fruit mixture to a small bowl. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the jam to set and chill.

Toddler PB + J:

  1. Spread one slice of bread with the peanut butter, then sprinkle it with the hemp hearts.
  2. Spread the Quick Frozen Fruit Jam onto the other slice of bread, then sandwich the two slices of bread together.

Notes:

  • The ¾ cup of jam yielded by the Quick Frozen Fruit Jam can make 6 sandwiches.
  • You can omit the sugar if you prefer; the jam will still be super tasty.
  • If you use tarter fruits, such as cranberries, you may need more sugar.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Eggplant Zucchini Meatballs

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My stash of freezer foods for my daughter, Ivy, is one of my greatest sources of pride.

Forget a big bank account—if I have a freezer full of Banana Carrot Oat Muffins, Acorn Squash Pancakes, Cauliflower Tater Tots, and Broccoli Tater Tots, I am truly a rich woman.

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My daughter eats like me—she’s definitely a "Meat On The Side" kiddo.

And she wears her bib proudly.

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She eats every veggie under the sun (even if she doesn’t always know it!), which is incredible!

But I do want to get a little meat into her diet.

And since I know meatballs freeze really well, I went to work perfecting one for the whole family.

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And even though the goal is to add meat here, let's be real—I knew right away I wanted to bring veggies to the party.

I also wanted to make a meatball that was a little on the moist side, so it would be perfect for new eaters who don't have all their teeth yet.  

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Pureed roasted eggplant and zucchini add moisture and a depth of flavor that don't just make these meatballs more nutritious—they elevate them to a ridiculously flavorful level.

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The not-so-secret secret?

You're using vegetable puree instead of milk or any other wet element you might normally add to your favorite meatballs.

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And you end up with an awesome meatball.

Or maybe we should call it a vegemeatball.

Or a meateggieball.

Or maybe not 😉 .

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Eggplant Zucchini Meatballs

servings: 30 to 34 meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 small eggplant (about ¾ pound)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large zucchini (about ¾ pound)
  • 8 ounces ground beef
  • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and place the halves cut-side-up on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle them lightly with ½ teaspoon of the oil and then sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper over them. Bake the eggplants until they are very soft—about 15 minutes.
  2. While the eggplant is baking, cut the zucchinis in half lengthwise and drizzle them lightly with the remaining ½ teaspoon of oil and then sprinkle them with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper.
  3. Remove the eggplant from the oven and add the zucchini cut-side-up to the same baking sheet. Continue to cook the eggplant and zucchini until the zucchini can be easily pierced with a fork and the eggplant is very soft—25 to 30 minutes more. Then remove the baking sheet from the oven, but leave the oven on.
  4. When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scrape the flesh of the eggplant into a food processor or blender; discard the skin. Then place the entire zucchini (including the skin) into the food processor as well. Process until pureed; this should give you about 1¾ cups of puree.
  5. Transfer the puree to a large bowl, then add the beef, breadcrumbs, parmesan, egg, rosemary, onion powder, garlic powder, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix to combine well and then form the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls by hand and space them evenly on a prepared baking sheet. Bake the meatballs until they are golden brown—about 30 minutes.

Notes:

  • If you wish, you can sauté the meatballs instead of baking them (if your meatballs are on the moist side, this may be a little harder to do). After forming the mixture into balls, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and cook the meatballs, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown on all sides—8 to 10 minutes.
  • To reheat the meatballs, bake them in an oven preheated to 400°F for 10 to 12 minutes.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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Acorn Squash Pancakes

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I’m not sure I've ever meet a kid who doesn’t like pancakes.

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What’s not to love?!

Soft on the inside, slightly crisp on the outside—and covered in maple syrup, of course.

Pancakes are pretty much a perfect food.

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But when the mom in me decided I wanted to make pancakes more nutritious, the chef in me knew I could use veggies.

Not only would these pancakes pack more of a nutritional punch, but I was sure the veggies would actually make them sweeter and more perfectly moist.

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As I thought about all of the possible veggies that could to the trick, it didn’t take long to realize that acorn squash was the perfect person for the job.

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Acorn squash's inherent sweetness and velvety texture make these pancakes something you will want to eat everyday—and because of their nutrition factor, something you actually should eat everyday.

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Now I’ll always tell it to you straight, so know that as-written these pancakes are very moist.

My daughter doesn’t mind at all, but if you have kids that are already into classic pancakes, you may want to use less of the acorn squash puree (look for details in the “notes” section of the recipe).

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If you do use a little less puree for a more traditional version, you'll find yourself with the perfect pancake—slightly sweet, warm, and soft yet crisp with a buttery warm yellow color.

And if you go for the more moist "toddler" version, you can truly count your pancake breakfast as a perfectly balanced meal.

Either way, I'd say we're all winners.

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Acorn Squash Pancakes

servings: 10 to 12 four- to five-inch pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large acorn squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Use a soupspoon to scoop out the seeds and discard them. Arrange the squash cut-side-up on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the oil evenly over each piece and then bake the squash until the flesh is tender and can be easily pierced with the tines of a fork—30 to 40 minutes. Set aside until it is cool enough to handle.
  2. Scoop the flesh of the squash into a blender and puree it until it is smooth; this will give you about 2 cups of puree. Then add the flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, vanilla, and salt, and blend this mixture until just smooth.
  3. Add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot and the butter is melted, pour about ½ cup of the batter into the pan; this will make one pancake, about 4 inches in diameter. Cook the batter until bubbles start to pop on its surface and the bottom is nicely browned. Then flip the pancake and cook it until the other side is also brown and the edges are dry—about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Repeat with the remainder of the batter.
  4. Serve with extra butter, syrup, fruit, or whatever you like!

Notes:

  • You can decrease the amount of squash you use in the recipe, using a small squash—about 1 pounds (this will give you about 1 cup of squash puree after blending it). If you do so, also increase the amount of milk to 1 cup and the decrease the baking powder to 1½ teaspoons.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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White Bean Pancakes

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Every Sunday my husband takes my daughter, Ivy, to the diner for pancakes while I try to catch up on a weeks-worth of sleep.

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Ivy LOVES pancakes.

And when I found out that her iron levels were a little on the low side, I started thinking about how I could get more iron into her diet.

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Pancakes were just the thing!

I’ve done Acorn Squash Pancakes, so I figured why not try a new version by adding an iron-rich bean instead of the squash?!

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I put a can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans in my batter, and I’m telling you, the result looks and tastes JUST LIKE regular pancakes!

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It was so simple (opening a can of beans!) to turn a semi-indulgent breakfast into one we can feel really good about eating!

It’s easy to “eat healthy” when you’re eating like this!

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White Bean Pancakes

makes: 10 to 12 medium (4 to 5 inches in diameter) pancakes

Ingredients:

  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans (about 1¾ cups), rinsed + drained
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 5 ounces frozen spinach (about 1 cup), thawed + drained (optional)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Add the beans, flour, milk, spinach (if desired), eggs, baking powder, vanilla, and salt to a blender, and blend this mixture until it is smooth.
  2. Next, add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, pour about ½ cup of the batter into the pan; this will make one pancake about 4 inches in diameter. Cook the batter until bubbles start to pop on its surface. Then flip the pancake and cook it until the other side is also brown and the edges are dry—about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Repeat with the remainder of the batter.
  3. Serve with extra butter, syrup, fruit, or whatever you like!

Notes:

  • If you prefer fluffier pancakes, separate the yolks and whites of the eggs. Rather than following Step 1 as written, add the beans, flour, milk, spinach (if desired), egg yolks, baking powder, vanilla, and salt, to a blender, and blend this mixture until it is completely smooth; then transfer to a large bowl. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites in a medium bowl with a handheld electric mixer on medium-high until they are white and fluffy and have soft peaks (they should be about 4 times larger than their starting size)—about 2 minutes; you could also whisk by hand or do this in a stand mixer. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the bean and flour mixture, deflating them as little as possible. Then proceed to Step 2 as written above.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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No-Bake Granola Bars

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It's back-to-school time!

For a lot of families that means struggling to find time to make food that is healthy but also something your kids WILL eat.

This week, my goal is to bring you some nutritious recipes (well, maybe with the exception of one 😉) that both kids and adults will enjoy.

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I love a good granola bar, so I thought that might be the perfect thing to kick off the weeksimple to make and great for school lunches or after school snacks.

A while back I started testing recipes in search of a great one I could make and keep on hand...

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I tried baked ones, different combos of ingredients, and in the end found this relatively simple one the best by far.

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I’m using two kinds of nuts, some hemp seeds, oats, cranberries, and a little cinnamon.

Then I'm folding in peanut butter and honey to make a chewy bar that has some texture, but is still soft enough for my toddler.

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It’s kind of amazing what mixing just a couple of ingredients can do...

And with NO BAKING!

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I made mine in a 9 by 13-inch pan (you press the granola bar mixture into a dish to form them into bars), but after eating a pan's-worth this week, I would say that you might want to try them in something a little smaller. That will allow them to be so thicker and hold together even better.

Really though, no matter what shape you make, they will be your family's new favorite snack!

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No-Bake Granola Bars

makes: 16 bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups instant oats
  • ½ cup finely chopped pine nuts
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup hemp hearts
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup smooth peanut butter

Directions:

  1. Line a baking dish, no bigger than 11 by 17 inches or 8 by 8 inches, with parchment paper, leaving the paper hang out about 2 to 3 inches over two of the sides (which will allow you to easily lift the finished granola bars from the dish); spray the parchment paper with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pine nuts, walnuts, hemp hearts, cranberries, cinnamon, and salt, then set aside.
  3. Add the honey and peanut butter to a small saucepan and cook them over medium heat until they are fully combined and just beginning to bubble—about 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and stir to coat the dry ingredients evenly and fully.
  5. Firmly press the oat mixture evenly into the pan to ensure the granola bars stay together well; spraying your hands with cooking spray is helpful to prevent the mixture from sticking to them. Chill for at least two hours before cutting.
  6. Remove the granola bars from the pan using the edges of the parchment paper. Cut them into your desired size and enjoy! To store, place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
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