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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Broccoli Tater Tots

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Does anyone really want to eat their broccoli steamed?

Sitting there, waterlogged and sad on the side of the plate?

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I don’t know about you, but broccoli tater tots seem like a MUCH more exciting way to eat this green veggie!

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Sure, these tots take a minute or so longer than steaming up some florets, but I’ve streamlined the process for you.

And they're the perfect food to store in the freezer, so yes, you can have tots ANYTIME!

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To make them, just mix together finely chopped broccoli (stems and all!), throw in some eggs, seasonings, a touch of cheese and flour...

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Form them into whatever shapes you like and let them roll around in a flurry of panko and crushed tortilla chips...

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Then bake them up into crunchy perfection!

You'll never look at broccoli the same way!

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Broccoli Tater Tots

servings: 36 tater tots

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup crushed yellow corn tortilla chips
  • ¾ cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 large bunch broccoli (about 1½ pounds), entire stem + florets coarsely chopped + rinsed
  • ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese (about 3½ ounces)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Add the corn chips to the food processor and pulse until the chip pieces are close to the size of panko breadcrumbs (this should make about 1 cup). If you don’t have a food processor you can also place the chips in a Ziploc bag and smash them with a pan or rolling pin. Then transfer the corn chip pieces to a medium-sized bowl along with the panko and paprika and mix these ingredients well.
  2. Clean the bowl of the food processor, then place the broccoli inside and pulse until it is coarse and grain-like in texture (you should have about 4 cups of this broccoli “rice”).
  3. Transfer the broccoli to a large bowl with the parmesan, flour, eggs, salt, garlic powder, and pepper and mix together to combine.
  4. Using your hands, roll the broccoli mixture and pack it tightly by the tablespoon into tater tot (or other desired) shapes approximately 1 inch wide and 2 inches long. Roll each tot in the corn chip breading mixture, reshaping afterwards if necessary.
  5. Place the formed broccoli tots on a nonstick baking pan or a pan lined with parchment paper. Spray the tots lightly with nonstick olive oil spray and bake them until browned—about 20 minutes.

Notes:

  • Freezer Instructions: Place cooked and cooled tots on a baking sheet or plate in a single layer. Let freeze completely; once frozen place them in a plastic food storage bag. To reheat, place in a 425°F oven on a baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes
: @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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Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce with Pasta

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When I create a recipe, I’m always thinking about what different versions of a dish I can suggest to different groups of people.

For instance, sometimes I think about how to make my vegetarian recipes “meaty.”

Or I might toss out some ideas about how to make a dish more family-friendly (something adults can enjoy that kids will also eat!).

I love when—with just a few tweaks—you can make a couple of versions of a meal at the same time, so everyone is satisfied.

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And it’s always a bonus if we get our kids to eat their veggies!

This Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce is one of the most melt-in-your-mouth pasta sauces I’ve ever made.

And I honestly can’t tell the difference between this version and the full-on-million-calorie version.

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Actually, I can tell the difference, oh-so-slightly. And I’m not lying when I say I like this one better.

It’s garlicky, cheesy, and creamy—as you would expect.

But the cauliflower adds a whole new element that deepens the flavor and literally makes you want to eat the sauce with a spoon (nooooo, I’ve never done that 😉).

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And by dividing the sauce in two and adding parsley and pepper to one half and peas to the other, you’ve got a dish that makes both parents and kids happy.

Grownup version: linguine, parsley + freshly ground black pepper.

Grownup version: linguine, parsley + freshly ground black pepper.

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce with Pasta

servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cauliflower, broken or cut into bite-size florets (about 5 to 6 cups)
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 ounces parmesan cheese (about ½ cup)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pound pasta shells
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Directions:

  1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat for cooking the pasta shells. To a second large pot, add the cauliflower, chicken stock, and garlic. Bring this mixture to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and cook until the cauliflower is very soft—10 to 12 minutes.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a blender and add the cream cheese, parmesan cheese, heavy cream, salt, and pepper, and puree until very smooth.
  3. When the water boils, add the pasta shells and cook according to the package directions; drain when done.
  4. To serve, fold the cauliflower sauce and the peas into the pasta.

Notes:

  • The kid’s version is delicious! But if you want to make it a little more adult, replace the pasta shells with linguine. And instead of folding peas in with the cauliflower sauce, fold in about 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Divide among four bowls and top with parsley and freshly ground black pepper. Voilà!
: @NikkiDinki

: @NikkiDinkiCooking
 

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Zucchini Soup

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Tomato soup is fantastic!

And it’s great for those cold months when you really just need some tomato soup and grilled cheese in your belly…

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But we’re not quite there yet.

And tomato soup’s cousin has come to town, ready to play!

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I thought it would be fun to experiment with some zucchini (which we all might have an abundance of from our gardens right now), and make it into a soup.

But at the same time I say that, I honestly had no idea it would be this good!

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Start with some onions and garlic (obviously, the best way to start!)…

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Then add some zucchini and stock…

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Puree with avocado for creaminess, and then some parm for kick…

And that’s it!

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It’s silky and light, but still totally satisfying.

If your kids don’t gobble it right up, you’ll have no problem eating all the leftovers!

And when the leftovers are gone, just remember how easy it was to prepare everything and get it on the stove!

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Zucchini Soup

servings: 2; makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium zucchini (about 1½ pounds total), peeled + grated, with peels reserved for a garnish
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ medium avocado
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
  • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook them until they are softened but not brown—3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add the grated zucchini and stock, then bring the mixture to a simmer and cook covered until the zucchini is very soft—about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Use a soupspoon to scoop the flesh into a blender. Then add the cooked zucchini mixture to the blender and puree its contents until smooth.
  4. Transfer the soup back to the pot and add the parmesan, salt, and thyme, cooking over medium-high until the soup is heated through, about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Serve by dividing the soup into two bowls and garnishing each with the reserved zucchini peels. If you desire, you can also garnish the soup with ground black pepper or additional parmesan cheese.
: @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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