Thursday, February 19, 2015

Preschooler Lunchbox Tips and Ideas

The first time I faced the daunting task of preparing lunchboxes for my preschooler, I have to admit I was worried. I have been spending hours in kitchen for years, but let me tell you, pleasing a preschooler with his/her healthy lunchbox is not a simple task!

As always before starting a new endeavor, I scourged the web for tips and recipes. I found lots of good once for kids but not as many for preschoolers or 3-4 year olds. I wanted the lunchbox recipes to be healthy, home-made and quick with no more than 10mins in the morning to assemble!

So below is a compilation of my tips and some tried-and-tasted lunchbox ideas which I hope will come handy to other new moms faced with the daunting task of preschool lunchboxes :)

Some tips to make the daily lunch boxes hassle free:
  • Bento style lunchboxes with a little bit of everything works best for preschoolers.
    • I add one portion savory meal, one portion fruits, one portion vegetable, one portion dairy and a sweet reward for finishing lunchbox
    • Kids always find something they like...
  • Easy does it...
    • If you are a busy person, accept that and stay away from fancy time consuming recipes for lunchboxes (that's what weekend meals are for!)
    • Your child will love any meal you prepare with love taking in consideration his/her liking - no matter how fancy it looks.
  • Plan in advance! Make lists! 
    • Pick a time of the weekend to jot down what you will put in lunchboxes for the entire next week.
    • Make a grocery list and shop everything over the weekend.
  • Prep ahead
    • I try to prep as much as possible ideally over the weekend or the night before.
    • If your mornings are as crazy as mine, plan to not spend any more than 10mins on lunchbox in the morning, which will make the whole process sustainable and happy for both you and the kids!
  • Add a reward!
    • We do a carry over reward thing - if she finishes her lunchbox today, she will get a reward in lunchbox tomorrow.
    • Reward can be anything from few M&Ms to a breakfast strawberry bar to a piece of chocolate or a mini muffin.
    • They work like magic!!

Here are some ideas for preschool lunchboxes:
  • Main course (lunch is usually served cold for preschoolers):
    • Methi thepla roll with oil & chutney 
    • Stuffed paratha - potatoes, cauliflower, peas paratha
    • Steamed idli
      • we buy prepared idli batter which makes the whole process < 6mins
    • Dosa
    • Rava upma
    • PB&J sandwich
    • Veggie sandwich
      • TJ's masala burger works great!
    • Pulav, tamarind rice, mango rice etc
    • Rajma rice, chole rice
    • Moong bean cheela
  • Fruits:
    • grapes, chopped apples, sliced banana, melons
  • Dairy:
    • Babybel cheese, string cheese
  • Snacking:
    • crackers, TJ's strawberry breakfast rolls
  • Vegetables:
    • Cucumber, sliced yellow/orange/red pepper, roasted broccoli w/ salt & pepper, roasted & mashed yam/sweet potato
Happy lunchboxing...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Couscous Mint Chutney Side

If you are in a hurry and want a healthy side or a big serving of a side-salad as your main course, this recipe is a great idea! 

If you are not familiar with couscous, it's a Moroccan/Middle-Eastern grain made out of semolina which is cooked by streaming. Yeah, just steaming and that too cooks in minutes! Making it an ideal pantry staple for every busy cooks who wants to put something healthy and home-cooked on table or in lunchboxes in minutes! 

If you are looking to be a bit carb conscious this year, then Quinoa, another wonder grain packed with protein is also a great substitute for couscous. Or the good old rice of-course works great. This is also a great lunch box meal.

Mint chutney is another staple at our home. I tend to buy 2-3 huge bunches of fresh mint whenever I see them in season. And then I make a big pot of this chutney, really "making" is an overkill, it's all about throwing things in blender :) Use half the chutney and freeze half. This chutney is so versatile making it a great pairing for sandwiches, topped over salads or as a side to parathas or daal-chawal.

Without further ado, here is how you would go about making this couscous mint chutney side.

Serves 4 as a side

For mint chutney:
2 bunches of fresh mint leaves
1 small green chili
juice of 1 lime
1 small clove of garlic - peeled

Blend all the chutney ingredients together and taste and adjust for taste. Set aside.
1C dried couscous
1.5C water (or as recommended by couscous instructions)
2Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 tomato - chopped
salt & pepper

Prepare couscous as per instructions. Mine said to boil 1.5C water, when water is boiling then turn off the heat. Add couscous and cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, add oil or butter and mix well. Then add few Tbsp of mint chutney, tomatoes, salt & pepper to taste and mix. Taste and adjust ingredients per taste.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Black Eyed Peas Fritters (chavaliche bonde)

There is a really good reason behind why I never posted these fritters here even though I have made them countless times before. And that is because I never managed to get a photo. And there is a really good reason behind why I never managed to get a photo. And that is because everytime I make it, each and every one of them gets over in about 15mins after they are out of the fryer :)

So, I am going to post them today anyway even though I still don't have a photo. You just have to take my word for it that these are amazing and a sure to be crowd pleasers.

This is a fried snack which I make when we have guests over. If I am in the mood for fritters just for us at home, I make a baked version which is also noted below. Fried version of course gets a better crunch but other than that they both taste the same.

Serves 4
1C dried black eyed peas
2 strands green onions
handful of fresh cilantro
2 cloves of garlic
1/2tsp crushed ginger
2 green chili
1tsp cumin powder
1tsp coriander powder
1tsp carom seeds (optional)
salt to taste
oil for frying

  1. Soak dried black eyed peas in enough water (~6C) for 4-6hrs or overnight. 
  2. Drain all the water and add the soaked peas along-with all the other ingredients in a grinder or mixer and chop until fine.
  3. Remove from mixer and make small balls using your hand
  4. Deep dry the fritters
  5. Serve with ketchup or tamarind chutney
Baked version: pre-heat oven to 375F. Coat oil on both sides of each ball, bake for 10-15mins on one side, flip them over, bake again for 10-15mins. If the fritters are cooked but are not crispy broil for another 5mins. Remove from oven, serve immediately. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup

Winter has finally made it's appearance loud and clear. Temperatures have been steadily dropping last few days, evenings are chilly, mornings are frosty and my hot cup of cocoa is just that much more warming to body and soul - and that means one thing in our household, lots and lots of soups!

On many winter weekend our quick lunch is a pot of soup with some thick crusted sourdough bread brushed with olive oil and broiled at high temperature with just a rub of a fresh garlic clove. Throw in some salad (my favorites are couscous with butternut squash and dried cranberries salad or quinoa salad or a simple greens salad topped with some fruits and nuts dressed with an easy olive oil red wine vinegerate) and it's my perfect meal any time of day any season of the year..

This soup is my favorite and there are endless variations I keep trying on it. The recipe below is a slight adaptation of an old recipe I had posted earlier (but no new photos this time - what with a warm aroma of soup and garlic bread wafting your way sometimes all you can do is eat!). 

Recipe:(Serves 4-6)
edited slightly from Nov'2009 version here
2 fresh red peppers
2 tomatoes
1 jalapeno pepper
4 cloves of garlic - unpeeled
1/2 onion
Olive oil/salt/pepper
Pinch of thyme
Splash of heavy cream or whole milk (optional)
lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 420F
  2. Place the vegetables on a baking sheet. 
  3. Drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper. 
  4. Roast for 30-40 mins (or until well roasted -- you will know by blackened patches of skin on red pepper and onion would be browned a bit). In between once after 20 mins of roasting flip the vegetables over for uniform roasting.
  5. Remove from oven and let cool.
  6. Next remove the skin of the red pepper and tomatoes (it should easily come off after roasting). De-seed the red pepper and tomatoes. Place all the roasted vegetables in a blender alongwith water enough to make desired soup consistency. 
  7. Puree the soup.
  8. The soup may have a slightly raw taste even after roasting. To get rid of the rawness I transfer the blended soup to a pot; add a dash of heavy cream or whole milk, add pinch of thyme (or to taste); adjust seasonings of salt & pepper and let it simmer for 10mins on medium heat. 
  9. Take the soup off heat; add lemon juice and serve with a nice toasted slice of french bread spread with some butter and garlic spread for an extra kick! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Instant Shrikhand (Sweet Thick Yogurt with Saffron)

I am not a person with a sweet tooth but as it happens often my daughter is.! So after years of hiatus from sweet recipes I am starting to poke my hand back into the dessert section.

Even though we love Indian main course and appetizers, almost always when I think of desserts I think Italian, American - Tiramisu, cakes, puddings and pies or the simple ice-cream! The two exceptions being Shrikhand (sweet thick yogurt with Saffron and nuts) and puran poli (sweet roti) both of which are Indian/Maharashtrian sweets our family loves.

The characteristics of a shrikhand is a thick yogurt which is usually achieved by tightly wrapped regular yogurt in a cheesecloth and hanging it in fridge using a spatula and a pan for hours until most of the water in the yogurt drips out and you are left with a thick shrikhand class yogurt.

However if you have access to greek yogurt, which now a days is available in pretty much all supermarkets, then the whole process of shrikhand becomes so much simpler! Greek yogurt is a very thick and creamy yogurt perfect for an instant shrikhand. I have made shrikhand with greek yogurt with and without the step of hanging the yogurt, and I can tell you for sure that in case of greek yogurt it does not make much difference. So please feel free to take the short route of instant shrikhand as long as you are using regular greek yogurt. If you use non-fat greek yogurt then you still need the step of hanging the yogurt in cheesecloth to remove all the water for better texture.

Serves 6
32oz plain greek yogurt (if you use non-fat, texture may not be as thick but taste is just fine!)
1/2C sugar
1Tbsp warm milk
pinch of saffron
handful of chopped pistachio nuts
6 cardamom - crushed

Mix saffron in warm milk and set aside.

Mix yogurt with sugar and using a spoon blend together. Then add cardamom, chopped nuts and milk with saffron, mix together and chill for a few hours before serving.

While serving, add chopped nuts or strands of saffron for garnish.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

OT: Holiday Craft Project Update (Crocheted Very Hungry Caterpillar Hat & Quilled Children's Flower Card)

Holidays are a perfect time for small craft projects to get your creative juices flowing. And really, if you are caught at home with chilling cold and short daylight outside, these craft projects are a really good way to keep everyone occupied in a productive way without bringing the house down!

This holiday we made two small projects. First, a crocheted very hungry caterpillar hat for my daughter. She loves the book and was super excited about this hat, so much so that she made two trips to Michael's with me and stood patiently while I selected the yarn and the needle and even made some useful color suggestions :)

It has been years since I last crocheted. I enjoy knitting and crochet but my day job takes over most of the time I have (though no complaints there, it's a rarity to be able to earn your bread doing something you love and I don't take that for granted!).

But after years of yarn hiatus I was starting to worry if I forgot the yarn crafts and that would be too bad (you see, I still have hopes for some miraculous time in future with lots of time to decide what projects to fill it with, though not for next 14 years I assure you ;) )

So I was delighted when I came across this simple pattern from Crochet d lane while browsing flipboard craft section. A 2 day project is exactly what I needed to get back into game and not to mention finishing a project gives a sense of accomplishment so crucial to keep the craft spark alive. 
I had to make modifications to the pattern to adjust to her size (it may be my gauge is too tight causing the original pattern to be too small for her, I don't know) but overall it was a great fun and definitely a success as the customer is super happy ;)

Our second holiday craft project was a quilled greeting card my daughter and I made together for her grandparents. If you are new to quilling, it's a paper craft with minimal tools and lots of fun. You can read more about it here . Due to it's simple nature it's an ideal craft to do with kids. My daughter was not old enough to be able to make intricate shapes on her own yet, but she helped with rolling paper, was in charge of glue and did the final arrangement. 

If you are new to quilling and want to be introduced to it, I recommend investing in a beginner's kit such as this one. I bought this kit many years ago and have made many projects with it so far. The kit has enough paper stripes to last multiple projects.

This bunch of flowers was a lot of fun for us to make and a great way to spend our day after Christmas morning, lots of fun discussing what to make and then making it! Afterall, such precious family time is what holidays are all about, isn't it?!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The One Food Resolution Everyone Should Consider for The New Year....

Happy new year to everyone! As we say Good-bye to 2014 and welcome 2015 with open arms and with lots of hopes and expectations for a happy, prosperous and fun-filled new year, it's also the perfect time to make resolutions! Review what was good about the past year and identify where things could improve for the new year.

If there is one food resolution which is most near and dear to my heart for many years now it is to eat home-cooked meals often and buy locally and seasonally grown food as much as possible.
Before global transportation was as pervasive (think our grandparent's generation), eating local and seasonal is what everyone did. You ate apples in fall, squashes and tomatoes in summer and strawberries in spring - it was all part of enjoying the season. And you preserved or pickled seasonal vegetables to enjoy year-around..

Then happened global transportation boom and food industrialization - both resulted in foods being easily transportable 100's of miles from their original picking destination to being shipped to opposite parts of the worlds for consumers to enjoy year-around. Not only it's taxing to the environment but it also causes foods to be picked ahead of ripening and more use of pesticides or other ways to keep food remain fresh while it's being shipped oversees.

The best way to start buying local and seasonal is to visit your local farmer's markets or be part of local CSA or co-ops which will deliver a basket of locally grown seasonal produce right to your door-steps.

There are innumerable advantages of eating locally and seasonally. 
  • First, you are eating product picked right at it's peaks within hours of being picked. Not only does it taste fresh, it also tastes so much better than the supermarket equivalent that even the pickiest eater will find something they love. 
  • You will help local farmer's eco-system and sustainable growing practices
  • Fruits and produce bought seasonally is often cheaper due to it's availability helping you save $$
  • Just the weekly ritual of visiting farmer's markets, looking at rows and rows of freshly picked produce and choosing what to buy can be so therapeutic and if kids are part of it right from their childhood, I do believe they are naturally grown towards eating more vegetables and eating healthier!
There are also some challenges to seasonal/local eating and here are some tips I found useful:
  • Seasonal can often mean repetition - you end up buying same vegetables weeks in a row because that's what is in season. But then, this is your chance to be creative in kitchen! Google various ways to cook with that vegetable and experiment with a new one every week - who knows, you will find a keeper recipe somewhere in there that you didn't even know about!
  • How do you know what's in season - there are great resources online or visiting farmer's markets is a more fun way to find out for yourself :)
  • Access to locally grown seasonal food - farmer's markets, CSAs, produce co-ops or even some supermarkets now-a-days carry local seasonal produce marked as such!
In this day and age of genetically modified everything and food industrialization, I truly feel that eating local and seasonal is a small step in the right direction, for our health, for our local farming ecosystem and for the environment! 

I personally know the farmer's now who serve us vegetables on our plates everyday and I know I am doing my part in developing the local sustainable ecosystem, but really the main reason I eat local/seasonal is the taste, there is just no comparison to supermarket food grown halfway across the world -- just try your local farmer's market next time and see it for yourself!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Favorite Books for Two/Three Year Olds

Last year around this time I posted "My Favorite Baby/Toddler Books" post summarizing those books both me and my toddler loved to read everyday and hoping it helps other new moms in their quest of good books to start their little ones with. And here is a sequel to that a year later!

My daughter is now three years old and she still loves to read many books from "My Favorite Baby/Toddler Books" post however her focus has now changed from me reading to her to she "reading" to me or she reading to her various toys at their respective bedtimes :)

Now a days she loves three types of books: 1) baby/toddler books which she can "read" by herself (knows the story by heart or can follow from pictures) 2) interactive books, exercise books or craft books 3) books I read to her at night-time with a more advanced plot, preferably animal family based plots.

So here are our latest Two/Three year old favorite books:

Blue Hat, Green Hat still remains our favorite book. It's a very simple and cute story and also the first book my daughter attempted to read on her own. The story is really simple, there is a silly turkey who can not seem to put his clothes in right order, so the line goes something like "blue hat, green hat, red hat, oops". First three are three animal friends who have put their hats correctly, oops refers to this turkey who puts his hat on feet! and so it goes... We love all Boynton books, but this is our favorite!

Image source:
Mary Englebreit's Nursery Tales: A collection of classics. This is our go-to for bedtime reading.. it has all the classic nursery stories such as three little pigs, Goldilocks and three bears, city mouse and country mouse, Hansel and Gretel, The Little Red Girl and many more! What sets this book apart is the simple language, no difficult words or long sentences and large pictures on each page together makes us turn to this book night after night for over six months now!

Image source:
Curious George Discovery Day is a great activity book covering basic colors (mixing colors), shapes, alphabets, numbers, sounds, senses etc in a very interactive manner. Every time my daughter opens this book she is lost in it for atleast half an hour! A great discovery book for younger ones!
Image credit:

Hooray For Fish is a very cute book about a baby fish which introduces us to all her fishy friends. Besides being an eye treat with bold colors and pictures, kids also learn the use of adjectives in an easy and fun setting!
In this age of Amazon, individual family owned booksellers are quite a rarety; this book was a personal recommendation from one such family owned store's owner.

Honey Rabbit is another keeper! I have been reading it to her since she was a few months old and we still love this book all the same. It's about a baby rabbit who asks his Dad what spring is. His Dad suggests he take a walk outside and see it for himself. The book is about the discoveries honey rabbit while asking all his friends what spring is. It's a hard to find book but an absolute treasure..

We love to do crafts together. Not only it occupies kids for hours at a time but they also learn to be creative and develop an aptitude for arts and design. I'll be honest we haven't found many good kids craft books here in US, though internet is a great resource full of good ideas. We went to India recently and my parents bought some Vikas craft books for her. I found this craft series the best I have seen so far - we brought the whole set back with us. It includes drawing and painting, paper cutting and making paper designs and origami. I don't really know if these are available in US but this craft series is really good and our running favorite!
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This page and all of its contents is copyright of Prajakta Gudadhe. All rights reserved.

This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.