The easiest and tastiest toddler-approved dinner you can make during witching hour.
This dinner is incredibly simple, and I think almost anybody could make it. Even after a glass of wine. Or with an unsettled baby strapped to your front in the baby carrier. Who also loudly demands to be fed. A screaming toddler wrapped around your ankles. You get the point. I think all parents know exactly what the torturous witching hour looks like at various stages in our kids’ lives.
I don’t need to paint you a picture.
Why complicate things at this manic and emotionally-charged hour, particularly if everyone’s just arrived home from work, childcare, school, or after-school activities. Everyone’s usually tired, wired, and hangry. For me personally, I’m physically exhausted at the end of a work day (or for that matter, a day at home with my toddler, but that’s mostly emotional exhaustion. Bless him!) because I walk at least 6 km to and from work (perhaps very stupidly. Is exercise REALLY that good for you?), and my feet are killing me. Therefore, I don’t want to stand for hours in the kitchen.
It has to be a quick no-brainer dinner. But at the same time, I want to nourish my family.
I feel that this is a dish the whole family would approve of, and it’s so versatile too. I’ll add some ideas for variations at the bottom of the recipe.
Suitable for: As long as your child has tried all of the ingredients at least twice and hasn’t had an allergic reaction, they could eat this from as early as 10 months really. You may want to just slightly mash the beans, depending on how well they manage chunky food. In saying that, the beans should be nice and soft and easy to chew after cooking.
Smoky Bean Casserole
(Serves approx. 4)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1 cinnamon stick
1 red onion, chopped finely
1 red capsicum, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 portobello mushroom, diced
1 handful of spinach, finely chopped
1 large jar (700g) of passata (additive free) or homemade pasta sauce
1 BPA-free can of black beans
1 BPA-free can of chickpeas
2 cups of cooked brown rice or quinoa
Fresh coriander to garnish
Sour cream to garnish (optional)
2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds (optional)
Grated cheese (optional)
- Begin to cook rice or quinoa as per the packet instructions.
- Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Add the onions and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring occasionally, and add the rest of the vegetables, and continue cooking until they have softened, adding the garlic towards the end so as not to burn it.
- Add half of the passata.
- Add the cinnamon stick, the black beans and the chickpeas.
- Gradually add more passata when necessary if it starts to look dry or if it sticks to the pan. Simmer on medium heat uncovered for 12 minutes or until it thickens. Feel free to leave it a little longer if you get distracted by the kids.
- Add to cooked rice or quinoa (remove the cinnamon stick).
- Garnish with coriander, sour cream, and pumpkin seeds. Add a little grated cheese if your kids love it, but it’s not necessary.
It is so delicious! It has an earthy smoky flavour, which is really yummy, particularly on a cool evening or when you’re craving a bit of comfort food. My toddler even asked for seconds the first time he tried it! If legumes/pulses are a new thing for your child, you could maybe leave out the vegetables that they’re less familiar with. Keep it simple by only adding capsicum with onion and garlic, for example. Chop up the onion quite small and reduce the garlic so that it’s not too overpowering if they’re also new flavours to them.
The point is: you know your own children, and they’re all so different. It’s great for them to try one or two new foods at each meal, but so as not to overwhelm them, pair the new foods with something familiar, as well as something they love. The next time you make it, you can add something new again because this dish will be familiar.
This would also be a great lunchbox filler if your kids use a thermos. It will keep them going for hours. I took the leftovers to work for lunch. How good are leftovers when you have them!
Use this casserole as a taco filling, instead of having it with rice. Have a Mex Spread. Simply put it in the middle of the table with an assortment of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, avocado or a fresh guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese, grated carrot, chopped up chilli for those who like it (like my toddler! Is that normal? He’ll have some hot chilli, go red in the face, his eyes will well up, he’ll be on the verge of crying, and then demand some almond milk…and then ask for more chilli!! Weirdo). If the kids are old enough, let them assemble their own. If they’re young, they could have deconstructed tacos. Let them choose what goes on their plates. Or in their hair. Or on the floor.
Remember to have fun and to embrace the mess!
Want to make this meal even tastier and quicker?
If I’m totally shattered, or get home late, I will take a shortcut. Well, it’s a shortcut in the sense that a part of the meal is already prepared. On a good week, there are occasionally moments when we have a little more time to cook. Sunday night for instance. The weekend is such a great opportunity to get a few things done in the kitchen to make life easier during the week. Meal planning is key! I like to get my toddler to bed, pour a glass of wine (or two!), put on some music, and get creative in the kitchen. It’s my happy place. It’s so much nicer to cook under those conditions, rather than the dreaded witching hour chaos!!
So, as a little bonus for you amazing parents, here is another easy recipe that can be used for many different quick meals. Continue reading for some more super quick ideas. It freezes well too so you don’t have to use it all in the next few days. Once you’ve made it, you can eliminate the need to chop up a whole load of vegetables for the smoky bean casserole. They’ll already be in the sauce. You just heat up this passata and add the beans and spices, and voila. Genius! You will need a stick blender, food processor, or Thermomix for this, or else you can just chop everything up finely.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 large Portobello mushroom or 6 small mushroom cups, chopped
1 large handful of spinach, chopped
Dried or fresh Italian herbs eg. basil
½ red or yellow capsicum/pepper, chopped
½ zucchini/courgette, chopped
6-8 fresh tomatoes, chopped
- In a frying pan (or Thermomix), heat the oil and add the onion, cooking until it softens. Add the dried herbs too if you’re using them, and/or add a few leaves of fresh herbs in Step 3.
- Gradually add the rest of the vegetables (except for the tomatoes. Yes, I know they’re fruit!), and continue stirring.
- Once they’re softened, add the tomatoes and garlic.
- Allow to simmer uncovered for at least half an hour* if you can, topping up with water as it requires, and stirring occasionally.
- Once it starts to resemble a thick sauce, preferably more of a brown hue than a red one, you can take it off the heat.
- When it cools, puree it until it’s smooth.
*The longer you leave it to simmer, the tastier and less acidic it becomes. You don’t need to stand over it and stir it, so I find this a perfect after dinner recipe to make once the kids are in bed. Or even during nap time. The veggies don’t take long to cut up because they will be blended later anyway. If you have older kids and naps are a decadent thing of the past, you could enlist them to chop up the veggies. Hey, they could even make it from start to finish. Even better! You can use any veggies you have, so it’s perfect to use up the fridge scraps. Well, not any. I wouldn’t use cabbage or potato, but certainly broccoli, pumpkin, or kale.
What else could you do with this lovely sauce?
- Pitta pizzas. Just spread some on some pitta bread and top with your favourite toppings. Get the kids involved! My two and half year-old loves to make pizzas.
- Use it as a quick sauce for pasta. Just heat and stir through some cooked pasta. While I’m not one for hiding vegetables, there’s no harm in boosting the nutrients in a dish, is there? The fussiest of eaters won’t know they’re getting so many vegetables into them, and you’ll be really happy knowing they’re eating some vegg that they usually refuse. Grate some cheese over it.
- You could add some leftover cooked chicken or beef to the sauce, and add a few extra vegetables and potatoes for a quick hearty casserole.
- Add it to some cooked rice, sautéed vegetables, and parmesan for a cheat’s risotto.
- Top a baked potato or sweet potato, and add cheese and avocado.
- Use it as a healthy ketchup substitute. The shop-bought stuff is usually full of sugar. So, again, why not get more vegetables into those little growing bodies?
I would love to hear what you make ahead of time to make your weekdays easier. Please comment below, I’m always looking for more easy ideas. I only do quick and easy. And of course healthy! Let me know what you think of this meal. Happy cooking, wonderful parents! You’re doing an amazing job…well, you got to the bottom of this long post, so you obviously love good food as much as I do!