I was chatting with a friend recently who said she was trying to get her children to eat more vegetables. She was also interested whether I had any ideas how to turn leftovers into a school lunch. I thought about it for a while and came up with this recipe.
We’re in the dog days of summer here in the Midwest and everyone is grilling – driving through the neighborhoods and by the parks on the weekend, the air is filled with the aromas and smoke from barbecues. How easy would it be to prepare a few extra skewers of veggies to grill up and use during the week for the kids’ lunch? And if you don’t have a grill, it’s just as easy to saute the veggies in a skillet – done in about 7 minutes!
But getting kids to eat vegetables can be a challenge. I think parents would love to get a pile of greens into their kids’ mouths. But how?
I’m aware of two ways that virtually guarantee kids will eat veggies. Douse them in cheese sauce (not good). Or add them to pasta. That I can do! What kid doesn’t want to have pasta for lunch?? And because there’s no cheese, mayo or anything that could spoil, this dish will easily and safely hold until lunch time.
I’m amazed by all the new kinds of pastas coming into the market – pastas made with chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, edamame. They have great flavor and more protein than traditional pasta. Here’s a link to an article highlighting some of these products. And I’ve found that Whole Foods carries a lot of pasta options. For this recipe, I used the Trader Joe brand of Quinoa & Brown Rice Pasta. Just cook up a serving of pasta for each kid, mix in the pesto, toss the veggies on top and pack it in the lunch boxes. This can be served hot, slightly warmed, room temperature or chilled. I prefer it room temperature.
And to make things even easier, you can use frozen veggies to make the pesto. My freezer always seems to have bags of broccoli, spinach and peas in it, so I can throw this together any time of year.
So there you have it – a recipe that uses leftovers and gets a bunch of delicious, nutritious veggies into your kids. Give it a try and let me know what your kids think!
Pasta of choice
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 pound mushrooms (I used cremini)
1 medium onion (large dice)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste, if desired
Pesto Ingredients (makes 2.5 – 3 cups)
2 cups sweet peas (frozen)
1/2 pound broccoli (stalks and florets – fresh or frozen)
3 – 4 ounces baby spinach (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt
- For grilling: Place the olive oil seasoned with salt & pepper in a mixing bowl. Toss all of the vegetables in the oil until they are lightly coated. Place the whole mushrooms and tomatoes, and diced onions on separate skewers (if using wood skewers, soak them first so they don’t burn). Since each veg cooks at a different pace, I find it easier to manage by separating the vegetables on different skewers. Heat grill and cook vegetables to desired doneness – about 5 to 7 minutes depending on heat. Then cut the mushrooms and tomatoes in half or bite size pieces before serving.
- For sauteing: Place the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok and turn on to medium heat. Add in the vegetables and stir until evenly coated with oil. (It helps to add a few tablespoons of water.) Place a tight-fitting lid on the pan, leave the heat on medium to medium-low, and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Uncover and let simmer another 2 – 3 minutes to reduce juices. Season with salt and pepper. Cut the mushroom and tomatoes in half or bite size pieces. Set aside.
- To make the pesto, cut the broccoli into chunks and place in a steamer with the sweet peas. Steam for 4 – 5 minutes until broccoli is bright green and has a slight crunch. If you like broccoli completely cooked, steam for another 4 – 5 minutes. Transfer the broccoli and peas to a food processor and add all other ingredients except the salt.The heat from the broccoli and peas will “cook” the spinach and garlic. Store unused pesto in fridge for up to one week, or freeze it.
- Blend for about 3 minutes until smooth. Add salt slowly and keep blending to achieve desired taste.
- Prepare one serving of pasta per person according to the package directions. Drain the water off the cooked pasta and place pasta back into the pan. Immediately add a drizzle of olive oil and stir to prevent pasta from sticking. Then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pesto per serving of pasta, as desired, and mix well until pasta is evenly coated.
- Add grilled or sauteed vegetables on top. Can be served hot, warm, room temperature or chilled.