Cooking for Teen Athletes – Gluten free Spaghetti and Meatballs

Although I’ve been very busy with my entrepreneurial ventures and teaching at Berkeley, I’m still required to cook for my athletic teenage daughters.  Cooking for athletes is different than cooking for a normal family as there are serious time constraints and, “food as fuel” is more of a practice than a concept, although I think it should be an extremely high priority for anyone feeding growing children, athletic or otherwise.

My daughter will often swim for an hour and a half.  She does this after school, so she has already had a full day and has eaten next to nothing.  She’s also prone to anemia, so I am always trying to pack her meals with nutrients, and they need to be iron dense.  My other daughter plays soccer and has practices in the evening, so between soccer and swimming there is a tiny slice of time for dinner, and it’s around 5 p.m.

As many mothers know, teenage girls don’t eat much at lunch, which makes them very hungry when they get home from school.  This is when the bad snacking is often done.  I’ve tried many strategies over the years, but have recently decided to serve a quick dinner at this time when possible.  I know how lucky I am to be able to have the flexibility to cook early in the day, but if you don’t, try making a double batch of this to freeze in single serving glass containers, or to serve the next day.

When the kids were little, and I was for the most part a stay-at-home mom, I could spend two hours cooking dinner, but that is no longer possible.  Someday, I hope to have time to make homemade ravioli again, but for now this will have to do, and it checks the boxes of the top criteria for me.  Fast, easy, hot and nutritious. Plus, they love it, which might be the most important criteria.


Spaghetti and Meatballs


1 package gluten free spaghetti cooked

1 jar of marina sauce or make your own

1 package of meatballs from Whole Foods Market or make your own

Parmesan cheese (I like these large shavings)


Begin cooking gluten free pasta as per package instructions.  Then, in a large sauce pan heat the meatballs and sauce until they come to a slight boil, reduce heat and let simmer while the pasta is cooking.  Once pasta is done, add to the pan and gently toss while hot.  Reheats and freezes well.






Lasagna Bites

Lasagna Bites

Marvelous little bites to have around the house or in the freezer.  A group of them can make a nice light dinner with a salad and crusty bread or they can be served at a party or they can be handed out to starving children after school.  Recently I did all of the above in the same day.  I doubled the recipe and even have a nice stash in the freezer.   These bites can be popped back into a mini muffin tin and reheated in the oven.


1 pound ground beef

1 eggplant cut into small cubes

1 jar marinara sauce (recipe to make this from scratch coming soon)

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 package round wonton wrappers (found in produce section)

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

Basil for (optional)



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Brown the beef and drain, then add the diced eggplant and cook until soft.  Stir in the marinara sauce and salt and pepper and reduce heat to low.  Let simmer as long as you possibly can while you go about your business.  An hour or more is wonderful, but 30 minutes is sufficient.  In a small bowl mix one whole egg into the ricotta and set aside.

Using a non-stick mini muffin tin (if necessary spray with cooking spray depending on your tin), then begin by pressing each wonton wrapper inside each muffin tin.  Begin layering each bite with a small amount (one teaspoon) of sauce on the bottom, followed by a small amount of ricotta, then sauce again.  The sauce should be a little bit chunky, but this will keep the bites from being too soft.  No one ever notices the eggplant which gives the sauce a rich flavor and adds more nutrients.   Sprinkle the top with a generous amount of both mozzarella and Parmesan.

Bake for 18-20 minuets or until golden brown on top.  Allow to cool slightly then pop out using a knife to cut around the edges as needed.

Photo by Siena Thomas 🙂







When I started cooking my little ones where tiny, my husband and I were hungry and often tired.  All I wanted to do was make something to feed our souls at the end of a long day.  I found the little ones would eat a little pasta, a few olives, some chicken and red peppers.  I discovered I could open a bottle of wine and make a green salad and we were all happy.  Frozen pizza and nuggets were often on the menu, but I learned to move toward the fresh ingredients.  With every step I gained confidence.  I have a tiny kitchen.  I didn’t have gourmet grocery stores near, but I grew my own basil and tomatoes and I began to experiment.  It was worth it then, and remains so today.  I hope my cookbook Real Food for Real People, will inspire other people to do the same.  Blessings and love to all.

Caprese Pasta Salad

This recipe is dedicated to Pauline, a little girl on our volleyball team, who loved this salad and asked me personally for the recipe (love that).  I am always trying to make yummy food for the parking lot where we congregate between games during all day volleyball tournaments.  Kids don’t typically love the traditional pasta salad recipe so I decided to try this instead.  I think it was a hit because of the simple fresh ingredients and the Gemelli (Barilla) pasta that stays al dente.

1 box or 16 oz of Gemelli (twisted pasta)

1 small basket cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 bunch fresh basil

8 oz package of fresh monzzarella cheese in bite size pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt & fresh ground black pepper


Put pasta water on to boil and prepare as package directs.  Wash and dry tomatoes and basil.  Cut tomatoes in half and tear basil leaves from stems.  You will need a nice size handful of basil leaves.  Use a good size bowl so it will be easy to toss and coat each pasta piece.  I like to add my ingredients to the bottom of the bowl while the pasta is cooking so they can begin to incorporate.  So, add olive oil, halved tomatoes and a sprinkling of sea salt to the bowl.

Rinse pasta in a colander and allow to cool completely.  Add pasta to the ingredients in the bowl, then add the fresh monzzarella.  You can use smaller balls or chop a larger ball into bite size pieces.   Add fresh basil and another sprinkling of salt over the cooled pasta.

Gently toss all of the ingredients together as the basil and monzzaella can be very delicate If the pasta looks dry add another teaspoon of olive oil.

If you are serving this to young children omit the black pepper and just add it to the individual portions for the adults who will appreciate it.

This is delicious cold, naturally, but left overs can also be heated in the microwave for a light lunch.

If you are not doing a picnic you can serve this with a grilled steak.  It would be an easy dish to make ahead for company.

Real Food for Real People

Book Cover 101713
Sydney Chaney Thomas –
Real Food For Real People
Coming to Amazon March 2014 (photo by Christina Shook)

Several years ago, I found the time in tiny intervals to write a little cookbook.  I self published it and give it to friends.  A few months later, I was invited to present it at the State of California Food Conference, where it was very well received.  I was encouraged to expand it and get it published, but life intervened and I let it go.  Over the summer of 2013 it kept whispering to me, “Sydney, you need to finish the cookbook”.  Now finally, it’s done, or as done as any creative endeavor can ever be, and will be available on Amazon (Kindle) in the Spring of 2014.  It truly has been a labor of love.  My dearest wish and greatest hope is that it will help other people.

I’m proud of the fact that my food is very simple to execute and as a result of that I had a number of different titles that conveyed that, but my editor (Neo Garaby) recommended that I not call the book,  Easy Food for Lazy Moms, or the even more controversial, Easy Meals for Drunk Moms, but all joking aside, the book is created for people who may be distracted and/or drinking a little wine while cooking.

In these pages you will find not just my recipes, but other topics that I hold most dear.

Blessings to the kind souls who have encouraged me every step of the way.   I love you all.