Vegetarian meal ideas for those hard-to-please kids (or adults!)

My kids haven’t noticed that they are not the most adventurous eaters.  And, to be fair, they both eat a much wider variety of foods than they did as toddlers/preschoolers.  

Nevertheless, over the years I’ve discovered some tried and true ideas for healthy vegetarian meals that are likely to please everyone:

  • Scrambled egg sandwich on whole grain bread (melt on cheese if desired), with fresh fruit on the side.
  • Grilled cheese (Paninis made with sliced mozzarella are a favorite in our house.  Vegan cheez could be subbed in), add veggies like spinach/tomato/avocado as desired, and serve on whole grain bread, with a cup of tomato soup (soup can be used for dipping the sandwich).
  • Veggie soups (homemade butternut squash or cream of broccoli are two of our favorites) with fresh whole grain bread and/or whole grain crackers.
  • Pasta with vegetables on the side, and a choice of marinara, and vegan “cheez” or traditional Alfredo sauce.
  • Taco night (my daughter thinks this should be every Tuesday!): Let everyone prepare their own taco as they like with refried beans and sides of lettuce, chopped tomato, stir-fried bell peppers, grated cheese (or vegan “cheez” shreds–our family likes Daiya brand), regular or tofu-style sour cream, salsa, and avocado slices or guacamole.
  • Homemade pizza (English muffin pizzas work well on a busy evening, kids can make their own if desired) with organic mozzarella (or vegan shreds), veggies as desired on the pizza, or on the side.
  • Mac and cheese (can be vegan), homemade or from a box mix (My kids like Annie’s Organic Grass Fed), with a little pureed sweet potato to boost nutrients (a small jar of baby food works and is easy–just don’t tell my kids I do this!)
  • Veggie burgers, “chik’n” patties, or veggie hot dogs, served with cheese (or cheese substitute)–with lettuce/tomato/avocado as desired–on a whole grain bun, with a side of baked beans (homemade or from a can), or sweet potato fries (homemade or from the freezer section).
  • Stir fry with tofu or other meat substitute, over rice or noodles.  Save some chopped fresh veggies to serve on the side if kids prefer their veggies raw.
  • Homemade cornbread served with chili or other more “adventurous” soups or stews.
  • Potato “bar” with sweet and white potatoes with a variety of toppings, such as shredded (real or vegan) cheese, salsa, olives, sour cream (dairy or soy-based), or stir-fried bell peppers.
  • Make-your-own sushi night (I must give credit to M. for this idea): Let everyone roll their own favorites into sushi rolls with nori paper cut into squares, rice (mix seasoned rice vinegar into cooked sushi rice), and cucumber, carrot and avocado sliced finely.  Serve miso soup on the side.

Good sides to increase nutrient intake:

  • Fresh fruit (sliced apple, mango, or watermelon, berries, grapes, or whole clementines), or applesauce or canned peaches (packed in lite syrup or fruit juice).
  • Baby carrots or other chopped veg. “sticks”  (cucumbers work well), and/or cherry tomatoes, with ranch dressing or hummus to dip.
  • Smoothies with fresh fruit or even a little spinach thrown in for a “green” smoothie. My son, who is not a big eater of green vegetables, is a big fan of smoothies, even green ones!

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Taco night! It was a Wednesday, though, not a Tuesday…(Picture taken by my son)

Feeding Picky Kids

My personal experience over the years feeding picky kids on a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) diet and seeing that they actually do grow and thrive has inspired me to share my ideas with others who may be struggling with this issue, vegetarian or not.  Seeing your toddler cry about the complicated meal you have lovingly prepared for him, or your preschooler refusing to eat a single bite of her meal can be very frustrating and anxiety-provoking.  I have experienced many of these moments as a parent and would like to share some tips:

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Pick up a copy of Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense:  http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=52.  Ironically, Ms. Satter is not a big proponent of vegetarian diets for kids, and I think her ideas on this (at least in this book) are a bit outdated, but her philosophy of Division of Responsibility really helped my husband and I to relax and enjoy the healthy and balanced meal we were providing to our (at the time) toddler son, and to know that is was o.k. to leave it up to him as to what and how much to eat.  He did not starve when we stopped cajoling and bribing him into eating!

Always have at least one or two familiar foods available at the meal so that you know your child will have something he or she is comfortable with eating.  Maybe that is milk and bread with butter or margarine, soy milk and applesauce, or baby carrots with hummus.  This will help everyone to relax knowing there is something the child will eat, and your child may be more open to try the other more “adventurous” foods on the table.

Don’t “label” your child as a picky eater, or over-react in excitement when they do try something new.  You can remind them that their tastes will change as they get older, so that a food they disliked a bite of tonight may become a food that they enjoy later on.

Keep serving healthy, simple foods like cut up fresh fruits and veggies, both with meals and as snacks.  Serving these when your kids are hungry may encourage them to be more adventurous.  In our house, my kids know that they can always have a fruit or vegetable, even right before a meal (when the Pirate Booty is off limits!)

Have kids help with family meals by picking out produce they would like to try in the grocery store, helping to plant/tend/pick veggies in the garden, or helping to cook a meal.  Getting more involved with family meals may help them to feel more ownership in the process so that they are more likely to try these foods.

Remember that it often takes multiple exposures to foods before a child will try them, and the presence of a trusted adult is an important factor in whether a child tries new foods.  Eating meals together frequently as a family has been linked to better nutrition in kids.  Making family mealtimes a priority, and letting children see their parents eating healthy foods will help them learn to enjoy healthful foods themselves.  Likewise, kids respond to peer pressure, so seeing their friends eating healthy meals or snacks at preschool or a playgroup can help kids to be more interested in foods they may not normally eat.