As some of you may know, finding kid friendly vegetarian recipes for kids can be challenging. Even though I don’t have kids of my own, my husband and I both came from large families – meaning there were always little kids around. When it’s time for family gatherings, it’s not uncommon for me to cook for a variety of different food preferences, including my vegetarian little sister – Demelza. When she moved in with us during college, I purchased quite a few vegetarian cookbooks. For me, this wasn’t odd or a bother, since I came from a family that made quite a few vegetarian dishes, most of which were designed to be kid friendly vegetarian meals.
It wasn’t until I was in the classroom and talking to other teachers, however, that I learned that my family was an oddity. So many teachers and parents couldn’t get their child to eat a vegetable, never mind a vegetarian meal. Over and over I heard excuse after excuse, talking about how kids just weren’t drawn to vegetables. Now, this seemed very odd to me, growing up being a part time vegetarian, and having quite a few vegetarian friends who had never eaten a piece of meat. It never dawned on me how much of a blessing it was that my mother made so many kid friendly vegetarian recipes growing up – and I was happy to share some of my own knowledge with other teachers.
Even though I am no longer teaching, I still love teaching others some of my favorite recipes and sharing my vegetarian cookbooks. After a random talk with someone at a local grocery store, I thought it was time I actually put some of my knowledge in writing. While it may seem like common sense, most people can’t believe that they can make kid friendly vegetarian meals that their kids not only eat, but love!
Finding Kid Friendly Vegetarian Meals
If I had to pick one rule to teach all parents about cooking for kids – it’s keep it simple. While adults may like complicated meals, small children especially aren’t interested in complicated meals, especially if they don’t look visually appealing. Here are some of the great tips I learned from my mother and relatives that help – not just getting kids to eat a vegetable or two, but with making generally kid friendly meals, vegetarian or otherwise.
- Start with familiar foods. Make vegetable pizzas or colorful dishes that look similar to things kids eat at school.
- Get kids cooking with you. Kids are excited to try different foods, especially if they get to help make it.
- Stay with known spices. Children’s taste buds change with age. A recent study by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark proved that as children get older, they are able to distinguish more tastes. As well, kids’ tendencies to want very sweet foods decrease with age. This may mean that kids may like vegetables you are cooking, but not the seasoning put on them!
- Eat vegetables – you would be surprised how many adults refuse to eat vegetable meals. Don’t make a commitment to cooking vegetarian recipes for your kids if you or your spouse are not going to eat it as well!
- Cook fresh vegetables, too. As I stated above, kids are very sensitive to seasoning, including salt. This will allow kids to see if they like a vegetable, or maybe dislike a certain seasoning. If you must cook vegetables out of a can, try going with organic vegetables without added salt or MSG.
- Cook from a variety of different vegetarian cookbooks or family cookbooks. Most good cookbooks have kid friendly recipes or meal suggestions for pairing foods.
- Always experiment. Trying cooking a vegetable in many different ways. Kids may not like raw carrots in a salad, but may love them cooked as part of a broth in a soup, or baked with other mild vegetables.
- Be creative. Combine some fruits and vegetables you might not have considered on kids plates.
- Have brightly colored plates. Children are attracted to bright colors not only when it comes to artwork, but food. Fill their plates with a variety of colors to attract them to vegetables. Not only is this good for kids, but adults as well!
Recommended Vegetarian Cookbooks
While there are hundreds of different vegetarian cookbooks on the market, very few of them are actually directed toward kids. Finding kid friendly vegetarian recipes can be quite challenging if you are wanting to make sure your children’s nutritional needs are still being met. Having looking through quite a few of these recipes books myself for family gatherings, I was surprised just how generic and insulting some of these books were toward kids palates. Kids are capable of eating more than processed soy chicken nuggets and basic foods.
What I found worked best is actually clear of books designed just for kids in mind, since while some of these recipes may be kid friendly meals, most aren’t balanced. Some of my favorite cookbooks for cooking healthy, vegetarian meals were actually family cookbooks. Below are some cookbooks I have tried, or had recommended to me by vegetarian households.
- The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas
- The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes from Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine by Dynise Balcavage
- Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook, Revised: Quick, Easy, Cheap, and Tasty Vegetarian Recipes by Carole Raymond
- Better Than Peanut Butter & Jelly: Quick Vegetarian Meals Your Kids Will Love! by Marty Mattane
- Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family by Ken Haedrick
- Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love! by Jeniffer McCann
- Vegan Express by Nava Atlas
- Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
- Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook by Vegetarian Times Magazine
Cooking Vegetarian Meals for Kids
One of the biggest tricks to getting children to eat their vegetables is to get them started early. Many parents believe the philosophy that kids only want junk foods since kids are ‘programmed’ to eat these foods. In actuality, childrens’ bodies crave vegetables since they are filled with vitamins and minerals needed for growing kids. While having a large selection of vegetarian cookbooks on hand is important, so is introducing your whole family to a wide variety of vegetables and different ethnic dishes.
Rather than getting fast food or processed frozen meals down from the freezer, consider having family night in the kitchen where everyone takes part in making a different part of a meal. As Demelza stated in one of her articles, my husband’s family grew up with everyone taking part in dinner. Kids love to cook and help out in the kitchen, especially if it means they get to help take care of ‘big kid’ tasks. By helping in the kitchen, kids are more likely to experiment with tasting different fresh vegetables, and are more likely to eat their own culinary creations.
Even though it may sound silly, also always use common sense when cooking for kids. If you are going to give children a vegetable that is notorious for being hated by kids, let them taste it and develop their own opinion of the vegetables before telling them what it is they are eating. Children try imitating other children – either on TV or their friends – so try encouraging them to like things on their own. Also, if your child tries something and dislikes it, don’t push it. Children are little people with their own likes and dislikes – forcing them to eat things they dislike may very well turn vegetables into a negative experience.
With so many different vegetarian cookbooks available today with kid friendly recipes, it isn’t too surprising that more kids are finding they like to eat vegetables. It doesn’t matter if you are a part-time vegetarian family like us, or a vegetarian family looking for more kid friendly meals, it is easy to create veggie meals everyone can enjoy, with a bit of time and patience!