Well, it's another Meatless Monday and I've been thinking a lot about kiddos! As an auntie extraordinaire, I like to help out with the care and feeding of my little "nieces" and "nephews" whenever I get the opportunity.
Most of my friends, including the ones who are parents, are flexitarians, vegetarians, vegans, or some variation on that theme. They all have a variety of reasons for choosing to limit animal foods in their diets - including ecological and moral reasons (and aren't those really the same?). And those who are parents want to raise kids who have similar earth-lovin' values.
But is a vegetarian diet good for kids? you might be wondering. YES! Being a flexi or a veggie at any age takes planning. I cook poultry only once a week and eat meat-free the rest of the week. That means I have to carefully plan to get the protein and nutrients I need to stay healthy and feel energetic. So do parents of flexi or veggie kids. In fact, most people who have chosen to limit their intake of animal products want to be more intentional about what they put in their bodies, so it goes with the territory.
(In case you don't believe that kids can be healthy and have limited - or no - animal products in their diets, click here)
Since most veggie and flexi parents have answered the health question to their satisfaction already, a bigger question is often, how to I get my kids to eat this stuff in a world of beanie-weenies?
It's tough. My nephew ate very limited meat as a young child (it also keeps kiddos safe from nasties like E.coli, which is why many parents limit ground meat in particular -- my nephew didn't try a hamburger for a large part of his childhood). He had only ever eaten vegetarian chicken nuggets ... but once he started school and tried the real thing, he didn't want to see the "fake meat" kind anymore.
There are a few tasty ways to begin introducing vegetarian foods to picky kids, however. Here are a few suggestions for veggie foods that kids seem to love. (It's important to remember also, that vegetarian processed food is still processed, and while it is better for the planet, you still want to eat them in moderation). If you're just trying out Meatless Monday for the first time, these might be great places to start.
Morningstar Sausage Patties and Corn Dogs:
Corn dogs are so delicious! I love the Morningstar brand - to me, it tastes exactly like a regular corn dog. The sausages are also a great breakfast, especially on an English muffin.
Gardein Chicken Tenders
These are AWESOME! They are low in calorie, so they make a great protein snack, and they are quite similar to regular old disgusting chicken nuggets, without the disgustingness. In fact, I think I am going to eat some after I post this.
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
If your kiddo will eat chili, tacos, or other foods with ground meat, TVP is an easy substitute. It is made with soy flour and looks like Grape-Nuts before it's cooked. Afterward it just looks like ground meat. I especially like to throw it into my regular chili recipe. Bob's Red Mill has lots of recipes for kid-friendly foods like Sloppy Joe's and Shepherd's Pie made with TVP.
For some reason, kids who are otherwise picky eaters will often eat black beans. Sometimes just black beans. Blogger Heather Armstrong has often written about the fact that her daughter, who is a bit particular about her food, will eat black beans any time. My nephew will also eat black beans straight from a can. Luckily, they are super-healthy, and can be prepared lots of other ways besides just putting them in a bowl. I like them in a tortilla with some avocado. Yum.
Don't tell your family that Quorn is made from a fungus. If it helps, don't think about it yourself. Quorn is a "mycoprotein", but all you really need to know is that you can put the crumbles in all sorts of things, like spaghetti sauce or tacos, and they will appear to be meat.
Seitan is a protein made from wheat gluten. Yes, I know that gluten is the devil these days, but seitan is delicious and it substitutes well in any recipe that you usually make with chicken, including casseroles.
Field Roast Sausages
I've written about Field Roast products before. I've even given a recipe that's very kid-friendly, a Pasta Bake that is cheesy and delicious. Not only are these sausages tasty, but they have the density of actual meat, so they are also great for dads who might not be on board with the Meatless Monday plan, as well as the kids.
Do you have favorite kid-friendly vegetarian dishes?
* Meatless Monday is a movement to increase awareness of sustainable, meat-free eating, by eating meatless meals on Mondays. So alliterative!