5 Vegetarian Meals Any Kid Will Love

Little girl eating vegetables
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Offering more vegetarian options for your family may seem like an impossible task, but with a few helpful hints you can whip up stellar veggie-centric meals while the family proudly cheers you on.

Crafting a healthy vegetarian recipe requires some knowledge of what nutrients are needed. Before we get into a few basic recipes that you can cater to anyone's preference, let's see what they should offer.

Meeting Nutrition Needs With Vegetarian Recipes

Every child can benefit from the nutrients in a plant-based diet. While there is no one-size-fits-all definition to “vegetarian,” you surely want to expose the kiddos to more than French fries.

Eating a wide variety of plant-based foods allows for a boost in fiber as well as vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, folate, potassium, and magnesium. Plant foods also contain a slew of cell-protecting antioxidants, but there are important nutrients that can fall by the wayside.

For children on a vegetarian diet, some of the most important nutrients to emphasize are iron for healthy blood and bone-building calcium and vitamin D. For iron:

  • Seek out iron from beans, lentils, raisins, tofu, and whole grains.
  • Cook in cast iron cookware.
  • Eat iron-rich foods along with vitamin C from fruit and fruit juices to enhance iron absorption.
  • Look for pastas, cereals, and other products typically fortified with iron.

For sufficient calcium and vitamin D:

  • Get calcium and vitamin D from dairy products like low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Opt for dairy-free milk alternatives like soy or almond milk if someone in your family needs to avoid dairy.
  • Seek calcium sources that don't require a cow, like dark leafy greens.

Protein Predicament

One question most parents ask is “how do I make sure my child is getting enough protein?” Children ages 4 through 8 years old require about 20 grams of protein per day. Plant-based protein options are abundant and foods like legumes and nuts offer a dose of healthy fat and fiber-rich carbs along with muscle-building protein. If eggs and dairy or dairy alternatives are included in the child’s diet, they can further assist with protein intake, plus they offer up terrific sources of calcium and vitamin D.

Serve protein-rich foods throughout the day to reach (and often exceed) the 20-gram goal. For example:

  • Breakfast: One egg, 7 grams protein
  • Snack: Smoothie with 1 cup of soy milk, 8 grams
  • Dinner: One half-cup serving of rice and beans, 8 grams
  • Total: 23 grams

5 Recipes for Success

Successful vegetarian cooking is all in the execution—get the kids excited about cooking and they will get excited about eating. Plant a garden or hit up the local farmers’ market to give them a better feel for where the ingredients come from. Introduce a wide variety of colorful options so they can’t help but be interested to try and experiment with the wide variety of things plants have to offer.

1) Egg-Cellent Breakfast

Eggs are a high quality source of protein. Those golden yolks are filled with antioxidants like lutein for eyesight and omega-3 fats for a healthy brain. Make this simple scrambled egg dish for breakfast or an easy weeknight dinner (kids always get excited for “brinner").

Serves 1

  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup chopped vegetables (bell pepper, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms)
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheese
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add eggs and vegetables to pan and scramble for about 1 minute. Add cheese and continue to gently scramble until eggs are fluffy and cheese is melted.

2) Quinoa Salad

This superfood is one-stop shopping for important nutrients, as it’s packed with fiber, iron, folate, and magnesium. Quinoa can be prepared like a grain but is jam-packed with protein. Enjoy for lunch or dinner tossed with diced fresh vegetables, a drizzle of olive oil, and chopped nuts for some crunch. Leftovers make fabulous lunchbox fare.

3) Deconstructed Broccoli and Tofu Stir-Fry

A mound of mixed food like stir-fry can be stressful to a young eater and it might even deter them from trying it. Try separating the components on the plate, like in this recipe. Roasted tofu provides the protein. Serve with brown rice or rice noodles for a complete meal.

Serves 2

  • ½ block extra firm tofu (7 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 3 cups broccoli florets

Preheat oven to 425F. Slice tofu into bite-sized pieces and drain on a paper towel; press down gently to remove excess water. Place tofu on a sheet pan, drizzle with 1 tablespoon each canola oil and soy sauce and toss well to coat.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (turning once), until golden brown. Heat remaining oil in a large skillet or wok, add ginger and allow to cook for about 25 seconds. Add broccoli and remaining soy sauce. Stir-fry until broccoli is just cooked (about 7 minutes).

4) Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Kids love to be involved in the meal and a baked potato bar is a fun way to get tiny hands in the mix at the dinner table. One of the best things about spuds is that they can be baked ahead. Try this recipe for low-calorie potato skins or simply lay out bowls of beans, shredded cheese, steamed vegetables, diced avocado, salsa, and Greek yogurt and let those little imaginations decide what dinner will look like.

5) Hummus Platter

Combine a colorful plate of vegetables, olives, whole-grain pita, or rice cakes and some cubes of low-fat cheese and you’ve assembled a nutritious meal without dirtying a pot or pan. Hummus provides both protein and healthy fats, so encourage thick slathering and double-decker stacks. Hummus can be made from all different types of beans and you can experiment by adding other vegetables like sweet potato, edamame, or beets like in this recipe for vibrant red beet hummus.

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Article Sources

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  1. KidsHealth. Vegetarianism. Updated October 2014.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.

  3. Buscemi S, Corleo D, Di Pace F, Petroni ML, Satriano A, Marchesini G. The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye HealthNutrients. 2018;10(9):1321. doi:10.3390/nu10091321

  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019