By TMoM team member Kelly Hines
My thirteen year old daughter is an athlete. She is determined, self-regulating, health conscious, and headstrong. She is also a huge pain in my ass. Two years ago, she walked in and said, “I’m going to be gluten free.” She had become convinced, for whatever reason, that gluten was the devil and for optimum health she should cut it out of her diet. She told me this as I ate a sandwich. “OK,” I said through mouthfuls of white bread deliciousness. I spent the next year and untold dollars on special bread and baked goods, scrupulously reading labels and making her gluten free versions of her favorite foods.
Six months ago, she waltzed into the kitchen and said, “I’m now a vegetarian.”
“No,” I said, gnawing on a chicken leg. “Choose gluten free or vegetarian, I can’t do both.”
She chose vegetarian. At this point, I feel I need to justify my reticence a little. My daughter has no strong feelings about animal rights or environmental impacts, just like she has no elemental problems with wheat. She just decides something and then she’s committed to it for the long haul. It is both admirable and annoying. So when I made her choose between the two, I wasn’t being a jerk, I was being practical. Because I am lazy.
I must admit, I thought vegetarian was the easier route at first. I had been a vegetarian for several years in my early twenties. Of course, my diet consisted of beer and cigarettes (both notably vegetarian and also inappropriate for a 13 year old). The primary issue is feeding her in a way that respects her choice while fueling a growing girl. Naturally slim, she also needs enough quality calories to get her through a workout. She also loves to cook, so we’ve worked together to come up with a few meals that meet all the criteria.
Here are six foods guaranteed to fuel your vegetarian kid, and taste delicious, too!
Beyond Meat Products
After trying a variety of faux burgers, the Beyond Meat brand comes out on top. The texture is right, the flavor is good, and the ingredients pack a nutrient punch. These products include burgers, ground ‘meat’, breakfast sausage, bratwurst, and hot Italian sausage. They have around 20 grams of plant protein, iron from natural minerals, and they’re low in saturated fat.
One of the first things I did when my daughter said she was going vegetarian was to pick up a couple of menus from veg-friendly restaurants for inspiration. Falafel is a favorite on salads, in pita sandwiches, or just alongside some rice. Not only that, it’s really easy to make. I’ll make a big batch and freeze individual balls. When you’re ready to cook them, just fry them in a little oil or bake in the oven or (best option) cook them in an air fryer. Made with ground chickpeas and herbs (our favorites are flavored with cilantro), they are great for a snack or a meal. Serve them alongside some spicy hummus or cool Greek yogurt.
Yes, I know. Salads are boring. Except they’re NOT. Salads don’t have to just be a bowl of lettuce. Add a half cup of a cooked and cooled grain like quinoa or couscous, some roasted chickpeas, and feta cheese (which is lower in fat and higher in calcium than its yellow cousin, cheddar). I keep a jar of pickled red onion in the fridge that my daughter won’t touch but that are delicious on a salad. Salads are a great way to introduce new vegetables, too. Try spinach or a spring mix instead of iceberg, add thinly sliced bell peppers for color, radish for a little heat. If you’re going to be a vegetarian, you’ll need to embrace a variety of vegetables.
A bowl of stuff is a family favorite at our house. I start with a bowl of rice, then add a protein, vegetables, and some kind of creamy sauce. The theme can vary – Mediterranean, Mexican, Southern – but the basics are the same. Our favorite bowl is beef bulgogi, and I just swap out the beef for some Beyond Meat ground ‘beef’. Delicious and fast!
Yeah, yeah. The magical fruit. But there are so many different beans, with different flavors and textures. And beans are PACKED with nutrients. A bean based meal can be as simple as a bowl of pintos or red beans and rice. Bean based soups and chilis, black bean and sweet potato enchiladas, even bean sandwiches take your dried or canned beans to the next level. Meat in many dishes can simply be subbed out for beans. The farts are just a bonus.
I am shocked when I hear someone say, “I don’t like eggs”. Because eggs (in addition to being delicious) are one of the most perfect foods on the planet. Versatile and full of protein, eggs don’t always have to take center stage. If your child isn’t a fan of the scrambled, fried, boiled, or poached variety – how about trying them as a veggie packed quiche, or add egg to cooked pasta for a creamy sauce that ups the nutrition of the dish? Or miniaturize the dish by making it in a muffin tin. You can freeze the leftovers and pop them in the microwave for a quick breakfast or snack.
A few final tips:
- Don’t get caught in the pasta trap. Pasta is great but not exactly healthy. If you’re making a pasta dish, add an egg or some sautéed vegetables or beans (or a bean based sauce) to up the nutrition.
- Look to restaurants. There are so many great vegetarian restaurants out there that can serve as inspiration! Check out a menu online and see if you can recreate some of those dishes at home.
- Go Ethnic. There are a wide range of vegetarian dishes in every culture. Never tried Indian or Greek food before? Think Mexican food is limited to tacos? This is the perfect way to introduce your child and your family to all the amazing dishes the world has to offer.
- Experiment. Look to Pinterest, cooking sites, and the old-fashioned cookbook for ideas. Involve your child in the process, too!
- Snack. Nuts, cheese, fruit, raw veggies – turns out all those things you keep telling your kids they should reach for instead of a cookie are perfect for vegetarians. Remind your child that they need quality calories, not junk (but junk is okay sometimes, too!)
- Don’t complain. Out loud, anyway. Try the foods yourself – you may just become a vegetarian, too!
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