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Sorry Mama, I Don't Eat Animals

DSC_3260 My older son went through a period where he questioned everything before he ate to determine whether or not it was edible in his mind. For example, with shrimp, he wanted to know if it had a head and legs. The questioning stopped within a few weeks and even though he does not shrimp, he does eat meat. When my 6 six year old declared, "I don't eat animals" I thought it was a phase. That was over 10 months ago. The reality is that we are a family of omnivores except for our vegetarian 6 year old. Cooking for my vegetarian wouldn't be nearly as challenging except he has some strong dislikes - tofu, beans, and egg yolk. Yikes, this has made mealtime challenging, making one meal that the entire family can eat.  I have tried to make at least one or two vegetarian meals a week but I am lacking in creativity. Our vegetarian meals consist of spaghetti, pesto pasta or fried rice with at least 4 different vegetables. Another favorite is teriyaki veggies and rice; and the rest of the family will get chicken. I need your help. What are some of your favorite vegetarian recipes? Also, how can I ensure that he is eating enough protein?

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Freeze Tofu and crumble it in pasta sauce (more like ground beef that way) or use TVP in recipes. Does he like nuts? That's a really easy way to get protein and even if he won't eat them plain there's a variety of nut butters, granola bars that have lots of nuts, etc. Our diets usually contain too much protein anyway so it really doesn't take a lot for a person to get his/her needs met. You can also put lentils in recipes, or make Minestrone soups if he'll eat the beans that way, etc. It's not hard to be vegetarian at all really, even if someone doesn't like tofu (which boys shouldn't have that much of anyway). It's late or I'd think of more but there are lots of great ways to remove meat and get the protein a child needs.

Also, tofu needs to be cooked well. If it's not cooked well it IS pretty gross. My son always liked it best if I cut it into small bits, fried it with a bit of olive oil and put it in pasta sauce, etc. We called them power nuggets which he was really into.

First, good on you for respecting his choice on this, and not sneaking in meat anyway. I was a vegitarian from ages 10 to 20, and while my position on eating animals has become more nuanced with age, it was really important to me at the time.

Diet For a Small Planet is a classic cookbook/reference for figuring out basic vegetarian cooking, especially with regard to proteins.

If you are worried about protein, you might want to check out this link from the Vegetarian Resource Group, which promotes vegan diets (no animal products). http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm I'm not vegan, but their basic point is that Americans over-worry about protein and it's pretty easy to get enough without even trying. But if you've grown up with a typical diet, as I did, it's hard to get past this idea that a chunk of protein should be at the center of every meal.
The other thing I want to say is that one popular source of protein that you haven't mentioned him disliking (unless he IS vegan) is dairy. To make one meal for the whole family, you might go with that. Deborah Madison's corn chowder, with salad and bread, is a go to easy dinner at our house.
Also, you say he dislikes beans - but do you mean lentils as well? Because even though they are beans, they don't seem all that beany, and everybody here loves lentil soup and Ethiopian lentil stew. http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Ethiopian-Lentil-Stew
If you don't mind processed foods, I doubt anyone will be able to tell much of a difference between an Yves good dog and a real hot dog.

Regarding tofu - there are so, so, so many ways to cook it. One favorite is Nigari tofu, which they have at New Seasons and other places. It has a wonderful texture - not what a lot of people think of when they think of tofu - I sometimes use it in Mussaman curry with tofu, which kids tend to like because of the peanut flavor.
Also, every single kind of pasta, starting with ravioli. There's a book called something like a Year in an Italian Vegetarian Kitchen. Nobody would turn that stuff down.


My son announced when he was 4 or so that he didn't eat animals. Trouble is, he still eats bacon, so I am not sure he really grasps what it means. He is a hugely picky eater in general and I think he currently uses it to justify not eating anything except the few loved foods. That said, when it comes to trying a bite of things, or eating a good meal, I don't push the meat on him because maybe he does really have a philosophy forming or he doesn't like the texture, I don't know, but it's not the same as encouraging him to take a bite of veggies. He knows the most common protein sources for him are peanut butter, yogurt, milk, and sunflower seeds. Sometimes we'll add a little tofu to yogurt/fruit shakes and he loves that, despite refusing to eat tofu if he knows that's what it is. As long as he is working in some protein somewhere during the day, he gets by.

As for family meals, I will often divide things up or serve sides. I made the decision long ago that I would not short order cook, so if I'm making something I know has no chance of being eaten by him I will put something else on the table I know he will eat. For example, if we have burritos for dinner, everyone builds their own at the table and he can choose what goes inside. It's usually just cheese, but the rest of us get the good stuff. If I make a soup with meat, I'll often serve sandwiches or quesadillas alongside. We always have fruit or raw veggies on the table, and often bread. Those are always eaten. If I do pasta, a sauce is usually on the side. If I make lasagna, he has to suck it up and either eat it or stick with the other options. In that case, I know he won't eat it whether it's veggie or meat, so I make what everyone else will eat. He is 7 now and just starting to get that he's hungry when he doesn't eat enough at dinner. I'm hoping it will start to click that he has to branch out. We do enough meatless meals around here that if he wants to maintain his stance of not eating meat but will accept more variety, I would be happy to keep working with him.

People's Food Co-Op on SE 21st in Portland is an amazing resource! I am constantly asking staff for suggestions concerning [restrictive dietary] possible food solutions with products and recipes. The staff passionately support veganism/vegetarianism, and they themselves often have medical conditions that force them to adjust accordingly.

I have been trying to work more quinoa into our diet - making salads or pilafs with the grain. As I understand it's pretty high in protein... I admire him because he'll not grow up with that "need" for a meat with every meal. I struggle with trying to eat meatless meals and not feeling like something's missing. (also we've had the same tofu experiences - my boys just WON'T eat it, no matter how fancy the preparation)

If a child told me they are not going to eat a whole group of foods, I would reply that they are free to make this choice as soon as they are old enough to cook for themselves, as I will not be cooking two dinners every day. Their response will quickly show if they are serious about it.

Thank you AJ. I'm a stay at home mom, not a short order cook. Meat does appear on my table 5 or 6 days a week. I love it and the hubby loves it. Humans were meant to be meat eaters, it shaped our evolution. Yes, my family gets plenty of fruit and greens as well. but I'm not giving up my meat. Some decisions like this and religion, piercings, tattoos can be made when you are a grown up.

You can always check with your pediatrician if you're seriously worried about protein intake, but typically, that's one nutrient that Americans get plenty of even on relatively crappy diets (and it doesn't sound like you're feeding him on soft drinks and doritoes all day!).

One super helpful thing for me when I have been concerned about this kind of thing is to track it for a week or so. Almost every single thing your son eats will have some protein in it. Keep a list of what he eats, with approximate quantities. Look up the protein content and add it up at the end of the day.

A couple of things to look for: dairy is a great, high-quality source of protein; oatmeal is high in protein; nuts are an excellent source; many grains and vegetables have more than you would expect; egg whites are a good protein source . . . I think you can probably meet his protein needs without too much concern or short-order cooking. Personally, I would aim for a breakfast and lunch that gives him most of what he needs and then figure that he'll eat what's served at dinner, without the meat. And if he's not so fond of beans? Serve 'em anyway. They're good and cheap and if he's hungry, he'll eat them. If not, he'll eat a good breakfast in the morning.

As for the people who would object to a young child making this choice? I wouldn't ever advocate for forcing a child (or an adult) to eat something. Make sure that there are healthy options on the table for everyone. Someone who doesn't want to eat the chicken I made for dinner can eat salad, rice, roast veggies, etc.

One of my favorite ways of getting tofu into a recipe is in enchiladas! Crumble it in, along with the cheese or whatever other filling. This also works great in lasagna.

My husband and I are vegetarians and have raised our children without meat. Our usual menus consist of burritos (I know your son doesn't like beans but can you mash and hide them in rice, cheese, tomatoes and sour cream?), homemade pizza, veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs (they taste better than the real thing), curries and pastas. Have you tried picking up a vegetarian cooking book, taking your son shopping with you to pick non-meat things out and then having him help you prepare?

My now seven year old has been expressing that he doesn't want to eat meat anymore. He is very aware of why he doesn't want to. We rarely have red meat in our home. Once in a rare while my husband will grill steaks in the summer, other than that it's chicken about twice a month and maybe some ground turkey in spaghetti or chili. I myself am leaning towards becoming a Vegetarian. For the most part we do soups, pastas and salads. I too do not want to be a short order cook as I know one Super Mom who does that on a daily basis, and I think that would be too much for me. However this post is food for thought, thanks for the great info.

Check out Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, by Deborah Madison. Great book for those who need recipes, and Ive found lots that my 4 yr old loves.

I guess you could have a conversation with him about why he doesn't want to eat animals and then explain that if he wants to make such a big decision that the trade off is that he's going to have to eat other non-animal things like beans and tofu instead. You can make it clear that it is his choice but that choices have consequences and that one of the consequences of this choice is that he'll have to eat some foods that maybe he didn't like in the past since they are important replacements for meat.

Oh anonny and AJ, you sound just like my mother-in-law. Good times. I agree with J about forcing people to eat things. Meanwhile, the original poster asked about recipes and protein. I second the Deborah Madison book - she's unbelievably talented and you can't go wrong with pretty much any recipe from there. As an interesting side note, she herself is not vegetarian.

The comment about tofu needing to be well-cooked made me want to share that I love raw tofu. I chop up a block of firm tofu and my daughter & I eat it straight as a snack. One of my favorites is an Asian dessert with raw silken tofu and a mildly sweet sauce. Your veggie boy might like it: http://panlasangpinoy.com/2010/02/20/filipino-street-food-homemade-taho-recipe/ The soy flavor is very mild and the silken texture is unlike the more common firm/extra-firm tofu block.

Also, some favorite veggie recipes involves eggs - frittatas, fried eggs & rice, quiche. You can throw in all sorts of veggies, bake and eat.

I also like to make pesto with 1/2 portion of basil and 1/2 portion of spinach for added iron & protein. Pesto is a standard veggie dish in our house.

Although we are omnivores, we go through non-meat periods and we try to eat more non-meat meals than meat meals.

Yellow Split Pea Soup with Ginger

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large (or two small) carrots, peeled & chopped
1 teaspoon dried ginger
2 cups yellow split peas*
7 cups vegetable broth**
1 cup water (optional)
salt and pepper to taste***

Over medium heat, sauté chopped onion in olive oil until edges begin to brown.

Add carrots and ginger to the onion/oil mixture and cook until carrots soften slightly and onions brown more thoroughly (2 - 3 minutes).

Add veggie broth and yellow split peas. Stir thoroughly, raise heat to high and bring to a boil.

Once boiling, cover, reduce heat to medium low and cook until the peas are soft (about 30 minutes).

Puree entire contents of soup pot in a food processor - or with a submersible blender - until smooth. If the soup seems too thick, add one cup of water to thin.

Add salt and pepper (and if you want - a little extra ginger) to taste.

* I have used green split peas, but the flavor is just not the same. The yellow peas work MUCH better - they have a very delicate flavor.

** I'm too lazy to make homemade broth and don't really care for the boxed or canned stuff. The Rapunzel bullion cubes work wonderfully for this recipe. http://www.rapunzel.com/products/rapunzel/rapunzel_soups_bouillon.html

*** I find that ground white pepper is perfect for this soup. Black pepper is fine if it's what you have on hand, but the white pepper is less overpowering while still adding some zing.

Garbanzo Rosemary Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 - 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 teaspooon dried)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 small onions, chopped
3 cans (15 to 19 ounces each) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups vegetable broth
2+ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
Salt (to taste)

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sautee until lightly browned. Add garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic starts to brown - about 1 minute. Add garbanzos and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add veggie broth, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 - 30 minutes until the beans are very soft. Cool slightly and transfer 1 cup of soup at a time to a blender. Puree until just smooth and return to saucepan. (Or if you have one of those submersible blenders, puree the heck out of it in the pan minus the transferring.) Once the entire batch is smooth, stir in lemon juice and salt to taste. My family likes it extra lemony - I end up using way more lemon than the recipe calls for.

(In the past, I have added the sesame oil when I've added the garlic, rosemary, etc. - I'm not sure I've ever noticed much of a difference - I usually just leave it out.)

Another incredibly delicious soup my children love:

Anny Getty's Carrot Cashew soup with parsley oil: http://www.oregonlive.com/foodday/index.ssf/2008/06/recipe_detail.html?id=7561

For the parsley oil, I use far less oil than her recipe calls for. I use the parsley and garlic and then 1 - 2 tablespoons of oil - that's plenty. It gives you sort of a thick pesto consistency and just a spoonful mixed throughout the bowl of soup is plenty, without all of the extra oiliness/fat.

Sorry - one more!

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
http://www.drgreene.com/recipe/roasted-red-pepper-and-tomato-soup-garlic-and-parmesan-croutons

This is sooooooooooooooooooo delicious! My kids LOVE it! You can roast your own peppers, use jarred or grab a few roasted peppers from the by-the-pound olive bar at the grocery store. It seems to work out 3 or 4 whole roasted peppers depending on how small they are. I use a couple of garlic cloves instead of garlic powder and we skip the cream altogether. I think it tastes better without. I have a friend who makes it without and then sort of splits the difference by serving it with sour cream or creme fraiche - also delicious.

I haven't ever made the croutons but this is super yummy served with kalamata olive bread or sourdough bread. :)

I also recommend visiting the Vegan Dad web site and Post Punk Kitchen site - the recipes are dairy and egg free, but there are a lot of really good ones!

http://vegandad.blogspot.com/2009/04/indian-style-potatoes-and-spinach.html

http://www.theppk.com/

And here is a link to a great veggie burger recipe that has endless variations -
http://thebrassicadiaries.wordpress.com/2009/07/27/veggie-burgers-worth-lighting-the-grill-for/

Oh - and the Chubby Vegetarian is a really great resource for recipes too: http://chubbyvegetarian.blogspot.com/

Hope this helps! Sigh... now I'm hungry!

I have to put in a plug for my favorite tofu - Ota - available at New Seasons. I could never eat raw tofu until I tried this super creamy, tasty stuff. And I think it's local, too.

Otherwise, I second the suggestion for fried tofu, and what about cutting it up into small bits as part of some other dish so it's not very noticeable (texture or sight-wise)? And as others have suggested, there are some great recipes for silken tofu which are not at all what most think of when they think of tofu.

I understand quinoa is a whole protein and I love it on its own or added to other dishes, like a broccoli, cheese and quinoa casserole.

And I must admit, I eat far too many cheese and pb&j sandwiches, but that's because I'm lazy and pressed for time. Can't wait to try Stephanie's recipes!

I didn't eat meat for several years and while we all eat meat once or twice a week now, this recipe is very popular in our house -- even with my meat-loving husband:
http://www.cafewalter.com/cookbook/pastalentils.htm

I became a "vegetarian" (I still ate fish) in high school, while growing up in Kansas, where a meal isn't considered a meal unless it includes red meat. My parents were initially annoyed, but accommodated me, and it means a lot to me even now that they respected my choice.

Hey Tamara,
what kind of pasta did you use in that? Would penne work?

Hello! No meat, no beans, no tofu, no problem! Try some very inexpensive TVP (texturized veggie protein). It is available in the bulk section of Winco on the cheap or Bob's red mill on the less cheap but local. You take about a 1/4 cup of TVP, a tablespoon of soy sauce or tomato paste or a teaspoon of Veggie Better than Boullion, and cover with water and let sit for five minutes. Then, you can use it wherever you would a ground meat. Add onions, bread, eggs, and season as a meatless loaf in a greased pan. Cook into plain pasta sauce with extra veggies for a beautiful and hearty red sauce on pasta. The beauty of it is it is healthy, cheap, and pleasing to the entire family. You don't need to make an extra meal, you can all enjoy it.
Another idea to not be a short order cook is to freeze any extra leftovers from a meatless meal to serve your little man when the family is not having a meatless option.
Also, Whole Foods has a recipe finder app that I find useful. You can filter recipes to suit your special diet needs. Ex. type vegetarian, cooking with kids, ingredients on hand, lunch, and it will give you a handful of recipes that can help you create something out of what you already have in the fridge ( or what to do with August zucchini).

I have heard you have to introduce a food to a kid 10 times before they will accept it. You could keep pushing the tofu - maybe with the terriyaki sauce. Also, soy milk with protein powder and some berries works when I'm trying to stuff in the calories and protein.

@ Anon: I usually use penne!

Wow, some great recipe ideas for different sources of protein. For some reason, my kids are complete opposite, if one likes peanut butter - the other doesn't. One likes mac and cheese, the other doesn't. I am also not a short order cook but I do try to respect their dislike for some foods. This rules out some vegetarian meals for our family. I also had some dislikes such as for green onions, mushrooms and bean sprouts which I eventually grew out of.

Explore some Indian cooking - plenty of blogs out there! Vegetarians don't have to eat soy... even the Japanese eat it only in fermented forms... whole grains, beans, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, good oils, some yogurt = should suffice, I think...

I think in Japan they eat all sorts of tofu and soy products - both fermented and otherwise.

I found weeknight veggie meals that are kid friendly to be challenging sometimes. One of my "go to" books is Fresh Food Fast: Delicious, Seasonal Vegetarian Meals in Under an Hour, Peter Berley, which is divided into 4 sections based on the seasons. Good luck!

Yea, protein is generally an over-worry. You can always put a scoop of soy protein mix in to a smoothie. Protein is in plenty of other food groups, but especially look to ancient grains. You can even use Kashi products -they taste great and have lower sugar than comparable items but also the good grains (which add protein and then some). My picky 3 year old loves their cereals and bars, etc. And don't worry. I was a very picky vegetarian kid in a family of carnivores, but I grew to appreciate and love great healthy foods on my own.

Is is ok for toddlers to not have meat in their diets? Sometimes kids just don't like meats period. Good article

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