People choose to have a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons. There are some nutrition advantages to being a vegetarian, especially when it is done correctly. In other words, when eating as a vegetarian, it is still important to eat quality foods. If abstaining from meat implies consuming more processed carbohydrates and cheese, this is not exactly a healthy trade-off. Fruits and vegetables should be emphasized, of course, but a variety of quality protein sources and healthy fats should be included in a vegetarian diet as well. See my previous blog on protein sources for kids for a list of alternatives to meat.
I believe it is great to include one or two vegetarian meals a week. It introduces variety to your family so that dinners do not always involve a rotation of meat, starch and vegetables. It can also save money to feed your family a vegetarian meal; for example, if you use dried or canned legumes as the main course. Finally, vegetarian dinners tend to be lower in fat and higher in fiber, which are the ingredients to a heart-healthy diet.
Here are three easy recipes for vegetarian dinners that are also kid-friendly:
White Bean and Quinoa Panini-Wraps
1 small onion, chopped
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 can white beans, drained and rinsed (estimate 1 can for about 4 servings)
2 cups cooked quinoa
1-2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
½ tablespoon cumin
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup plain yogurt
6 whole wheat tortillas
Heat olive oil in a medium or large pan over medium heat. Saute onions until soft. Add beans, quinoa, spinach and cumin. Continue stirring over medium heat for a few minutes until all ingredients are heated thoroughly and spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt and cheese. Heat another skillet or griddle over medium heat. Scoop ½ cup of the bean mixture and place into the center of the tortilla. Fold tortilla sides inward. Place wraps on the skillet or griddle, seam side down. Press flat and let toast 3-5 minutes on each side.
Makes 6 servings.
Since this recipe incorporates protein, whole grains and vegetables, the only side you need to add is fruit!
Peanut Butter-Drizzled Tofu Stir Fry
1 block of organic, extra firm tofu, cubed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups of your favorite vegetables, chopped. (Let the kids pick! Or go with colorful bell peppers)
1 cup chopped dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard, etc.)
1/4 cup peanut butter or almond butter
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/3 cup water
Saute tofu in olive oil over medium heat until tofu starts to brown (approx 10 minutes). While this is cooking, mix all of the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir with a whisk frequently until it is smooth and heated thoroughly. In the tofu pan, add vegetables and greens; continue stirring frequently. Let the tofu and vegetables saute until the vegetables are softened and the greens are wilted. Pour sauce over the tofu-vegetable mixture and mix well. Serve with noodles or brown rice and fruit.
Makes approx 4 servings.
Scrambled Egg Burritos
1 tablespoon butter
6 soft corn tortillas
1-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Condiments- chopped avocado, cilantro, and salsa or any your family chooses.
Melt butter in pan and cook eggs, scrambled-style. Warm the tortillas so that they are softened prior to assembling the burritos. Place each condiment, including the cheese, in small bowls on the table. Let the kids assemble their own burritos and pick which condiments they would like. Serve with a side of seasoned black beans (can of beans that has been drained, rinsed and heated in a small pot with salt, pepper, cumin and pinch of red pepper) and a side of fruit.
Try creating and serving these recipes once a week with your family. Help them enjoy a new meal by showing your own enthusiasm for it and asking them to help prepare it. Remember to use words to name the meal that they are already familiar with, such as Panini, peanut butter and burrito. This may help them feel more comfortable with the meal rather than saying quinoa and spinach, tofu and vegetables or eggs and beans. Enjoy!