While I don’t eat a vegan diet as a rule, I’ve long loved vegan meals. Often I didn’t set out to cook one, I just made what was appealing and it happened to be meat-free. With some extended family members now eating more of a vegan diet, it has given me the opportunity to think through delicious meals that the whole family can enjoy. Yes, even the kids!
Granted, if kids have never seen a vegetable and believe that everything should be deep-fried, they may be a little harder to please. But generally I’ve found that children can be receptive to all kinds of healthy foods.
Taco bowl night
The best way to get kids to enjoy exploring new foods is to involve them whenever possible. That doesn’t mean that you have to get them chopping vegetables in the kitchen (though that can be helpful as well). It can be as easy as having a “make your own bowl” dinner — like a taco salad bowl night. Put out chopped lettuce, black beans, Mexican rice, avocado (or a guacamole or avocado dressing), salsa (such as this mango salsa), chopped cilantro and some organic corn chips, and let everyone make their own taco salad. Even the simple process of getting to choose what to put in your bowl can help get kids excited about what they are eating. (Plus, who doesn't like taco salad?)
Lentils are delicious
The very first time I heard the word “lentil” as a kid was from a friend who, in the strongest language, told me how awful they were and how mean her mom was to make her eat them. I got the opportunity to try them myself later that day at her table, and found them not that bad, but overcooked. Lesson learned? Treat them right, and they will treat you right. Now, 20 years later, my girls love lentils. There are many reasons they are so user-friendly. They don’t require long soaking periods like other beans. They are much less likely to cause flatulence than other beans. They are very nutritious, and their gentle flavor can easily be spiced a wide variety of ways.
I’ve found that if you start children eating soups at an early age that they are naturally kid-friendly food. My youngest, who is now almost four, was a very picky eater when we were first introducing food to her. One of the first things that she loved to eat was gently flavored pureed lentil soups. (It helped that I was working on my soup cookbook, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for all Seasons, at the time!). In my cookbook, I have a delicious red lentil soup that is vegan and remains a great favorite of hers and the rest of the family.
Don’t be afraid of flavor. Kids like to eat flavorful foods as well. Take this vegan Curried Lentils with Apples and Onions recipe or this Red Lentils with Onions recipe. Adults and kids will love lentils more when they are well flavored. Or introduce them to something new like lentils by giving it to them in a familiar form — such as lentil burgers (try this lentil burger or one of these five meatless burgers).
Vegan mac and cheese
Because some of us don’t tolerate dairy well, I’ve experimented with homemade vegan cheese dishes from time to time. I love how creamy and delicious they can be. A very kid-friendly “cheese” dish would be faux mac and cheese dishes, like this one. Who doesn’t love noodles and a creamy sauce?
Serve with love and ketchup
Serving your foods with a little flair and a side of homemade ketchup is an easy way to appeal to kids. Ketchup is a familiar food to most kids and can be made healthy (like this favorite ketchup recipe). You can serve homemade French fries, lentils meatballs and other fun foods that can be dipped into ketchup and most kids will be thrilled!
Let Martha Stewart show you how it’s done
Finally, you can’t help but be inspired by the mouth-watering vegan main dishes from Martha Stewart. Whether you want to try the bean and veggie sliders, the pasta sauce, the quick navy bean and vegetable soup, the vegetable-rice bowl or the stir-fry, a lot of these recipes would be fun to eat as a family.
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