Everyone around us is sick. People at my office, kids at school – it seems the flu is going around. It’s in times like this that it’s so important to eat whole foods and veggies in every colour of the rainbow. I’m convinced that the extra servings of veggies helps us fight off infection.
This bowl was inspired by sushi – it’s not the same as my previous sushi bowl recipe – this one has roasted tofu, sweet potato, bok choy and king mushrooms. I’ve included the veggies from all our favourite sushi rolls. We crumbled nori on top but only remembered after I took the photos and we had dug in. These are the flavours we love so the meal disappeared quickly!
My son’s bowl has cubed roasted tofu, sweet potato, cucumber, red pepper, grated carrots, avocado and sesame seeds over white rice.
My daughter’s bowl has the same but also includes bok choy. The tofu was marinated in a couple tablespoons of white miso, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a tablespoon of mirin and a tablespoon of sesame oil. I let it sit in the marinade while the oven preheated to 350 F and then just poured it all on a cookie sheet and cooked it, flipping once, for about 20 minutes. They’re savoury and delicious.
This kind of a meal really works well with kids who like to keep their flavours separate. Everything may be touching (this can be an issue) but it’s easy to pile in only the foods you know your kid will eat. It’s nice to encourage new foods but every meal doesn’t have to include a challenge to overcome. This meal has lots of variety and points of entry with kid-friendly foods (cucumber, shredded carrots, avocado, sweet potato, white rice).
The chickadees are very brave. As long as we stand very still, they’ll sit and take their time choosing their seeds.
My son, being the smallest, has to hold his hand up high to get the birds to come down to eat from his hand. So he prefers to feed them from his tuque.
It was so nice to get outside, we had a spring in our steps!
We spent the afternoon outside hiking and feeding the chickadees in the mild winter weather. As soon as we got out of the car, we were spotted by some chickadees who called to us to feed them. These friendly birds followed us throughout our hike – singing in the trees and keeping us in their sight.
We were in an area owned by the local public school board where the staff host nature walks for their schools. The birds are wild but used to kids feeding them. The blackcapped chickadees are very tame.
We didn’t just see our the friendly chickadees. We saw two kinds of woodpeckers and a couple other little birds we weren’t able to identify. But the chickadees were the only ones interested in our seeds and brave enough to approach us.
We got home just before dinner time. There’s nothing like a steaming bowl of noodle soup after being out in the cold. This soup has wheat noodles, tempeh, mushrooms, greens and shredded carrots. The broth has coriander and star anise and it’s garnished with cilantro.
We had asian-style vegetable pancakes on the side with a spicy dipping sauce for the adults and a soy dipping sauce for the kids. The pancakes are a simple flour, salt and water mix but when cooking, I press pre cooked, shredded vegetables in the batter.
The end result is delicious – I almost didn’t get a picture because the kids ate them all before I got the camera out! But my son asked for more while I was still cooking the adult pancakes. I made him one more with the remaining batter – as you can see, his fork got to it before I took this picture!
The difference between the adults’ pancakes and the kids’ pancakes is that I added mushrooms and onions to the adults’ pancakes. The kids’ only have cabbage and carrots – although my daughter liked them enough to eat one of the adult pancakes, onions and all, without complaining.
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup water
thinly sliced or shredded veggies (try onion, carrot, mushrooms, etc.)
oil for frying
Fry the vegetables in oil until cooked. Set aside.
Mix the remaining ingredients together and heat a griddle. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot, lightly greased griddle and spread the batter around. Add a spoonful of the veggies and press them into the batter.
When the sides of the pancakes look ready, flip the pancakes and cook for a couple minutes on the other side until the vegetables are seared and the batter is cooked.
Make a dipping sauce with soy sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, hot pepper flakes and minced garlic. Or just dip it in soy sauce.
I had a short first day at the office and made it home to make a quick dinner before skating. I went for an old familiar – a bowl as many call it. Meaning: a grain topped with veggies, a protein and a sauce. This is as simple as it gets and it’s always a winner at our house.
You can vary the ingredients, keep it plain for the kids and top it with whatever sauce you’d like. The kids gobble it down like little bunnies. And I’m happy because I know they’re getting a healthy meal and we’ll be out the door in no time. Seriously – we only had 15 minutes to eat!
The grain today is barley. I got it going while I cubed and marinated the tofu. For the kids, I added a teaspoon of vegan butter to their barley since I knew they wouldn’t have any sauce. My son has rejected barley in the past but he has since forgotten that he declared he didn’t like it. I added the butter just in case. And it worked!
The tofu is marinated in a bit of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. I let it absorb the flavours while I preheated the oven to 350. Then I baked them while the barley cooked, flipping a couple times. They’re done when they’re crispy and you can’t resist popping one in your mouth!
I steamed a selection of the veggies that we had in the crisper. I rarely steam our vegetables – so bland – but it tasted nice and clean today. I guess I was craving simplicity.
The sauce is a miso ginger sauce made with olive oil, miso, rice vinegar, maple syrup, a bit of fresh ginger and water to thin it out a bit. Popped it in the blender until smooth.
I also sprinkled black sesame seeds on top.
This is clean eating! Food like this just makes my body happy.
Here’s another super easy weeknight meal that can easily be customized and it will boost your immune system through the cold evenings. It’s a ginger and miso broth over noodles and tons of vegetables. Feel free to use whatever you have in the fridge for this one!
This meal will take about 30 minutes – maybe less if you’re handy with a knife. Let’s get started!
fresh ginger root (about 2 inches)
2 cloves of garlic
5 cups of vegetable broth or water
2 tsp miso paste (it doesn’t matter what kind of miso you use)
package of asian noodles of your choice (I used rice noodles)
1 head of broccoli
1 block of tofu (firm)
1 1/2 cups sugar snap peas or other podded peas
1 1/2 cups mushrooms
Prepare the broth. Slice the ginger and garlic into thin slices. Chop the carrot into chunks. Throw the ginger and carrot in a large pot over medium heat for a couple minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another minute. If it sticks to the pot, it’s fine. Just scrape it off with the wooden spoon. When they’ve started to brown and smell nice, add the vegetable broth or water and simmer it all together for about 15 minutes while you make the rest of the soup.
Prepare the noodles according to the package directions.
Chop all the vegetables into bite sized pieces. Cube the tofu.
When the broth has been simmering for 15 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the ginger and the carrot (if you want – my kids like the overcooked broth carrots so I keep them in). Scoop out 1/2 cup of broth and add the miso to it before returning it to the pot – you don’t want to overcook the miso since it’s a fermented food.
Toss the vegetables and tofu into the broth and let it cook for a couple minutes. While it’s cooking, put the sesame seeds and hot sauce out on the table.
Divide the noodles among the bowls. Pour the broth and vegetables over the noodles and you’re done. Enjoy!
Here’s my secret to getting lots of vegetables on the table that the kids will eat. I’m often asked by people who are shifting to more plant-based meals – what do I make for dinner? We all know that we should be eating more whole grains, legumes (beans and lentils), fruit and vegetables but the question is how to get started.
When you go to restaurants and look at the kids’ menus, usually the options are limited. There may be burgers and fries, hot dogs and fries, pizza, chicken fingers and fries and grilled cheese sandwiches. You’d be lucky to get a carrot or celery stick on the side of the plate.
If this is what our kids are used to eating, they’re not getting the fruits and vegetables their bodies need to grow strong and healthy.
Some kids genuinely don’t like vegetables. I get it. I find it hard to imagine anyone turning down a fresh cut mango but I guess some kids aren’t fans of fruit either. But I’m an optimist and I think they may not have tasted the fruit and vegetables that they like yet.
When my son was in Kindergarten, his class had Fruity Fridays. One of his teachers would bring in a different kind of fruit each Friday for the kids to try. She cut them all up and had huge garbage cans in the middle of the room. The rule was they had to try it. They didn’t have to like it and they could spit it out but they had to taste a new fruit each week.
That teacher did those kids a huge favour by teaching them to experiment and try new foods. The strides that were made on Fruity Fridays were noticeable at home too. He applied the same rule to dinner as he did to tasting fruit – that he had to give it a try.
My son would be excited in the grocery store produce aisle pointing out fruit we’d never tried but he knew them. At the end of the year, he brought home a book that he had made to chronicle all the different fruit he tried. And for each fruit, he circled a happy face, straight face or sad face.
I like the spirit of discovery and adventure that was fostered in Kindergarten. Try it at home. Encourage your kids to eat more vegetables and try new ones without putting a lot of pressure on them and turning meals into nightmares.
Here’s my method. Make a whole grain – something your kids will eat (I have used brown rice but it doesn’t matter what you use). While your rice is cooking, slice some vegetables into thick slices or chunks (I’ve sliced eggplant, sweet potato, broccoli, onion, mushrooms and carrots).
Make sure you’ve included vegetables you know your kids will eat and include some they may not eat. Toss them in olive oil and bake them at 425 until they’re done, flipping once. It takes about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the slices and chunks. They’ll probably be done at the same time.
Spoon the rice in a bowl for each person and arrange the vegetables on a large platter in the middle of the table. Make sure you have a few vegetables you know your kids will eat. Cucumbers are often an easy win. The point is to have a variety on display. My kids like olives so they’re included.
Open a can of chickpeas or other beans and rinse them. Add them to the platter. When the kids come to the table, let them choose what they want. Encourage them to try a bite of anything new.
Have something on the table for them to sprinkle over their meal – if I put seeds on the table, the kids will use them. Hemp seeds, for example, don’t have much noticeable flavour but they’re another source of vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats. Nutritional yeast is another flavour enhancer that my kids love.
For the grown ups, it helps to have a nice sauce or two. I topped my meal with a tahini sauce and hot sauce and it was delicious.
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup water
1 clove of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend well. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.
If you’re always eating delicious vegetables in front of your kids, they’ll see you enjoying nutritious food. It might take time for them to become interested in their vegetables but don’t give up. Keep eating them in front of your kids.
Tell them about the benefits of eating nutritious foods. Talk to them about eating a rainbow. Teach them about the importance of eating well-balanced meals. Give them the opportunity to surprise you – they will.
That’s my secret. I eat delicious, nutritious meals in front of my kids every day. They see me enjoy my vegetables. And they know it makes me really happy to see them enjoy theirs.
It is now widely recognized that a well-balanced vegan diet is healthy for adults. But can we say the same for kids? Kids have specialized needs since they’re growing and using so much more energy on an average day than adults (if only I had a fraction of that energy!). So there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re transitioning to a vegan diet with kids.
Can it be a healthy lifestyle for kids?
Absolutely. I think it’s quite natural for kids to have vegetarian tendencies. They tend to be quite empathetic towards animals. The idea of killing and eating animals can be a hard one for kids to learn to accept. There’s a mental leap between seeing a cute cow at the petting zoo and eating a burger that vegan kids don’t have to make. And I think being compassionate towards animals and other people is a healthy and positive worldview to teach our children.
But will they be healthy?
Absolutely. Meal planning for kids (vegan or non-vegan) follow specific conventions to ensure they’re getting balanced meals. Non-vegan meals in Canada are based on the four food groups: fruit and vegetables, grains, dairy and alternative and meat and alternatives. Vegans can follow this same example using the alternatives to easily substitute familiar meals with vegan versions of family favourites.
But you can do better than that. If you really want to ensure your kids are getting healthy meals, don’t rely on convenience or processed food even if they are vegan. Serve them whole grain, plant-based meals with ingredients they’ll recognize. And don’t be sneaky. Kids are smart and their tastebuds rat you out (no offence meant to rats, who are apparently very smart and sweet creatures once you get to know them).
Sneaking spinach into a milkshake may seem like an ingenious way to eat more greens but kids won’t fall for it – they just won’t drink your milkshake and miss out on the banana and nutrient-dense berries you’ve included. At least, that’s my experience.
Are they getting enough calories?
This is important. As a pregnant vegan who was nauseous at the thought of most food but starving all the time, all I could stomach was carrots. Among the words that would trigger my gag reflex were bacon, beef, any meat, soy sauce or meat alternatives. I remember thinking that it didn’t matter how many carrots I ate, the baby inside wasn’t getting the calories she needed.
Luckily, I could stomach peanut butter, which has plenty of fat and calories. Nuts can provide a great source of energy and so can seeds. Sunflower seed butter is really tasty and I can send it to school with my kids.
When I make meals with beans and lentils, I’ll fry up onion, garlic and spices in oil and add the mix to the meals I make for the grown ups – which increases the calorie count for my meal but the kids like things plain. So I make sure I pour some high quality olive oil over the kids’ food too. I have a canister full of mixed nuts that the kids know to go to whenever they’re hungry between meals. Avocado is a favourite source of healthy fat too.
But the best way to ensure the kids are getting the nutrients, calories and fat they need, is to ensure the ingredients I use are nutrient-dense and I’m including good fats in our meals. This means swapping all-purpose flour for whole wheat (at least partially) and adding seeds and other grains like quinoa to my homemade bread. It means choosing the whole wheat bread and tortillas at the grocery store and getting the kids used to eating them.
I remember when my son was quite young, he decided he didn’t like brown rice but would only eat jasmine or basmati rice. I didn’t fight him over it – I switched to other grains for a little while and reintroduced brown rice again later. He ate it.
The same thing happened with quinoa and barley. We went a few weeks without eating those grains – not that I was feeding him white rice and couscous at every meal but we had other whole grains. Whole wheat bread (both store bought and homemade) whole wheat pasta and oatmeal are all safe bets.
What’s the easiest way to enrich kids’ meals?
If baking everything from scratch is asking too much or your kids refuse to touch whole grains, give your meals a nutritional boost with the right meal topper. Asian meals get a sprinkling of sesame seeds on top. Pasta dishes get a dash of nutritional yeast or a pre made vegan parmesan made from nuts.
What about milk?
Here’s another important decision to consider. From birth, milk plays a very important role in kids’ development. Even at age six, when my son is feeling overwhelmed, tired or sad, a glass of milk provides emotional comfort. A snuggle and a glass of milk will give him the fortitude he needs to finish the day in a good mood. That’s powerful stuff.
I believe breast milk is best for babies. A vegan mom who eats a well-balanced diet is best suited to provide the nutritional needs of her baby – if she is able to produce enough milk. Sometimes moms can’t breastfeed and that’s okay. There are vegan formulas that are an excellent replacement. They’re formulated to be calorie-rich unlike other milks.
Look at the labels (of everything you buy). Almond milk is great for adults who are watching their weight. Not great for kids. When you’re choosing the milk you’ll feed your young kids once they’re finished with formula, choose something that is fortified (check for B12), with plenty of protein and a source of healthy fat.
Comparing the labels of the milks I currently have in the fridge, one glass of soy milk provides 7 grams of protein while almond provides only one and coconut has none. They’re all low fat but soy has 3.5 to almond’s and coconut’s 2.5 grams. The soy and almond have been fortified but my Holiday Nog Coconut Seasonal Beverage (yum) is not. My seasonal beverage is primarily sugar (it’s a treat). It has 15 grams of sugar while my vanilla soy milk has 8 grams and the almond milk has none at all (the kids won’t touch it).
It would be preferable to give my kids unsweetened or original soy milk that has less sugar than the vanilla version but my son very stubbornly put his foot down at a young age and refused to drink anything but the Silk soy milk in a blue carton. We call it blue milk to this day because from the day he learned to express his opinion (and it was early), he refused to drink anything that didn’t come from a blue carton.
And yes, we tried putting less sweet milk in the blue carton to trick him. He’s too smart to trick like that! But it’s okay because generally, we don’t eat a lot of sweets and this milk checks off the other, more important boxes (providing protein, fat and enriched with the vitamins he needs).
Take it easy – and give yourself a break, give your child a break and take a deep breath. Sometimes kids turn their noses up at anything unfamiliar. So you can ease them into a vegan diet by feeding them convenience food versions of their favourites. Most grocery stores have vegan chicken fingers, fake-beef strips for stir fries and veggie burgers. Be prepared to try lots of different kinds before you find something your kids will eat.
My kids love veggie dogs. And that’s okay. When we go camping, they eat a lot of veggie dogs and we eat a lot of spicy vegan sausages. Because packing a cooler for a week with enough food to feed a vegan family of four isn’t easy. And I know we don’t always eat like that, which gives us a pass.
So start off gradually – introducing new foods slowly. But don’t give up. Sometimes it takes a few tries before a kid will like a new food. My rule is that my son has to taste everything but if he thinks the dressing on my slaw is too sour, he doesn’t have to eat it. I know one day he’ll learn to appreciate lime juice. But we’ll never know when that day has arrived if we don’t push him to taste it at every opportunity.
Set a good example
Don’t limit yourself to the fruits and vegetables that you know and love. Bring home a kohlrabi and let everyone taste it. My kids love kohlrabi (I even grow it in my garden) – it’s mild and easy to like.
Try a new way of cooking. Have you ever roasted cauliflower? Broccoli? Beets? It changes their flavour completely. Trust me – roast your brussels sprouts.
Give them choice
Cook a bunch of different veggies and lay them out on a platter to let them make up their own plates. This is my low-stress way of allowing my son to avoid the swiss chard completely. And he can choose the unbroken cherry tomatoes and (as long as he saves some for the rest of us) fill his bowl with green beans.
Dinner last night was a disaster. I considered not writing about it but I don’t want to paint a false picture of my children sitting down to every meal with smiles on their faces. Sometimes they don’t.
I don’t cook every meal to my kids’ tastes. There are four people in my family and we all should be able to eat our favourite foods sometimes. I love eggplant and my husband loves homestyle veganized meatloaf with potatoes and gravy.
Neither of those go over well with my kids and when we make them, I know dinner is going to involve whining, crying or what we call the ostrich pose. I compromise by making something on the side that will be enjoyed (like roasting carrots with the loaf). But my rule is that they have to taste it and see if they like it. My daughter found last time she tried eggplant that it was good. Tastes evolve.
Sometimes I know that my kids won’t like what I’m cooking but sometimes they surprise me and turn their noses up at something I thought was in the safe zone. That’s what happened last night.
At the grocery store, I came across some kale and quinoa, and sweet potato and chia seed “bites” or balls. Just heat them and serve – perfect for a busy weeknight. I wasn’t sure if the kale and quinoa ones would go over well so I bought the sweet potato and chia ones too to be safe. I thought maybe we’d have a dipping dinner with all kinds of things to dip into different dips. But then I remembered my kids only dip in ketchup so that wouldn’t be a very interesting dinner. That’s when I should have moved on.
Dinner last night was rushed – we had to be out the door by 5:30 for hockey practice. I wasn’t sure quite what to do with the balls since there were no serving suggestions on the packages. I decided to make bowls with brown rice and vegetables, toss the balls on top and make a spicy peanut sauce for the grown ups.
For the kids, I dished out the vegetables and the balls and gave them a piece of Norwegian bread I had made since I had to get them started on their dinners before the rice was done if I was going to get them out the door in time for practice. The bread saved the day. The balls did not go over well at all. None of us liked them.
My son took one bite and declared he didn’t like them. We tried ketchup but nope, that didn’t solve the problem. The spicy peanut sauce didn’t help either. I’m not sure what could have saved dinner – a garlic sauce with plenty of garlic might have made them more palatable but I’m not going to bother trying it.
My son ate all his veggies and his piece of bread but when I insisted he eat at least one of the balls, he went straight into his ostrich pose. He tucks himself into a ball on his chair and hides his head under the table. He won’t talk, eat or move until we cajole him with some sort of compromise.
Evenings have been lost trying to wait him out in the ostrich pose. He’s a stubborn child. We didn’t have all evening to wait for him to choose to come out so I cut one ball in two, dredged the pieces in ketchup, fed them to him and sent him on his way. Good enough.
Luckily, the bread was studded with seeds and whole grains so I knew he’d have enough energy to make it through his practice on a partial dinner. And it did. He had a lot of fun at practice.