Ah, parenting. It’s one of those jobs you think you’re ready for. You read the books. You get the gadgets. You wait for the arrival of your precious bundle of joy. And then you come face-to-face with the one truth that every parent does when they make the transition into parenthood:
You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.
Time goes by and you get the swing of things. Sort of. As your children grow, they become more and more opinionated, especially about the food they will (or will absolutely not) eat. Enter many meltdowns later (yours, not theirs), a child who now refuses to eat any meat whatsoever (and to heck with veggies too, thank you very much), and you’ve got a recipe for a frustrated want-to-rip-my-hair-out parent who didn’t realize that when they became a parent, they also became a short-order cook and gourmet chef.
If this sounds like your life, you’re not alone.
Whether you’re going totally meat-free or you simply want more vegetarian meals that are kid-friendly and family-friendly (read: meals that everyone will eat so you’re not stuck cooking three different things for three different family members), we’ve rounded up some of our favorite vegetarian recipes to make your life easier — and incidentally, tastier. But before we get started, let’s go over some ground rules to increase your chances of success.
Vegetarian Meal Prep 101
When you get food at a restaurant, is it just laid out on the plate willy-nilly, or is it beautifully arranged? Sure, it depends on where you dine. But aside from fast food spots, eateries entice you with presentation. That’s because we eat with our eyes first.
Take this same rule into your kitchen as you attempt to make more vegetarian meals for kids. Here are some sneaky ways parenting coaches and kid-friendly food aficionados get their children — especially picky eaters — to eat what’s in front of them.
Use Cookie Cutters to Make Different Shapes
This works well with sandwiches, quesadillas, grilled cheese, flatbread, lasagna, fruits like watermelon and papaya, and basically anything flat.
Use Food as Decorations to Add More Variety and Nutrition
You may fondly recall your mom or dad serving you cut-up bananas with peanut butter and a chocolate chip or raisin on top. You thought your parents were so cool (because they were, obviously), and yet they secretly knew they were getting you to eat a banana simply because they had covered it with appealing “food decorations.” Well played, parents. Well. Played. For other snacks and meals, think about using peas, olives, blueberries and other small food items to maximize your next weeknight meal.
Create a Design With the Food on the Plate
Another way to use food as decorations is to make a design out of the meal on the plate. Maybe — like the culinary ninja that you are — you move those bananas around to form a smiley face (brilliant). Or perhaps that veggie lentil meatloaf or black bean quesadilla now has broccoli for eyebrows, cucumbers for ears, peas for teeth, and sprouts for hair! Let your imagination run wild and infuse the fun into your child’s vegetarian meal.
Use Skewers to Make Eating More Fun
Speaking of fun, what could be more fun than using skewers? Think about putting roasted veggies like sweet potatoes or zucchini onto skewers and serving them with a side of hummus. Or cut fruits like strawberries and watermelon into squares and skewer them to help your child eat fruit in a more magical way. You can even get some plant-based cheese and skewer it in between some veggies. You really can’t go wrong!
Get Creative With the Plate Itself
Sometimes a fun plate can go a long way in helping your child eat their meal. There’s no shortage of decorative plates on the market, but you could also think about using a muffin tin and filling each cup with different foods to make it fun. You may also take a regular plate along with some silicone baking cups and fill each cup with something different. Whatever you do, call in your inner child; it will never steer you wrong.
Making Vegetarian Meals a Success
Some parents worry that eating a more vegetarian diet may leave their child feeling less satiated. If you’re one of them, we’ve got a simple hack called the Fab 4 rule from celebrity nutritionist Kelly Leveque. The Fab 4 rule recommends that every meal is built on four main macronutrients:
Your child may not always eat everything on the plate, but it’s the intention that counts. In addition to the Fab 4 rule, some other tips to help your child enjoy their meatless meals are:
- Serve meals family-style so kids feel like they get to make their own choices
- Involve your kids in the meal prep — get them an apron and a cutting board, let them stir and chop and feel as much a part of the creation process as you are
- Pick themed nights like Mexican, Greek, Italian, or even their favorite Disney or other character — play music that matches the theme as you cook and eat, and for bonus points: dress accordingly!
- Make it interactive (think dress-your-own tacos, fajitas, pizza, pasta, burrito, veggie burger, etc.)
Vegetarian Meals for Kids: The Recipes
Now that we know how we’re going to get your kids to eat with greater success, let’s work on what they will actually eat! Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly vegetarian recipes the whole family can enjoy.
Want a kid-friendly vegetarian dinner option your kiddos will go gaga over? Make it finger food. It’s fun, it’s fabulous, and it’s one less utensil for you to clean! (Hey, it’s the little things.) Of course, we are partial to our own Nowadays meatless nuggets, but below you’ll find a plethora of recipes that not only make for great dinner ideas, but also make for great lunch ideas too.
Mr. Rogers once said, “Look for the helpers.” We are the helpers, parents. We are here to make your lives easier, vegetarian meals and all.
Pan fry them on the stovetop, bake them in the oven, air fry them, or deep fry them. As the ultimate comfort food, you can’t go wrong with Nowadays chicken nuggets, the perfect staple for any vegetarian dinner. Crunch and crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, your kids will definitely approve!
And if you want to score major cool parent points, why not try serving the nuggets with a few dips that your kids can try? We’ve crafted a variety of tasty dips and sauces that you can make in no time at all.
Chicken Nuggets in a Blanket
Knock your kids’ socks off by taking our nuggets to the next level: Instead of using typical hot dogs (or in the case of a vegetarian dinner, meatless hot dogs), replace them with Nowadays nuggets.
Use this recipe but just swap out the vegan dogs for Nowadays. And be sure to adjust your oven temp to 425℉ and cook your nuggets for at least 12 minutes. We’re just going to say it right now: you’re welcome.
Black Bean Burgers
When it comes to serving up vegetarian dinners, you’re going to want to become best buds with alllllll the veggie burgers. Black bean burgers are definitely at the top of our list. Be sure to note the vegan substitutions for feta and eggs in this recipe if you’d like to be completely plant-based.
Chicken Sliders and Comeback Sauce
Speaking of burgers, our recipe for chicken sliders uses Nowadays nuggets as the veggie burger patty and it just seems to make everything right in the world. Your family will not believe these are vegetarian, much less vegan (which—gasp—they are)!
Black Bean Veggie Quesadillas
Tortillas and cheese might be two of the most perfect foods when paired together and placed in an oven to live happily ever after. If you’d like a vegan option, this quesadilla recipe will have your children wondering what kind of voodoo magic you’ve got going on in your kitchen.
Here we go with the tortillas and cheese again! But can you really blame us? Burritos take quesadillas and turn up the dial by adding all the fixings: guac, onions, tomatoes, rice, vegan sour cream — the works. And now you don’t need to order takeout to get the perfect one, because this veggie burrito will blow you away.
It’s hard to find a kid who doesn’t love pizza (or an adult, for that matter), and there’s no reason to give it up if you’re attempting a vegetarian or even a vegan meal. Use this plant-based pizza recipe as your base and consider adding any of your favorite plant-based cheeses along with your favorite veggies.
Sweet Potato Pizza Crust
Take your pizza to the next level with this sweet potato pizza crust. It’s a lower carb version of its wheat-filled counterpart, but you can add any of the usual toppings and bake it as you normally would. Bonus: It’s extra cool to eat orange crust, so you may score some extra cool-mom or cool-dad points.
Vegan Pita Pizzas
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making or buying your own pizza dough or crust, or if you find yourself in the kitchen desperate for a quick and easy weeknight dinner in a pinch, look no further than the pita pizza. Just take any pita and dress it as you would a regular pizza. It’s a great way to get extra veggies into your kiddo, and it makes for a fun interactive vegetarian meal as well.
If your kids didn’t think you were amazing before, look out! Because mama’s got a brand-new trick up her sleeve, and it’s called nachos. A nacho stack is a good idea on any night of the week, but this stack takes the cake.
Cassava Flour Taco Cups
Try taco cups for your next Mexican-themed night and prepare to be wowed. These are fun, easy to make, and versatile. Use the recipe as is or add your own flare to the cups as you see fit. This particular recipe calls for regular cheese and sour cream, but if you’d like to try a dairy-free option, pick your preferred vegan food brands and enjoy!
Vegan Grilled Cheese
If vegan grilled cheese isn’t the ultimate comfort food, we don’t know what is. Add some pizazz to this staple by adding in a few veggies, and serve it along with a salad for good measure. It’s pretty heavy in carbs, but who cares? Apparently carbs help us sleep better, so eat up!
Ah, the sizzle of fajitas is such a tantalizing sound, so amp up your next vegetarian dinner night with these veggie fajitas. You may even want to add some Nowadays nuggets to the party! Simply chop them in strips and pop them in the oven or air fryer to bake until they are crispy and crunchy, and you’ve got a meal the whole family will love.
Avocado Cucumber Sushi Rolls
Sushi is always a wonderfully interactive meal you can serve, and it’s easy to make it vegetarian. This raw sushi recipe offers a refreshing twist by using cucumber in place of nori.
Finger foods are fun and all, but sometimes a kid just needs a good ol’ fashioned fork. Here are some of our fave vegetarian meals for kids that are sure to provide a forkin’ good time at the dinner table.
Breakfast for dinner? Yes, please! Quiche has got to be one of the easiest weeknight dinners known to parents. It’s the perfect vegetarian meal option if you don’t add any meat, but what if you want to make quiche without eggs? Turns out, you can — by using chickpeas! Check out this vegan quiche and try it out for your kiddos and tots tonight.
Veggie Lasagna With Vegan Parmesan
Lasagna can admittedly be a bit of a pain in the tush to make. But once it’s made, it pays dividends for days (on account of all the leftovers), which makes it totally worth it. Try an easy lasagna recipe, then play around with different seasonings and veggies as it becomes a Meatless Monday staple around your sometimes vegetarian dinner table.
Spaghetti and Meatless Balls
Spaghetti and meatballs might just be one of the most popular dinners of all time, but if you think it’s off the table on a vegetarian meal night, think again. Try this meat-free version and see what meatless magic you can create.
Take your family Italian night to the next level with vegan sausage and pasta. This recipe is on the spicy side, but you can easily tone it down for younger palates. Warm, hearty, and full of texture, it’s a dinner winner.
Bowtie Pasta With Vegan Alfredo Sauce
One of the sneakiest and best ways you can help your kiddos eat more veggies is to use pasta as the base in which to hide those veggies. Bowtie pasta is a true crowd pleaser, and you’ll be glad to know that making creamy vegan alfredo sauce is not only easy, but also another great camouflage for veggies!
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
No vegetarian meal guide would be complete without some kind of mac and cheese recipe. If you want to be extra sneaky, chop up some cauliflower and throw it in. Your kids likely won’t notice, and they’ll get an extra dose of macro and micronutrients along with their macaroni.
Mushroom Walnut Bolognese
They say it’s all about the sauce and this one will come in handy time and time again. Use this amazing pasta sauce to easily disguise added veggies and pair with pasta, grains, or whatever you like. You can also easily swap out the walnuts and use sunflower seeds for a nut-free sauce.
Meatloaf often gets a bad rap, but we’re not sure why, because it’s delicious. You might not think about it as a vegetarian meal option, but if you swap out your meat for lentils, you’ll find that it makes for one of the tastiest vegetarian dinners around.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy yet delicious and nutritious weeknight vegetarian meal, this bean bake checks all the boxes.
Chicken Teriyaki Comforta-Bowl
For an Asian-inspired vegetarian meal, this bowl is a must. It’s tangy and sweet and crispy and crunchy and everything you want in a stir fry. Simply use Nowadays nuggets as your base and watch the magic unfold.
Soups and Stews
OK, spoons were starting to feel a little left out of the mix after all this fork food business, so we decided to represent. These vegetarian soups and stews are worthy of any spoon, and more importantly, of your children’s taste buds. You see? We’ve totally got your back, parents! We got you. We are you!
Red Coconut Curry
It’s safe to say that almost every family has a resident curry recipe. But if you don’t, well, this red coconut curry recipe is about to change all that. With the healthy fat of coconut milk and the diverse fiber and nutrients from the veggies, this recipe is perfect for your next weeknight vegetarian meal.
With a similar taste profile to its cousin curry, dal is an amazing source of plant-based protein. Try this red lentil dal as a base, then add veggies to give it a bigger nutrient density profile.
Vegetable Lentil Soup
Enjoy this hearty soup in the fall and winter months when the family is craving something both filling and warm. Swap out the chicken broth for veggie broth and use your fave plant-based cheese to make it totally animal-free.
Vegetable Dumpling Soup
There’s something so satisfying about biting into a dumpling as you’re slurping soup off your spoon, don’t you think? This vegan version is the perfect stand-in for your next vegetarian dinner.
There are entire cookbooks made up of one-pot meals, and with good reason. If you’re a busy parent, you don’t have time to mess around. This one-pot potato soup is the perfect addition for your next Meatless Monday or any vegetarian meal.
Chickpea Pasta Soup
This hearty soup is topped with pesto for extra tang and nutrition, plus it’s a wonderful source of plant-based protein. Serve it along with a green salad or steamed veggies and it’s a vegetarian meal for kids that’ll get the whole family’s stamp of approval.
Vegetarian Meals for Kids: It’s Easier Than You Think
As you can see, incorporating more vegetarian — and even vegan —recipes into your weekly meal plan is easier than you might have thought. From the way you present the food to including your kiddos in the meal prep, you can really set yourself up for success. As you cook your way through these recipes — and discover more on your own — we hope that your passion for vegan and vegetarian food will ignite.
To make your veg-friendly life a little easier, be sure to have a few boxes of Nowadays nuggets on hand. You can easily incorporate them into most recipes, and feel good knowing you’re giving your family a dose of plant-based protein without any junk.