Tips for a vegetarian tween
January 12, 2012 3:16 PM   Subscribe

My 10 year old wishes to eliminate meat from her diet. I know in general of protein susbstitutes for meat, but not so much how to prepare them, or how much, etc. Please recommend your best sources of information, recipes, & insights into how to best help her do well in this regard.

Best suggestions/recommendations for a beginning 10 year old vegetarian.
posted by subajestad to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for letting your daughter try eliminating meat. My mom wasn't as supportive.
I'm raising two vegetarian children -- a full veggie household.
I got started with some easy vegetarian cookbooks like Linda McCartney's. She has a collection of traditional and basic recipes that are simply meat-free. She also has great general ideas.
Also, I like PETA's website -- not so much the politicial stuff but the food information.
We love tofu, fresh beans (love Rancho Gordo), and homemade gluten, but there is nothing wrong with starting with fake meats -- Morningstar Farms (Kellogg's), Gardenburger brand, Quorn brand, etc. When buying fresh tofu, take it out of the container and store it with fresh water -- tastes so much better.
The only thing I would avoid is her becoming a starch-and-cheese-a-tarian. Not having meat doesn't mean switching only to cheese and bread. Big mistake I made at first.
Start slow, build as you can, and since she is 10, I'd involve her in learning to cook and plan for her nutrition.
Good luck!
posted by mamabear at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even not specifically trying to eat protein or protein substitutes, it is almost impossible to not get enough protein in one's diet. Dairy, eggs, beans, even potatoes all have protein in them, and most meat eaters get far more protein than necessary.

The more serious concerns, especially for a girl about to go through puberty, are iron, and calcium. Supplements containing these might be a good idea.
posted by lollusc at 3:31 PM on January 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

(Actually, calcium isn't really more of a problem for a vegetarian than for a meat eater - I was thinking vegan when I wrote that bit.)
posted by lollusc at 3:33 PM on January 12, 2012

I turned vegetarian around that age without the support of family or community in a rural, Midwest town.* Good for you for trying to make this work for her.

I would suggest you look into her school lunch regulations, as I was literally refused lunch at my public school due to a zealous lunch server offended by my vegetarianism finding a bylaw about children not being able to refuse a main entree (it had to do with having to serve a total number of calories, I believe).

I would prepare her for the questions she'll get from other children and adults and have her figure out what she's going to say. I'd also prepare her for what she might do when/if other kids think it's funny to slip some meat into her roll. And how she presents herself in relation to food at friend's houses - perhaps she should be bringing some snacks along? Well-meaning friends' mothers serving me fish has always been really awkward.

I would support her if she lapses. Be supportive but don't make her feel like she's made an irreversible choice. Try not to make it into a huge deal.

Food-wise, it's not that hard, honestly, and getting easier as time goes by. There are a lot of brands of veggie protein out there, and it's a personal taste thing what she'll like. (Also, different stores offer different brands.) So buy one of several brands, and have her try them out. Quorn, Morningstar, Gardenburger, Fantastic Foods, Amy's, etc. are just some of the many vegetarian brands. I really like Morningstar chick'n, Amy's prepared meals, Fantastic Foods "chicken" style noodle soup, etc. Your daughter may end up preferring Quorn chicken. Don't just rely on those foods, though. I try not to eat so much soy protein. Nuts and dairy can provide a lot of protein themselves, and she should be eating a variety of veggies and fruits.

People always thought/think I'd be anemic, but I've been tested over the years and I've never been. If you eat a balanced diet, you should be good. She should listen to her food cravings. When I want chickpeas, I eat them. Same for avocados. A regular multi-vitamin isn't a bad idea, though, and make sure you get a vegetarian-friendly one (no fish or gelatin). I've had good luck with Whole Foods brand vitamins.

There is the Vegetarian Times magazine, which offers seasonally appropriate vegan and vegetarian recipes. The Moosewood Cookbook is famous. I mostly just google recipes I want to make as internet recipe collections have become really popular.

*I am still vegetarian now.
posted by vegartanipla at 3:39 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although health-wise most people easily get enough protein, I find that with vegegarian cooking, including more protein makes the food more satisfying and helps me stay full longer instead of getting hungry soon after eating. In our house, protein options include:

seitan (made from wheat gluton) - great meaty texture, good with a strongly-flavored sauce since it tastes a bit weird on its own.

tofu - good baked, fried, or boiled in a sauce

beans - pinto and black are the most versatile and it's easy to improvise mexican-ish food.

peanut butter - makes a good peanut sauce to eat with rice noodle stir fry

store-bought fake meats - expensive but tasty

In my opinion the keys to vegetarian cooking are as follows:

*let go of the meat-and-side-dish paradigm for cooking. Most of the dishes I make mix protein and veggies together in a sauce or soup.

*explore various ethnic cuisines, which often have more creative dishes that are less meat-cenric
posted by mai at 3:47 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This book is fantastic and is full of recipes and advice.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:52 PM on January 12, 2012

Easy starter vegetarian food:

Eggs are a great, very nutritious food, and easy to prepare in a range of ways. Omelets, scrambles, hardboiled, etc.

Nut butters and hummus spread (made from chickpeas) are another very easy vegetarian protein source, where she can make her own sandwiches eg.

Yogurt too. Check the protein contents of various types of yogurt - the higher-fat ones, including Greek style, often have more protein.

Look into making more green veggies -- spinach, kale, collards, other cabbage-family veggies like cauliflower and broccoli -- they are full of good nutrients and great as a side dish for everyone in your family.

You can make family dishes that are easy to have one veggie version and one meat version:
-Chili (some with ground beef and some with beans)
-Pasta with toppings (tomato sauce with or without meat; pesto sauce with or without chicken; or just roasted veggies)
-Tacos (some with ground beef and some with beans)
-Burgers/veggie burgers (in the freezer section at grocery store)
-Chicken nuggets/Quorn nuggets (in the freezer section at grocery store)
-Soup (many pre-made veggie soups are good and it's easy to make homemade soups - creamy cheesy broccoli soup or minestrone with beans or split pea soup, etc) - maybe with a grilled cheese sandwich!
-Good salads (with lots of nice colorful veggies - and with eg chicken, or with cheese and nuts)
-Quiches, omelets, and egg-based dishes (some with bacon, some with cheese)

Certain world cuisines are naturally vegetarian-friendly; two examples jump to mind:
Mexican (lots of beans. Real Mexican beans may be made with meat fat or drippings, so she should decide how strongly she feels about that, and then ask as needed.) - Mexican food is easy to prepare at home. Beans and rice is a traditional dish (sautee onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent, add drained canned black beans and simmer covered for 20+ minutes, prepare rice); and tortilla-based dishes like quesadillas with black beans are easy to whip up.

Indian (lots of curries and dumplings from spicy to mild; they use chickpeas, lentils, and cheese as protein sources. Indian food is a bit more time-consuming to make at home, since I find the pre-made dishes you can get in the supermarket to be unsatisfactory, but still very possible.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:56 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fake meats have their place -- especially in group situations where she doesn't want to stick out from the crowd. But I'd be inclined to introduce her to dishes from regions where it's common to eat meat-free or meat-optional: southern Indian dhals, Mediterranean couscous dishes, and so on. It's better to have her comfortable with a range of foods that are vegetarian from the ground up, rather than trying to de-meatify (or substitute for) a meaty menu.

(Heidi Swanson gets linked here a lot, but deserves all the linkage. Lots of good recipes that don't lack for protein.)
posted by holgate at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

TVP is incredibly simple to make and works really well in anything where you'd use ground beef:
crunchy tacos, soft tacos, breakfast tacos, shepherd's pie, frito pie, chili, pasta dishes.
It's also handy for you if you have to cook one meal for the meat-eaters in your family and one for your daughter because you can serve something like tacos and everyone just takes the filling of their choice. You can often make something like this chickpea and kale stew (which is a meal in its own right) and serve your daughter a full portion of it as a meal, while the meat-eaters in the family get a smaller portion of it, along with a sausage, which is how many people I know balance the meat-eating with non-meating eating at shared meal times. You just have to respect things like not cooking the grilled cheese in the same pan as the bacon for the grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches.

I like epicurious as an online recipe resource and it lets you search by type of meal + vegetarian. TheKitchn also recently improved their search function and they have lots of good vegetarian recipes that don't rely on fake meats.

One of my very favorite vegetarian dishes is stuffed pumpkin. You get a sugar pie pumpkin, cut the top off, pull out the seeds and then stuff the thing with chunks of day-old bread (a rustic loaf works best), nuts, cheese (blue cheese or a gouda is good). The pour a bit of milk or cream with nutmeg, salt and pepper over it. Then roast the thing for an hour or so until it's fork tender. Eat it, rind and all.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:10 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Kudos to you for supporting your daughter! I made the decision to go vegetarian at 13 and was thrilled to have parents who were supportive. Things that worked for our family:

1. Cook meat separately and letting those who eat it add it in. This works for tacos/burritos (make beans separately from the meat and let people assemble their own plates), chili (make a bean version and let people add their own cooked ground beef/what have you in their own bowls), spaghetti (brown meat/make meatballs separately), curries (cook the chicken/beef/etc. in its own saute pan or in the oven), soups (cook bacon and let those who want it crumble it over their soup at the table), etc. It takes a little bit more work and one additional pan, but no one feels left out.

2. Thinking a little bit more about side dishes so the meal doesn't feel empty without meat. Mac & cheese and sauteed spinach make a pretty satisfying meal, IMO. Quinoa pilaf + a salad is a great, protein-rich dinner. Those who want meat can have it, but skipping the meat doesn't feel like missing out.

YMMV depending on what your normal dinners are like, but these two approaches kept me happy and healthy as a teenager.

In terms of general protein sources, people have hit upon the key ones above, but I often prefer beans, whole grains, nuts, eggs, dairy, lentils, and tofu over pretend meat like Quorn/chick'n/etc.
posted by rebekah at 4:11 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian is full of great recipes.

I also like Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:13 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Second link should be this.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:14 PM on January 12, 2012

She's definitely old enough to take an active role in her own nutrition, especially if she's the only vegetarian in the family.

My kids cook for themselves from Mollie Katzen's vegetarian cookbooks. Honest Pretzels is aimed at your daughter's age group, but the two for younger kids (Salad People and Pretend Soup) are still favorites of my girls.
posted by padraigin at 4:39 PM on January 12, 2012

Open, drain and rinse a can of beans - almost any beans, depending on preference. Pour 'em in a bowl, mash 'em with a fork, add a little olive or sesame oil, maybe some herbs or spices or salt to taste. Microwave for a little bit, just till they start to ease up - take 'em out, mash 'em around a bit until you like the texture, put 'em back in and heat till hot. Add some shredded cheese on top, and a scoop of salsa. Serve with or without tortilla chips or pita triangles. Simple, quick, cheap, filling, nutritious, and yum.

Also, a big ol' Portobello mushroom cap slapped on the grill can be amazing.
posted by mie at 4:50 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get this book. It's an excellent resource!
posted by sadtomato at 4:54 PM on January 12, 2012

My son's been a veg since he was 6 (he's now 16). I asked this question about broadening his diet not too long ago and got some great responses.

She's starting at a great age, when she's old enough to play around in the kitchen and have some control over what she eats. Good luck to her!
posted by headnsouth at 5:09 PM on January 12, 2012

I would prepare her for the questions she'll get from other children and adults and have her figure out what she's going to say.

My grade school best friend went veggie in 4th Grade -- if you want to borrow one of her responses, when I asked her "won't you miss hot dogs" (or hamburgers or whatever), it was, "nah, I just think about what a cute cow/pig/chicken/whatever it would have been." ....I know that sure shut me up when I was 8, anyway....

As for how and what to cook -- check out the Moosewood cookbooks. Pretty much any of them. They're all vegetarian first and foremost -- but there's a HUGE variety of cookbooks and ideas in their book range; they've got a vegetarian cookbook for simple suppers, one for low-fat diets, one that's all soups and salads, one that's also a gardening book, one for entertaining, an international cookbook, and many more. The international one is especially fun -- it's not all "here's a vegetarian version of these regional favorites (although you will occasionally find some of those), the emphasis is more "here's a traditional dish from this country which just so happens to also be vegetarian."

Best of all -- the food in the Moosewood books is also non-vegetarian friendly (I'm definitely an omnivore and I've got FIVE of these books), so the rest of the family will be willing to get on board with this, so rather than any younger siblings whining "oh, man, why do we have to eat this tofu junk", you'll be hearing "Japanese pizza! Cool!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 PM on January 12, 2012

Cheese is an excellent source of protein.

But make sure your kid takes a reasonable vitamin supplement. It is not unknown for vegetarians to end up with vitamin B-12 deficiency. (That won't be a problem if she eats lots of cheese.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:03 PM on January 12, 2012

It probably depends what she already eats, but we find Quorn a good substitute for meat in saucy things - Quorn chicken with a jar of curry sauce or Quorn mince in chilli works well. Eating it with less strongly-flavoured accompaniments will probably not show it in that great a light.

Well done to you on being so accommodating in light of the 10,000 other demands I imagine she makes on you! Vegetarianism (as long as the stuff you're asking about is accounted for) is generally regarded as being healthier than eating meat. I think various cancers have links to red meat consumption as well. So it's probably a massive pain in your life, but think of how much healthier your daughter will be.
posted by Kirn at 6:33 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

A good source of protein is what my nutritionist calls hypermilk — milk with powdered milk dissolved in it.
posted by Tom-B at 7:18 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends on the kind of cuisine you make at home. If it's mostly European-ish, you'll probably need meat substitutes since meat tends to be the focus of the dish. But there are ethnic cuisines that naturally lend themselves to vegetarianism, and contain lots of veggies, lentils, dairy, etc.

At least for the sake of taste, do not make a meat-based dish vegetarian by just removing the meat component. This is my gripe with many of the vegetarian options at American restaurants.
posted by redlines at 9:53 PM on January 12, 2012

I love Vegetarian Times and I think you should get a subscription if you like cooking and recipes, but if you just want to browse, they do have an online searchable database of their recipes A lot of what I've made from VT has been very tasty.
In most recipes you can just substitute the fake meat for real meat and so you can still make almost anything you want to.

I think this is probably hype, but lately there's been a bunch of controversy in veg-world about the safety of Quorn products. Read the article and see what you think. I am a doctor and it seems overblown to me, and I've eaten plenty of Quorn fake chicken (although I prefer Morningstar), but just thought I'd mention it so you can be an informed consumer.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:50 PM on January 12, 2012

You'll definitely want to get her to supplement omega-3 fats, vitamin K2, and B12 - all very important nutrients, especially for growing skeletons and brains, which are difficult to get from plant products. Vitamin D is only really found in animal foods as well, but as long as she's getting some sun exposure she'll be able to make plenty of it.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:53 PM on January 12, 2012

I don't want to engage in argument with larry_darrell, since he is not answering the question, but I would point out that the Weston A. Price Foundation he linked to appears questionable as a source of reliable information and has been investigated by QuackWatch.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:04 PM on January 12, 2012

I'm not a vegetarian myself so I can't comment on good recipes for your daughter-- but I can comment on good recipes for everyone else. A few people above mentioned trying out cuisines that are traditionally meat free-- these are great because you don't need to do anything different for your daughter, and no one else will miss the meat because that's the way the dish is meant to be. Also these meals are likely to have broad and sufficient nutrient content.

One more comment: above someone mentioned being worried about Quorn, but personally I'd be more worried about excess soy; maybe this is because I developed a reaction to soy after using it as my primary protein source for many months. Also seitan is awesome, but some people don't do well with lots of wheat gluten (and annoyingly lots of commercial versions use soy flour too now, grr I'm going to have to start making my own). I guess my basic comment here is to make sure you vary her protein sources, and be aware that she as an individual may not find all sources to be healthy alternatives for her.
posted by nat at 11:52 PM on January 12, 2012

Even if it's free and everyone knows about it, don't forget about the vegetarian tag on Foodgawker.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:04 AM on January 13, 2012

You're fighting two things: 1) recipes, but 2) perceptions of a proper meal. As an example, Thanksgiving can be all about the turkey, but seriously: stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, peas, corn, carrots, turnips... It's a vegetarian smorgasbord. It's hard to get past meat dishes but I saw Indian dishes with no meat, and found them far more amazing than most meat dishes (ribs and stews, nothing better...). I hate spinach, but my favorite meal is Indian dish based on spinach. In the same way that the French perfected Western cooking (their version of it anyway), Indians have perfected vegetarian cooking. Those from Latin and Central America have done the same, though not as directly. Their bean dishes are amazing and we're already used to them too, so they don't stand out as being vegetarian much.

Nutrition is the biggest problem though. Meals without meat tend to lack protein, and the temptation is there to replace it with eggs, cheese and milk. So sometimes we have to expand tradition. Throw in some refried beans, bean/cheese quesadillas or fajitas, and complement with chips and salsa. Call it Tex-Mex Thanksgiving. Just experiment and have fun with it.
posted by jwells at 3:46 AM on January 13, 2012

Another thing I forgot to mention about my son and young vegetarians is that their idea of what protein looks like differs from that of someone who stops eating meat as an adult.

I grew up eating from plates that had a hunk of protein with vegetable and starch on the side, so bocaburgers, slabs of tempeh, and cubed tofu are natural "meat" replacements for me. My son doesn't care for any of those things, and doesn't feel the need to simulate meat at all. He has grown up with day-to-day meals that have more of a one-pot, veggies-over-rice look. He does like quorn and will eat a patty of it on a bun with lettuce and tomato, but he never gets a craving for a burger-type mouthfeel thing the way I do.
posted by headnsouth at 6:33 AM on January 13, 2012

Definitely mexican and indian food. I agree, you don't need to make fake meat, a person can get plenty of protein just eating lots of beans, nuts, etc. I have been a vegetarian for almost 16 years and I never ever prepare tofu, seitan, or any of that stuff. I like it, it's just too much of a hassle for me to fool with, though I do sometimes order it in restaurants when I can have it prepared by a pro. Every so often I'll make veggie burgers or eat some fake chicken nuggets, but mostly because I was raised as an omnivore and sometimes I miss the "burgers and fries" experience, if that makes any sense.

One mistake I do think some new vegetarians make is to just eat what they did before, except with no meat. This can mean lots of sugary stuff and carbohydrates, and surprisingly few actual vegetables. But if you avoid falling into that trap, things should be just fine.
posted by Arethusa at 10:05 AM on January 13, 2012

The Adaptable Feast has recipes that can be adapted to served both omnivores and vegetarians.
posted by vespabelle at 11:10 AM on January 13, 2012

Despite my recent comment, life has recently led me to start preparing tofu, so I thought I would revisit this thread to share what I've managed to figure out so far.

Tofu, especially silken tofu, straight out of the container can be kind of slimy and gross. If you want to prepare tofu that is closer to the chewier, meatier stuff you can find in a restaurant, here is how I have learned to get fairly close to accomplishing that:

1. Start with firm or extra-firm tofu.
2. Freeze the tofu solid, then unthaw it. After freezing it, I usually leave it in the fridge overnight, then defrost it the rest of the way in the microwave. The freezing gives it a spongier, tougher texture that is closer to meat.
3. Carefully cut it into appropriately sized pieces. You have to be careful with this part because it will be spongy and want to fall part.
4. Now you want to press the water out. Arrange the pieces on many, many layers of paper towels. Then put yet more layers of paper towels on top of them. Then place a cutting board on top of that, and weight it evenly with lots of heavy stuff.
5. Leave it that way for several hours.
6. Reveal the now-squashed tofu. Salt both sides of the tofu (this apparently helps it form a sort of crust).
7. Fry it on medium heat until golden brown and crispy, I usually do one side at a time. Usually working with pieces that are 1.5 inch squares or 1.5 x 0.75 inch rectangles and maybe 1/3 of an inch thick after squishing.

The result can then be tossed in a stir-fry or pad thai or whatever suits your fancy.

I am still figuring out the tofu thing, but this has gotten me a lot closer than just trying to bread it and fry it, trying to bake it, and so on. Some people do the steps in a different order, such as pressing the water out and then freezing. But I think I at least have all the steps at this point, even if things need some tweaking.

This is obviously kind of a pain in the ass, so I only do it for a big production sort of meal, maybe once a week, if that. I have really enjoyed using this for this vegetarian mongolian beef recipe, and this pad thai recipe (vegetarianized, of course).
posted by Arethusa at 8:22 AM on April 2, 2012

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