Vegetarian cooking resources for kids
April 29, 2020 5:34 AM   Subscribe

My kiddo doesn't eat much, and she wants to change that. She's expressed some interest in not eating much meat. I have no idea what I'm doing. Plea for help within.

My 7 year old daughter has a really limited list of "safe" foods that she's happy to eat--mostly raw fruits and veggies, cheese, hummus, and pasta. During this stay-at-home time, she's expressed that she's bored and interested in finding some new things to eat, but so far has refused a lot of things I've tried.

After a long talk about food and nutrients and energy she told me she wants to try more vegetarian foods. She's never liked meat, so I'm super open to this. But I do eat meat and fish so even though I cook vegetarian meals frequently, I don't know a ton about balancing things out nutritionally.

I'm looking for cooking blogs or cookbooks with vegetarian recipes that may appeal to a not-very-adventurous eater, but also help me do the work of figuring out how to make those meals count, nutritionally. Another category that could work for us are recipes where the meat could be pulled out or the meals could be easily deconstructed. We're not vegetarian purists for ethical or religious or dietary needs--she just doesn't like meat.

Prefer books over blogs so that she can easily look through it and cook with me if she wants to. I'm open to kid-specific stuff but not limited to it.

A lot of what I'm finding via Google is either super fussy or different kinds of foods from all over the world and I'm into it, but I think I'm looking for baby steps via familiar ingredients for an American 2nd grader, or twists on food she'd recognize.

(Please note I'm looking for books and blogs, not general ideas of what to cook her. I'm also working on some other changes, like meals at the table, having her cook with me, and growing a garden.)
posted by cheese to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As a not-adventurous eater myself, I have generally found the BBC Good Food series of cookbooks to be good for this sort of thing. Simple recipes with not too many ingredients. I don't own the specifically vegetarian one, but it does exist here (sorry for the UK link). The ones I have include nutritional information for the recipes too.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:46 AM on April 29, 2020

Any of the Moosewood cookbooks would be a good starting point (especially the older ones). Moosewood is what I think of as "classic" vegetarian -- lots of cheese and eggs and approachable flavors without an over-reliance on tofu/meat subs (although they do use some of that sometimes). They're mostly easy for home cooks from what I remember (usually not too complicated). They have a list of recipes online if you'd like to browse (they all come from specific books).

I liked Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, although at that point, they were already updating the flavors a bit more to be more "worldly."

(Mollie Katzen does have a few kid-specific books -- Pretend Soup & Salad People seem to be aimed at your daughter's age range, although at 7, she's maybe at the upper end. Honest Pretzels is aimed at slightly older kids -- 8 & up. I have no experience with these books, but I'm just pointing out they exisit.)
posted by darksong at 6:10 AM on April 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

My Fussy Eater has a vegetarian section that you might sit down and browse together.

I also remember Nigella Lawson back in the day having what struck me as good kids' recipes, and the things I liked about them reminded me of your daughter's situation. She wasn't trying to tell anyone their kids had to eat grown-up food just for the sake of it being grown-up, and she was realistic about the things kids are most likely to eat, but she also thought variety and eating together were good goals and had ideas about how to manage them. I wonder if you could get a bunch of her kids' recipes in one place if that would be another thing for the two of you to browse through.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:19 AM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can make hummus from many different things, and add a lot of different things to it, too. I don't know if it's technically "hummus" but you can make it with white beans, or even green peas (called mushy peas in the UK, but that name might not go over well with a little kid).

You can also use hummus and hummus-like things as a "sauce" for cooked or raw vegetables, or even pasta if you thin it down enough. Kind of like a pesto. And pesto can be made with many different things, not just basil, garlic and pine nuts.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:56 AM on April 29, 2020

This is reeeeaallly old from the days of my oldest then-picky eater (who eats omnivorously now) but you might take a look at The Vegan Lunchbox blog (I linked to 2006, which was its heyday). The food itself is pretty simple but the bento-style preparation might get your child pumped up about how to make the food more fun. Just the ideas got us through a few years. If you like it I think the second edition is still on Amazon.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:15 AM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Minimalist Baker is not kid focused, but has really bright colourful pictures and tends to easy recipes (all plant-based) so I think it might appeal.

I've linked her blog here because it seems like an easy way to get a feel for her style, but she has a cookbook available too. I've had a lot of success with her recipes that I've tried.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 7:36 AM on April 29, 2020

Here is a list of vegetarian cookbooks, several of which look kid-friendly. I wasn't super impressed by Bittman, but the America's Test Kitchen one is great.

Other books that might work - Bryant Terry's The Inspired Vegan is a gorgeous book with yummy recipes that is really solid on technique.

It's a blog, but I love Cookie + Kate. Budget Bytes also has great stuff, with a TON of pictures!

Re: veggies, roasting them in the oven is an easy path to deliciousness. Serve with a grain and a sauce (hummus, mint mayo, whatever takes kiddo's fancy) for a complete meal.
posted by Tamanna at 7:44 AM on April 29, 2020

The vegetarian section on Serious Eats is pretty comprehensive; their testing of recipes (especially older ones) can be hit and miss, but generally things are solid. America's test Kitchen is playing catchup with certain cuisines since Kimball left, but their Vegan for Everybody book (all the recipes are available on their website, but paywalled) is a pretty regular reference for us.

We have had to make the same concession for our 8 year old. FWIW, they ended up really, really, really liking edamame in the pod. He now knows how to steam up a batch and add it to any meal we have as a side; it works pretty well.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:51 AM on April 29, 2020

Does your kid drink milk? She's at the age where many kids' digestive relationship with milk starts to change, so this might be really bad advice, but for my meat-averse young'n we've always just let him drink lots of milk and sort of just not worried about the protein aspect of vegetarian nutrition. Also does she like scrambled eggs?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:51 AM on April 29, 2020

Budget Bytes, mentioned above, has a lot of recipes that appeal to me as a vegetarian and former extremely picky eater who's successfully branched out but still doesn't like overly challenging food. I want to draw attention to one nice feature which is that you can search by ingredient, which means that if you can identify one acceptable/familiar taste, you can use that as a foundation to safely branch out. If she likes hummus, for instance, one of the other chickpea recipes might appeal.
posted by babelfish at 7:52 AM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Molly Katzen has several kids vegetarian cookbooks. Your daughter might enjoy eating the foods she helps prepare? These are kid-friendly recipes.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has a ton of recipes including for simple, non-adventurous foods that might appeal. Bonus - instructions are very clear, also friendly for a kid to cook along to.

How it All Vegan has a fun vibe. Your kiddo might enjoy flipping through to pick recipes. I find the recipes reliably tasty.
posted by latkes at 8:20 AM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would check out Kid chef : the foodie kids cookbook by Melina Hammer. It's not vegetarian, but a lot of the recipes are (or easily adaptable). I can't unearth the cookbook for kids that I had when I was a kid (suuuuuuper simple things, like a pizza bagel) but the vibe is similar. An introduction to cooking and culinary skills. Dishes that your kid would be likely to recognize. Mini quiche. Tomato soup with cheesy toasts. It's in a whole "Kid Chef" series that might be fun to work through together as a family.

I also saw that there is the National Geographic Kids Cookbook: A Year-Round Fun Food Adventure but that might be the next step, after your kid wants to explore more unfamiliar foods.
Join Barton Seaver—master chef and National Geographic Explorer—on a year-round culinary adventure as he explores what it takes to create the ultimate dish. Barton provides mouthwatering recipes, the ins and outs of healthy eating, awesome crafts and activities, and food-focused challenges, proving once and for all that cooking can be a blast. With fascinating sidebars, profiles on real people, and cool facts, the National Geographic Kids Cookbook will have you ruling the kitchen in no time!
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:23 AM on April 29, 2020

I'm the opposite of a picky eater, but I cook vegetarian and vegan a lot, and am also a librarian so I see a lot of cookbooks in my day to day life!

"Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison has great pictures and nice recipes. I find the recipes in How To Cook Everything (Vegetarian) by Mark Bittman to be generally tastier, but the book doesn't have good pictures. Pictures are an important part of choosing a new food! The Mark Bittman "Kitchen Matrix" book has good pictures and explains a theory of cooking that I think is really valuable for learning to cook and learning to eat-- the idea that there is a base recipe that you can endlessly vary.

"Vegan Food for the Rest of Us" by Ann Hodgman is funny and realistic about what is achievable on a day to day basis, and the recipes are solid. Not so many pictures, but a fun read anyway. "Cook Korean!" by Robin Ha is kid-friendly graphic novel about cooking Korean food, many of which is vegetarian or could be vegetarian. "Chloe Flavor" by Chloe Coscarelli has great pictures and the recipes are astonishingly delicious (make the scallion pancakes!!!)

I don't like the Isa Chandra Moskowitz books like Veganomicon, because I find the claims in the book tend to be oversold/overblown leading to severe disappointment/betrayal (the food is fine...not mindblowing.) I do, however, second 'Vegan Lunch Box" especially if you're easing in to eating more veg. Moosewood is also a solid choice, but I suspect I just say that because that is what I grew up with.

Have A Plant is a great resource if you're curious what the heck something is and what to do with it. Also fun to browse. The recipes at The Physicians' Committee For Responsible Medicine are legit good and have good photographs. Alton Brown and Good Eats was one way I learned to cook and think about food as a teenager, but I don't know if that would work for your kid unless they are very science-oriented.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:28 AM on April 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

America's Test Kitchen has a cookbook for kids that was also tested by kids with some editorial commentary from them. It's not vegetarian but it's also heavy on breakfasty and snacky things that are meatless to begin with or easily modified. I think it's a great book to have and look at because their instructions are so clear and the instructional photos are so good. ATK is very reliable. I don't know if they ever made TV episodes of these, but they do have a website for kids where you can see some of the recipes before you buy anything.

I can't find the actual cookbook I'm thinking of, which I used with a friend and her kids and they really responded to it, but this looks similar: The Vegetarian Cookbook: More than 50 Recipes for Young Cooks. It's nutritionally focused, has the step photos (I think this is critical for new cooks) and a glossary.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:58 AM on April 29, 2020

Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals is a pretty great book - it has a set of core "master formula" recipes, that are each presented with a list of ideas for flavoring it (e.g. different types of beans & seasonings that can be used in a core bean burger recipe), which might be particular useful for a picky eater who wants to come up with suitable ideas or make some swaps. It's really basic, practical food, but in a good way.
posted by mosst at 9:11 AM on April 29, 2020

The River Cottage cookbooks are really nice and easy to read and use. Amazon link is to the first veg book, scroll down for more suggestions that might be interesting too.
Also The Smitten Kitchen, blog or book. It's not all vegetarian, but a lot vegetarian.
My eldest ate everything, my youngest was picky, today as young adults they both eat everything. But one thing we all enjoyed doing together was watch a cooking show on TV. I'm not in the US, so can't make a specific suggestion, but the thing about that show was that it was only partwise about cooking. Mostly the hosts were telling relatable stories about all sorts of stuff: their childhood, travels, toys, friends, musik, and they made cooking and spending time and eating together in the kitchen look both achievable and joyful. It was also a weekly ritual for us as a family, and it created other rituals: they made a show about sandwiches and we used that as inspiration for our election night food thing.
What I'm saying is that maybe there is some pop-cultural thing that can inspire, as well as an actual cookbook.
posted by mumimor at 9:50 AM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

A lot of people have mentioned Mollie Katzen, and I wholeheartedly concur this is a great place to start. Check out the original Moosewood cookbook though (the print edition). The book is really approachable, has a storytelling tone, and is full of Katzen's illustrations of vegetables and little hand-drawn ornaments. Maybe the illustrations and overall tone of the book might open some doors for her.

Has your daughter tried tofu yet? There's a lot of tofu in the Moosewood books.
posted by missmobtown at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2020

When I was a lifelong very picky recently-turned-vegetarian adolescent, the Moosewood cookbooks (mostly written by Mollie Katzen) were my gateway into learning how to eat and cook simple vegetarian foods.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:14 AM on April 29, 2020

Hello! I was once a child who did not like meat and then after a few years stopped eating it altogether. Her diet basically sounds like mine as a kid. Meat really freaked me out texturally, and so I assumed that I just hated a lot of food. Not true! I just didn't/don't like meat-textured foods.

For these purposes I love the Betty Crocker Easy Everyday Vegetarian cookbook. It taught me how to cook, and there are a lot of recipes I still eat. It's a lot of really familiar, kid-friendly dishes (burgers, casseroles, pasta dishes, pizzas, snacks), just with a veg bent. As a big plus, it uses ingredients that are easy to find everywhere, which isn't always true of vegetarian cookbooks.

Also, it has a lot of dishes that are like, gateway dishes to adventurous eating. A pretty mild peanut sauce pasta dish! A light curry! A cheese sauce with just a teeny bit of gorgonzola! I've fed a lot of these recipes to picky eaters over the years.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 11:24 AM on April 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

When our daughter was in a similar phase, she ate a lot of potato. Some from the freezer, but also microwave "baked". She wouldn't touch mac & cheese which says a lot about how individual tastes are.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:52 PM on April 29, 2020

Smitten Kitchen blog and cookbooks are omni, but have lots of vegetarian and excellent baked good recipes. Well tested and excellent, she often comments on how her 10 & 6 yr old kids liked them.
My youngest wasn’t an eater, but getting her involved with food prep and watching “Chopped” totally opened her palate. She is a vegetarian.
posted by gryphonlover at 9:47 PM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

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