Beyond PBJ: 5 Go-to Vegetarian Meals for Toddlers

Chow on 08.18.11
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As vegetarian parents of a toddler my husband and I are always thinking of novel ways to present the humble vegetable to our daughter for her dining pleasure. And like any parent of a toddler knows, trying to find good, reliable food staples for tiny food critics can be daunting.

Since our daughter is starting preschool this fall, and since we've finally amassed a grab bag of go-to meals for our finicky food-grubber, we thought we'd share these quick recipes with anyone looking to fix their kid dinner and brown bag it with school-friendly leftovers the next day.

Sweet Potato Calzone
Our daughter loves sweet potatoes creamed with butter, and we love pizza. So we halve a ball of wheat pizza dough (while we're cooking up a roasted orange pepper and smoked cheese pizza for ourselves) and roll it out for a quick and easy meal that marries the toothsome flavor of sweet potatoes with the tanginess of smoked cheese.

½ of prepared wheat pizza dough
1/3 cup of pizza sauce
1 cooked sweet potato, peeled and mixed with 1 tbsp butter and a pinch of salt
½ cup of cheese (We like a mix of smoked cheese, but mozzarella is great, too)
Olive oil spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and spray baking sheet with olive oil spray. Roll out dough; spread pizza sauce over half of dough; top same half with sweet potato-butter mixture; top with cheese. Fold over dough and pinch shut; spray an even coat of olive oil spray over top. Bake for 20 minutes or until dough stiffens on top and bottom. Cool for 10 minutes.

Ricotta Cheese, Banana and Honey Sandwich
This is a fast, healthy dinner that can double as a peanut-free sandwich for preschool lunches the next day. Just add carrots for color and another nutritional layer.

2 tbsp ricotta cheese
½ banana, sliced horizontally
Wheat bread

Spread ricotta cheese over bread and top with banana slice; drizzle with honey. If you're feeling fancy you can grill this stove-top style.

Roasted Broccoli and Tempeh Barbecue
Roasting a head of broccoli with a good amount of olive oil and pairing it with tempeh barbecue is a 40-minute affair, tops. Make sure to roast the broccoli until it's brownish and has the consistency of popcorn when you pop it into your mouth.

3 heads broccoli (cut broccoli at the base of stalks and aim for smaller chunks)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Jar of mild barbecue sauce
1 package of tempeh

For broccoli: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a 9x13 toss broccoli chunks with olive and salt. Roast for 40 minutes or until broccoli is crunchy but not burned.

For barbecue: Simmer barbecue sauce.  Boil tempeh for 10 minutes (this helps mellow the flavor and remove any bitterness). Remove tempeh and chop up into small pieces and add to barbecue sauce. Simmer for 10 minutes.

A Hummus Among Us
If your toddler professes to not like hummus, try, and try again. Eventually she'll go for this creamy chickpea staple. Also, it's one of those ingredients that has endless possibilities in terms of combos and additional condiments. Our daughter likes hers served with a side of avocado chunks dressed with a sprinkle of vegetarian bacon salt. Which also means that we have an excuse to whip up some lovely guac for ourselves.

You can also add leftover quinoa - a complete protein - to the hummus wrap to increase the protein and overall nutritional content.

2 tbsp store-bought or homemade hummus
Olive oil
Leftover quinoa (optional)
Wheat tortillas

Spread hummus over wrap; add quinoa if you'd like and drizzle with olive oil. Roll up and serve with a side of hummus that your child can dip the wrap into.

Cheesy Noodles
Mac and cheese is an all-time favorite for kids - it's got flavor, texture and just the right amount of ooze to make playing with your food fun. But I can always hear the words of my daughter's pediatrician ringing in my ears when our family goes into mac-overdrive: "Kids should really eat mac and cheese no more than three times a week. But what are you going to do when you know your kid will eat it at practically every meal?"

This is just reason No. 561 why we love our pediatrician. Anyway, the book, Veganomicon, offers a wonderful "cheesy sauce" recipe reprinted here, which fulfills all of the creamy, gooey qualities that a good mac and cheese should have - without any dairy. We like to use quinoa elbow noodles to throw in a bit more protein.

8 oz. quinoa elbow noodles or any other type of elbow noodle
See cheesy sauce ingredients here.

Prepare noodles as directed on package and add to the cheesy noodle sauce. Directions here for sauce preparation.

Also, if you're interested in incredibly tasty vegan fare, check out Vegonomicon.

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