Cooking Delicious, Vegan Meals for Your Family

Meatless doesn't mean tasteless.

Being a vegan, and a kid, wasn’t easy a generation ago.

Even 10 years ago, vegan and vegetarian kids were an oddity compared to their friends with lunchboxes filled with turkey sandwiches and chocolate milk.

But today, it’s not so unusual to have a classroom request for dairy-free birthday treats. And, you don’t have to search far for meatless options in most restaurants.

I can remember when tofu was exotic – something for which you had to make a special trip to Akin’s. Now even small-town grocery stores have at least some vegan and vegetarian items stocked.

I talked to Kimberly Butler, mom of a 9-, a 6- and a 2 1/2-year-old and one on the way. She’s a strict lacto-ovo vegetarian (meaning she eats dairy and eggs but no meat, chicken or fish). She and her husband are raising their children with their shared food philosophy.

Kimberly became a vegetarian as a sixth grader at Monte Cassino School after visiting a cattle ranch. Once she had her own children, she wondered if they might face the same scrutiny she did, being the odd one out, as a kid.

“I was the only vegetarian in the school,” she said. “I was teased about it. But, it’s completely changed. It’s so much easier for kids now. ”

At cookouts or parties, Kimberly can bring veggie hotdogs, and throw them on the grill along with the regular hotdogs.

“The hardest thing is school cafeterias. If they forget their lunch, we have to bring it,” she said.

Kimberly has run into some criticism for her decision to raise her kids as vegetarian, but she finds it unwarranted.

“Some in my family worry my kids will not be as healthy as other kids. I see it as the opposite. We’re eating healthy foods with a lot less saturated fat,” she said.

Once her kids are in middle school, Kimberly said they will be able to make their own decisions about what they eat. Until then, she gives them healthy food, including protein, and talks to them about her moral and ethical values relating to animals as food.

“I do it in an age-appropriate way. Instead of disassociating the meat from the animal, I explain to them, `That’s a cow. That’s a pig,’” she said.

Kimberly suggests a soft start for kids or parents new to vegetarianism. Familiar kid-favorites like chicken nuggets and hot dogs are available in meatless varieties, giving kids an easy transition.

Those foods can also make it easy for moms and dads who don’t have time to prepare time-consuming, home-cooked vegetarian meals every night.

A friend commented to me how sad it must be for vegan kids not being able to have some of the pleasures of childhood, like cupcakes. I quickly remembered a new cookbook, “Sweet Debbie’s Organic Treats,” filled entirely with vegan recipes. The cover of that book features a delicious-looking chocolate cupcake.

Those cupcakes looked so good, I had to check out the ingredients. Of course, there’s no butter here, but instead, coconut nectar, coconut oil, mashed avocado, powdered erythritol and cocoa powder. You can’t expect the taste of buttercream, but you can expect a smooth, creamy chocolate frosting.

The great thing about kids is they’re not yet set in their ways, so they’re likely to love a vegan cupcake as much as any other cupcake. My kids have unknowingly gobbled broccoli-filled chocolate brownies, and were just happy to have something sweet after dinner.

Kimberly Butler loves this vegetarian paella. It came from an exchange student from Barcelona that her family hosted through Eisenhower International School.

Vegetarian Paella

  • 1 onion
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts
  • 3 cups Calasparra or Bomba rice
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 Not-Chick’n Bouillon Cubes
  • generous pinch saffron
  • pinch sea salt
  • Olive Oil for sautéing the vegetables

1. Sauté the vegetables in olive oil and add the tomatoes at the end. Season with sea salt. If possible sauté in a paella pan.

2. In a pot, boil the water with the saffron. Add the broth cubes and stir.

3. Add the rice to the vegetables and stir it together. Add the broth and even the rice throughout the pan. After this step, do not stir the rice.

4. Let the rice cook for about 40 minutes on low heat. Once it is cooked almost all the way through, cover the paella with aluminum foil for the final 10 minutes cooking.

*The paella should have a brown crust on the bottom when it is finished.  This is normal, and not a sign that it is burned.

Here’s a nice summertime side dish for adults or meal for children. It’s from Annabel Karmel’s book “Superfoods,” and is fine to eat for children as young as 9 months old.

Spinach with Mushrooms and Potato

  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups diced button mushrooms
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup unsalted vegetable stock
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, tough stems removed, or 1/3 cup thawed frozen spinach

Saute the onion in the oil until softened. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the potato and pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the spinach, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Mash with a fork or puree in a food processor.

Debbie Adler’s bakery “Sweet Debbie’s Organic Cupcakes,” is a Los Angeles hot spot. Here’s her vegan recipe for America’s favorite cookie.

Cosmic Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 3/4 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon guar gum
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup coconut nectar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon stevia powder
  • 7 tablespoons water
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 15-by-13-inch cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the two flours, baking soda, guar gum, ginger, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle.

Microwave the coconut oil and coconut nectar in a 2-cup measuring cup for 20 seconds. Add the vanilla, orange extract and stevia, and stir to combine. Pour into the flour mixture.

Add the water to the flour mixture and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Take about 1 ½ tablespoons of the dough, shape it into a ball, and place it on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat until you have used up all the dough, placing the balls about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Flatten each ball gently with the bottom of a measuring cup.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 13 minutes, or until they are a light golden brown around the edges. Rotate the cookie sheet from front to back after 9 minutes of baking.

Transfer the cookie sheet from the oven to a wire rack and let sit for 10 minutes before removing the cookies to cool completely. Keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days or wrap and freeze for up to 3 months.

This Martha Stewart recipe is quick to prepare, and is as good cold as warm, making it a good choice for a lunchbox.

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Vegetables and Peanut Sauce

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 4 ounces snow peas, tough strings removed
  • 3 medium carrots, halved, and shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 container (14 ounces) firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons light-brown sugar

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. Add snow peas, carrots, and tofu to pot; immediately drain pasta mixture, and set aside.

In pasta pot, stir together peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Add reserved pasta mixture; toss gently, adding reserved pasta water a little at a time to create a thin sauce that coats spaghetti (you may not need all the water). Season as desired with salt and pepper. Serve.

Categories: Food