Vegetarian Pre-Teen

Elizabeth said she wanted to try eating a vegetarian diet for a week, and she did so, and then she said she wanted to try a second week. So here I am with things like TVP and MorningStar hot dogs in my shopping cart: one week of winging it seemed like it wouldn’t hurt her, but now I think I need to pay more attention and come up with substitute meals other than peanut-butter sandwiches.

I was a little dismayed to see that the faux hot dogs are made of almost nothing except wheat and “corn syrup solids,” which seems…non-ideal, nutritionally-speaking. I guess I was assuming they’d be made of tofu or something, and I should have checked. It was the only option at our grocery store, though, and Elizabeth said the hardest thing to give up was Friday night hot dogs, so I probably would have bought them anyway. There’s a health-food store in town; I’ll see if they have better options.

I feel like I don’t even know really where to start. I’ve never tried to eat a vegetarian diet myself, or had to cook for someone who was on one. I did go through a brief and non-strict Diet for a Small Planet stage in my very early twenties (like, age 20 and 21), because my first husband was into that kind of thing, so I remember there is a bunch of stuff about combining incomplete proteins, but I don’t remember how to do it. Also, I am pretty sure I remember reading a number of years ago that protein-combining was not as important as previously believed? But I don’t remember the source, or whether it was a reliable one.

I remember BEANS playing a big role, and Elizabeth does not yet like beans. She is also not fond of eggs. But I’ve told her she might need to learn to eat beans and eggs as well as some new things, and she is agreeable to that, so I’m going to start experimenting. She does like cheese and milk and yogurt.

Some meals are easy to replace. She can have her pizza with no pepperoni. At Thanksgiving, she can eat potatoes and vegetables and stuffing and cranberry sauce; she never ate the turkey anyway. I’m going to experiment with the TVP in tacos, or she can learn to like burritos made with beans, rice, and cheese. I’m going to see if there are some veggie burgers that are better nutritionally than the veggie hot dogs. But she and I were shopping on Sunday and we stopped at Wendy’s for lunch and…oops, I forgot she wasn’t eating meat. I got her a baked potato and a Caesar side salad, but it seemed a bit sad to both of us, and she said it completely removed the Treat element of eating out. I got her a cookie afterward, out of food pity.

I don’t know what to make for her if I’m making chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes and broccoli for everyone else. I need something kind of easy that can be cooking alongside, so that she can have whatever it is, plus mashed potatoes and broccoli, without me feeling like I’m making two entire meals.

I’d like to find some things that are not just vegetarian versions of other things. That is, I’d rather make her something that doesn’t have meat in it to begin with, instead of substituting in a lot of Faux Meats.

I know there are tons of resources out there, but right now it’s overwhelming. I don’t want a book of two hundred recipes, all containing items I’ve never cooked with before, all of which look like meals for a grown adult with adventurous palate rather than for a picky child; I don’t want a website with ten years’ of archives and a lot of talk about how bad it is to eat meat. I want, like, one recipe that someone’s teenage vegetarian daughter really liked. Or, like, one recommendation for a vegetarian item from the frozen-foods section. (I mean like one or two items per commenter. We don’t have to stop talking after the first comment.)

Edited to add two things I forgot to say:

1. She’s not eating fish.
2. She’s allergic to tree nuts (though not to almonds).

130 thoughts on “Vegetarian Pre-Teen

  1. Susan

    First of all, good for you for supporting your daughter with her dietary choices. My daughter, who is 25, has been vegetarian/vegan for many years. There’s a lot I could say but to not overwhelm you, two things:

    Tofurky (sliced lunch meat substitute)

    Hummus (a good way to get beans into her — they’re good for everybody!) and super easy to make yourself.
    Add some roasted red pepper if you like.

    1. Kalendi

      I second the hummus. And the tofurky. Also Morning Star makes great non-meat burgers that are easy to cook (with your regular burgers) and taste great.

      1. laura

        Morningstar also makes some delicious chik’n nuggets which you can throw on the same pan that you are heating actual chicken nuggets on

        1. Shawna

          My mom is vegetarian. She would not eat faux chicken nuggets if they were cooked on the same pan as real chicken nuggets. Also no to using the same cooking implements that had just touched meat.

  2. Liz

    When I get home tonight I’ll send you a recipe for a lentil stew we make that is popular with both vegans (don’t add summer sausage) and omnivores (summer sausage on the side)

    1. Liz

      1 or more onions, chopped
      2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
      Olive oil for sauteing
      1 cup lentils
      14 oz can crushed tomatoes
      3 cups water
      1 teaspoon paprika
      Salt and pepper to taste
      (1/2 lb sliced summer sausage, cooked separately)

      Saute the onions and garlic and the olive oil in a large pan until softened. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the lentils are soft. Serve with or without the sausage. Good for freezing and re-heating

  3. Lobster

    I have a decent amount of family that’s vegan or vegetarian, and when we’re eating together, we usually just make one dinner with no meat. Hearty pastas with chunky sauces seem to be a good option – you can always mash up some beans and add it to the sauce and it seems heartier.

    I also make a lot of soups, and us meat eaters just pop the meat on top of our bowl of soup and stir it in.

    Does she eat fish? Tuna sandwiches?

    We don’t use much fake meat, but sometimes we’ll use fake bacon bits or soy chorizo to get a little bit of the meat taste.

  4. LeighTX

    My husband and I started eating vegetarian in July; like Elizabeth, we thought we’d try it for a week at a time, and now here we are, feeling all healthy and stuff. My two suggestions: nuts, and the Gardein brand.

    Our daughters still eat meat so I try to make meals as simple as possible. If they’re eating tacos, for example, I’ll make ground beef for them and either seasoned chopped walnuts or Gardein “meat” for us, plus some refried beans. Or I’ll divide up a casserole and add chicken in their portion and cashews for ours. The Gardein brand of “chicken” patties is very good, also. But nuts have a ton of protein and if she likes them, they’re a good alternative.

  5. Rachel

    I was a vegetarian for a number of years and fast food was the biggest hurdle for me. Taco Bell became the go-to fast food restaurant because I could just sub beans on anything with meat to make it vegetarian.

  6. Nora

    I have picky eaters who are iffy about most meats, but they eat pasta by the barrel. I started buying the Barilla Protein Plus pasta which is high in protein so I feel like they’re getting something. I also buy them vanilla greek yogurt, greek yogurt cream cheese, carnation instant breakfast, and Clif Kid Z bars. Mine are picky about vegetables too (meaning they will not eat them), so it may be easier for you to find plant based options since it sounds like she has a well balanced palate to start!

    1. Suzanne

      This reminds me: there is a pasta made out of chickpeas (Banza) that is supposedly good and high in protein. (A friend whose child can’t eat gluten swears by it but I haven’t tried it personally.) Does your grocery store or your Target carry that?

      1. Carolyn Allen Russell

        I’ve eaten Banza! It has a slightly different consistency than normal pasta (a bit chewier, perhaps?) which bothered my husband but I definitely enjoyed! If it’s available near you that’d be a great thing to try since it’s so high in protein and fiber!

  7. Jo

    We have vegan friends that we invite over for dinner quite often, so I’ve added a lot of new recipes to my kitchen. A favourite that we made was Taco salad — here is a list I went with, we also have taco beef for those who want it.
    Black beans, rinsed
    Cheese, shredded
    Sour Cream
    black olives
    bell peppers
    taco chips or rice depending

    Also, using practically same ingredients are quesadillas using tortillas and melting all together inside. This is a go to once a week because people can just add what they want/like. There seems to be enough of all food groups and beans get hidden in.

  8. Suzanne

    Man, all my ideas (black bean burritos! Channa masala! Vegetarian chili!) have beans in them. Well. If she gets to a bean-liking/tolerating point, those things are excellent and hearty enough for at least my meat preferring husband.

    Do you ever do stir fries? We do a lot of them and I find it really easy to stir fry my husband some beef or chicken and then remove it from the wok, then cook all the veggies at once. And there are so many great stir fry/simmer sauces already bottled and on the shelf in the store that it can be pretty easy. AND I like to add chickpeas to mine but again, that seems like a bean thing. But you could definitely add tofu!

  9. Erin

    I’m not a vegetarian, but I regularly buy and enjoy the Morningstar Chik’n Nuggets and the Chik’n patties. I love them, my kids (5 and 3) love them. They even come in a Buffalo chicken flavor, but I only recommend those if you don’t mind a little spice.

    1. a/k/a Nadine

      Same here. My son (2.5) and I are not vegetarians, but I don’t cook meat so we eat A LOT of Morningstar. Our favs are the chik’n nuggets and the pizza burgers. He inhales the nuggets (regular, not buffalo). He does not care for Smartdogs, but I do. No luck with eggs, hummus, or beans. I serve the Barilla veggie pasta, so I can pretend eating pasta most nights isn’t that bad.

  10. Ang

    I was a vegetarian for a couple years in the early 00’s (when I was in my very late teens/early twenties), and my doctor was very insistent that I eat corn and beans together a LOT (like at least 3 times a week). (I think that’s probably the protein combining you were getting at…)

    Anyway, I loved making tacos and burritos with a corn and bean filling. I found that adding all the toppings made them completely satisfying. I also made veggie chili a LOT, and added canned corn to that.

    1. Nora

      Yes I think if you eat any two of these three together (corn, beans, or rice) it is considered a complete protein.

    2. Alison

      That’s consider old advice now. If you’re eating a wide variety of foods in a day, “protein combining” in a meal is unnecessary. But that’s only been known for a decade or so now!

  11. Rebecca

    My husband is a vegetarian, and the rest of us are not, so I have some experience with this. Most children don’t like beans, but she will probably mature into them. One dish that our entire family loves (including the picky six year old who could survive on pasta and candy) goes like so: thinly slice an onion, several zucchini (we use 3 for a family of 7), equal amounts of tomato, spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with basil/oregano/Italian spices of your preference, a drizzle of olive oil, and a LOT of grated mozzarella. Grill until the veggies are warm and the mozzarella is bubbly and browning. My children actually compared it to pizza, and they don’t yet love vegetables.

  12. Tara

    My six year old has recently declared herself to be vegetarian as well. She used to make exceptions for things like chicken nuggets, bacon, and hot dogs, but in the past month has decided she won’t eat those anymore either. Luckily we already don’t eat too much meat, so it hasn’t been too terribly difficult, but it does still make things a bit more inconvenient at times. Have you tried lentils with her? My kids are not too fond of the brown lentils, but red lentils have a much lighter flavor and are delicious in curry recipes. Mushrooms are a great sub for meat – I don’t love the texture of them in large chunks but have found that if I dice them up small they mostly just take on the flavor of whatever else they are cooked with.

    The hummus suggestion above is great, you can find it or make it in so many flavors, and can use it as a dip or a spread on sandwiches or tortillas as well.

  13. Tara Griffin

    My 12 yo daughter and I are vegetarians but my husband and son aren’t any more (quitters!)

    First of all, you are correct, the whole protein combining thing is unnecessary. Almost all foods have enough protein on their own for normal dietary requirements so a well-rounded diet will provided everything she needs.

    I often make the same basic meal for everyone and either swap the protein out or my daughter and I just don’t eat the meat. So it would be helpful if she starting eating at least a couple types of beans mostly because they are easy substitutes. For example, taco night is a seasoned black beans and corn mix for us while the menfolk eat something like the already prepared carnitas meat from Trader Joes.

    Trader Joes has some great products if you have one nearby. Their high protein tofu or baked teriyaki tofu goes in the stir-fry and the whole family eats it although you could easily add it just for her portion. Their soy chorizo is delicious if she likes spicy foods.

    Morningstar Farms, Gardein, Boca Burger and Quorn all make good chicken substitutes and veggie burgers but they can get pricey. Field Roast sausages are really good and maybe a little healthier then the hot dog products but they are a sausage.

  14. Caz

    I too would skip the “fake meats” and err on other replacements.
    For chicken finger night you could bake some firm tofu sliced into fingers and coated in BBQ sauce for her (easy and delicious) or if you wanted to be more time consuming, breading tofu is basically identical to chicken fingers.

    Tofu or tempeh is a better protein option than the “replacement meat” options, but if hot dogs are a sticking point for her, I’d live with that option for now just once a week.

  15. Caz

    For tacos/burritos/fajitas I love either:
    black beans & sweet potatoes roasted with taco seasoning spices.
    sauteed finely chopped mushrooms and walnuts also with taco seasoning
    crumbled tofu/tempeh with taco seasoning spices.

    All are fast/easy and a relatively decent alternative to ground beef. Admittedly I also love a fried egg on a taco, but if she doesn’t like eggs that’s probably out.

  16. SüßwasserLeah

    the easiest options for me are tacos (just use rice or beans instead of meat, which i know you said she doesn’t love, but with enough taco seasoning she might? my kids love it) and spaghetti (just meat free sauce!).

  17. LeighTX

    Ohhh, just saw your edit that she’s allergic to nuts. That makes things more difficult. When we first switched this summer I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t getting enough protein, and if she’s not eating beans or nuts that’s going to be a problem for her. Most of the protein bars out there have a lot of added sugar, as do many types of yogurt, so you don’t want her getting the majority of her proteins that way. You might have to gently encourage her to expand her palate and include beans if she’s serious about this, to avoid any deficiencies.

  18. Jenny

    We eat vegetarian dinners about 3-4 times a week. Macaroni and cheese. Spaghetti with no meat (or sausage on the side if the rest of the family really wants meat.) Pasta with any variety of vegetables and sauces. (I like pasta with brussels sprouts and goat cheese, or with garlic and broccoli and parmesan.) Stir fry with just vegetables or vegetables and tofu if Elizabeth likes tofu (my daughter does but the rest of my family does not particularly.) Melty cheese sandwiches with fancy-seeming things in them. Fancy salads. Vegetarian Indian food.

    One thing I learned from a vegetarian cookbook I like (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) is that vegetarian meals don’t have to look like your traditional Meat And Potatoes And Vegetable sort of meal. They can legit look like snacking: dips, raw vegetables for the dip, what you would think of as a hot veggie “side” and/ or some pitas or bread, and that’s a meal. The salad and baked potato doesn’t have to feel sad, that can be your planned meal (it is usually what I get at Wendy’s.) Try different things for flavor: do you like spicy things, horseradish, wasabi, avocado, yogurt, yesterday’s leftovers for breakfast? It doesn’t all have to be meat substitutes (though those are fine!)

    Can’t wait for more suggestions!

  19. Elizabeth

    Second the hummus comments. She may develop a liking for it??

    Also, lentils sound SO earthy/healthy/boring/like the epitome of bland food for sanctimonious vegetarians. But! They cook fast. They are cheap. They aren’t overly “beany.” They can be combined with almost anything. I suggest pre-cooking a bunch of those small, red, split lentils and freezing them in little serving sizes and then you can add them to whatever you are cooking for the rest of the family as her meat substitute and they’ll absorb the flavours of whatever they’re with. They can be added to stews, soups, stir fry, mexican food, casseroles etc…

    Does she like cooking? Maybe if she concocts some of her own veggie patties (shredded, cooked veggies held together with egg and bread crumbs + some seasoning, then baked or fried) she could have a stash ready in the freezer to quickly add to other meals; she might be inclined to eat them if she makes them herself.

    You’re doing a great job with this. Good luck, Swistle. I hope she gradually develops a taste for beans because it will make life easier.

  20. Cam

    My grocery store has Somersaults sunflower bites that my pre-teen vegetarian daughter likes. They are pretty high in protein for a snack. In addition, she likes hardboiled eggs and I used Pinterest to come up with some good vegetarian recipes that I could just make for the whole family. I cook 2-3 vegetarian meals a week and the other dinners we come up with something that’s similar or like the pizza example you used, can be made vegetarian pretty easily. It’s not been easy but she’s tiny and underweight so I work to make sure she’s getting enough of everything. The cookbook Thug Kitchen is vegan/plant based and has been awesome.

  21. Carolyn Allen Russell

    Would she be willing to eat beans in non-bean form? ;) I make a great chicken tortilla soup that has the beans blended up in the base, so you get the protein and fiber (and a really thick and creamy soup!). Obviously the chicken part wouldn’t work, but if she wouldn’t mind beans if she didn’t know they were there, that might be good in other kinds of soups! If I recall correctly, white beans blended up are supposed to make a great addition to pasta sauces (cheese or tomato based ones in particular, I think) so that would be a way to up the nutritional content of pasta dishes without too much effort. (That idea came from a series of cookbooks aimed at sneaking healthy foods into normal kid meals for picky kids. I bet there’s lots more ideas that would work in those books, if you want something more geared to children and less for adult vegetarians!).

    1. LeighTX

      Oooh, that’s a great idea about blending beans into soup bases and sauces. I’ll have to remember that!

    2. Corinne

      Perhaps DECEPTIVELY DELICIOUS: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld? I haven’t looked at it but heard good things. Swistle, maybe you could get it from the library instead of committing to buying it?

  22. Nicole

    Since the chilly weather has really hit, comfort foods are where it’s at for me. Soup, hearty salad, grilled cheese, baked pasta, veggie au gratins… all of these are easy to do vegetarian in a way that non-veggies might not even notice. But I really commented to recommend what I’ve been craving for weeks. Brown rice, beans or lentils, sauteed greens, over easy egg and hot sauce. Complete meal, so satisfying. Sounds like with the bean and egg hesitancy, she may not be ready for this, but it’s oh-so-good.

  23. Chaya

    I grew up vegetarian and we eat meat 1-2 meals a week now. The Morningstar chik’n nuggets are rally good for a treat!

    For weeknight meals, my kids eat a lot of vegetarian soups. We have pancakes or French toast with fruit on the side once a week, and easy things like baked oatmeal or pasta baked with cheese and vegetables go over well and make leftovers. Maybe she could try refried beans to keep burrito/ taco night as an option? The others can add chicken or ground beef. She might like crumbled seitan as a meat substitute once she gets used to it.

    Can you ask Elizabeth to be more involved with food prep? That helped me become less picky at her age…

  24. Maggie2

    Lentils are the definite winner! Cook fast, taste delicious hot or cold, in soup or salad, mashed and made into a patty and fried like a burger. Good with eggs. Good spicy or plain…. Try them with some good olive oil and salt.

  25. AnnabelleSpeaks

    The Morningstar Farms chck’n nuggets/patties are pretty good and made with soy protein, I have had a lot of those.

    For a couple of specific recipes, Pioneer Woman has a pretty basic black bean burger. For adults/more adventurous eaters you can add more spices or whatever, but for a kid it’s pretty perfect as-is (probably minus the hot sauce):

    Also if she’ll eat something along the lines of a vegetable soup, this lentil vegetable soup is really good. The main spices are cumin and oregano, which are also main spices in most taco mixes, so if she likes taco seasoned things she’ll likely like the seasoning here (thought I wouldn’t call it taco soup exactly):

    TVP works well in tacos and lasagna bakes and chilli, but another really good taco filling I like is sweet potatoes and black beans. Something about that combo just really works well. You can use that with your regular taco seasoning or you can do what I do which is follow Miranda’s recipe from 2013-ish here:

  26. Heather

    I’ve been vegetarian for a long time, so I’ve done quite a bit of cooking meals that can be served both with and without meat… like pasta and tomato sauce and ground beef/sausage/meatballs and everyone can make their own plate. As others have mentioned, tacos, burritos, and taco salad all work this way pretty well. If soup is something you make for the family, maybe you can find a few cans or cartons of vegetarian soup she likes that you can heat up for her.

    If she eats dairy, you probably don’t really need to worry about protein that much, but if it would ease your mind you could try smoothies with protein powder for breakfast. I use Amazing Grass Organic Vegan Protein Superfood Powder blended with some fruit and yogurt.

    During the summer we cook out with friends a lot and these vegetarian hot dogs have become my favorite

    I’m also adding a link to a recipe that we eat at my house pretty regularly and that my 11-year-old son likes. The recipe as written uses shrimp but we make it with cubes of tofu that we fry in a skillet in a couple teaspoons of oil.

  27. Kay W.

    I like Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian: Maybe you could get it from the library, and Elizabeth could try cooking some of the recipes herself? Madhur’s tone is informative yet fun; it’s a cool book just to browse through. And it’s grouped by ingredient and she is very relaxed about substitutions/leaving stuff out. Many of the recipes are truly simple yet tasty. And maybe Elizabeth would be more open to, say, beans, if she cooked some herself a few times.

    1. Kay W.

      Oh, and it definitely is not the sort of cookbook full of “meals for a grown adult with adventurous palate rather than for a picky child” (I dislike those kinds). It’s the kind of fun and gentle cookbook I really liked as a teen (and used back then).

      Which reminds me of the cookbook I *did* use a lot during my teen vegetarian years:

      I hesitate to recommend Katzen’s though, because I’m afraid it might in fact be a bit preachy? I don’t fully remember. Madhur Jaffrey’s is definitely not! (Jaffrey isn’t vegetarian herself, which probably helps.)

  28. Leslie

    Quinoa! It has 6 grams of protein per 1/4 dry serving vs. 3 grams of protein for rice. And it’s a neutral tasting grain that can be incorporated into soups and casseroles like rice.

  29. Melissa H

    I make these for my vegetarian sister and my kids like them too. Make them with almonds as the nuts (as I do, no need to use peanuts) and keep in freezer to serve her whenever the family is doing burgers or burger-like food. The mayo/dijon sauce really is important unless she’s a mayo hater.

    My same age daughter is also toying with vegetarianism and we do a lot of things like stir fry for the family and stir fry the meat separately so she just gets veg and rice.

  30. Lawyerish

    I have a strong suspicion that I am going to end up in this same boat at some point. My daughter (7.5) has suggested several times that she wants to be a vegetarian and for a while she declared “meatless” days twice a week (when she remembered). So far, she has been deterred from going all the way by her love of cured meats and bacon. That said, she eats a lot of vegetables and fruits so it wouldn’t be an enormous leap to eliminate meat, but I do worry about protein (she is not into eggs or beans, same as E).

    One of my big concerns is that the “faux meat” and protein options are heavily slanted toward soy and soy-based protein. I don’t mind her having soy (it’s in so many things already so hard to avoid altogether), but I don’t want to add more of it to her daily diet or have it become her primary source of protein every day. What I have read about plant-based estrogens was, to me, concerning enough to make me proceed with caution about it, but without getting super-restrictive and reading every label to eliminate it entirely.


    Still eating dairy is a big help. You can make quesadillas, tacos, pizza, grilled cheese + soup, mac and cheese, etc. Lots of solid staples there. Does E like salad? Felicity will eat spinach salad, and spinach has some protein in it. She likes a balsamic dressing so you may have to find the right dressing to sell the spinach + raw veggies. Broccoli and cauliflower are great pan-seared or roasted and tossed with feta crumbles or goat cheese. Roasted kale is very easy. Actually just about anything roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper is reasonably quick and not fussy (and it can be in the oven while other folks’ meat dishes are either roasting or cooking on the stove top). Pasta plus any vegetable is quick and easy.

    Honestly, the most frequent meal that I give F (she never tires of it, which I find weird) is a plate of crudites (no dip, she doesn’t care for it — but YMMV — and it’s peppers, grape tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, beets, mushrooms, sometimes celery or raw broccoli, basically whatever I have in the fridge) plus fruit and string cheese or babybel, and often Kefir to drink (she loves that stuff). You can add whole grain bread.

    Oh! Frozen foods! There are lots of frozen dumplings that are veggie and can be dipped in soy sauce. Super easy. Also Dr. Praeger’s broccoli or spinach bites are a big hit for us. The veggie burgers I like are also Dr. Praeger’s and they come in several varieties. They are less soy-y than the faux chicken things.

    Another meat-free dinner I like doing every once in a while is a bruschetta bar. Get some Italian bread and put out tomatoes with olive oil and basil, fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese, chopped olives, etc. It’s so simple but SO delicious and filling.

  31. Ali

    So many good suggestions! I think the only idea I had that hasn’t come up yet is some kind of cheese-veggie-rice casserole (my mom used to make a delicious one with broccoli and red bell pepper and some kind of very melty cheese).

  32. RA

    I make this vegan tomato soup even though I am not a vegetarian (much less a vegan!), and it is fast, cheap, and delicious:

    I learned that recipe and lots of other techniques from this column: The biggest takeaways for my husband and me were that vegetables take a lot more prep time and seasoning, but once you have a well-stocked pantry, it’s doable. That said, we are both on the same page about eating meat-free (I’d guess like 1/3 of the time), so it’s not the multiple-meals feeling you have going here.

    Are eggs still on the table? Cooking up a bunch of muffin-tin omelets to freeze and reheat could help. I second the suggestion to include/require Elizabeth to pitch in on the cooking, and eggs are a great thing for kids to make on their own. I hard-boil a lot at once and eat them throughout the week using this method:

    I also recommend the entire Smitten Kitchen website: Here is the vegetarian label: Deb was a vegetarian for years, so her main dishes still lean that way. One of her big things is to make a large quantity of vegetables and then put it on toast, like this: The first time we did this, I was like, “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?! All the wasted tiiiime.” Maybe Elizabeth could check out a list like this and pick out one thing to try per week? And she helps you make the grocery list?

    I really hope she learns to like beans. They are so good, Elizabeth! You can do it!

    1. Caz

      I was also going to recommend Smitten Kitchen. I adore her cooking style and slant towards vegetarian meals, and I love all the “veggies on toasts” and “put an egg on it” meals she does. I wasn’t sure if it was too adult though, or away from the protein + veg + carb that so many people lean on for meal formats.

      101 cookbooks is another veg favourite of mine, but she definitely skews to the “adult” or unusual ingredients. I can always count on her to combine flavours in a way I’d never ever consider, but ends up being delicious. These are a few that aren’t too out there:

  33. Melissa H

    Oh! and our very top family favorite meal of all time is these tacos

    Easily veggie or meat but we often prefer the veggie. We do way more feta and beans per taco than she says. Yes, it’s beans but it’s SO good!

    For meat eaters I do some ground beef with onion and cumin and do half meat tacos and half bean tacos and folks choose what they want.

    I guess i have a lot to say about vegetarian recipes.

  34. juliloquy

    I agree with comments above that Morningstar Farms chik’n nuggets are a good replacement.

    For a dining out treat, I highly recommend sesame tofu at any local Chinese place. It may not be on the menu, but I have yet to find a place that won’t make it if asked. My kids’ nonvegetarian friends love it as much as my kids (son is full vegetarian; daughter is mostly vegetarian but eats fish and hot dogs).

    Good for you for supporting Elizabeth in this endeavor!

  35. Marie

    I was a teenage vegetarian for awhile. My parents accommodated a bit but mostly that is when I learned to cook. This was pre-internet so I got a Moosewood cookbook and just went for it – I remember feeling super grown up doing my meal planning (ha!) Maybe set her loose on pinterest and see if anything new strikes her fancy?

    Now we eat meat but I started to feed my family meat-free meals once or twice a week so I can feel like I am doing at least something to counteract the general horribleness of the past year. I did not make a big deal and no one has complained so far. Things like chili and baked potatoes, spinach and cheese pasta bakes, or the jars of Indian simmer sauces with lentils or chickpeas and potatoes over rice. This is actually really good: for a healthier alfredoish sauce.

    Tofu has been a surprise hit with my kids. You have to use the really firm stuff and be sure to drain it but other than that it’s easy to cook and you can serve it with lots of different meals. You could serve this instead of the chicken nuggets I think:

    Red lentils are a really good option for a non bean lover. My very pickiest child who does not love meat, beans, or eggs or really anything shocked me by completely loving these she eats them plain, over rice, or as a kind of chip dip. I also feed her smoothies along with meals I know she won’t be eating much of. They have frozen fruit packs that have spinach mixed in and I use those with plain greek yogurt so at least she’s getting some protein.

    1. Anna

      Moosewood is great (omg the zucchini pizza) but I find the recipes a bit labor intensive for daily use. It would make a good gift, though, to give Elizabeth ideas (and the hand lettered pages are so pretty!), especially since she likes cheese. Many of the entrees involve mixing vegetables with lots of cheese.

  36. Nicole MacPherson

    Swistle Swistle Swistle I am HERE FOR YOU. I am a long time vegetarian and the guys in my house are total meat eaters, and I do not make separate meals. What I do, however, is make meals that do not really centre on meat, and then I make meat ON THE SIDE so they can add it in. Here is this week’s menu plan as an example:
    Veggie stir-fry with cashews, and sauteed chicken on the side. The cashews are yummy and a good source of protein. I make a variation on stir fry once a week, tons of veggies, and either rice or noodles, but always with cashews or other nuts. I have also roasted chickpeas and added those in. The guys get chicken on the side.
    Pasta with sauce and roasted cauliflower (also good protein source) with meatballs on the side.
    Mini-pizzas that we make with pitas, everyone adds their own topping.
    Tacos with beef for the guys and black beans for me.
    Tortilla wraps with veggies, and sauteed chicken for the guys. I don’t eat cheese but cheese is a good addition for her.
    Pita with hummus and Greek salad. Guys have chicken on the side. I serve a lot of chicken, I guess.
    Sunday nights I make a big traditional meal with roast meat and gravy, and I always serve with very hearty side dishes, which I eat.
    I have recipes here broken down by category
    You can feel free to email me or send me any questions because I have a lot of experience with this. Garden burgers are nice (available at Costco, at least in Canada) and there are some other substitute “meats” – I don’t generally eat them, but I know it can be a quick and easy substitute.

    1. Nicole MacPherson

      I just saw the comment about her tree nut allergy – but almonds are an excellent source of protein, and full of vitamin E as well. So I would consider adding that in too.

  37. Nicole MacPherson

    Also? I think the amount of protein we need and the amount we THINK we need are vastly different. If she’s eating cheese and yogurt, that is a great big step. Beans, lentils, chickpeas – these are all great sources as well. I’m assuming she’s okay with nuts, which is also a plus.

  38. Thrift at Home

    We eat a lot of vegetarian meals here. I recommend Fix it and Forget it Vegetarian Cookbook – a mix of slow cooker and traditional recipes. Many of them quite simple, plus menus! The protein complementarity is a thing. You want to have beans and grains together (beans and rice or beans and bread/wheat, etc.) or dairy and grains together (cereal with milk). It’s pretty easy, really.

    Good luck!

  39. MR

    Former vegetarian here! I eat meat now (though still not a lot), and I love those fake chicken nuggets. I don’t even bother with real ones. Also recommend: lots of pasta dishes, tacos with mushrooms & peppers, just like rice bowls with sauteed veggies. Super simple.

  40. Beth

    I really like those Amy’s organic frozen meal things. They’re microwaveable dinners, yes, but pretty tasty and not bad nutritionally. The Indian inspired ones are the best I think. She can make them herself too.

  41. Slim

    I’ve got nothing, but I did want to send some sympathy your way, because I once had a weekend’s worth of responsibility for a group of kids that included one with a nut allergy and two vegetarians. Thank goodness for pizza and tacos (and kids who like beans).

    Friends whose daughter decided to become vegetarian put her in charge of studying nutrition and figuring what she could eat. She did learn to like beans and eggs eventually. Good luck!

  42. Felicia – Catherine Newman has one vegetarian and one meat-eating child, and she often cooks for both at the same time. I love her recipes! My meat-eating children love the tofu lettuce wraps and will often try to convince me that it is ground beef (LOL). The trick of freezing and then thawing it really does make a very good crumbly texture.

  43. Alison

    I’m a degreed nutritionist and a vegan with a soy allergy! A veg diet be done with minimal faux meats.

    Hummus, sloppy joe lentils (or half lentils and half Beyond Beef), bean and cheese quesadillas, and chickpea marinara “meat sauce” (use an immersion blender to make the saucy chunky like a meat sauce) are all good “gateway” dishes for bean haters. Peanut butter (2 tablespoons) and jelly on two pieces of whole wheat bread is 16 grams of protein! Just know that protein is in almost everything. If you’re getting enough calories and not eating only one thing all day every day, you are almost certainly getting enough protein. “Protein deficiency” in the US in someone without a genetic disorder is ALMOST ALWAYS a calorie deficiency. That blew my mind when I learned that in school.

    I’d add a gentle caution for Elizabeth to avoid relying TOO much on refined grains, cheese, and eggs (if she learns to like them). I remember many a middle school vegetarian at my middle school who ate junk food all day and were forced to quit being vegetarian for their health. Bagels, cream cheese, pizza, hard boiled eggs, and top ramen cups were what they were eating almost exclusively! Also, constipation city.

    As for convenience foods, I cannot eat soy, so I can only speak to some of the soy-free brands. I love the Beyond brand, Hilary’s brand, and Field Roast brand.

    Oh hey! Tofu is GREAT. Just press it for awhile to get the liquid out, then marinade it in whatever the meat is marinating in (or season it the same), and cook it in a pan or bake it! SUPER EASY. I wish I could eat soy. The phytoestrogen thing is not a concern, you’d have to eat multiple servings of soy every day, way above and beyond normal consumption. Also, dairy is a lactation product, so it also contains those dreaded hormones! :D It’s definitely OK to eat soy in moderation at any age.

    I am married to an omnivore. If he has meat, I’ll make something that’s filling in its own… like a pasta and veggie dish. It has plenty of protein and fiber for our main, then his side dish is whatever the meat is.

    The complementary-protein-in-one-meal thing is the old wive’s tale/old nutrition advice that won’t die! What matters is eating a variety of foods both throughout the day and throughout the week, that’s great protein combining. This is a cancer support site but it’s reputable, and an RD addresses the myth that certain foods MUST be combined in the SAME meal.

  44. Matti

    You’ve gotten some great advice above, so I’ll try no to repeat any of it. But, I’m a life long vegetarian and have 4, 7, and 9 year-olds who are also vegetarians.
    1. If you can get your hands on them, Soy Boy “Not-Dogs” are hands down the best vegetarian hot dog I’ve ever tried. The texture and flavor is that much better. Tofurky brand anything is also almost always delicious or at least decent.

    2. If you’re particularly worried about protein, and Elizabeth likes smoothies, those are very east to put protein into, either in the form of protein powder or silken tofu.

    3. I find that even my picky 4 year old will eat lentil burgers in any form, but not other beans. Also, DeLallo (and possibly other brands) make canned brown lentils and they are great. Yes, lentils are quick and easy to cook, but sometimes boiling lentils for 20 minutes is too long, especially if you’re making 2 separate dinners. Lentils (cooked or canned), equal part cooked rice (any kind, brown if she’ll eat it, if you’re going for extra nutrition), mix with 1 egg, 1/4 c. any tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and any spices you want. I usually go with Italian seasoning. 2 tsp for a big batch, less if you’re just making this for her. And enough shredded cheese and bread crumbs until you can make hamburger type patty. Then cook in a nonstick pan until browned on both sides. These freeze great.
    You can also cook these as crumbles to go inside burritos, tacos, over nachos, inside wraps, on top of salads. If you’re making them for a Mexican dish, you may want to sub out the Italian seasoning for taco seasoning or chili powder.

    4. Tofu is versatile and great! If you’re not used to making it, I find that the mistake most people make is undercooking and or under seasoning it. You want to press some water out initially by slicing off an inch sized hunk and wrapping it in a paper towel and putting it under a heavy cutting board of pan. Then after the towel it wet and the tofu is smaller, say 15 min, you can chop it up and fry it in a pan with olive oil, and any seasonings. Great in stir fry, salads, with sauce and cheese like a fake chicken parm sub, over pasta, as the main dish with other sides. All kinds of things.

    5. You can buy baked garbanzo beans, dry in a bag, in the snack section either in the store or for sure online. These are crunchy, flavored, full of protein, and fiber and much more kid friendly than a big mushy bean.

    Good luck! This can be a fun chance to experiment with all kinds of new foods and tastes for Elizabeth, and I think it’s awesome.

  45. Ariana

    Hey, I’M allergic to tree nuts but not almonds! I’ve never met anyone else with that precise combination.

    1. Swistle Post author

      It’s such a fortunate exclusion! A lot of tree nuts are expensive and so we don’t encounter them very often—but almonds are in a TON of things!

  46. M.Amanda

    I am commenting real quick just to say I am bookmarking this page to come back for all the comments. My 9yo daughter has shown interest in going vegetarian, mostly because she just isn’t wild about most meat, except for bacon.

    The struggle has been that she’s also just generally picky – “But I HATE beans!… Do I have to have nuts in everything?… Yeah, I’m kinda sick of peas. Actually, can you just stop making me eat green vegetables?… NO. Absolutely no tomatoes, not even red sauces.” Well. Heck.

  47. Lashley

    Roasted quinoa with potatoes and cheese ( is one of our favorite vegetarian recipes. We usually skip the scallions and parsley for convenience sake. It has a few steps, but it’s one dish, so I always think that makes up for it.

    The nice thing about this, or similar quinoa dishes, is that you could make a double batch and the rest of the family could have it as a side dish with chicken/sausage/etc, which might make E feel better if she doesn’t always want something different than the rest of the fam.

    Actually, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian might be a great Christmas gift for her if she’s still on the veg train. His recipes are easy enough for me to follow (without googling a bunch of other non-specified techniques, etc), so she might even be into skimming and picking out things that look yummy or that she wants to try making herself.

  48. Jen

    My SIL is vegetarian and good grief I get so mad at family functions when people don’t consider that she doesn’t eat meat. Good for you for supporting her in this. My family MOCKED me when I wanted to go vegan for a while. Anyway, I have a very good recipe that has beans but they are hidden and thus everyone in my family will eat them! Link is here:

  49. beep

    Fried rice that has some kind of veggies and eggs in it. Around here the quick weeknight recipe is: cook brown rice the night before. The day of, scramble eggs quickly on higher heat than for breakfast in a little too much oil in a big pot, then remove them to a serving plate with a slotted spoon. Dump the cold rice into the oil and break it up, stirring until each grain is coated in oil. Add in some frozen peas and carrots and equal, quite small amounts of ketchup and fish (soy would work instead for veggie purity but we have an allergic kid) sauce. Let some of the rice brown slightly for some crunchy bits, then stir it up. Add back the eggs, give it a last stir, then dump the whole thing onto a plate. Serve with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and chili sauce if anyone likes things spicy.

  50. Judith

    You’ve already got great advise but for those times Elizabeth might want faux meat, Gardein makes great everything (chicken, fish, burgers, etc) Also a brand called Quorn makes the best “chicken” breasts and nuggets. They are in the frozen section. I used to order them from but now my store carries them. As for soy dogs, my family swears by Loma Linda and Worthington brands. These are canned. But like everyone said, faux meats should not be eaten too often, although Indo eat them once or twice a week. Luckily for me, I was raised on beans.

    Oh, tofu. Water squeezed out, cut in squares, seasoned and baked is really good and can be eaten like nuggets or used in stir fries, etc.

  51. bethann28

    Homemade soups- butternut squash bisque, veggie chili, etc. You can make it in batches and freeze it.

    Eggplant parmesan!

    I wouldn’t rely too much on frozen items, canned goods and faux meats without checking the sodium content, as some of them are through the roof! I would also talk to her pediatrician at her next visit, if she decides to keep up with vegetarian diet in case they’d recommend different vitamins or a supplement.

  52. Sonia

    I have an excellent red lentil crock pot soup recipe that has sweet (mild) curry powder and coconut milk in it…very easy, cheap, and delicious. My carnivore son asks for it frequently. I can type up the recipe if you are interested. And I love Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook. He’ll give you a basic recipe, then lots of variations on it. So for example, it’s great if you want to make a veggie/cheese pie (like spanakopita), but you can use mushrooms and swiss, spinach and feta, etc. I am a vegetarian, and the primary cook in a family full of meat eaters, and I am a HUGE fan of hearty side dishes. Frittatas, pasta salads etc. Filling enough to be a meal for me, and goes nicely with the meat for the rest of the family.

  53. Meg

    I’m vegetarian since the age of 14, and my 12 y.o. daughter seesaws about it. We both still eat dairy and I like eggs, though she doesn’t particularly. My other kids both eat meat with no issues.

    Apologies if I’m repeating things others have said already.

    I don’t know how precise she’s being about it. When I went vegetarian, I kind of uneasily acknowledged to myself that there’d be some things that would have animal ingredients that I wouldn’t know about, or would be tiny amounts, and that my main want was to stop eating things that are Meat. (I.e. no sausages, no chicken burgers, but I was iffy about things that had say gelatine in them.) Over time I had more and more trouble with things with animal ingredients and so I tried harder and harder to cut those out. Haven’t done this perfectly.

    So as you may know already, marshmallows tend to NOT be vegetarian, because of gelatine. Same as many yoghurts, and some candies e.g. jelly snakes. Jell-O. (I’m trying to speak in American, apologies if I get it wrong!!) Lots of cheese has animal rennet in it, and I only recently learned about how that’s made.

    I remember feeling very dismayed at first in many situations. Not knowing what I liked from this place or that place, that would feel filling, that didn’t have meat in it.

    I don’t know how you feel about telling her or not telling her about those foods, and obviously it has to be up to you. I don’t know her. I don’t know if she’d freak out and be really upset if she found out later that she’d been eating something with gelatine in it, for example. You’re her mother, you know what to do. I just wanted to raise it as a potential issue that you may or may not be aware of.

    Kudos to her for exploring who she wants to be like this, and to you for supporting her.

    1. Meg

      Oh and I’m a big fan of egg burgers at home and she may like that too – can do the ultra lazy version or make something quite healthy; basically just replace a meat patty with a fried egg. That might be a quick easy substitute for when the other kids are having burgers. I also like veggie burgers too.

      1. Celeste

        Egg burger! How clever. I have some of those little egg pans for making Egg McMuffins at home, and I am going to use the egg burger idea now. None of us like a plain fried egg, so the pan makes all the difference in keeping a sandwich shape after you mix the egg.

  54. Maria

    Good for Elizabeth and good for Swistle for being supportive. I’ve been vegan/vegetarian at different points in my life and the first question is always “what are you going to do about protein?!??!”

    Most Americans aren’t suffering from a protein deficiency. Spinach, beans, and peanut butter as well as other foods can easily take care of protein. I’d suggest discussing why she’s going veg and see where that conversation takes you. I’d also wait and see if this is a phase or lasts a while. If Elizabeth goes 6 weeks and plans to continue being vegetarian, I’d suggest calling her pediatrician and just asking that a note goes in her chart with this update so you can have a reminder at her next appointment to discuss any concerns then.

    As for cooking or meal planning, I wouldn’t make it a chore for either one of you. But ask her what she’d like or what she’s willing to help make. That way she can pick out things she’s willing to eat/substitute for meat. She’s old enough to be able to research foods on her own and try new things – maybe trying different cuisine would be good. You can make a very good sandwich on a roll spread with cream
    Cheese and stuffed with spinach and onions and then drizzled with tzatziki sauce for example. Some people also add mushrooms. It’s simple, but no really exotic ingredients that could be hard to find or very strange to her palate.

  55. Kelley

    I’ve been a vegetarian since I was around Elizabeth’s age, though actually I started by eliminating meats one by one until I was fully vegetarian when I went to college. It made things MUCH easier on my family.

    A few things I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned yet:
    -Seeds! Since she’s allergic to nuts these are probably a good snacking alternative. I could probably live on sunflower seeds if you let me.

    -Burger King has veggie burgers for when you want a fast food indulgence treat meal. I’ve been able to find them at any Burger King I’ve ever been to (including rest stops) so I don’t think it’s a regional thing.

    -I actually really like Buzzfeed a lot for recipes. Since their demographic is mostly millennials, their recipes are usually cheap and easy to accomplish

  56. Lisa Ann Nusynowitz

    You’ve gotten a lot of comments already, and maybe some of this was already mentioned — my BF was veggie ( I wasn’t) so when we were sharing a homemade meal there were a couple of things we would make together:

    -pasta (I could add meat/meat sauce if so desired)
    -veggie stew (basically veggie stock, potatoes, veggies, tomato, beans) with a nice hunk of bread
    -any type of mexican food (he had beans/I had meat)

    Good luck.

  57. Winds

    If you’re up for finding recipes that go both meat lover and vegetarian, try looking up flexitarian. There’s at least one book I found (The Flexitarian Table) that has recipes that can easily have meat incorporated or not without too much hassle. At least, that’s what I gleaned from the description! But that may help you not make eleventy billion dishes for one meal.

  58. Alice CW

    If you aren’t liking the fake meat options, you might try jackfruit. Trader Joe’s has canned jackfruit and I would assume the bigger grocery stores do as well. Once it’s cooked, it’s kinda like pulled pork. You can do jackfruit tacos, vegetarian pulled pork sandwiches, and Google also claims it makes a decent substitute in a tuna salad sandwich.

  59. Maureen

    I’m not a vegetarian, but when I was on Weight Watchers, many years ago-I LOVED the Morning Star Farms original breakfast sausage. I liked it more than regular sausage-which is saying a lot! I also used to eat their bean burgers, which were very good. I can only guess they are even better now. Good luck!

  60. Claire

    Macaroni and cheese and baked potatoes with cheese were diet staples for me. For tacos, she might like refried beans more than black beans. I also regularly ate buttered noodles and frozen vegetables as a meal and was never found to be nutritionally deficient, despite many blood tests. I think people overestimate the amount of protein required for a healthy diet. The Vegan Lunch Box, a book, has some good kid-friendly recipes.

  61. Imalinata

    We’re not vegetarian, but my brother-in-law and his family keep kosher and are gluten and dairy free and we get together for meals regularly.

    This recipe is a total winner. I’ve used sweet potatoes instead of butternut squash, frozen spinach instead of fresh, canned tomatoes, no cilantro, store bought curry powder and mixed some myself when I didn’t realize I was out. It can be made in an instant pot (high for 29m, then 30m natural release), crock pot, or stove.

    The spice depends on the curry blend, but I’ll mix plain yogurt or sour cream into my girls’ bowls if it’s too spicy. You could also just as easily sub the chickpeas with other vegetables or more of the squash or sweet potatoes. Serve it over rice or quinoa.

    I also recommend Smitten Kitchen, both for Deb’s recipes and for her commenters. Almost always when I’m trying to figure out how to substitute something, there’s at least one person who commented with how they did it and how it turned out.

  62. rlbelle

    Just wanted to mention my favorite secret to frying tofu, which is to dredge it in cornstarch. Cut very firm tofu into 1/2 inch slices, press out the water for 15 or 20 minutes, dredge all over, then fry in about a quarter inch of your favorite frying oil (I like canola). It gives it a very firm outer shell, and you can dip it in whatever you like for flavor (I like low-sodium soy sauce mixed with honey), but if your child is flavor-averse, they’re not bad plain either. I’ve had trouble making tofu work for me in the past, and usually only enjoy it prepared by someone else in a restaurant setting, but the fried-using-cornstarch approach made me think I could make it palatable on occasion.

    Also, sliced zucchini dipped in egg, then in panko crumbs mixed with Italian seasoning, then sprinkled with shredded Parmesan and baked (about 15 to 20 minutes I think?) was a favorite around here for a while (I sliced it the round way, like chips, but you could also do spears). I believe I modified this recipe from something slightly more complicated over at The Chew.

    Oh, also too, if you can find a cauliflower au gratin recipe, that’s a great one for getting in vegetables AND protein – tastes similar to mac and cheese but without having to rely on pasta (which is all I feel like my kids and I would eat if we were vegetarians around here, being not big bean fans, either).

  63. sooboo

    I’ve been a vegetarian for a few years and here’s what I eat:
    Quinoa, almonds, hummus, eggs, tofu, protein powder in a smoothie, almond or peanut butter, peas, chia seeds (you can them in the smoothie too), edamame, Greek yogurt. I make quiches, lasagna (ricotta has a lot of protein), quinoa salads and lots of stir frys with different sauces. I really don’t eat beans or a lot of the processed vegetarian burgers and stuff like that.

    Don’t know if you have a Trader Joe’s near you but I cook from this cook book a lot because you can get all the items at TJ’s and the recipes are so fast and easy.
    My husband eats meat and when I cook for us I’ll make the meal and then add the meat to his.

  64. Sarah!

    This seems like a good bonding experience and problem-solving project for you and her. Sit down together and make a list of your most frequent dinners, then ask her what kind of things could be used to replace the meat. Do some research either online or on a grocery store field trip (don’t buy, just look). Then task her with coming up with a few new vegetarian recipe ideas that everyone in the family could try! (Maybe pastas or soups are a good place to start in that quest?)

    A change like this is a personal choice, and good for you for respecting her choice, but it’s also something she needs to take some personal responsibility for, at least in the planning realm. Kind of like when my brother didn’t like basically anything, mom would accommodate by doing things like leaving pasta sauce on the side, but if he didn’t want what she was cooking at all he could make his own PB sandwich.

  65. Katie

    I’ve been vegetarian for a long, long time, but my family is not. Still, I hate cooking meat and since I do most of our cooking, we eat mostly vegetarian dinners. My kids are, ahem, not adventurous eaters.

    I like tofu pups for fake hot dogs. Tacos, I usually like the canned retried black beans with corn rather than fake meat. I also like Morningstar Farms brand chik’n nuggets, but if you’re hoping for something a bit more vegetable-y then try Dr. Praegers spinach or broccoli littles. All but my pickiest will eat those.

    Good luck!

    1. Katie

      Omg how could I forget quiche! So easy! So much protein! Use a frozen pie crust, cover the bottom with shredded or crumbled cheese. Make a basic quiche batter from 1 cup of milk with 2 eggs, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg and pour that over top. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes until golden brown on top.

      This is infinitely customizable. Add thawed frozen vegetables (pat them or wring them super dry in a dish towel first), sautéed fresh vegetables, fresh tomatoes…

      When I do just eggs and cheese I will put a third egg in to fill it out a bit more. But, even with a bit of broccoli or zucchini my kids will eat it happily. Well, except that one, but you can’t go by him.

  66. reagan

    We are vegetarian and some meals that may really work for you:

    – whole wheat pasta with either TVP tomato sauce or pesto
    – home-made macaroni and cheese
    – lentil soup (a nice option if someone is not to fond of beans)

    Elizabeth should take a B12 vitamin if she stays on the vegetarian diet long term.

    1. vanessa

      only if her blood levels are low. you don’t want to take it unless you actually need it. i’ve been a vegetarian for…24 years and my b12 has been low-ish once, and came up fast after one injection.

  67. Susan

    At a vegan restaurant, I had a hot dog that was made with an entire roasted carrot, in a hot dog bun. When dressed with the regular hot dog toppings, it was delicious! Sounds weird, but worth trying. I get good ideas from vegan/vegetarian restaurants.

    Also, skyr (yogurt) has a lot of protein in it per serving.

  68. FF

    I try to do a day or two per week of vegetarian dinners. There are a lot of yummy Indian dishes that are vegetarian. Also, I’ve found that eggplant is a great substitute for meat. It has that hearty kind of bite like meat, and can be used in curry or pasta or stir-fry or anything really.

  69. Rah

    Milk is a decent protein source. Does she like shakes? My daughter and I like shakes made with Garden of Life Organic Vegan Protein Powder (avbl at your usual healthy-food stores, and through Amazon). We like the sugar free, unflavored variety. Our favorite is a scoop of powder, 1/2 banana, vanilla, 1-2 Tbsp. sunflower seed butter, and a tidge of honey. But they also have flavored varieties. This powder alone is so loaded with protein that it is a very decent meal replacement. There’s an un-ice-cream-like texture to the shakes that may take some getting used to, but flavorwise they are good.

  70. Maggie2

    We got this cookbook from our library and found several “keepers”. Our favorite recipe is the Sunflower Cheese Scones…. Fabulous and full of protein and easy to grab on the way to school when you have spent all your time doing your hair instead of eating breakfast. (Looked for the recipe online but can’t see it posted anywhere – sorry.)

  71. Marie

    As for fast food- does she like grilled cheese? You can totally order a cheeseburger without the meat and sometimes they will only charge you for the bun and cheese slice. If she likes lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, or pickles they will add those too and it makes a pretty filling lunch. I still prefer whoppers with cheese no meat. I am an anxious orderer and no one has ever made me feel bad for asking for this!

  72. Christy Wood

    There’s a lot of comments and I’m lazy, so forgive me if I’m redundant.

    Many vegetarian meals and meal components freeze very well. For example, it’s really easy to freeze lentils and rice. She could eat that as her main dish and share the sides that the rest of the family is eating.

    So once you find a few things that she likes, you can freeze in individual portions and then thaw so that she can eat her own food without a lot of additional hassle for you. Depending on her interest and your patience, you can also pass a portion of that responsibility onto her.

    Lentils & Grains for lazy people
    1 part lentils *
    1 part rice or mixed grains from a premixed packet *
    diced onions to your taste
    minced garlic to your taste
    garam masala to your taste

    soften the onions and garlic in oil. add the garam masala (or whatever spice you like) and cook for an additional minute until very fragrant. Add grains and lentils, stir to coat in the oil. Add in 4 parts water or broth. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. cook for the recommended time on the grains bag.

    * look at the back of the packages when you buy them to make sure that both the lentils and grains cook in the same amount of time. Brown lentils take the longest, so cook those with brown rice. Green take around 20 minutes, so those work well with white rice, etc.

  73. Jessemy

    For fast food, Trader Joe’s frozen edamame. Throw half a bag into a pot of mac and cheese. Tastes more like sweet peas, less like beany beans.

  74. Abbie

    I worry about my kids getting enough protein in the morning before school, and they don’t like eggs. One thing that has worked is adding extra eggs or egg whites to pancake mix. They still feel like they’re eating carbs and syrup, but i know there’s some protein in there.

  75. rebeccaeee

    I went veg as 14 and never really looked back. Anemia hit hardi n my teens so make sure she eats alot of spinach and yes, almonds if you can. Barney Butter (they sell it at target) is our fave almond butter. My son, 11, has declared himself a veg as well. He is notoriously picky but will eat beans. I lived on bean and cheese burritos for what seems like decades. I think the less attention paid to what/why and the more of “are you eating enough?” is a good way to let her try it on and see it if will stick. As a veg, I can tell you wendy’s baked potatoes are not sad at all- they are delicious. I second the recommendation for gardein products- they are quality and delicious. French toast is easy and protein rich, you can add ricotta cheese to waffle and pancake batter to amp up the protein and make protein shakes a (more of a spring.summer thing for us). I hope it sticks. It is a smart and healthy choice. :)

  76. Lisa Capasso

    I’m not technically a vegetarian but I eat very little meat. My husband eats only meat and vegetables but not starches, my oldest son will only eat meat and bread, my middle child has multiple food allergies….so we make a lot “deconstructed” meals. Like, a minestrone soup where the vegetable soup goes on the table, but some shredded chicken and a bowl of pasta also goes on the table, and each person can combine whatever items you like into the soup base. Tacos are another good deconstructed meal (lentils/bean in one bowl, meat filling base in another bowl, toppings for everyone). We also have a lot of meat/starch/2 veg meals where I eat the two veggies, everyone else eats the meat and the starch and grudgingly eats the veggies. The only night I make a separate meal is Friday night when the kids have pizza, and I make something I know the kids hate for myself and my husband.

  77. Carla Hinkle

    Does not liking beans include chili? That’s a delicious and hearty way to get veggie protein. You could even make the same meal for everyone! Or brown some ground beef & add it to the meat eaters’ bowls.

  78. Rebecca

    Oh I forgot, if she liked or likes hamburgers, falafel is a great alternative. Made from chickpeas (you just have to soak them, the cooking comes when you fry your lovely shamburgers). Lotsa options for toppings and wraps – the traditional bun, or a pita, or a tortilla, many possibilities for deliciousness and the rest of the family may enjoy it as well. With a salad it’s a great meal. (Also be thankful she’s not vegan because that is a whole other equivalence class of meal planning headaches!)

  79. Miz Middling

    I would like to be another voice for Quorn (though definitely check allergens– I don’t remember those details). The “naked cutlets” are the BEST– they can be cooked just about any way chicken can, and I loved them.

    Plus, as people have stated before, tofu is the absolute best. I could sing songs about tofu. I could write poetry about tofu. (I don’t have to, though; someone else has…

  80. Alice

    It looks like there’s been a lot of good suggestions and advice already.

    One thing I’d suggest: keep an eye on how much iron she might or might not be getting? I’ve had issues with becoming anemic when I’ve been primarily vegetarian. I’m not sure if kids’ vitamins have iron in them or not– but: if she isn’t getting enough iron, her energy levels and ability to focus can tank. I would be more concerned about iron than about protein, to be honest.

  81. M

    My husband is a vegetarian. My kids ages 5,5,3 and I are not. He doesn’t really like tofu so we don’t go that route. He eats eggs tho. I am not cooking 2 separate meals, ever ever.

    Our weekly dinner menu looks a little like this:
    Pasta w/ red sauce w/ sauteed veggies (for me and him- kids might have meatballs)
    Quesadilla night- peppers/mushrooms/beans for him, chicken and beans for kids
    Enchilada night- kids don’t even know that enchiladas could have meat. Their favorite is sweet potato, black bean, corn. I have also used spinach which would be good for her Vitamin A and Iron need.
    Egg sandwiches (kids have sausage), potatoes
    Soups- many easy vegetarian options that kids and I don’t miss meat- also this is clutch- soup often leads to leftover night so that cuts out 1 night of cooking. Soup is pretty economical as well, double score.
    Some random recipes- we like Damn Delicious’ Korean Beef Bowls, to which I substitute broccoli, celery and matchstick carrots, Budget Bytes West African Peanut Stew (add rice for serving), Lasagna.
    We grill burgers- he has a mushroom burger. E could have a veggie burger.

    And some nights he is just out of luck b/c I want some casserole/food from my childhood that has meat in it.

  82. elizabeth

    you probably don’t need any more suggestions, but I will just toss out that I am not a vegetarian (at all) but I really love homemade black bean burgers. you can add shredded carrots/zucchini/mushrooms and use whatever spices you like (I like cumin and other Mexican spices), and just eat it like a burger/cheeseburger. it has beans obviously, but you mash it all up and it doesn’t really taste like eating whole beans at all. another thing I learned recently is that you can pulse a package of mushrooms in the food processor and they sort of come out the consistency of ground beef (like for a spaghetti sauce). lastly: if she’s not too picky to eat semi-spicy things, Trader Joe’s has soy chorizo that is really super good (and very economical). I use it instead of chorizo in any sort of chorizo-required dish, just because i prefer the taste of it (and it’s cheaper). and I also just like to add a scoop to an egg scramble on weekends. You could put it in a burrito or taco salad.

  83. Tracy

    Admittedly I have not read the 100+ comments… but various non-meat/non-seafood pasta dishes seem like an easy solution.

    I have the opposite situation with a kid (also tree nut allergic) who is low-carbing for about a year now. He will not eat any pasta, crackers, cereal, pretzels, baked goods. He also will not eat meats prepared with a sauce. Things he does eat: Meat, some seafood, deli meat, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, fruit/veggies, yogurt (he’s recently increased his fruit and yogurt intake due to needing more carbs). He’ll only eat a sandwich if it’s loaded with meat/cheese and the bread is multi/whole grain or similar. We tend to cook with the idea that there will be leftovers for him to eat on a day in which we don’t cook something with meat. But there are days he’s left to fend for himself, and sometimes his dinner is 2-3 apples sliced and dipped in PB and a greek yogurt or two (this option could work for Elizabeth). I don’t lose sleep over the need for a meal to be a true “meal.”

    Eating out has been interesting… “Can I get a bowl of meat?” lol. And the looks when he doesn’t want to side potato…

    My mind is boggled at how he’s able to pass on baked goods, etc…. how is this my kid?!?

    Carbs are so cheap and easy! Not that I’m saying to just have Elizabeth carb-out daily!!!

  84. Joanne

    I work in a Latin restaurant and it seems like there are good ways to get delicious veg dishes, because we use a lot of potatoes and eggs. We had a dish called Tacos de Papas which was potatoes and onions, with of course lettuce, cheese, guac, etc. Also we have a stuffed pepper dish where the pepper is stuffed with chopped eggplant, carrots, yucca, etc. You can also do sweet potato fries, which are good and something different. We use a lot of coconut milk sauces for stews, which can really cream up a dish in a delicious way. Good luck!

  85. Taylor

    Our last au pair was vegetarian, so I always made meals that she could have at least part of or could easily substitute a non-meat option in. I also found that we just ate less meat in general while she was here, which was probably healthier. If Elizabeth likes mushrooms, that’s also usually a great sub. I also started cooking a lot with quinoa, since it is high in protein. Meal ideas: tacos (cook a can or two of beans in a saucepan with a little garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, paprika and salt and she used that as her filling); burgers or grilled chicken (would grill up a portobello mushroom with cheese for her); spaghetti (would make a small pot of sauce with sliced mushrooms for her); fried rice or fried quinoa with egg (the egg is kind of hidden, so good for picky eaters; you can add pork or chicken or beef for the meat eaters); lots of things with chickpeas (here are two favorites:;; sweet potato or baked potato bar with leftover meat sauce or taco meat (for meat eaters) and cheese and guacamole or just butter for the vegetarian; this sounds really weird but is one of my family’s very favorite meals and it is SO easy (my kids like it better than mac and cheese):

  86. Shawna

    For what it’s worth, my husband doesn’t like beans, and won’t eat baked beans, kidney beans in any form, refried brown beans, refried black beans, etc. BUT will eat whole black beans in anything vaguely Mexican or Texmex. So maybe it’s partly about finding the right form of bean?

  87. Terry

    Instead of a hot dog, I like to put grilled zucchini slices in my hotdog bun. Sprinkle on a little season salt and dijon mustard and I’m happier than the hotdog eaters. This may not be appealing to a teenager, but maybe worth a try. The zucchini squash is about the same length as a bun.

    It’s fine and healthy to eat lots of peanut butter sandwiches and toasted/grilled cheese sandwiches.

    I love adding roasted sunflower seeds or flavored almonds to soups, salads and other dishes. This adds flavor and nutrition.

    Grill a portabello mushroom in place of a hamburger patty.

    Use cremini mushrooms in place of chicken tenders. They bread-up nicely, too.

    Often, you will not need to find a substitute for meat. For a meal such as chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, and broccoli, a vegetarian should be fine with just a bit larger portion of mashed potatoes and broccoli and no meat. It would be nice to have a lemon wedge and ground pepper for the broccoli and also a dinner roll, but a meat substitute is not necessary.

  88. SIL Anna

    I want to strongly second (or maybe fourth or fifth; I only read the first several comments!)
    Gardein “The Ultimate” Beefless Ground.

    We’ve tried other substitutes, and it’s the best by far. BIG FAT PLUS: It’s a resealable bag, and you can keep it in the freezer and cook up a little bit when you need it. I put it in the kids’ marinara when I don’t have any meat on hand and need a protein with their pasta. I’ve heard it makes good tacos, too.

  89. Carrie

    I really like this red lentil soup: (using the vegetable broth option). I never bother with the cilantro, and I always puree it totally smooth.

    Can she have seeds? Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are decent protein sources and easy to add to salads, rice etc.

    Lightlife Fakin Bacon is made out of tempeh. It’s really good in a BLT type sandwich. For me it doesn’t have the right texture to be eaten on its own.

  90. Megan

    My family was vegetarian growing up. We ate lots of stir-fry, Crock-Pot beans/bean soup and rice. Maybe she needs to try different ways of cooking beans? I have a hard time thinking about being vegetarian without beans! I make a lentil and rice casserole topped with cheese, maybe look for something like that. Quinoa, for sure,for the protein and Omega 3 since she isn’t doing fish. I like extra firm tofu best, and think it just takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with. Two peas and their pod has some good salad bowl type easy throw together dinners. Moose wood cookbooks are great but I second the time consuming comment above-but they do have one for everyday, quicker meals. Sorry, I don’t remember the title, found it at the library. I think I would be more concerned with iron then protein. My pediatrician gave us a list of iron rich foods for my not a fan of meat preschooler (leafy greens, peanut butter, raisins, broccoli, beans, lentils)

  91. vanessa

    i’ve been a vegetarian since i was 8 so i have thoughts ;)
    strongly suggest buying this for E–

    she can learn to do a lot of her own meal prep. beans when she can tolerate it. fake meat is fun–i like burgers/dogs because with ketchup it doesnt really matter how they taste ;) morningstore sausage is great–morningstar generally is great stuff. chick’n products, also yummy. you can add tofu to whatever. my go-to staples are quesadillas, yogurt with granola, protein added cereal, veggie burgers, stir fries, spaghetti with faux meatballs, carrots with hummus, protein powder in shakes, protein bars. make sure you let her dr know and have her do potentially additional bloodwork sometimes for iron, b12, etc. it’s not a great idea to take supplements unless you need them, but vegetarians sometimes do (i’ve taken iron for years, but my b12 levels are ok, for example ;)
    if you have any question, let me know and i will answer whatever i possibly can!

  92. Amy

    I saw someone recommended this already, but I want to second the Burger King veggie burger as a fun fast food treat, it’s really good.

    Also frozen falafel is really tasty and quick. Can be heated up in the microwave or oven and served with hummus or tzatziki sauce.

  93. Pressley

    I am not a vegetarian, but I eat vegetarian a few nights a week simply because it’s cheaper. Also: I was a decently picky kid and didn’t like beans growing up, but now I can’t get enough.

    A couple suggestions: (these have eggs, but they’re just the binder and you don’t taste them; you mainly taste cheese!) (sub the meat for another veggie — maybe bell peppers? — and don’t add the crushed peanuts if her nut allergy extends to peanuts)

    Chipotle-style burrito bowls, minus the meat (might be a good way to get her to like beans, since they’ll take on the flavor of the veggies/salsa). Here’s a good recipe for Chipotle-style rice: (under Rice > Weekend)

  94. Meg

    We eat lots of seed butters, are they a thing over there? meridian seed butters are epic, and my kids love them on oat cakes and with crudetes as a snack/side so there is some protien and no nuts.
    I’ve been veggy for 23 years I made the choice as a five year old after watching babe! and my children are half way because my husband isn’t we tend to eat one meal that I have a veggy fake meat version of what they have, one meal of fake meat for us all and five that require no adjustment… it’s a balance. So mac’n’cheese doesn’t need any change, soup and bread,
    My slow cooker is the bees knees now three bean chilli will grow on her, we all love that in a jacket potato or with nachos or rice, so its versatile.
    falafel in a pitta with hummus is pretty kid friendly
    I’ve recently found out wheat and me aren’t friends though… and totally get the ‘cooking two competently different meals ‘ situ… booo!
    hope you get in to the swing of things soon x

  95. Meg

    potato gratin…. is also life… seriously, the family had chicken and sausage with it … I had some quorn thing, and gratin and mixed green veggies… and it was epic!

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