Monica Bielanko
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An Apple A Day...

I'm slowly trying to reduce my childrens' meat consumption. Not that I'm going to force vegetarianism on them but really, is that any different than "forcing" them to be meat eaters? The argument could go either way, is all I'm saying. Kids eat what we give them.

I just want to get to a point that meat isn't the focus of most of their meals. If they want to have a hot dog at a friend's house, that's their decision. But they're aware that I don't like to eat meat and eventually I'm going to tell them why and hope that they choose not to eat meat as well. But in the end, it will be their decision.

In the meantime, I've bought every kind of vegetarian "chick'n" nugget under the sun and Henry's cool with all of them, probably because I caught him on the younger side. Violet, however, ain't falling for no imitation nuggets, no matter how much BBQ sauce I drown them in.

Anybody got any hot tips? What do you feed your kids? We eat lots of pasta (I know, GLUUUTEN IS KILLING US AS I TYPE) and the kids have always been pretty good about vegetables and fruits. I've never forced them to eat anything which I think makes them less inclined to push veggies away. Once you start in with the "just three more bites of broccoli" business you've made broccoli the bad guy. If my kids don't eat, too bad for them. There are little kids starving in Africa, dammit! You don't want my dinner then GET OUTTA HERE. KITCHEN'S CLOSED.

Reader Comments (20)

I have 3 littles, 5, 3 and 10 months.

We do not eat a lot of meat at all, maybe chicken once a week. I make a lot if different types of quesadillas--black bean, plain cheese, diced broccoli and cheese, etc. They eat a lot of pasta with my homemade veg sauce (roast veg you like eith evoo, blend with tomatoes to make a sauce, freeze as cubes). I have a recipe for sweet potato/back bean enchiladas which I love but they don't.

They eat a ton of fruit and I eat a lot of salads. I never push tem to try anything and as a result, they seem more willing to try what I'm having even if they don't end up liking it. My 3 year old ate salad last night. By himself. My 5 year old tried a bunch of things out of my salad even though she spit them all out. But she willingly tried them! So I consider it a success.

I also make homemade Mac n cheese with puréed cauliflower in the cheese sauce. Or puréed white beans works well also.

I always say "you get what you get." If they don't like it, don't eat it, I'm not making anything else. I'm with you, kitchen's closed!

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Have you tried making your own "nuggets"? I know my kid generally tends to eat things more willingly if she helped make them herself. Maybe you could do a chick pea nugget? I've also heard of broccoli and cheese nuggets. They resemble the look of a chicken nugget, but obviously don't contain the meat. Whatever you decide, make a patty out of the ingredients, roll it around in some bread crumbs, then drizzle with oil and bake them. They will look like the nuggets, she'll know what's in them because she helped make them, and hopefully that means she'll eat them.

And as an added bonus,you're giving her some real food. I'm always weary of giving my kids the vegetarian/vegan substitutes because they tend to have weird chemicals in them to mimic the taste of the meat you're replacing.

Added-added bonus: if you find a recipe you (and the kids like), you can make a big batch and then freeze them -- then they can have the convenience of the store-bought packaged stuff -- you'll be able to take them out, re-heat in the oven, and serve.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKrystan

I make a recipe where I substitute shredded zucchini for pasta and eat it just the same with the sauce. I bet Violet and Henry might like it.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

You guys are awesome! All great tips!

May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko

I started eating and cooking vegetarian (and vegan, as much as possible) about two years ago and my kids were elem/jr high/high school-aged so they were much older than yours which made the transition more challenging. They complained bitterly about it initially because they were used to having meat with every dinner, but gradually over time and with more exposure, the complaints died down. I think part of the key is exposure ... keep exposing them to a wide variety of fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains and slowly they will catch on. Another trick I use? When I pick them up from school or other activities, I have fresh fruit/veggies with me to offer to them (cut carrots, red bell pepper, apple slices, etc.) because they will be hungry and it will be the only thing available to them. It's amazing how much of what we eat happens because it's easy and right in front of us. ;) Good luck!

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

I second quesadillas! I got the El Paso quesadilla maker at target for 20 bucks and it even "perforates" the pieces to make them easy to cut. I second just trying to make your own nuggets. I make the broccoli/cheddar/breadcrumb nugget that the kid loves, even though he won't touch raw/cooked broccoli. Recipe, far down:

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterchristine

Ok, I know this is an expensive suggest, but if I were going to buy something that was healthy for the whole family, I'd buy a Vita-mix. Oh, man, I use mine everyday and I mean every. single. day. I use it to make smooties..... and I mean really good smoothies with spinach, kale, lemons, oranges, apples, tofu.... or any little thing my heart desires. For supper I switch it up and make soup... yep, hot steaming soup right out of the blender/Vita-mix. It takes about five minutes. Last night I had carrot /ginger soup. All natural. Easy peasy. Later on if I'm feeling a little late night snack I'll whip up some ice cream. Again, all natural and honestly it takes about 4 minutes. AND its good. Its not Hagen Daas but its damn good. Again, all natural. Kids don't taste the spinach in their smoothie or their soup. Last night I made chocolate peanut swirl ice cream and it was very good. I use the vita mix to chop veggies too. Mix bread? I pull out the vita-mix. No, I don't own a stake in Vita-mix .... I just love my machine. I use it all the damn time. And the best part? It actually cleans itself -- so so taking apart pieces to clean it -- just add water and a DROP soap and presto -- its clean and ready to go the next time. Yep, a Vita-mix is expensive but I promise you, it will become a kitchen appliance that you actually use and it happens quickly too. Blenders just don't cut it.... they're not powerful enough. Here's the other thing, the amount of food you use to make soup, ice cream, or whatever is very little so you'll be saving on your grocery bills immediately. And did I mention that what you put in that thing is as natural and organic and you want it to be. My kids are grown and gone, but is wish I had invested in this machine when they were little because they would have eaten so many good things without evening knowing it --- it tastes that good!! You can buy a reconditioined machine for $399 and it comes with a 5 year warranty. What comes with a 5 year warranty into days throw away economy? NOTHING. Buy a new machine and the warranty is 7years!!! Plus Vita-mix is made in the USA! Gotta love that. Jesus after this sermon Vita Mix should hire me --- I swear by it.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdona

Wow...I need a Vita-mix!

We do eat meat, but my daughter no longer likes some meats and fish (including salmon and halibut, unfortunately - although with the right recipe, she'll eat halibut), so we eat a lot of eggs, some chicken and a little venison when we have it. For breakfast, it's always berries and/or other fruit and eggs (we have chickens - a GREAT thing to have with that big yard of yours! Plus, homegrown eggs are super healthy).

For lunch, it might be a pizza omelette (just a little pizza sauce and some cheese) or a simple sandwich with Ezekiel bread, which is a super low processed bread that you can get it the frozen section of your health food store. And maybe some organic greek yogurt, or an apple cut up with natural peanut butter or almond butter to dip in. For snacks, we do bananas, nuts, and sometimes pretzels for salt replacement on a hot day. We also eat a lot of salads - Paul Newman's "lite" dressings are great to get kids eating salads!

One thing to try if you're worried about too much gluten - there is an AWESOME pasta made with brown rice called Tinkiada (I think). My husband is sensitive to gluten, so we've been using this...and it's so good - I actually like it better than normal pasta. A great dish I make often is brown rice pasta with some gluten free organic alfredo sauce, and I throw in a ton of broccoli cut up into tiny pieces and a couple diced chicken of our favorites! Another thing I forgot to mention - if you have a food processor with a grating attachment (I bought myself one last year and LOVE it), it's easy to grate sweet potatoes or zucchini/yellow squash, then fry them in some olive oil with a little seasoning kid loves that! And we eat lots and lots of avocados - great mashed up with other stuff or just by themselves...and super healthy.

I think a difficult issue with cutting out meat, especially for growing little ones, is to get healthy protein alternatives, and some of that vegetarian stuff is awful when you look at the ingredients. Hence, homegrown eggs (can you tell - I really think you need chickens!)...oh, and a new favorite - hummus...

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

Hey Monica,

Have you tried Quorn's vegetarian chicken nuggets? They do contain egg whites-- I'm vegan now so I don't eat them anymore-- but that used to be my favorite type of mock-meat product. Of course all the processing and such probably makes it not very nutritious, but it makes for a quick, delicious meal every now and then. I also remember liking that brand because it's not soy-based, and as a vegetarian I was already eating a lot of soy stuff.

Also, vegandad is a good recipe blog (no longer updated, but still a valuable resource) that has kid-friendly recipes, as is peasandthankyou. I also agree with the other comment about substituting shredded zucchini for pasta! I've made that before and could hardly tell the difference, strangely. Good luck!

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

We eat meat but i do like to make a vego meal once a week. One i make is vegetarian sausage rolls ( no meat, but milk and egg added so its not vegan). My kids love them and whenever i make them for a party, no one can believe they dont contain meat. If you want to recipe i can email it to you :)

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

100% agreed, Two apples a day keeps the doctor AND dentist away.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina


May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook, believe it or not, has a great tofu nugget recipe. but I wouldn't try to pass them off as chicken. but they are good. you can also find amazing free roaming, veg fed, organic, etc. chicken locally, and if you could stand it, make 'em yourself and freeze a batch. if you plan to stick with chicken for her, there is a frozen brand you can get at some grocery stores in town called bell & evans--they have an organic and non-organic line, but even the non-organic is antibiotic and hormone free and it's all made without gross fillers and stuff... they are flash frozen raw so have to be cooked thoroughly--the 'nuggets' are actually small cut whole pieces of chicken breast. they are our go-to in a pinch. they have non-breaded plain chicken breasts, too, which are great in stir-fry or for grilled chicken sandwiches for your meat-eaters. all in the freezer section (def available at Wegmans in freezer section)

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJodie

If you are looking for fabulous vegetarian recipes, you should get a copy of "Once Upon a Tart." It comes from a restaurant in New York's Soho of the same name. We host a party every year around Valentine's Day called "A Little Supper and a LOT of Chocolate." I make two giant vats of soup, four giant salads (Get it? Really, really healthy stuff for dinner) and then many chocolate desserts. Eat a healthy dinner and then...

People who are not vegetarians love this party...and not just because of the chocolate. I have made salads and savory tarts from this cookbook for all kinds of occasions and people rave and rave. Some of them are pretty quick, others take not necessarily for everyday, but totally gourmet when you are looking for something fabulous. And there's nothing really hard...sometimes just quite a bit of chopping. I have probably made 10 or 12 of their salads -- many of which are entree-worthy -- and a similar number of the savory tarts. I have never made any recipe from that cookbook that wasn't totally delicious.

The cookbook is out of print, but available used on Amazon and Barnes and Noble through their affiliated resellers. Worth every, single penny. I absolutely promise! One of my favorite recipes: "Smooth Garlice-and-Roasted-Red-Pepper Soup with Fresh Thyme" -- "smooth" as in "pureed." Paradise in a bowl.

And also...gluten is not killing you and your family if you are not allergic to it or sensitive to it and you don't have celiac disease! Whole grains are really good for you IF you don't have any of those issues.

I can no longer eat any dairy at all, so eating vegetarian can be complicated (especially when eating out), but I used to go meatless about 90% of the time. I generally found that the prepared foods that were not trying to imitate meat were far, far better than the prepared foods that were trying to imitate meat, for what it's worth.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

Delurking to recommend this recipe and the blog in general. The broccoli nuggets are so good and freeze well.

Also, black bean burgers are really easy to make from scratch and also freeze well.

Risotto? (frying the leftovers into arancini?)

I second the poster who recommended steering clear of fake meat - both for nutritional and environmental reasons. I'd be more concerned about the endocrine disruptor thing, especially for little kids.

Omelettes? Egg fried rice? Homemade pizza so they can choose their toppings?

Anyway, I've been reading for ages and rooting for your family. Well done for sticking at it during the tough times. I'm glad things are on more of an even keel now.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeck

Oh, and also quiche!

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeck

I've been a vegetarian for most of my life and my kids rarely eat meat. My advice on Violet's distaste for meat-like substitutes would only be to not worry about trying to replace meat. If she drinks milk and eats cheese and/or peanut butter, she is likely getting enough protein. And of course, iron can be found in many vegetables, cereals and in children's multi-vitamins. I don't make anything elaborate for my kids. They love fruit, cereal, bagels, peanut butter, mac and cheese, pizza, raw carrots and cucumbers, applesauce and yogurt. They do like veggie burgers and Broccoli Bites (which are basically broccoli nuggets - I don't know if they're available in the U.S.). I guess after years of trying to get them to eat quinoa and tofu, I gave up and just let them eat what they like, which is usually simple, healthy stuff.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBetts

I am not a big fan of imitation meats. For one, because most of them are heavily processed, and many contain soy, corn and wheat (possibly just the isolated gluten, even) ingredients, which - unless organic - you can bet are containing GMOs and yeah, supporting Monsanto and such. And then - it's also sending a "mixed message" in regards to actually needing something to replace the meat, too.
I think it's great to let the veggies take center stage, especially since you are growing your own. I have no kids yet, but I have seen friends' kids help harvest from their own garden, help prepare and dig in beaming with pride... beautiful and inspiring, and just so sweet.
Personally I love lentils, chickpeas, all kinds of beans for protein. Falafel instead of nuggets? Organic tofu. Portabella mushrooms on the grill - they make such good burgers.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra

Seriously, please think long and hard before pumping kids full of crappy processed soy products in the interest of health. Not a rational decision, in my humble opinion. Kids in particular need need healthy proteins.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermolly

Nobody's talking about pumping kids full of soy products. I was just asking for a good product to replace nuggets every now and again when the kids ask for chicken nuggets.

May 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko

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