Kid-Friendly
Veggie Meals

Whether you are looking to follow a vegetarian diet as a family or aiming to incorporate more plant-based dishes into your family's meals, your kids are going to be your harshest critics. Getting kids to eat fruits and veggies can be challenging even alongside chicken fingers and meat-filled ravioli, but will prove near impossible if the vegetarian meals you serve aren't as captivating as they are delicious. The following vegetarian recipes offer a variety of tastes, textures and eye-catching colors that will at the very least pique your children's interest in eating their fruits and veggies.

Vegetarian Pasta

Vegetarian diets and kids

The past two decades have seen a rise in vegetarianism among both adults and youngsters, and research supports such a diet. Forgoing meat in favor of a plant-based diet has been shown to reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses and promote healthy weight maintenance and even weight loss. Well-balanced vegetarian diets are chock full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Additionally, plant-based diets are usually lower in calories than meat-based diets, thus also decrease the risk of obesity.

The advantage of encouraging a plant-based diet among children and adolescents is that it teaches them early in life to acquire a genuine taste for fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains, as opposed to growing up with the belief that fast food and junk food are the norm. Kids that follow diets emphasizing healthy, whole foods are less likely to be overweight, perform better in school, and are at a decreased risk of developing weight-related conditions, such as diabetes. Simply incorporating a new vegetarian dish into your family's daily diet can be one meal closer to your children's health -- now and into adulthood.

Vegetarian meals for kids

If you happen to meet resistance from your kids when you serve vegetarian dishes, encourage them to help you make the family meals. Children are more likely to eat meals they've had a hand in preparing. Start with the following vegetarian recipes; they are kid-friendly in both taste and ease in preparation.

Veggie Spaghetti

Serves 4

Veggies and kidney beans make this tomato sauce a fiber- and protein-rich addition to your family's favorite shape of pasta. Let your little sous chefs get the vegetables from the fridge, chop veggies up (if age appropriate), and toss the sauce.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
8 ounces your favorite pasta, cooked
Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot and mushrooms, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened.

2. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and Italian seasoning and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Stir in kidney beans and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir in fresh basil and remove from heat.

4. Serve over your favorite pasta and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Easy Cheesy Tomato Tart

Serves 4 to 6

Puff pastry is a kid-friendly ingredient regardless of its application. In this satisfying savory tart, it serves as a base for tender squash, juicy tomatoes and ooey gooey cheese. Your kids can unfold the puff pastry sheet and sprinkle cheese on top before it goes in the oven.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 red onion, halved, thinly sliced
2 small zucchini or crookneck squash
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (13-ounce) package puff pastry (one large sheet), thawed
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 to 3 cups shredded fontina cheese

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Add onion and squash and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender. Season with thyme, salt and pepper.

3. Unfold puff pastry onto a large baking sheet, making sure the creases are well-sealed. Spread onion mixture evenly onto puff pastry, leaving a 1- to 2-inch border around the edges.

4. Scatter with tomatoes and top evenly with cheese. Fold puff pastry edges over to create a raised border.

5. Bake for 35 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden and the cheese is bubbly and hot. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Red Lentil Burgers

Serves 6 to 8

What kid doesn't love a burger? Introducing veggie burgers into your children's diet now will expand their burger loving from meat-only to other meatless – and tasty – alternatives. Your kids can help mix and shape the lentil burgers and choose their own toppings for dinner.

Ingredients:
6 ounces dried red lentils, cooked according to package directions
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup dried currants, rehydrated in orange juice
1 cup fresh whole grain bread crumbs
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
Whole grain hamburger buns and toppings of your choice

Directions:
1. While lentils are cooking, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion and bell pepper, stirring often, until very tender.

2. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Drain currants and stir them into the onion mixture. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add lentils when they are cooked.

3. Add breadcrumbs and sunflower seeds, using your hands to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

4. Mix egg into the lentil mixture, cover bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

5. Turn on your oven broiler. Divide lentil mixture into six to eight patties. Spray patties with cooking spray on both sides or brush both sides with olive oil. Broil for 3 to 4 minutes, flip, and broil second side for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned.

6. Serve lentil burgers on buns with toppings of your choice.

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