Raising Vegetarian/Vegan Kids

Growing up in New Hampshire and  the Midwest, I was obviously raised on meat.

My mother’s Shephards Pie was a culinary force to be reckoned with.  Seemingly, there was always ground meat in some type of casserole.  As I grew older, I dropped the red meat

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - Peg Greb

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Peg Greb

because it made my moods intense and my body sluggish. After researching vegetarianism, I knew I wanted to give it a try. My sister-in-law has been a vegetarian since she was 7. She and her husband came to visit and made us watch Food, Inc. and The Cove back-to-back. That was it. I was done. No more meat, fish or sushi….and it was easier than I thought.

I never felt better. After a year of being a vegetarian, our lifestyle naturally progressed to exclusively eating a plant-based diet (or being a “super hippie vegan that eats bark” as I have been affectionately called).

Our kids have never had red meat.

When they were younger they would occasionally have pieces of chicken or a turkey burger at a cookout, but we usually had to make them eat it – they were never interested in meat – perhaps it was a texture thing? The transition was very easy for our children to be vegetarian (they were 3 & 5 when we transitioned).

90% of what my kids eat is vegan.

Where do they get their protein?

This is the #1 question we get all the time. For some reason, when carnivores find out we’re vegan, they become experts in protein.  Look, I’m not saying we’re perfect. We work full time and don’t get home until 6:30pm. Sometimes my kids’ dinner may just be pasta. I will, however, add chickpeas, edamame, ground flax, hemp hearts, and broccoli to the pasta so they have some type of protein and nourishment.

They do eat tofu, tempeh, beans, most veggies, quinoa, grains, and nuts. Admittedly, I do hide kale in a morning smoothie. They put up quite the fight when I throw some garlic kale on their plates at dinner, but I’m a big fan of “keep trying”. I’ll eventually let them in on the kale smoothie secret.

I’ve found that their palates are forever changing, so this month they hate dishes with spicy curry and chili powder (and let me tell you, I made an awesome vegan sloppy joe mix that one of them liked and the other hated….story of our lives!). So, I change it up. A lot of parents make 1 meal for the entire family to eat. That is usually our style too, but I’m also committed to them eating a plant-based diet. If the adults are eating something with intense spices, I may make the kids a variation of that dish so their nourishment is met.

What about when they go to parties or friends houses?

This is exactly why we don’t have a strict vegan diet for our kids.

I want my kids to feel secure and confident with who they are. If given the option, I know they won’t eat meat. If every kid is eating pizza and cake at a birthday party and my kid says: “Sorry, my parents don’t let me eat dairy” I’m pretty sure they’d feel awkward. Maybe I’m wrong – and I hope I am.

As my kids grow, develop, and continue to learn about why we eat the way we do, I trust that it will be a natural progression for them too. I’m proud that they can articulate to any adult why they don’t eat meat, and that is pretty awesome.  Also, other parents are great. Every time there’s a party or a playdate, the parent usually asks for any allergy or dietary restrictions. We live in an area where being vegetarian is somewhat common, so for that, we’re grateful.

Where do I start?

This has been a journey! For those who are reading and wanting to make a change, I would suggest making 1 or 2 meals a week that are meat-free. Over time, it should get easier. Here are a couple of winning recipes that are kid approved:


Spaghetti and Bean Balls (courtesy of No Meat Athlete)

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

2 15-0z cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 carrot, minced (or processed)
A big handful of fresh parsley, minced (or processed)
1 clove garlic, minced (or processed)
1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp olive oil or canola oil
1-2 Tbsp your favorite Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, garlic, salt, etc)
salt and pepper
3 cups of marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, combine carrot, parsley, garlic, Italian seasoning, bread crumbs, oil, and beans.  Mash with a potato masher (or use a food processor) until the mixture is sticky and relatively homogeneous.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Form the bean mixture into 1-inch balls and align on a cookie sheet.  Bake for about 20 minutes, turning once midway through, until the bean balls are nicely browned all over.  While the bean balls bake, heat up the marinara sauce in a saucepan, and add the bean balls to the marinara when they’re done.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes to combine the flavors.  Serve over pasta or on sub rolls.

Tofu Scramble

2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp dried chives (I subbed these because I didn’t have scallions)
1/2 block extra firm tofu
1 can chickpeas
1/2 small head of broccoli

Rinse the chickpeas and pour into a pan with olive oil on medium.  Stir occasionally while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Take your tofu out and squeeze out the water.  Steam broccoli just until bright green. Make the tahini sauce: combine the tahini, lemon, water, olive oil, and chives in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Your chickpeas should be nice and golden, and your broccoli should be bright green. Cut up your tofu into small cubes and throw it and the broccoli in with the chickpeas.  Let that cook for about 2 minutes. At the last minute, pour in the sauce and stir around until everything is coated.

Kale Smoothie

1 banana
handful of frozen berries
bunch of kale
2 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
1 tablespoon ground flax
1 tablesppon vegan protein
1.5 cups almond/soy/hemp milk

Blend and enjoy!


  1. OK, we will try one of these. Sometimes when I eat cheese I feel really sluggish so maybe it is time for a change. Also I am trying new things, I just got a longboard (skateboard).

    We will let you know how it goes!

    • Thanks, Ben! I’d love to hear what you and the kids think of the Spaghetti and Bean Balls. Cheers!

      • Melissa made them last night and we loved them! Melissa liked not having to touch meat. Benjamin liked the shreds of carrots in the bean balls and Julianne liked to mash the balls into the pasta-it was a big hit!
        I think that we will still enjoy meat occasionally (I love a good steak!), but we are moving towards a veg diet.

        Thanks for sharing!

  2. Kudos to you. I wish I loved veggies more, then maybe I wouldn’t eat so much meat. But to each his own. But kudos for how you raise your kids and allow them their own decisions on food, but it’s pretty awesome that you lead by example which is why your kids follow. 🙂 And thanks for stopping by my blog last week. I’m sorry I’m late on replying, it’s been a crazy few weeks!

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