A great way to support a healthy food chain is to eat vegetarian meals, most, or all of the time. However, many families think they can't eat less meat, because they'll lose protein benefits. However, if you're raising a vegetarian child, there's no reason to panic on the protein front. My son was raised as a vegetarian from birth, with full pediatrician approval. In fact our pediatrician said that vegetarian diets can actually be healthier than a diet plan that includes meat. Meat does contain some protein, but it also has plenty of fat, and non-organic meats are notorious for containing toxins, antibiotics and pesticides. Also, conventional meat isn't very eco-friendly. If you do go the meat route, always choose organic lean meats. If however, you're looking for some alternative forms of protein, following are 5 excellent options for your child.
Organic eggs can be kid-friendly year round, not just at Easter time. Eggs contain about 6 grams of protein per serving or 12% of the Recommended Daily Value of protein. Plus, eggs provide high quality protein, with all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Keep in mind that kids should be encouraged to eat egg yolks, not just the whites, because the egg yolk provides almost half of the protein found in eggs. Eggs can be served in the usual ways that most kids like – hard boiled, scrambled and in baked goods, or you can try something different. Many kids who won’t eat eggs, will eat them if you wrap them up in a cute little package, such as an egg bento. Gamene offers egg bento ideas galore to explore. Kids also may enjoy meat-free breakfast burritos or a nice veggie-packed frittata.
Legumes cover a wide range of delicious choices, including beans, peas and lentils. Legumes contain various amounts of protein. For example, 1/2 cup of kidney or black beans provide 7 grams of protein while 1/2 cup of lentils provides 9 grams. Legume crops go easy on the environment due to collecting nitrogen from the atmosphere. Meaning they need fewer chemical fertilizers. Even so, most U.S. legume growers do use chemical pesticides, so you should buy organic legumes when possible. We also suggest avoiding canned beans due to BPA. Dried bulk legumes are less expensive anyhow, and just as easy once you get used to them. Try beans or peas in casseroles, chili, soups and stews or get creative with homemade hummus, brownies, black bean and cheese quesadillas or lentils and carrot baby food.
Many whole grains contain protein, but the best, by far is quinoa, a whole grain that offers a whopping 18 grams of protein per cup. Better yet, quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids – rare in vegetarian protein sources. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium and fiber. Quinoa is especially great for kids, because it’s got a nice fun light, fluffy texture and a mild, nutty flavor when cooked. You can use quinoa as a side dish alternative to rice or couscous, use it in a stir-fry instead of rice or pasta, make a quinoa salad, bake quinoa muffins or cook up a warm dish of quinoa for breakfast with organic berries. Quinoa is also an excellent base for homemade baby food.
Tofu may seem too boring for kids, but tofu can be fun (no, really) and yummy, plus it’s packed with protein. Each 1/2 cup of tofu contains about 20 grams of protein. Tofu can be a quick snack or a whole meal. Just keep in mind that about 90% of U.S.-grown soybeans are now GMO, so although tofu is a great source of protein, you really must buy organic. Make some delicious vanilla tofu ice pops as shown above – recipe found in the book Ice Pop Joy. Use tofu in stir fry or burritos in place of meat; tofu will take on the flavor of the spices you use. Or try this easy tofu recipe for kids – my son loved this as a toddler:
Organic broccoli and tofu with peanut sauce:
Gather a cube of organic firm tofu, some fresh organic broccoli (you can use frozen), a spoonful of organic peanut butter and a little bit of organic milk or apple juice. Steam the broccoli until it’s very soft. Cut firm organic tofu into tiny bite-sized pieces and heat it until it’s a little warm (about 15 seconds in the microwave). Mix organic peanut butter in a small sauce pan with some apple juice or milk, until it becomes sauce-like. Toss the broccoli into a bowl with the tofu squares. Then drizzle the peanut sauce over it.
Flax is a excellent add-in ingredient for many kid dishes. Just one little ounce of flaxseed meal (approximately 4 tbsp.) offers about 6 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. Bonus, flax is a super source of omega 3. You can buy whole organic flaxseed or ground organic flaxseed meal. Both are useful and flax tastes very good too – but can be easily added to recipes without taking over taste-wise. Flaxseed or flaxseed meal can be added to just about any baked good item you can imagine; muffins, bread, granola bars, cinnamon rolls, homemade crackers and so much more. You can also add ground flaxseed meal to any sauce or soup, for example, I always toss some ground flax into homemade spaghetti sauce and homemade soup. You can sprinkle the seeds on yogurt, pizza, warm oatmeal or ice cream.
For more information on healthy eating:
*Health disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, just a mama raising a veggie-loving kid. You should always discuss your child’s diet plan with your child’s pediatrician or other nutrition expert.
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