Here are 66 kid friendly vegan recipes, sorted by breakfast, lunch/dinner, lunchbox meals, and desserts, to make mealtimes less stressful. All of these are a hit with my son, and guaranteed to please kids. Also, tips on helping kids learn to eat healthy.
So you have a little one to feed, and dinner time has turned into hell. You are haunted by visions of your child making "that face" when you put a blue-ribbon-worthy casserole in front of him or her. Or just downright banging the fork down on the table and declaring, "I will not eat that."
Vegan or not, these are questions that confront every parent who goes through this scenario day in and day out:
Is my child eating enough?
Is he or she getting the nutrition they need to grow?
How can I get him or her to eat more healthy foods?
So what do you do?
Truth is, as annoying as kids can get when it comes to food, they are your kids and they depend on your wisdom to help them grow strong and healthy. Even if they don't know it yet.
When you're vegan, there are other challenges. Try explaining to a little one why he can't eat chicken nuggets like the ones his friend's mom packed in his lunchbox (They looked yummy, mom!). And why eating pepperoni pizza is not a great idea when the school cafeteria is handing them out to students at lunch every week (But mom, wouldn't the lunch lady know if it was unhealthy?). Or why everyone is going to eat turkey for Thanksgiving but we aren't (Mom, the neighbors are frying a turkey in the backyard and it smells great!).
Although Jay loves animals, and understands by now that you don't need to eat them to be healthy, it is not yet easy for him to fully wrap his head around all the mixed messages on food he encounters. So after I have explained to him for the umpteenth time the reasons why we eat vegan, and even after sprinkling on some wisdom about the benefits to his health (which, to be honest, no 9-year-old really cares about), I use the best tool available in my arsenal to get him to eat: my cooking.
Over years of feeding Jay, I've got a pretty good idea of what he will and will not eat, but as anyone with a child knows, that could change from day to day. So with all of the wisdom I've accrued over three years of feeding a picky child, and reaching a point where mealtimes have finally become more fun than work, I wanted to share with you some foolproof tips for helping your kids eat healthy and vegan, along with 66 kid-tried-and-tested-and-approved recipes that the whole family can enjoy.
What recipes do I cook for my picky vegan eater?
It is so easy to throw in the apron in the face of all that resistance and just make a PBJ. And while a PBJ is great sometimes, giving in to your child all the time is the surest way to lose both the battle and the war. When I struggled with Jay (and I still sometimes do, although it's much, much better now), I told him he had to at least try a little of every food I made, and if he didn't want to eat any more, that was okay, but I wasn't going to make anything else for him. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was obsessing to a mom friend about Jay's unpredictable eating habits was this gem from her son's pediatrician: there are days when kids will eat less, but so long as they make up for it on other days, they will be fine.
One of Jay's ploys to outsmart me was to eat very slowly -- and I literally mean for hours -- if he didn't like something. So I also developed a system where he was timed for each meal. If he didn't finish his meal in that time, his plate was put away and he got it back for his next meal. Over time he realized that the food wasn't going away just because he didn't want to eat it, so he began to eat. I, in turn, could stop scowling at him all through the meal because I'd made the rules clear and the ball was now in his court.
It is said that you need to feed a child a food several times for him or her to begin to actually like it. I can vouch that this really worked with Jay. The boy who would once not eat eggplants and broccoli now will actually ask for them. And he eats all vegetables without complaining. Amazing for a boy who, the first day we picked him up from the orphanage at six, ate a samosa wrapper and discarded the potato filling inside, and picked every veggie off the pizza crust.
Summon your inner Machiavelli. There's no fair play here, or full disclosure, or anything else that your straight-as-an-arrow mind wouldn't comprehend of doing to another human. Kids don't play fair, so you don't have to either. I used to wonder at parents who "disguise" foods, but now I get it. When I don't want Jay to know there are mushrooms in a recipe (he will eat them, but reluctantly), I just don't tell him they are in there. Unless they are really obvious, he doesn't even realize he's eating them.
Give a little to get a lot. You can't expect kids to develop the taste buds of a gourmet overnight, so tweak their favorite foods a little at a time to add healthier ingredients. I use puff pastry, filo, and even pizza dough as a vehicle for healthier foods like beans and veggies. You will find that over time, as your child eats those healthy foods wrapped in crispy, flaky stuff, he or she will develop a liking for them. Veggies and beans make great burgers too.
Get them involved. Letting your kid spend time with you in the kitchen as you cook will help develop their curiosity about food. When I read biographies of famous chefs, many of them invariably recount how their love for cooking developed while watching their moms cook. Whether or not you raise a chef, cooking is a skill every one can use. When possible, get your kids involved in doing small, age-appropriate jobs for you. Apart from the obvious like frosting cookies and mixing cake batter, let your child experiment with rolling out, say, a roti, or snapping the ends off the green beans or mixing flour into sourdough (a fun one for Jay because he loves to see the bubbles start to appear). When they help make it, they will be more likely to want to eat it.
What can you feed a vegan child?
Everything (so long as it didn't come from an animal). Jay eats what we eat. Sure, I will make his favorite foods when he requests them, so long as they are healthy, like Aloo Paratha (he will put down five at a meal) or Idli or a PBJ Pudding. And at other times he will eat dal and rice or pasta or anything else that I've made that day. I am not above taking help on occasion. He likes vegan sausage, so when I make him a plate of wholegrain pasta with marinara sauce, I'll add some vegan sausage or vegan meatballs into it, and it will almost certainly go down much faster and he will even ask for seconds. And I will occasionally take the help of a kid-friendly product like tater tots or french fries.
When I posted my Vegan Tater Tot Casserole recipe the other day, I got an angry email from a reader who said she couldn't believe that I was cooking with "commercial" product like tater tots. I am not ashamed about using tater tots or vegan meats or puff pastry because they make up just a small fraction of what I cook and what I share with you. I live in the real world where I feed a real kid who thinks tater tots are delicious, and if he has five or six of those in his plate sitting on top of an otherwise healthy casserole of veggies, I am not going to worry about it. Plus, most food that we eat is "commercialized" (unless you're picking fresh veggies and beans and grains from your own backyard garden). Being a parent is stressful enough, so let's get off the guilt trip and lighten up a bit.
Will my vegan child be healthy?
You do need to talk with your pediatrician about your choices, but I know of many parents who raise their kids vegan or vegetarian and they grow just as fast as omnivore kids, without the side effect of obesity that meat-eating kids tend to suffer from in our times. I can certainly vouch that Jay is healthy. Children with his background are usually malnourished, and it is true that Jay was small for his age when he came to us. But over the years he has been catching up and now proudly tells me that he is no longer the shortest kid in his class. And although he might never become the tallest, he is fit and strong and that's enough.
Finally, here are the vegan recipes for kids. I've sorted them out by breakfast, lunch/dinner, snacks, lunchbox-friendly foods, and desserts, and I've labeled them when they're nut-free or soy-free or gluten-free. All of these recipes are adult-friendly too so you can feed the whole family -- I know you cannot cook separate meals for the kids and the adults. You will find many more vegan recipes for picky eaters on this blog, but the ones I picked out here are pretty much foolproof and most include fruits or veggies. I hope you'll find them useful. You can also check out my 25 Vegan School Lunches Your Kid Will Love for more healthy and tasty meals for children.
Vegan Breakfasts for Kids:
With the bright flavor of fresh oranges, this loaf is an easy kid-pleaser, and the fact that it is made with wholegrain flour and almond flour makes it a parent-pleaser too. I put this under "breakfast" but you can serve this loaf up for a snack or dessert even.
Sourdough is great for kids and adults, and these pancakes pack in even more health with blueberries and whole wheat flour. Each pancake is just around 30 calories, so you can eat to your heart's content without feeling a tug at your waistline. And if the kid pours on too much syrup...it's still okay!
Packed with onions and potatoes and vegan sausage, all of it smothered in a creamy, cheesy sauce, this casserole is always a hit at our breakfast table, especially with the kid. And with more than 18 grams of protein in each serving and lots of iron, this is a healthy dish all round.
Which kid doesn't love waffles, and you'll love them too because they aren't just delicious, they are made with healthy buckwheat, oat, and brown rice flours. Smother all of it in some fruity syrup and watch 'em scarf them down!
Jay has a savory tooth, and although he loves the vegan version of French toast, he loves this herby, crispy, savory version even more. Serve it with a tangy tomato chutney on the side for more deliciousness.
I don't think I need to sell any kid -- or adult -- on these, so I'll just let the picture do the talking.
Vegan Raspberry White Chocolate Waffles (Wholegrain, soy-free, nut-free, naturally sweetened, and includes fruit)
White chocolate and raspberries would make any kid go "yum," but if you want to vary this to your kid's or your tastes, use any fruit and use regular chocolate chips, by all means.
This is one of the breakfasts Jay requests most often.Wholegrain bread is layered with berries and smothered in a PBJ sauce and vanilla custard. What's not to love?
With peanut butter, strawberries, bananas and walnuts, this French Toast is breakfast for the champions. And guaranteed to please the kids!
These yummy French crepes are stuffed with sweet cream cheese, and all of it is drizzled over with an apricot walnut syrup. The only problem you might run into with the little ones is, you might not be left with any for yourself.
No Oil Vegan Breakfast Brownies with Hot Chocolate Salted Caramel Frosting (Wholegrain, soy-free, naturally sweetened)
Chocolate for breakfast is always a great idea, and when those chocolate brownies are wholegrain and naturally sweetened, they are perfect for both adults and kids. There are no added fats in this recipe either, making them a perfectly healthy choice for breakfast.
This is a great recipe to get the kids involved. Stack slices of dough rubbed with garlic and herbs into a loaf pan, and watch the magic as the loaf rises and bakes into gorgeous golden-brownness. The smell as this bakes is amazing.
Vegan Lunch/Dinner for Kids:
Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Sauce (Soy-free, can be made with wholegrain or gluten-free pasta. Includes vegetables.)
Get the kids to pick fresh cherry tomatoes from your summer yard, or buy them at the market, to make this absolutely gorgeous and super-simple, no-cook tomato sauce. It's healthy and delicious and a definite kid favorite in our house.
This was one of the first recipes I tried out on Jay that had in it both tofu and broccoli. I felt rather sneaky but guess what? He loved it! It is still one of the recipes he most often requests.
It has all the goodness of lasagna, only it's flakier and crispier because it's encased in filo pastry. It's also packed with healthy veggies and vegan protein, so you can rest assured you're feeding them food that is good for them, and you.
This has fast become one of our family favorites and everyone loves it, adult and kid. Crispy, golden, crunchy tater tots sit atop a creamy sauce chock-full of vegan sausage and veggies.
The "meatballs" are made of beans and oats but they are gorgeous dunked in a homemade barbecue sauce that takes very little effort to make.
Spaghetti with Marinara is kid-friendly enough, but made in an Instant Pot in just minutes, it's cook-friendly too, and delicious as can get.
Delicious rice with Chinese seasonings and shreds of chickpea "eggs" makes for a filling, nutritious and balanced meal, and it's very kid-friendly too.
This is a winner with kids and adults. Creamy alfredo sauce with roasted mushrooms on a bed of fettuccine pasta. They'll be slurping it up in no time!
Mango Curry with 15-minute Veggie Fried Rice (Soy-free, Nut-free, gluten-free, includes fruit and vegetables)
Either of these two recipes is great by itself, or paired with other sides, but together they make a power flavor combo. The sweet-tangy-spicy mango curry is a perfect complement to the savory fried rice.
These meat pies have a crispy, flaky wrapper stuffed with vegan "meat" and oodles of veggies. Your kids will be asking for more.
Chipotle Vegan Burrito with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (Wholegrain, nut-free, includes veggies, filling is gluten-free)
There's a ton of delicious flavors wrapped inside this burrito. Besides the tempeh filling there's a tomato zucchini salsa and a roasted red pepper sauce that goes into this baby. You'll be surprised by how many veggies your kids will put away without a murmur.
Farfalle with Vegan Chorizo and Veggies (Nut-free, includes veggies, can be made with gluten-free pasta)
The bowties make this pasta fun, and the green beans and veggie chorizo make it healthy.
This stew is basically a giant pot of peanut butter with tasty bits of veggies inside, including -- hold your breath -- okra and eggplant. No kid can resist, guaranteed.
This white pasta sauce is mostly made of beans, but it's creamy and silky and luxurious enough to feel decadent despite being healthy.
Veggie sides for kids:
One of Jay's favorite sides, these Masala Smashed Potatoes are easy to put together, and fun to make. Get the kids to smash them for you-- not too hard!
Spuds are healthy when cooked the healthy way, but if you want to take a break from them, try these plantain fries instead. They bake up crispy and golden, and you can even make them oil-free.
A fresh, different spin on potato salad, this one has a dressing of creamy coconut milk and it's studded with green peas.
Roasting root veggies is a great way to get some healthiness into your kid. The starch in the root veggies, sprinkled with a few spices like turmeric, makes them crunchy and tasty.
If red beets make your kid go ewwwww, try feeding them these roasted golden beets instead. They'll never know what hit them, but they'll love it.
These sweet potato skins with a creamy sauce of cashews and spices drizzled on it is so delicious, you can serve it up as a snack. But it also makes a great side for burgers or veggie dogs.
Creamy, sweet, orange-y. Need I say more?
Kids like crunchy foods, and when you can make them without any oil, they can have as many as they please. These pakoras can be baked or made on a griddle, and they are as tasty as they are fun.
One more fun way to get veggies into your little ones and yourself, these vegetable cutlets are crispy on the outside and creamy and veggie-filled on the inside.
A creamy, delicious potato filling, crispy, green-gold stalks of asparagus, all of it encased in a flaky, crunchy, golden filo crust. This is heaven on a plate, and your kids will love it.
Crunchy, delicious, and healthy. If your kids don't like cauliflower, roasting it is a great way to get them to try it. The crunchy chickpeas are an added bonus.
More crunchy pakoras, once again baked. These asparagus pakoras are mindblowing, but you can use this technique and batter to make pakoras with all kinds of veggies, including potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, green beans, and onions.
Lunch Box Friendly Foods for Kids:
This one is something of a no-brainer. Golden rolls of pizza dough wrapped around marinara sauce. They smell so good, you might have trouble saving some for the kids.
I love that this recipe is wholegrain and filled with berries. Make it on a cold, wintry day and feel like you're biting into summer.
This is quite possibly Jay's favorite bread. It's got a flaky, tender, feathery crumb and is so delicious, they won't even wait for a dab of vegan butter or jelly before they polish it off.
This is just a really fun recipe to make with your kids, and it has all the delicious flavors of an apple pie.
When I get tired of making plain old burgers, I make these tandoori naan burgers, with tandoori spices and teeny little naan "buns". They are a real fun way to get healthy, exotic foods into your kids.
I love these zucchini quinoa cakes, but not as much as my little one does. He can eat them all because they are crunchy and delicious, and I could feed them all to him because they are really good for him.
Sprouted mung bean burgers. On whole wheat vegan buns. Layered with veggies. What more do you want?
An easy way to cram more veggies into the little tummy, by encasing them in a crispy, crackly puff pastry crust. These vegetable puffs are popular at railway eateries around India, but they'll also become a favorite in your home in no time.
Another recipe that uses a flaky vehicle to deliver a ton of veggies. These vegan baked chimichangas in filo pastry are as easy to put together, as they are yummy to eat.
My favorite burgers for the lunchbox, these are hardy and delicious and you can be certain they won't find their way into the cafeteria trash bin.
Chickpeas, roasted to a crisp with salt, lemon, and spices. This popular street snack from Bombay's beaches is a great replacement for pretzels and chips in your kid's lunchbox -- or yours.
More crispy deliciousness and veggie goodness with the convenience of a hand pie.
This is one of the ways I got Jay's tastebuds to start accepting mushrooms. He never even knew they were in there, because he was busy thinking he had hit the lunchbox jackpot with the golden pastry crust and crunchy chickpeas.
Sometimes, you just have to eat a doughnut. A real doughnut. And your kids definitely agree. These brioche doughnuts are homemade, so they are certainly better for your kids than the storebought ones, and although they are decadent, they are a treat both you and they deserve after all of that healthy eating.
When you want dessert to feel clean, reach for one of these shortbread cookies. There is absolutely nothing in here that is not great for you or your kids.
These are seriously the world's best chocolate chip cookies, and they are vegan. Serve them up with a glass of nondairy milk and watch them disappear.
These doughnuts are healthy, but no one could really tell because they are covered in a delicious apple pie glaze.
I cannot count the number of emails and messages I've received from grateful moms who made these for their kids and loved them. I will just let you look at that picture and salivate.
This is like biting into a cookie made of Nutella, only better, because it is vegan. And it's made with wholegrain.
Jay loves it when I make this giant banana chocolate chip cookie that slices up like a pie. And it makes enough that I can feed him and a crowd.
Half-cookie, half-brownie, these bars are not cloyingly sweet but you don't need that when you have the goodness of coconut and chocolate, all in one bite.
Skillet cookies really appeal to kids, and when you have a large cookie studded with white chocolate bits, they will surely go bonkers. This cookie is also gluten-free.
Slightly crispy and tender inside, these vegan coconut almond macaroons are to die for. And they are naturally sweetened and gluten-free.
Jay's favorite pie, you can make this one just about any time of the year with frozen cherries. It also has a low fat crust.
I get lots of grateful notes on this cake too-- it's whole wheat and low fat and really delicious with fresh apples.
A fun cake, this vegan Oreo chocolate cake has layers of chocolate and vanilla frosting, and it's studded with Oreos.
Kids love the stars on this pie, and you'll love how gorgeous it looks. Make it a family project by getting them to cut out star or other fun shapes to make the crust.