It's nearly time for Jay to go back to school and I have been trying to come up with fun and healthy meal ideas for my teen; meals I know won't go from the lunch box into the cafeteria trash bin. With these Vegan Puff Pastry Cups with Marinara Meatballs, which are as easy and quick to put together as they are delicious to eat, I have a certain winner.
One of the realities I have confronted as I have raised my son is that controlling what he eats all the time is not only impossible, it is unrealistic. Before I had a child I had all sorts of wonderful plans of the healthy vegan meals I was going to raise him/her on, creating a paragon of good health.
But within days of meeting Jay, reality set in: not only does he -- like most children -- have extremely strong opinions about what should go into his tummy, and anything healthy is usually not on that list, he is quite unabashed about not eating whatever it is that I've cooked for him when it doesn't meet his approval.
While I can control matters to some extent at home, the problem is exacerbated in the school lunch room where the school lunch ladies and monitors are too busy with dozens of kids to always know what His Craftiness is up to.
Jay is not one of a kind. Every time I've been in a school cafeteria, I've been shocked by the amount of food kids throw away, especially healthy food that comes from home, packed lovingly by well-meaning moms and dads. Coolness in the cafeteria, it appears, is directly proportional to how many processed foods you carry in your lunch box.
So this is a battle you need to wage with cunning. Over the years I've blogged about some of the school lunchbox meals I've created that I can be fairly certain Jay will eat even when out of sight. I've shared with you easy vegan lunch box ideas and 25 vegan school lunches your kids will love -- be sure to check out those posts for more ideas.
Also read this post on 66 Kid Friendly Vegan Recipes, which includes a guide on making family meal times stress free while keeping your child well fed, if you haven't already.
The recipe I have for you today for Vegan Puff Pastry Cups with Marinara Meatballs is a great addition to these lists, and you can be sure no child or teen will be able to resist them. They have pizza-like flavors and are easy to transport in a lunch box.
When I make school lunches for Jay I try to give a little, and the "give," in this case, is the crispy, crackly puff pastry. The meatballs and the marinara make this meal healthy enough, and he loves both, so I can be sure he will eat it.
What is even better for you, the cook, is that the entire recipe takes just minutes to put together, especially if you have vegan marinara sauce handy. The only work you need to do is roll out the puff pastry and cut it.
I usually use storebought vegan meatballs for this recipe, just to make my life easier, but you can definitely use homemade, bean-based meatballs, like these vegan air-fryer meatballs.
Why you--and your kids--will love these Vegan Puff Pastry Cups with Meatball Marinara
- They're tasty. Sure, they're kid-friendly, but I challenge you to find an adult who can resist them. The marinara and vegan cheese create pizza like flavors and encased in that crunchy golden puff pastry it's all just too deliicous for words.
- They're incredibly easy to make. You can put this together in minutes with storebought marinara, vegan meatballs and vegan cheese, although if you want to make this healthier you could try making a homemade vegan marinara sauce like this easy, five-ingredient version I have on the blog. It's truly the best marinara ever. And, depending on what your child will eat, you can make your own healthy homemade meatballs, like these vegan air fryer meatballs. Both the marinara and meatballs can be made in advance.
- They are easy to pack in a lunch box. The marinara keeps the meatballs juicy but it is not runny after going through the oven, and you can easily pack these puff pastry cups in a lunch box for easy, mess-free transport to school.
- 1 package puff pastry sheets. I usually use the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets, which are vegan and easily available. There are two sheets in a 1.1-pound package and you will need both for this recipe. (If you are up to trying your own homemade puff pastry, see my fabulous recipe for an all whole wheat vegan puff pastry here. It's delicious and guilt-free).
- 24 vegan meatballs. I use anything I have on hand. The vegan meatballs from Beyond, Aldi's, Trader Joe's, Ikea, are all great in this recipe. If nut-free or soy-free read the labels to make sure the meatballs meet those or other dietary requirements. Or use homemade, bean-based meatballs if you're feeling particularly ambitious. 😉
- 1 cup marinara sauce. Use storebought marinara for convenience, or make a homemade vegan marinara sauce. It all works.
- 1 cup vegan mozzarella cheese. I used Daiya, use any brand you can get your hands on.
How to make vegan puff pastry cups with meatball marinara
You don't, just make sure you thaw them to room temperature. The vegan meatballs are already cooked and they will be further cooked in the hot oven. Less work for you.
I kept the marinara amount deliberately small: just enough to flavor the vegan meatballs and keep them juicy while not creating a runny mess in the lunchbox. But if you are serving these at home, yes, by all means, use more marinara.
You absolutely can. But you will need to prebake the shells before adding the meatballs and the marinara. If you do that I'd advise that you saute the meatballs first in a saucepan with a tiny bit of oil before mixing them with the marinara. This will heat them through as they won't have enough time in the oven. After you've filled the prebaked shells with the meatball marinara and vegan cheese, place in the oven and bake 10 minutes. You might want to turn the broiler on for a minute to help the cheese melt.
Storing and reheating
- These can be refrigerated for 3-4 days.
- The puff pastry cups are crispiest out of the oven, but they remain crispy enough at room temperature for a while, so they will still taste great when your child opens their lunch box. If eating at home, reheat them in a 350-degree oven for five minutes.
More school lunch box friendly meals
Vegan Puff Pastry Cups with Marinara Meatballs
- Rolling pin
- 12-cup muffin tin
- 2 sheets vegan puff pastry (I use Pepperidge farm, which weighs 1.1 pounds for two sheets. Thaw to room temperature before using.)
- 24 vegan meatballs (thawed, at room temperature)
- 1 cup vegan marinara sauce
- 4 oz vegan mozzarella cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix the thawed meatballs with the marinara in a bowl.
- Roll out each puff pastry sheet to about 12 inches long. Cut into six equal sized squares with a pizza cutter or knife. It's okay if the squares aren't perfect.
- Spray the cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray. Place a puff pastry square into a cup each and fold a bit to fit it in, creating a puff pastry cup. This doesn't need to be perfect--the baked puff pastry will look great anyway. "Dock" the puff pastry by poking holes in the bottom with the tines of a fork.
- Into each puff pastry cup place two balls with a bit of the marinara. You can add more marinara sauce if you wish, but you don't want so much that it will be running all over the lunchbox.
- Top the meatballs with cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden-brown and the cheese has melted.
- Remove from oven, let stand on a rack for about 10 minutes, then pop the cups out.
- If you want saucier cups, use more marinara sauce.
- These cups travel great, but they are at their crispiest right out of the oven.