HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Vegan child menus....help!

Hi Everyone!

I am trying to create daily menus for a child at a child care center who is vegan. Only problem is the center gets all their food catered so the only facilities I have in-house are a refrigerator and a microwave (no stove, no freezer). The caterer can't provide vegan meals for just this one child.

I have played with vegan deli "meat" sandwiches, soychesse sandwiches, different beans/legumes and rice but I still feel she will be so bored!

Any ideas? I need to have a meat alternate, one starch, two vegetables or one fruit and one vegetable at each meal (plus soymilk) for enough menus for 4 weeks!


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. some of my favorite meals that are "naturally" vegan (no artificial "meat"):
    white bean or split pea soup made with veg. broth
    bean quesedillas made with smashed pinto beans, chili powder, onion and parsley
    white bean salad with onion, basil and tomato

    I highly recommend the new cookbook Vegenomicon for good recipes

    1. Check out the archives from this mom's blog, she has some amazing kid-friendly ideas and a book too.

      1. Another good cookbook is How it all Vegan, they have a whole chapter on kid friendly vegan foods. Cook/Microwaving vegan isn't as hard as you might think, good luck.

        1. don't know how old the kid is, but off-hand, how about:
          --tofu breakfast burrito (with onions/green peppers/tomatoes/scrambled tofu)
          --sweet potato ``fries.'' i.e., sliced, then nuked (in a bit of water). then use a crisper tray and add a bit of salt/herbs.

          I'll also check the menu/report card from my 2-year-old's daycare.

          1. play around with bean spreads - hummus, white bean, etc. - with child-friendly flavors/seasonings. they make great sandwich spreads, and you can use various breads, wraps, tortillas...you can also serve them with cut veggies for dipping - kids love finger foods.

            also consider rice cheeses as an alternative to soy...and you can always fall back on nut butters with various fruit spreads.

            have you asked her parents about her preferences or favorites? while it's certainly their prerogative to raise her with their chosen dietary restrictions, the burden shouldn't fall on you to create an entirely personalized special menu just for her when you still have the other children to worry about as well.

            8 Replies
            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              I think goodhealthgourmet makes a very good point about checking with the parents on this. Also the management of the center. The meals for the other children are catered and there may be a problem with your preparing meals outside of a licensed food-preparation facility, cleared by the board of health. Are there potential liability issues?

              The parents must certainly be aware of the difficulties of following a restrictive diet such as this and should certainly be willing to cooperate with the child care center in making certain that their child is provided for adequately, whether by sending meals of their choice with the child or working with you to design menus that are reasonable and that the child will eat.
              Many small children are happy with the same few things over and over again, day-in and day-out, and this might be far easier than you think. I've seen kids live on PB&J, carrot sticks and apple wedges for years. Throw in some soy milk and you might be home free.

              1. re: MakingSense

                No liability issues, no worries. In fact meals must be prepared by us if not brought by the caterer. Parents are NOT allowed to bring outside foods. This would be a health issue. Nut butters are great but under guidelines, as a meat alternate/protein substitute it can be tricky.

                Thanks again for all your ideas. I will certainly be playing a little more with this menu today.

                1. re: yomyb

                  "Nut butters are great but under guidelines, as a meat alternate/protein substitute it can be tricky" Can you explsin this, please. I do not understand.

                  1. re: Sherri

                    well peanut butter is a big issue in schools and such these days...that could be one.

                    Secondly...one would have to eat an awful large quantity of nut butter to get your daily protein equivalent from it.

                    1. re: im_nomad

                      When the OP said "nut butters" I assumed she meant cashew, almond and the like (peanuts not being a nut ..... and all that). It was the rest of the sentence that I really wanted clarified "....but under the guidelines, as a meat alternate/protein substitute it can be tricky".

                      Combining incomplete proteins is a very effective way to make a complete protein for non-meat eaters, so I was most interested in and wanted clarification about the "tricky" and "guidelines" part.

                      1. re: im_nomad

                        Exactly...the limitation is the quantity I would have to serve to meet my protein requirement. When I mention my guidelines I am refering to established requirements of quantities of macro and micronutrients I need to have in all meals and throughout the day. We do serve peanut butter, mostly on breakfast and snacks, but it would be more difficult to serve for lunch. Plus, even thogh nut butters are a very healthy source of protein, they are high in fat, and although mostly monosaturated and healthy, I do have to keep that in mind as well, as it is a requirement my menus be low in fat. I am a registered dietitian and understand the concept of combining incomplete proteins, but the menu designing is complicated for vegans given our government requirements, which I must say, a lot of times may seem outdated and driven by interests other than health. But that is a different topic :-) For exmaple, beans are considered vegetables, and not the starch or protein they are made up of, under our guidelines. Therefore justifiying rice and beans as my protein and starch can be tricky, plus I need to serve the child a different quantity of the beans as a protein than I would if served as a vegetable and all this needs to calculated and then the child also needs to get two vegetables and milk on top of that. These kids don't eat that much!

                        It can get complicated but I thank you all for your help and suggestions. I can go back to my drawing board and calculate amounts etc.

                        I am pregnant but have no kids yet and it is great when I hear from parents from different places, what their vegetarian/vegan kids like to eat!

                        1. re: yomyb

                          Yomyb, Whatever you're being paid, it isn't enough! For the work required on this project, you deserve both a raise and sainthood. My hat is off to you.

                          PS Maybe because I live in the west, but I've never met a child who didn't like bean burritos.

                2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Thank you so much! I agree with you and I keep that in mind. We try to accommodate preferences such as these as much as we can, but sometimes parents need to be bit lenient and understanding....

                3. One thing to bear in mind is that children's tastes often run to specific preferences, and they can eat similar meals over and over without any problem. So, please don't think that a child will be bored with what you or any other adult might find monotonous. Kids, in general, like familiarity where food is concerned.

                  I have not cooked beans in a microwave, but I'd think that if you come up with a bean spread he or she likes, you can apply it in many different ways and with different flavors. Wraps cut into bit sized portions, dips with fresh veggies, traditional sandwiches, pates, can all come from the same bean spread mixed with different nut butters or spices or with different condiments. Accompany this main prepared different ways with a variety of fruits and vegetables and you have a week's menu.

                  1. I would ask the child's parents what kind of meals they serve her at home. And take your cues from them! They will know what she will eat. After all, you would hate to go through the pain of making, for eg, a thai-inspired stir fry, only to have her hate it.

                    1. wow i sure hope this kid's parent's are paying extra !!! (i worked at a daycare during my university days...and didn't see anything like a "thai inspired stir fry" EVER on the menu)....never mind that soy cheeses and various meat substitutes tend to cost way more than their non-vegetarian counterparts.

                      Then again, we didn't have our meals "catered" either.........wow. Bored? again, wow.

                      ok, that aside, i've seen lots of tofu based "meatloaf" recipes out there, i have one myself that i make, but it has eggs to bind...........google those....i'm thinking those might be made in the micro too.........and if they're anything like what i make, freeze great in slices.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: im_nomad

                        Catered doesn't mean fancy...trust me. It just means that a big catering company provides foods for a bunch of different day cares.....the menu is either designed by the center or by the government and it certainly does NOT include any fancy items. And yes you are right, these items can be costly for this type of operation, but the center does have a small special budget for these things and since a child only eats small amounts, as long as we don't have 30 kids on this diet, it is doable.

                        The bored thing was a personal concern of mine. I try very hard to give them as much variety as possible, but do understand this may not always be possible and as per the response of some of the parents to this post, it seems I should stop worrying about that :-)

                      2. This website might be helpful- veganlunchbox.blogspot.com. The blogger also wrote a cookbook The Vegan Lunch Box, based on the vegan lunch recipes she made for her son. She has several of her recipes on her blog, too.

                        1. udon noodles are a great vegan option...here's an instant bowl that has vegetables and vegetable broth and can be made in the microwave.


                          the website also has a great instant vegan food section that has things like canned vegan rice & beans, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, etc.

                          you could probably even match your regular menu so the child doesn't feel strange eating a different meal than the other kids and would also keep the other kids from getting jealous of the vegan's unique meals.

                          also, one other thing i love (and i'm a huge meat lover), are spinach nuggets. not sure if they contain cheese, but yum!

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: soypower

                              wow, aside from the asian soups and taco filling, most of the items aren't as exceedingly high in sodium as typical "instant" or packaged foods. great find, soypower!

                            2. I'm with the others in thinking that this burden shouldn't fall on you at all. If they can't bring food in, the very least they can do is give suggestions if vegan isn't your lifestyle choice, nor on the menu for your center.

                              Additionally, when you say you need to come up with 4 weeks of menus, does that mean 20 different meals? Do the other children in the center get 20 different meals over 4 weeks? That sure is a big variety!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: irishnyc

                                Yup... 20 breakfasts, 20 lunches, 20 snacks. breakfast may repeat a bit, but everything else is super varied.

                                Let me tell you, ever since I started working there, I am trying to figure out how to qualify for the program for when I have kids, these centers are great...

                              2. The "Crumbles" that Morningstar Farms and Boca Burger makes are excellent. I made a big pot of vegetarian chili the other night that was a huge hit and it takes just minutes. You should be able to make it in a microwave.

                                1 Box of Boca Crumbles or 1 Bag of Morningstar Farms Crumbles, broken up
                                1 8oz can of Tomato Sauce,
                                1 can of Rotel (mild for kids)
                                1 package of your favorite chili seasoning (mild for kids)

                                Optional: 1 can of chili beans, un-rinsed

                                Mix well and heat until the crumbles have warmed.

                                On the stove it takes about 4 minutes. In a microwave covered with plastic wrap it should cook in about the same time and leftovers can be used for burritos, with corn chips, etc.

                                I once brought this to work as my contribution to an office party and a co-worker asked for the recipe. She subsequently served it at a Superbowl party and her DH and friends never noticed that it was vegetarian. (Hmmm, seems like the missing oil slick of grease would have been a giveaway....)

                                1. i would agree with others to bring in the kid's parents, they would probably eagerly give you recipes or loan you cookbooks, teaming with you to take some of the workload off of you!
                                  i second the rec for the veganomicon by isa moskowitz and terry hope romero lots of fantastic recipes that can make carnivores want to cook vegan food; and i'd say to steer clear of high priced, high sodium fake vegan "meat" sold commercially whenever possible.

                                  when doing menu planning for just 1 kid make sure to "cook for a week" whenever possible-- i.e. you make a 7-bean chili early in the week, then use the same item for different meals-- as filling in a burrito, pureed as a spread, as "sloppy jane" filling, as chili, mixed with rice and stuffed into a vegetable. . .
                                  easy vegan snacks that kids like to make for themselves include triangles of pita bread or vegan tortillas spread with hummus or other bean spread, or pb, pbj, etc, rolled around a small vegetable stick like a carrot stick or celery stick, zucchini; and sliced fruit dipped into soy yogurt. another fun kid's vegan meal is to give some stir-fried veggies & beans or tofu (cooled enough not to burn little fingers and mouths) along with rice, or a chilled grain-based salad, to the kid to put inside lettuce leaf "wraps" and eat. the main problem with this is that it seems so "special" to children that the non-vegan kids will probably want their own.

                                  see if you can get your caterer to identify any items it currently offers that are vegan (it might be a bust, but you might at least get some sides & soups) and you can use these items to supplement your menus or cover a few meals-- thinking of a vegan soup with wholegrain toast dunkers and a fresh veggie/fruit side as a possibility. . .