Four steps to a healthy vegetarian meal

Early childhood services

Menu planning guidelines for long day care recommend that vegetarian meals are provided at least once per fortnight for variety. But, vegetarian meals shouldn’t just be meals without meat!

Young child dishing up food on a table

Healthy vegetarian meals include a high protein food, a food with iron and a fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C.

Balanced vegetarian meals are suitable for all children (not just vegetarian children) and can promote food variety.

Follow these four steps to create healthy and balanced vegetarian meals that provide children with the protein and iron they need, that is otherwise provided by meat, poultry or fish.

1. Start with a high protein vegetarian food

Some examples of high protein vegetarian foods are:

  • Legumes ie, dried or canned kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, baked beans
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese
  • Textured Vegetable Protein
  • Nuts

2. Include a food with iron

Legumes, tofu and eggs (above) are also sources of iron.

Other sources of iron are:

  • Spinach
  • Peas
  • Kale

These are also high in vitamin C!

3. Include a fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C

Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from the meal. Some examples of fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C include:

  • Capsicum
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin
  • Frozen mixed vegetables
  • Potato
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Raw tomato
  • Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries)
  • Kiwifruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Orange/Mandarin
  • Sweet potato
  • Pineapple

4. Include a variety of other vegetables

Add colour to your plate by adding a variety of vegetables such as:

  • Carrot
  • Pumpkin
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Onions
  • Cucumber
  • Mushrooms

To make a healthy vegetarian meal, use generous amounts of foods containing protein iron, and vitamin C, and then add a variety of other vegetables.

Balance these meal ideas with suitable snacks to ensure that the daily menu offers enough food from each of the food groups each day (see Menu planning guidelines for long day care for more information).

sliced carrots, celery and onions in a bowl

Here are some ideas for healthy, balanced and delicious vegetarian meals that kids will love:

Meal*1. Protein food2. Iron food3. Vitamin C food4. Other vegetables
Pea and potato frittata with wholemeal pita breadEgg and cheesePeasPeas and potatoLettuce and tomato
Vegetable stir fry with egg and tofu with noodles*Egg and tofuTofuBroccoli, capsicum, cabbageCorn, onion
Sweet potato and chickpea patties with Turkish bread*ChickpeasChickpeasSweet potatoLettuce, tomato, avocado
Vegetarian lentil bolognese*LentilsLentilsZucchiniCanned tomato, celery, carrot
Stripy egg slice with wholemeal breadEggEggZucchiniOnion, grated carrot
Egg and baked bean bread cups with lettuce and tomato saladEgg, baked beansEggs, baked beansTomatoLettuce
Falafel balls with tzatziki dip, Greek salad and Turkish bread*Chickpeas, eggChickpeas, eggRaw tomatoLettuce, cucumber
Vegetarian chilli con carne*Chickpeas and red kidney beansChickpeas and red kidney beansCapsicumOnion, carrot, celery, tomato
Lentil dahl with rice and yoghurtLentils, yoghurtLentils, spinachSweet potatoOnion
Minestrone soup*A mix of legumesA mix of legumesZucchiniCarrot
Vegetable frittata*EggEggMixed vegetablesOnion
Vegetarian fried rice*Tofu and eggTofu and eggPeas, capsicumCorn, carrot, onion
Vegetarian lasagne*Lentils, ricotta cheeseLentilsCapsicumMushrooms
Vegetable hotpot with couscous*ChickpeasChickpeasZucchini, cauliflowerOnion, carrot, canned tomato

*Recipes available from the Healthy Eating Advisory Website

Important tips

Many vegetarian recipes offer less than one serve of meat alternative per child. If there are vegetarian recipes on your menu that do not provide each child with a full serve of meat alternative, you must include additional meat alternatives as a side dish or as a snack at another time during the day.

Try:

  • hard boiled or scrambled eggs
  • hummus (with veggie sticks and crackers)
  • falafel balls
  • baked beans on toast
  • egg sandwiches
  • four bean salad (as a side dish)
  • egg salad (as a side dish)
  • fruity bread pudding
  • egg and baked bean bread cups

For more information please phone 1300 22 52 88 or email heas@nutritionaustralia.org.au

Except where otherwise indicated, the images in this document show models and illustrative settings only, and do not necessarily depict actual services, facilities or recipients of services. This document may contain images of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In this document, ‘Aboriginal’ refers to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. ‘Indigenous’ or ‘Koori/Koorie’ is retained when part of the title of a report, program or quotation. Copyright © State of Victoria 2016

Written and reviewed by dietitians and nutritionists at Nutrition Australia, with support from the Victorian Government.

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