Author: Nisha Melvani, Nutritionist
It may feel a little daunting to prepare vegan family meals that are appetizing for both kids and adults but with practice, repetition and some creativity, it will start to come together. We were lucky enough to have Nisha, the incredible mother of three and Nutritionist from Cooking for Peanuts, share some of her tips and tricks with us.
When planning meals, I aim to include a protein, a grain, healthy fats, leafy greens and other vegetables, always making an effort to include foods that I know my kids already enjoy. Contrary to popular belief, there are many vegan protein options that are versatile and easy to prepare when creating a delicious meal.
My go-to grains are bean or whole grain pastas, brown rice, millet and brown rice ramen noodles, quinoa, millet, couscous, barley and freekeh. For extra flavor, experiment by cooking grains in vegetable broth instead of water – you’ll be deliciously surprised. My favorite healthy fats include avocados, nuts and seeds, tahini, nut butters and olive oil. Nuts and seeds can be added to almost anything, adding a tasty crunch, while tahini makes a rich creamy dressing.
When introducing new foods and recipes, remember that kids may not always like it at first. With repeated exposure to healthy foods, they’re likely to start accepting and even enjoying them. Be sure to have fun in the kitchen and include your kids in the preparation and cooking process to increase their interest and curiosity. Now that my kids are older, I talk to them about the benefits of different plant-based foods to empower them to make their own positive food choices.
We love to create our own bowls and make fun food presentations at home. After all, we eat with our eyes first. This led me to food styling my meals and taking photos to share on my Instagram @cookingforpeanuts. I love encouraging others to eat more plant-based meals by showing them how easy it can be to turn simple plant-foods into beautiful family meals.
Below you’ll find five of our favorite meals, that I’d love for you and your family to try at home. One of our family favorite meals is cauliflower alfredo pasta with tofu sausage, served with a side of oven roasted broccoli. My kids also love green pea pesto pasta and lentil walnut bites dish.
Prep Time: 10 mins, Cook Time: 35 mins, Servings: 3
- 1 small white onion, diced
- 2-3 cups vegetable broth
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large or 2 small cauliflower floret/s
- 2 tbsp of nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp of tamari
- 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Cook white onion in a little vegetable broth until softened for 5-7 minutes, adding more broth as needed.
- Add garlic cloves and cook for another minute.
- Add cauliflower floret/s and vegetable broth to just cover the cauliflower. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer covered for around 10-15 minutes or until the cauliflower has softened. Strain the cooked cauliflower, onion and garlic over a bowl, reserving the liquid.
- Add cooked cauliflower, onion and garlic along with nutritional yeast, tamari and lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Add some cooking liquid for a thinner consistency and blend again.
- Salt and black pepper to taste. Serve with your choice of pasta in your Coconut Bowl!
Prep Time: 10 mins, Cook Time: 25 mins, Servings: 3
- 1-14oz block of extra-firm tofu
- 2 tsp: garlic powder, onion powder, ground sage, smoked paprika, dried basil and fennel seeds
- Olive oil or vegan butter
- Salt to taste
- Press and pat dry tofu to remove excess liquid. Use hands to crumble tofu into 1/2-inch chunks.
- In a large bowl, add the garlic powder, onion powder, ground sage, smoked paprika, dried basil, salt to taste. Mix well.
- Add the tofu crumbles and use hands to gently toss the tofu until evenly coated with seasoning.
- Either sauté tofu crumbles in a small amount of olive oil/vegan butter or bake on lined baking sheet at 400F until browned and slightly crispy. If sautéing, heat olive oil/vegan butter in a pan and add fennel seeds and tofu crumbles. Sauté on medium-high heat until tofu browns and fennel seeds crisp.
Lentil Walnut Bites
Prep Time: 15 mins, Cook Time: 30 mins, Servings: 3
- 1/2 cup of rolled oats
- 1/2 cup of walnuts
- 1-1/2 cup cooked red or yellow lentils
- 1/2 cup red onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp: tomato paste,
- 1 tsp: onion powder, garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp: dried thyme, turmeric (for color)
- 3/4 tsp ancho chili powder
- Pulse rolled oats and walnuts in a food processor until coarsely ground meal.
- Mix in a large bowl with lentils (cooked very soft), red onion, garlic cloves, tomato paste, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme, ancho chili powder and turmeric. Mix well and form into small balls.
- Bake on parchment-lined baking sheet at 400F for about 25 minutes, flipping halfway. Allow to cool.
Prep Time: 15 mins, Cook Time: 30 mins, Servings: 3
- ½ cup of rolled oats
- 1 tsp: salt and red chili flakes (optional)
- 1-15 oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained. Keep ¼ cup of liquid from can aside.
- 1/2 tsp: garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and chili powder
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Toasted breadcrumbs (optional)
- Process rolled oats and red chili flakes (optional) until powdery-like flour with some larger pieces remaining. Reserve oat flour in separate bowl.
- Process chickpeas with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and chili powder. Pulse until crumbly.
- Add cooking liquid/liquid from can, olive oil, oat flour previously prepared and pulse until a ball forms. Use hands and knead until a dough-like texture forms. If it’s too dry and not holding together, add a little more cooking/can liquid.
- Use a small scoop to form equal sized balls. Roll in toasted breadcrumbs (optional) and bake at 375F for 25 minutes or until golden.
Green Pea and Avocado Oil-Free Pesto Pasta
Prep Time: 10 mins, Cook Time: n/a, Servings: 3
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 1 very ripe avocado
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- Handful basil leaves
- 1 cup defrosted green peas
- 1/3 cup vegan parmesan
- 1/4 cup and 2 tbsp water
- Salt/black pepper to taste
- Blend on high: garlic clove, avocado, lemon juice, pinenuts, basil leaves, green peas, vegan parmesan and water. Salt/black pepper to taste.
- Add to your favorite pasta and serve in your Coconut Bowl.
To learn more about Nisha: @cookingforpeanuts