5 Tips for Vegetarian Foster Parents (with Liz from I Heart Vegetables)

Recently, I had the joy of welcoming vegetarian blogger and foster mama Liz, creator of I Heart Vegetables, to be my guest for a Flourishing Foster Parent Coaching Call. I had asked the community (as I often do) what they wanted to talk about in our Coaching Calls, and two people asked us to address the unique challenges of being a vegan or vegetarian household and complying with the expectations and challenges of foster parenting.

While I love vegetarian food, and could happily live on a plant-based diet, I am not a vegetarian, so I needed to call in an expert. It took me nearly six months to find just the right person to speak to this, so I was delighted to stumble across Liz in a foster parent Facebook group. I became a fan of her blog, stalked her on Instagram, and finally reached out to invite her to join our call. And she said yes!

You can hear the whole call by joining The Flourishing Foster Parent (there are two tiers of membership, neither of which require any kind of long term commitment, and both of which include full access to all thirty-five-plus Coaching Call recordings). But I thought I’d share a few of my takeaways from Liz’s excellent insights—and introduce you to her resources if you’re looking for ways to introduce more veggies to your kids’ lives or just find inspiration for pursuing a healthy lifestyle!

7 Tips for Vegetarian Foster Parents

  1. Give Them What’s Familiar to Start With. The first week or two of a new placement is not the time to introduce an entirely new way of eating to a child who is already in crisis. Instead, help ease their transition by giving them what is familiar. For a vegetarian (or just very health-conscious) foster parent , it might be very difficult, but a trip to McDonald’s or some frozen chicken fingers is a small price to pay to help a child feel more comfortable in what is a terribly uncomfortable season of their lives. Being a foster parent requires a fair amount of flexibility and compromise, and this might be one example of when compromise is required for the sake of a child’s mental health.
  2. Introduce Healthy Options Slowly. Several foster parents I’ve spoken with have found that hummus is a great way to introduce kids to raw veggies. Try making carrot sticks, celery sticks, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, and cucumber slices available with a bowl of hummus. Liz also recommends keeping bananas, apples, and oranges on hand as “anytime snacks.”
  3. Batch Meal Prep & Double the Recipe. To avoid relying on prepared meals or processed foods (which are quick, easy, and oh-so-tempting when things are hectic in the home), batch meal prep and double the recipe to make cooking once, eating twice (or even three times) more feasible. If you have to chop onions for a recipe, chop three and freeze two for quick use later. Same with other veggies (zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, etc.)
  4. Come Up With “Winners” & Make Them Often. Liz admitted that, in the past, she would meal plan with the goal of making something different every day of the month. Now, she recognizes healthy options the kids love and comes back to it frequently. Tacos, Breakfast for Dinner (high-protein waffles and fruit? Yes, please!), and Stir Fry meals are some options that generally go over will with children.
  5. Offer Vegan Alternatives to Popular Snacks. I mentioned on our call that for children on the autism spectrum or with other neurological differences (ADHD, executive function delays, etc.), there is evidence to show that high-protein snacks can be helpful. Liz recommended replacing my go-to cheese sticks and pepperoni sticks with nut butter on crackers, fresh fruit, a handful of nuts, and even cereal as a snack.
  6. Offer Meatless Versions of Familiar Foods. Chickpea pasta (which is higher in protein than regular pasta), meatless burgers (Liz and I both love Beyond Burgers as a satisfying replacement for hamburgers), vegan “chicken” nuggets, and vegan “meatballs” are often as tasty as the real thing and kid-approved. Liz also recommended Right Foods Vegan Ramen and That’s It fruit snacks.
  7. Sneak Veggies Into Other Foods. One member of the Flourishing Foster Parent is not looking to become vegetarian, but is very interested in how to get her kids to eat more veggies. This tried-and-true strategy has been around for a while, and it’s still a great idea. Add riced cauliflower, spinach, or shredded zucchini to fruit smoothies (Liz mentioned that blueberries can often disguise the green color that turns some kids off). Make Liz’s chocolate zucchini muffins for breakfast (“Kids will eat anything with even a tiny bit of chocolate in it!”). Puree mushrooms and zucchini and add them to marinara sauce. I’ve tried that, and my kids love it (and were none the wiser)!

These are just a few of the wonderful insights Liz gave us in our call. We also discussed some of the stigmas around being vegetarian, how to handle it when a child’s parents are not comfortable with her having a plant-based diet (hint: compromise!), and a lot more.

Vegetarian Foster Parents is available in the Flourishing Foster Parent Resource Library. To gain access, select either the Full ($20/month, which includes participation in the live calls) or Library ($10/month) tier on my Patreon page!

Veggie Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

Fruit Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

5 Healthy Vegan Breakfasts Your Kids Will Love

Let me be clear right off the bat: my household is not vegan.

We have tried a few times, and will likely try again, but I have found it really hard to convert my family—myself included—to veganism. There are a number of reasons for this, which I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say, while we do still consume animal products, I am the first to say that I think a well-balanced, thoughtful vegan diet is the way to go.

Recently, I polled members of The Flourishing Foster Parent to see what topics they would like us to cover in upcoming coaching calls, and one request was from a couple who are vegan foster parents. They would like advice on how to feed children who come into their home via foster care without giving up their vegan values.

Honestly, this is a tough one. And if a child is in foster care, they are entitled to have food that is palatable to them—which, for many children, does not include almond milk and tofu.

While this blog post does not serve as my response to that couple’s question—I am actively looking for an expert (or at least experienced foster parent) who can speak into the specifics of their question—I did want to contribute a bit right now by sharing some meals we eat regularly that are nourishing, that our kids love, and that do not contain animal products.

If you have a favorite plant-based breakfast recipe, please share it in the comments below!

Kashi Waffles with Peanut Butter and Maple Syrup

What kid doesn’t like waffles? The trick is to get healthier version of waffles (or make them and keep them in your freezer).

Pictured above (I’m actually eating what you see there while typing this) is a simple, yummy breakfast with a good dose of fiber and protein—the two things I try hard to get into my kids’ bodies before sending them out the door to school. I really like these gluten-free vegan waffles from Kashi, which I discovered for $1.97/box at The Grocery Outlet (they are $3.50-3.99 in the regular grocery store). I started buying them there, then showed up one day and they were $.97/box! I bought the entire inventory (seventeen boxes) and now our extra freezer is stocked up for a bit. But you can make this so easily with any kind of vegan waffles you find.

Pop the waffles in the toaster. When they come, spread two tablespoons of peanut butter (or whatever kind of nut butter you use) and top with maple syrup. I also always try to put some fruit slices—apples or oranges—on the side to give a little burst of vitamin C as well.

Voila! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy—and so yummy and filling.

Oatmeal Cookie Smoothie

This Oatmeal Cookie Smoothie from The Kitschy Kitchen has been a favorite in our house since the first kids came to us in 2014. I can make a big batch in my Vitamix in minutes and each kid gets a delicious, filling dose of fiber, protein, and potassium—not to mention the fact that it tastes like chocolate!

I usually make some substitutions—for example, I use maple syrup or honey instead of agave nectar, and I will sometimes use soy milk instead of almond milk. I also usually use about half of the amount of cocoa powder called for, or I’ll use premade chocolate almond milk and skip the cocoa powder and syrup altogether (since the chocolate almond milk is already sweet). I also don’t always use frozen bananas—fresh ones work fine too, it’s just not as cold or thick. But this is the general recipe I follow—and my kids LOVE it.

Oatmeal with Maple Syrup

My kids don’t all love oatmeal, but the ones who do really love it. I don’t make it every day, but when I do, I usually add chia seeds while it’s cooking or sprinkle some on top to give it a little bit more goodness. Topped with maple syrup (or honey if you eat honey, which we do), this is a quick, simple, and really good-for-you breakfast. And did you know that, at 6g of protein per cooked cup, oatmeal is a higher-quality protein than many other grain-based foods? Now you do!

Toast, Fruit, and Yogurt

This is so simple and so quick. Whole grain bread, toasted and then topped with vegan butter and whole-fruit jam. Cut into squares on a plate with sliced fruit (I’ve never had a child who didn’t like at least one of the following: apples, bananas, and/or oranges) and a cup of plant-based yogurt. The vegan yogurt options have gotten really good in recent years—while my kids definitely prefer cow’s milk yogurt, they also like coconut-based vanilla yogurts, which are available at most grocery stores (though they are not cheap). I don’t give it to them in the container—I just put it in a bowl. That way, they are less likely to notice when it’s not the cow’s milk yogurt.

Vegan Breakfast Sausage on an English Muffin with Hash Browns

OK, this is not the healthiest option, but if you have a child who likes McDonalds’ breakfast, this might be a good substitute. There are delicious plant-based meat substitutes available in the frozen section of most grocery stores. Field Roast, Gardein, Morning Star Farms, and others offer both links and patties. Toast up an english muffin, warm up the vegan patties, and top with vegan cheddar (we like Daiya cheddar style slices) for a hearty and filling breakfast that rivals McDonald’s sausage McMuffin. For a true fast-food breakfast experience, buy frozen hash brown patties and put those on the plate too, and include a glass of OJ. Again, this is not your healthiest option, but if your kids are used to eating meat at breakfast, this might do the trick!

What do they drink?

Honestly, this is one of the hardest parts of getting my kids to go vegan. They all love cow’s milk, and there is no denying that it is good for them. I have tried to woo them with soy and almond and oat milks, to no avail. For vegan foster parents, this might have to be a point of compromise. The kids need calcium and vitamin D, and milk is a great source of both. We also give our kids water to drink at least one meal each day (usually dinner). They get milk at school with lunch, and usually want milk with breakfast.

That said, you never know! If you have a new child in your home who is willing to try soy or almond milk, give it a try! But be willing to let them have regular milk if that’s what they prefer. If you are concerned about it going bad, since the child is the only one eating it, consider getting smaller containers like these from Horizon.

Let me know if you try any of these! How did your kids like them? What are some of your go-to vegan breakfast favorites?

My Favorite Easy Dinners

I love to cook. I love making everything from scratch, especially—hours standing in the kitchen, chopping, mixing, seasoning—it’s one of my favorite ways to spend a free afternoon.

But I live in the reality of having four active children who attend three different schools and have various extracurricular activities—not to mention weekly therapy, speech, and other appointments. Which means that grocery shopping sometimes gets pushed off a few days too long and cooking has to happen in between tying shoes, refereeing sibling spats, and monitoring bike riding in the street.

It’s kind of a miracle we don’t eat take-out at least five nights a week, now that I think of it!

The thing that has saved me is that I have several go-to recipes that are unbelievably simple and require very little forethought. Most of the items needed are in my freezer or pantry.

As I’ve focused on food in a few recent videos (here and here), I’ve gotten more questions about what eating looks like in my busy household.

I hope to do some more videos about food, but for now, I wanted to share a few of my quick-and-pretty-nutritious-not-to-mention-darn-tasty recipes:

Image result for frozen chicken thighs Pace Chunky Medium Salsa, 16oz

Salsa Chicken (about an hour and ten minutes)

Ingredients:

  • Frozen Boneless Chicken Thighs
  • One or two jars of salsa
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar is great)

Preheat oven to 375. Lay the frozen chicken thighs across a baking dish. Pour salsa over the chicken. Bake for one hour. Sprinkle cheese on top before serving. Serve with tortillas or rice (which you can cook ahead of time and freeze to heat up in the microwave), slices of avocado, and corn (frozen).

Image result for frozen meatballs  Prego Roasted Garlic & Herb Italian Sauce, 24 oz.

Spaghetti (about 30 minutes)

Ingredients:

  • One jar of spaghetti sauce.
  • One bag of frozen meatballs.
  • One box of spaghetti.

Warm the sauce. Add the frozen meatballs. Make the spaghetti according to the directions. Boom. Serve with a bagged salad.

Image result for turkey smoked sausage

Sausage and Vegetables (about an hour)

Ingredients:

  • Whatever of the following you have on hand: onions, potatoes, bell peppers, garlic
  • Smoked sausage/kielbasa (I usually use turkey, but whatever you have works)

Preheat oven to 375. Chop veggies into bite-size pieces. Cut sausage into large bite-size pieces. Pour everything into a baking dish. Toss with some olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes until veggies are done.

Veggie Fried Rice

Ingredients:

  • Cooked rice (from the freezer)
  • Sesame or peanut oil
  • Chopped onion
  • Chopped garlic (from a jar)
  • Frozen mixed veggies
  • Soy sauce
  • Optional: frozen cooked shrimp or leftover cooked chicken

Heat oil in large skillet. If using frozen shrimp, add that first. Otherwise, add rice, veggies, and soy sauce to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until it’s all hot and delicious.

Breakfast for Dinner I (15 minutes or less)

Ingredients:

  • Eggs
  • Bread
  • Fruit

Cook the eggs to your preference. My favorite way is to break eggs (two per person) into a large bowl (taking care not to break the yolks), heat a large skillet with butter (or olive oil if you have a dairy allergy in the house), pour the eggs into the hot skillet, cook for about two minutes then cover and turn off heat.

Meanwhile, put bread in the toaster. Toast. Top with butter and jelly of your choice.

Cut whatever fruit you have on hand. Applesauce from the pantry does quite well if you don’t have any fresh.

Breakfast for Dinner II (about an hour)

Ingredients:

  • Eggs (about 8-10)
  • Any of the following you have on hand: onion, broccoli (frozen florets are fine), tomatoes (I’ve used canned diced, drained), spinach, mushrooms (canned work), asparagus, etc.
  • Optional: shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Break eggs into a bowl and whisk them well with a fork or whisk. If you’re going to use cheese, whisk that into the eggs. Chop veggies into small pieces. Heat a large skillet with olive oil. Sauteé veggies for a couple of minutes then pour eggs over veggies. Bake for about 45 minutes or so. Serve with cut up fruit or applesauce and toast.

Vegan Taco Bowls

Ingredients:

  • Frozen meat-substitute crumbles
  • Taco seasoning
  • Canned black beans
  • Chopped tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes, drained
  • Cooked rice (from the freezer or made ahead of time in the Instant Pot, which I use all. the. TIME.)
  • Avocado
  • Corn (from the freezer)

Heat a skillet with olive oil. Warm the meat-substitute crumbles. Add taco seasoning and water per instructions. Warm rice in the microwave. Warm beans in the microwave. Warm corn on the stove (I prefer that to microwave, but you can totally microwave the corn). Dish a cup or so of cooked rice into a bowl. Top with taco-meatless-meat, warmed beans, corn, tomatoes, and sliced avo. My family LOVES this one! It also works with the salsa chicken in place of the meatless meat substitute.

Chili

  • Canned beans (black, pinto, red)
  • Canned diced tomatoes, not drained
  • Chopped onion (from freezer)
  • Chopped garlic (from jar)
  • Chili powder (2-4 T)
  • Cumin (1 t)
  • Corn (from freezer)
  • Shredded cheese (optional)
  • Tortilla chips.

Heat oil in large sauce pan. Sauteé onions and garlic. Add beans, tomatoes, chili powder (2-4 TBSP), and corn. Stir and heat until simmering. Serve with shredded cheese and tortilla chips.

Cereal for Dinner

I’m not above serving bowls of cereal for dinner. My kids think it’s a huge treat. I usually do this when my husband is away.

PB & J for Dinner

I’m also not above serving PB & J for dinner. I usually serve it with fresh fruit or—yep—applesauce.

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A Few Notes:

  • I make large batches of rice in my Instant Pot and freeze it right away so it warms up nicely in the microwave when I need it and doesn’t get dry. So I usually have cooked rice in the freezer, which is a great go-to for a base for many last-minute meals. It’s also a good idea to freeze leftover rice the day you cook it rather than put it in the fridge in a plastic container. Rice gets dry so quickly in the fridge, but not if it’s frozen right away.
  • When corn on the cob is in season and at its cheapest, I buy TONS of it, cut it off the cob and freeze it in big freezer bags. The taste of frozen fresh corn is SOOOOOO superior to frozen corn from the grocery store freezer-section. It can been cooked easily on the stove or in the microwave.
  • While most of the meat I buy is ethically sourced, I do keep bags of frozen boneless chicken thighs, which I have not been able to find from ethical sources, which cook pretty well without thawing. To avoid this, you can substitute ethically sourced legs or thighs, but they need to be thawed before cooking.
  • Whenever I have veggies that are getting really ripe that I’m not about to use, I prep them — peel, chop, whatever — and freeze them to use later.
  • I periodically buy a bag of onions and chop them up and freeze them for using in recipes. This saves a bunch of time.
  • While I much prefer cooking with fresh garlic, I do keep a jar of chopped garlic—which is available from my Dollar Tree—in my fridge to use in a pinch.

So I’d love to hear back from you! What are some of your favorite go-to easy recipes that you can whip up on a moment’s notice from things in the fridge/freezer/pantry?