Healthy Fast Food for Pre-Schoolers

by Lisa Rivero



"Peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich-and-juice, peanut-butter-and-jelly- sandwich-and-juice."

The chant usually begins to come from my pre-schooler's bedroom at about 6:00 a.m. He wakes up early, and he wakes up hungry. For the rest of the day, our kitchen will be the busiest room in the house. If he's not eating a meal, he's eating a snack, or requesting a glass of juice or soy milk.

All parents of pre-schoolers know the challenge of providing nutritious, fast foods for our children. We are often tempted by the convenience of packaged "goodies," but we know our children are better served by wholesome meals and snacks.

Parents of vegan pre-schoolers face the additional challenge of finding healthful dairy-free and egg-free fast foods. And peanut butter and jelly goes only so far.

I've found that by serving several mini-meals throughout the day, I'm less likely to succumb to a lot of packaged snack foods. By following a few guidelines, I've been able to keep my son happily and healthfully fed, without spending hours over a stove.

Plan to Have Leftovers

First, plan to have leftovers, especially leftover grains. When you're cooking pasta or rice for supper, make a little extra for tomorrow's lunch, then dress it up with a vegetable-based sauce. Introduce a variety of grains by occasionally making barley or millet instead of rice. The next time you're in the grocery store, look for pastas made of corn (kids love the bright yellow color), amaranth, spelt, artichoke, brown rice, and buckwheat flours. Children seem to like small pasta shapes such as spirals, shells, wagon wheels, elbow macaroni, and, of course, alphabet pasta. To make spaghetti more manageable for young children, snap it into two or three pieces before cooking.

Some children like cold foods, and will eat leftovers straight from the refrigerator. If you want to warm up leftover rice or vegetables, simply steam them for a minute or two, then fluff with a fork. Leftover pasta can be reheated for a few seconds in boiling water, then drained. Cooked vegetables and grains can also be pureed and used as sauces, spreads, or puddings.

Build on Familiar Tastes

Pre-schoolers often have a few select foods that they like to eat again and again. If your child is going through a nothing-but- green-peas phase, serve peas with brown basmati rice or whole wheat couscous, or even alone in a bowl drenched with a nutritious sauce. A little peanut butter mashed with cooked beans may be more acceptable to your pre-schooler than the beans alone. Adding a bit of fruit juice is another good way to lend familiar flavor to unfamiliar foods.

Satisfy Your Child's Sweet Tooth Naturally

Satisfy your child's sweet tooth naturally with ripe bananas, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and dried fruit. If your child is used to having sweet desserts, try offering a fruit ambrosia salad made with sliced bananas, cubed steamed sweet potatoes, and a sprinkling of chopped dates or dried apricots.

Keep Food Simple

Perhaps nothing is more frustrating than spending an hour making a complicated meal that your child refuses to touch. Children are often less suspicious of simple dishes, and by spending less time cooking, you can spend more time with your child.

Let Your Child Help

Let your child help to fix the food whenever possible. Even a two-year-old can mash tofu or add dried fruit. While you're in the kitchen, talk to your child about the ingredients you're using, and give the child a choice when you can--for example, "Should we put a banana or an apple in this cereal?"

Eat with Your Child

You'll not only be providing companionship, but if you eat the same food your child does, your example will be more influential than your pleading or reasoning.

If you pack a lunch or snack for your pre-schooler, consider sending pasta salads made of multi-colored pasta, broccoli trees, and a simple sauce. Or pack a fondue lunch with a thick dip, cubed vegetables and fruit, and bread sticks or whole-grain crackers. Small whole-wheat pita pockets can be filled with bean spreads or stuffed with shredded vegetables. Older children enjoy home-made trail mixes consisting of pieces of dried fruit, nuts, and sugar-free cereals.

Sauce Recipes

Here are six fast sauces that you can make in a blender, no chopping or cooking required. If you always have on hand pre-cooked or canned legumes and some steamed sweet potatoes, you can make each of these sauces in five to ten minutes, just about the maximum waiting time of a hungry pre-schooler! If you've tried unsuccessfully to get your child to eat beans or tofu, these sauces may be your answer.

My son likes these sauces over pasta, but you can also use them to dress up rice, pancakes, fruit, or vegetables. Or you can reduce the amount of liquid, and serve them simply in a bowl with a spoon.

Simple Peanut Butter/Tahini Sauce

Toss this comforting sauce with macaroni and peas, or use as a dip for carrot sticks and pita triangles.

  • ⅔ cup cooked navy beans
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons peanut butter or toasted sesame tahini
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup water, orange juice, or apple juice

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Serves 2 to 3 children, or 1 child and 1 adult

Total Calories Per Child Serving: 160
Fat: 7 grams Protein: 9 grams

Sweet Albert Sauce

Drizzle this delicious sauce over a bowl of fruit chunks for a special breakfast or fast dessert.

  • Half a 10.5 ounce package soft silken tofu
  • ¼ cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons almond butter, peanut butter, or tahini
  • 1 teaspoon brown rice vinegar
  • 2 to 4 Tablespoons water

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Serves 2 to 3 children, or 1 child and 1 adult

Total Calories Per Child Serving: 102
Fat: 7 grams Protein: 5 grams

Banana Pudding Sauce

Pour over pancakes or waffles, or mix with cooked rice and sprinkle with cinnamon and raisins for an instant rice pudding.

  • Half a 10.5 ounce package soft silken tofu
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup plain soy milk or water

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Serves 2 to 3 children, or 1 child and 1 adult

Total Calories Per Child Serving: 112
Fat: 2 grams Protein: 5 grams

Quick Carrot Sauce

Serve this Oriental-style sauce over rice and stir-fried bok choy or thinly shredded cabbage. It's a great source of vitamin A (beta-carotene).

  • 1 cup grated raw carrot (1 medium-large carrot)
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup water
  • 2 ounces soft tofu
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried ground ginger

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Serves 2 to 3 children, or 1 child and 1 adult

Total Calories Per Child Serving: 81
Fat: 3 grams Protein: 2 grams

Orange Raisin Sauce

Toss with wagon wheel pasta and steamed green beans, or serve over brown rice and peas.

  • ¾ cup cooked chickpeas
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup orange juice
  • ½ teaspoon mild curry powder
  • ¼ cup raisins

Blend chickpeas, orange juice, and curry powder in a blender until smooth. Stir in raisins.

Serves 2 to 3 children, or 1 child and 1 adult

Total Calories Per Child Serving: 203
Fat: 6 grams Protein: 6 grams

Sweet Potato Fig Sauce

My son likes to eat this sauce with nothing more than a spoon. It's another great Vitamin A source.

  • ¾ cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
  • ⅓ to ½ cup water or plain soy milk
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame tahini
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 4 dried figs, chopped

Blend sweet potato, water or soy milk, tahini, and nutmeg in a blender until smooth. Stir in figs.

Serves 2 to 3 children, or 1 child and 1 adult

Total Calories Per Child Serving: 255
Fat: 3 grams Protein: 4 grams

Ten Speedy Breakfasts for Pre-Schoolers Beyond the Peanut Butter and Jelly Routine

Fast breakfasts for pre-schoolers can be almost any combination of grains and vegetables or fruits that your child enjoys. Here are some ideas to get you started. And remember, breakfasts can be served any time of the day.

  1. Mash a ripe banana, add a spoonful or two of wheat germ, and moisten with soy milk. Sprinkle with raisins and cinnamon. Children learning to use a spoon love this thick cereal.
  2. Mix leftover whole-wheat couscous with grated carrot and peas. Top with Orange-Raisin Sauce.
  3. Scramble some soft tofu, stuff it in a whole-wheat mini pita and drizzle with Quick Carrot Sauce.
  4. Fill a whole-wheat mini pita with Simple Peanut Butter/Tahini Sauce and choppped dates.
  5. Dip chunks of steamed sweet potato in Banana Pudding Sauce.
  6. Mix mashed cooked butternut squash with cinnamon or nutmeg and diced apple. If necessary, thicken with soft, fresh bread crumbs.
  7. Make a breakfast smoothie with soft tofu, soy milk, and your child's favorite soft fruit.
  8. Grind some low-fat granola in a blender (children sometimes have difficulty chewing whole nuts and seeds). Mix ground granola with unsweetened applesauce, or sprinkle it over Sweet Potato Fig Sauce.
  9. Simmer a handful of bread cubes and some leftover rice with mashed soft tofu, some soymilk and dried currants, and a touch of cinammon for a warm breakfast pudding.
  10. We call this dish Tofu Albert: Toast one-half of an English muffin. Top it with a very thin slice of firm tofu, add some steamed brocc
  11. oli or sliced bananas, and drench with Sweet Albert Sauce.

About This Article and VRG

Lisa Rivero is the proud mom of a vegan pre-schooler.

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 1994 issue of Vegetarian Journal, published by:

The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
Phone: (410) 366-8343