I love cooking and food, don’t get me wrong. But, I almost never spend more than half an hour cooking dinner. And yet, as a vegetarian with young kids, I can’t just pull chicken fingers out of the freezer. What’s my secret? I’m committed to the idea that it is just as fast to cook fresh foods at home as it is to order in. I get loads of satisfaction from chopping and sautéing, 15 minutes of each, short order cook style!

People think cooking vegetarian food is complicated. Believe me, I think roasting a turkey sounds complicated. It is just a question of trying new things, and maybe experimenting with new ingredients. Add kids to the equation and you’ve got another conundrum: how to get vegetarian kids to actually eat vegetables! Take pasta for example, a go-to easy dinner for most families. But between the ages of 2 and 12, many kids don’t like sauce. Hence the restaurant kiddie menus highlighting pasta with butter. My solution? Chunky primavera non-sauce.

Pasta Primavera

When trying to go can-free, I hear people complain that no one can possible have time to make their own pasta sauce. This all depends on what you think of as sauce – a thick 2-hour reduction takes, well 2 hours to make. But you can make the chunky primavera in less than 30 minutes. Put your pasta water on to boil, and then chop, chop, chop go the zucchini, vine-ripened tomatoes, asparagus or broccoli, a few kalamata olives and kale or collard to wilt on top. Cube about half a brick of firm tofu. Next, toast basil flakes in olive oil, add tofu cubes, zucchini and a bit of tamari or Bragg’s (unfermented soy sauce). When you fry the basil flakes in a bit of oil, you’ll notice they release their aroma much more than when you add them to a dish later on. Finally, add the rest of the vegetables (except the kale) and a bit of water, and salt if you wish, and cover the pan for 10 minutes on a low heat. I find having a frying pan with a glass lid an essential. By now your pasta water will have come to a boil, and you can add the pasta noodles so your dishes will both be ready at the same time.

Ten minutes later, wilt in the kale and presto, a kid-friendly dinner that is delicious for the rest of the family. Serve the kids’ pasta with butter and place the tofu chunks, broccoli trees and maybe a wilted kale leaf on the side. And you get a sumptuous Primavera.

Finger Food Bakes for All Ages

Not only will my kids not eat sauce or soup, they won’t eat dal! That excludes half of the vegetarian’s repertoire right there. Over the years, I’ve learned that finger foods are a hit, so I make something akin to a toddle tray for dinner that’s suitable for the whole family. Cast aside the idea of making fish fingers and french fries for the kids and preparing a whole separate dinner for the adults. Instead, slice a brick of tofu into five large slabs and place them on a baking pan. If you have time you could marinate them in olive oil and tamari, but I usually just drizzle Bragg’s over the tofu right on the pan. Lay a bunch of washed asparagus spears on the pan beside them. Then cut a sweet potato (and potato if you like) into long pieces like fries with the skin on. Drizzle the lot with olive oil and sprinkle with with Celtic sea salt. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. Serve as a simple, finger-food meal that includes two super foods!

In my next blog posts, I’ll look at a Vegetarian Christmas dish that fill the house with the smells of the season. I’m also working on a post on holiday mindfulness entitled Leaning into the Holidays.