Board with vegetables

Vegetarian meal ideas for toddlers

By the Early Years Nutrition Partnership

At the start of the new year, many people often consider trying out veganism, vegetarianism or simply cutting back on the amount of meat and fish in their diet.

But what is the best way to do this for the whole family so that adults and children alike are eating less meat while still getting the right amount of nutrients they need?

Remember your food groups

When preparing vegetarian meals for toddlers, keep in mind the daily number of portions of each of the five food groups that they need - which you can read about in this guidance from the British Nutrition Foundation

To meet children's protein needs, replace meat and fish with other protein rich foods such as eggs, ground or chopped nuts (ensuring your child doesn't have any nut allergies) and pulses such as beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Ensure they are served one of these options, three times a day. 

Some great options are hummus, baked beans, dhal and nut butter.

Remember to serve a food high in vitamin C with vegetarian meals, to improve the absorption of iron – these include tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi and pineapple.

Meat-free days

Meat-free days are recommended for everyone, including children. Including protein alternatives to meat in children’s diets can have a positive impact on their health. 

Vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. 

But we all know that it can be difficult to get your child to eat them! Nutritionist Jo Mainwaring’s blog offers great advice on how to encourage toddlers to accept new vegetables into their diet, and even to enjoy them!

Try making the most of seasonal vegetables grown here in the UK with Gill Kelsall’s guide to seasonal fruit and vegetables.

Try out some child-friendly vegetarian recipes

Here's a recipe from Alison Preston for a tasty and balanced, veggie friendly dinner that's a hit with the whole family — even those that aren't vegetarian. Tone the spices down if your toddlers' aren't accustomed to these flavours yet. Give it a go! 

Butternut squash and red lentil dhal
(Serves a family of 4 - with some leftover for lunch the next day!)

1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium butternut squash (peeled and cubed)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1.2 litre low-salt vegetable stock
300g red lentils

1. Soften onions and garlic in the oil
2. Add the spices and butternut squash
3. Add tinned tomatoes
4. Add lentils and stock
5. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes until squash is tender and lentils cooked

Try making your own flat bread to accompany it and you have a complete balanced meal.
500g self-raising flour
500ml natural yoghurt
½ teaspoon baking powder

1. Mix all ingredients together to make a soft dough
2. Form into 8 balls and flatten
3. Lightly brush a baking tray with oil
4. Put flattened breads onto tray and cook in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Flip over after 10 minutes


Another great recipe from Gill Kelsall makes the most of seasonal vegetables using rhubarb which is in plentiful supply right now. And yes, it is a vegetable not a fruit! 

Rhubarb and lentil curry
(Serves a family of 4)

300g brown basmati rice
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
300g red lentils
4 sticks rhubarb
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cubes (80g) frozen spinach
300g natural yoghurt
1 lemon (optional)

1. Rinse the rice and cook as per the instructions on the packet
2. Peel and chop the onion and garlic
3. Chop the rhubarb into 2 cm slices
4. Place a little oil in a pan, heat and then add the onion and garlic. Fry for 5 minutes
5. Add the garam masala, turmeric and cinnamon to the onions and garlic. Stir, then add the lentils, frozen spinach, rhubarb, sugar and 300ml boiling water.  Stir and cook for around 15-20 minutes until the lentils and rhubarb are cooked
6. In the meantime, juice the lemon.  Add the juice to the pan with the lentil mix
7. Serve the rice and curry with a dollop of the yoghurt on top.


This article first appeared on the EYNP website in May 2017 

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