November 2022 – Vegetarian Meals

November 2022 – Vegetarian Meals

Have parents ever asked you to serve a vegetarian diet to their child? Have you ever wondered if it is healthy for a child to be a vegetarian? Or how to prepare meals to meet their needs? The good news is that a well-planned vegetarian menu can be healthy, delicious, and fit into the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meal pattern! An added bonus: many meat alternates are a cost-effective protein source! A well-planned vegetarian diet can provide the nutrients children need to grow and develop.

Composition With Assorted Raw Organic Fresh Vegetables. Assortment Of Fruits And Vegetable.

Types of Vegetarians

Vegetarian diets include plant-based foods like grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes (dry beans, peas, and lentils), soy products, nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters. Vegetarian diets follow several different dietary patterns due to religious, cultural, or personal preferences. The table below lists common vegetarian diets and foods to include and exclude. Knowing which pattern parents prefer will help you make the changes needed for their child’s vegetarian meals.

Type of Vegetarian Included Foods Excluded Foods
Lacto-Ovo Milk, dairy products, eggs Meat, fish, poultry
Lacto Milk, dairy products Meat, fish, poultry, eggs
Ovo Eggs Meat, fish, poultry, milk, dairy products
Pesco (Pescatarian) Fish, seafood
May include dairy products and eggs
Meat, poultry
Semi (Flexitarian) Mostly plant-based foods
May occasionally include dairy products, eggs, chicken, fish, meat
Vegan Only plant-based foods Any animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, etc.

Serving Children Who Are Vegetarian in the CACFP

If you have children who are vegetarians in your care, you will need to serve them a complete and reimbursable meal for the CACFP. Work with families to determine what the child can and cannot eat on their specific vegetarian diet. For the most part, you should be able to replace meats with meat alternates at meals.

  • For example, if spaghetti with meat sauce is on the menu, pour a serving of meatless spaghetti sauce over noodles, and sprinkle a serving of mozzarella cheese on top.
  • Otherwise, you can provide a separate meat alternate on the side, such as a piece of string cheese or a bowl of cottage cheese.

What do you do if the child does not drink cow’s milk? In those cases, serve nondairy milk that is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk. Many soy milks meet these criteria; however, almond, cashew, coconut, oat, and rice milks do not. Work with families, your State agency, or sponsoring organization to identify an alternative milk option.

Pasta Penne With Tomato Bolognese Sauce, Parmesan Cheese And Basil.
Bean Salad
Homemade Tofu Stir Fry

Including Vegetarian Meals in Menus

You do not have to prepare an entirely different set of meals and snacks for vegetarian children. Instead, plan menus that include vegetarian dishes that all children can enjoy. Offer vegetarian meals throughout the month. Start with adding one vegetarian meal per month. Then work your way to once per week and up to multiple times per week. This approach will increase the variety of healthy options while serving the same foods to all children.

There is a variety of meat alternates to choose. Some options include legumes [pinto, kidney, black, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lentils, split peas]; cheese; eggs; peanuts, tree nuts, seeds, or their butters; soy products; tempeh; tofu; and yogurt. You can incorporate meat alternates in many everyday dishes. Below are some ideas for meals and snacks.

  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils): Casserole, quesadilla, burrito, taco, chili, three bean salad, pasta salad, split pea soup, hummus, black bean salsa, pasta made with 100% legume flour
  • Cheese: String cheese, cottage cheese, lasagna, quesadilla, grilled cheese sandwich, cheese and vegetable pizza
  • Eggs: Egg salad sandwich, scrambled eggs, quiche, egg bake, hard-boiled eggs
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts or seeds in trail mix; slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, or crushed walnuts on a salad
  • Tempeh: Chili, enchilada, stir-fry, meatballs, salad, sandwich, taco
  • Tofu: Breakfast “scramble,” tofu pasta salad, casserole, stir-fry, quesadilla, burrito, taco, chili, tofu vegetable pizza (Check out the CACFP Tofu Recipe Guide for tofu recipes)
  • Yogurt or Soy Yogurt: Yogurt parfait, yogurt dip with vegetables, mix yogurt into pasta sauces to make a creamy marinara or Alfredo sauce

Mealtime Discussion Prompts

During mealtime, spark positive conversations with children using the questions below.

  • Do you know what a vegetarian is?
  • What types of foods do vegetarians eat?
  • What are some foods that come from plants?
  • What are some foods that come from animals?

Menu Ideas

The following vegetarian menu ideas provide a variety of foods, colors, and textures. Some recipes contain multiple food components listed in parentheses after the recipe.


Southwest Tofu Scramble
(Meat Alternate, Grain)


1% Milk


Black Beans With Plantains 2 500x500 1

Black Beans With Plantains
(Meat Alternate, Vegetable, Grain)


1% Milk


Broccoli Bites

Broccoli Bites

Toasted WG English Muffin


Recipes Clipart 800x533

You can find the featured recipes from the Menu Ideas section in the resources below:


Cleveland Clinic. (2021, May 25). What is the flexitarian diet? What to know about this semi-vegetarian lifestyle.

Institute of Child Nutrition. (2022, April 28). Vegetarian diets for young children.

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Black beans with plantains – USDA recipe for child care centers. Child Nutrition Recipe Box.

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Broccoli bites – USDA recipe for family child care centers. Child Nutrition Recipe Box.

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Child nutrition recipe box.

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). New CACFP lunch/supper recipes. Child Nutrition Recipe Box.

Institute of Child Nutrition. (n.d.). Southwest tofu scramble – USDA recipe for child care centers. Child Nutrition Recipe Box.

Nemours. Kids Health. (n.d.). Vegetarian diets.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2022, July). Crediting meats/meat alternates in the child nutrition programs tip sheet.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, MyPlate. (n.d.). Enjoy vegetarian meals.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2019, May). Healthy bites: A Wisconsin guide for improving childhood nutrition. 2nd ed.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (n.d.). CACFP tofu recipe guide.

Archived Mealtime Memos



Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Go to Top