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Better Than Spaghetti Tacos: Delicious, Easy Vegetarian Meals

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Spaghetti tacos may be what the kids crave, but your taste is a little more refined. These ideas for delicious, easy vegetarian meals will have you in and out of the kitchen in no time.

Photo by Natascha Rausch

You don't have to eat like a kid to enjoy a fabulous yet easy meal. Spaghetti tacos may be on every school kid's dinner wish list, but you can go the easy route and still eat well. These vegetarian meal ideas are incredibly simple to make, but without skimping on nutrition or flavor.

Dressed-up miso soup and a salad: Miso soup is great to have on hand for those salty, savory cravings. Miso and other fermented foods are also gaining popularity for their health benefits. According to holistic health guru Dr. Weil, fermented foods raise your body's vitamin levels, help with digestion, and create beneficial enzymes.

The miso that comes in vacuum-sealed bags seems to be available in more varieties, but the refrigerated plastic tubs are fine too. Check with your local health food store for low-sodium versions, and look for organic soybeans if you're concerned about genetically engineered ingredients.

Toss in some green onions, or any other type of onion you like. Tofu gives the miso more substance, as well as a nice dose of vegetarian protein. Get creative with your add-ons if you like, but be careful not to overpower the miso flavor with too-strong ingredients. This soup is almost as easy as canned, since all you have to do is add hot water and any extra ingredients.

The salad can be made from lettuce, cold Japanese noodles, or whatever veggies you have lying around. Shirataki noodles are low in carbs and calories, and the tofu-based version boosts your protein and calcium intake as well. Shirataki noodles do take some adjustment, since they're a little squishier than most noodles, and lack flavor until you mix in the other ingredients.

If you want to extend the Japanese theme to your veggie choices, cucumbers, daikon, spinach, and lotus root are some of the easiest to find. Mushrooms, either dehydrated or fresh, give a hearty, earthy flavor, and mung or other sprouts make a healthy addition. Pick up a bottle of Japanese-style salad dressing (Makoto ginger dressing is amazing), or try this recipe from TV chef Jamie Oliver:

• 70g/2½oz onion, peeled and finely chopped

• 3 tablespoons soy sauce

• 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

• ½ teaspoon granulated sugar

• ¼ teaspoon English mustard powder

• 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

• 1 tablespoon sesame oil

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 Shake the ingredients in a lidded jar, mixing in 2 tablespoons of water after the salt has dissolved. Add more seasoning if necessary.

Crispbread "Sandwiches" and Tomato Salad: Crispbread, the most famous of which in the U.S. is probably RyKrisp, makes a great bread alternative. Low in calories and high in fiber, this grain-based cracker is perfect for snacks. Adding spreads, cheese, and other toppings turns crispbread into part of a meal.

Topping ideas:

cream cheese (flavored or plain)

Laughing Cow or Alouette spreads

hummus and chopped red pepper

drained and chopped Kalamata or other Greek olives with feta cheese

brick cheese and yellow onion with mustard

egg salad

Make a simple yet delicious salad of tomatoes, red onions, and a vinaigrette. Again, you can't go wrong with the zingy flavor of Makoto, but an Italian vinaigrette works well too. If you don't have a good salad dressing on hand, whip up a quick vinegar and oil. Mix one part vinegar with two parts olive oil in a blender (adjust according to taste). Add sea salt and ground black pepper (good old table salt and fine black pepper will do).

Nutella and banana sandwich with yogurt: Nutella is a great alternative to peanut butter, and you won't have any problem getting your kids to eat it. The hazelnut spread, if you can make it past opening the jar without scooping out a spoonful, makes an amazing breakfast (or anytime) sandwich on toast with sliced bananas. For added nutrients and a bit of crunch, toss some chopped nuts onto the spread before adding the bananas. Whole grain bread adds fiber and texture, but you could also use French bread or plain white bread.

Yogurt makes the perfect accompaniment to this yummy sandwich. In addition to its great taste, yogurt provides the "good" bacteria that aids in digestion. According to Dr. Weil, however, the phrase "made with active cultures" isn't necessarily an indication that these beneficial bacteria are present. Most American manufacturers heat-treat their yogurt after fermentation, which kills off active cultures. Look for labels that say "living yogurt cultures," "active yogurt cultures," or "contains active cultures." Vanilla yogurt tastes great with a Nutella sandwich, or try plain Greek yogurt with a little bit of honey mixed in.

These vegetarian meals are not only better than spaghetti tacos; they're healthier, and other adults won't stare at you while you eat them. For more simple, quick vegetarian meal ideas, see "How to Make Adult Versions of Your Kids' Lunches" and "Nutritious and Cheap Foods: Save Money on Groceries with These Family-Pleasing Dishes."

SOURCES:

Jamie Oliver http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/other-recipes/japanese-dressing 

Dr. Weil        http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400380/Partial-to-Pickles.html

Dr. Weil        http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA290486

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Stacy Calvert
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