There's just something comforting and kid-friendly about melted cheese. If the kids in question are vegan or lactose-intolerant, or, if you're just trying to cut back on dairy based foods, there are many wonderful options these days. Here are just a few:
Follow Your Heart's Vegan Gourmet is soy-based and comes in cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and nacho- style blocks; for recipes that call for grated cheese, the grating is Do-It-Yourself, and you can do so in a food processor or by hand.
Teese is another soy-based brand I've heard good things about but haven't tried yet. Like Vegan Gourmet, it's soy-based.
Daiya is one of the latest in vegan cheeses; it's made from tapioca starch and is soy-free. It comes in mozzarella and cheddar-style shreds. Arguably, it has the gooey-est, melty-est melts of all vegan cheeses.
Of course, there's always the classic comfort food, Macaroni and Cheese, but here we're talking melty, gooey cheese as a topping of sorts. Here are a handful of easy melted cheese recipes to please vegetarian and vegan kids of all ages. And make sure to explore the entire Veg Kids and Teens page on VegKitchen for lots of easy, healthy recipes for vegetarian and vegan kids and teens.
VEGETABLE RAREBIT (Melted Cheese Toasts)
This is inspired by the recipe for Welsh Rabbit (sometimes called "Rarebit"), a dish of almost pure melted cheddar cheese (and beer!) served over toast. This version stretches a much smaller quantity of cheese with finely diced vegetables. It's one of those dishes that can become a favorite "nursery" food, as it was for my sons when they were young. Adapted from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook.
Makes: 4 two-slice servings or 8 single-slice servings.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or other light vegetable oil
- 1 medium-small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
- ½ cup frozen green peas, thawed
- 2 firm, ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes, diced
- 2 ½ tablespoons unbleached white flour
- 1 cup rice milk
- 1 tablespoon nonhydrogenated margarine such as Earth Balance
- 4 ounces grated Cheddar-style vegan cheese
- 1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
- ½ cup well-cooked and mashed sweet potato or butternut squash
- Salt to taste
- 8 slices toasted whole-grain bread
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the zucchini, peas, and optional tomatoes. Sauté over medium heat until the vegetables are just tender. Remove from the heat and transfer the vegetables to a container until needed.
Dissolve the flour in about ⅓ cup of the rice milk, stirring until completely smooth. In the same saucepan, combine it with the remaining rice milk, margarine, cheese, mustard, and mashed vegetable in a saucepan.
Heat, whisking often, until the mixture is hot and thickened, about 5 minutes. If you’d like, you can insert an immersion blender or transfer the sauce to a food processor to make it even more velvety smooth, though this is entirely optional.
Stir the cooked vegetables into the sauce and cook for a minute or so longer. Season with salt.
For each serving, place one or two slices of toasted bread on a plate. To serve, pour some of the cheese mixture over each piece of toast.
Variation: Use other vegetables in place of the ones suggested here—try corn kernels, diced carrots, bell peppers, green beans, sliced mushrooms, yellow summer squash—whatever is available and whatever your family likes. Just make sure to dice everything fairly small.
NACHOS WITH CHILE CON QUESO
Nachos are a favorite snack for older kids and teens. You can also serve this as part of a meal, teamed with a bean dish and lots of nourishing veggies.
Serves: 4 to 6
- 2 ½ tablespoons unbleached flour
- 1 cup rice milk
- 1 medium tomato, finely diced
- 2 cups grated Monterey Jack-style or cheddar-style vegan cheese
- 4-ounce can chopped mild green chilies
- ¼ cup sliced black olives (optional)
- 8 ounces or so good-quality tortilla chips, preferably stoneground
Combine the flour with ¼ cup water in a small bowl or a cup and stir together until dissolved. Set aside.
Heat the rice milk in a large saucepan. Just before it comes to a simmer, slowly whisk the dissolved flour mixture. Stir in the diced tomatoes.
Stir the grated cheese in, one-half cup at a time. Let the each batch of cheese melt before stirring in the next.
Stir in the green chilies and optional black olives and remove from the heat.
Spread the tortilla chips on a large platter. With a ladle, drizzle the sauce over them. Serve, using a wide spatula to transfer to individual plates.
PITA OR ENGLISH MUFFIN PIZZAS, PLAIN AND FANCY
With this flexible recipe, you can make the number of pizzas you need at any given time. For the most part, one generously topped pita pizza, or two English muffin halves, should be allowed per serving. Don't worry about measuring, simply top the pizzas as you'd like.This is all you need to make a basic pita or English muffin pizza, and chances are that kids will prefer the pared-down version over anything fancier. If they like it on the plainer side (that is, few or no veggies), make sure to serve these with plenty of veggies on the side. A nicely arranged raw veggie platter with an enticing dip, and baked sweet potatoes might make a nice way to round out a meal of mini-pizzas for finicky eaters.
- Pita breads or English muffins, preferably whole-grain
- Good-quality pizza or marinara sauce
- Grated mozzarella-style vegan cheese
- Dried oregano, optional
Preheat the oven to 400º F. Spray a baking sheet with vegetable oil cooking spray, or better yet, line with parchment. If you're just making 1 or 2 servings, use a toaster oven.
Spread each pita with a good layer of sauce; top with vegan mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of dried oregano if desired. If you'd like, add one of the following toppings (or create your own) before baking. Arrange pitas on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
- Not really pepperoni: Scatter thin slices of tofu hot dog or vegan pepperoni over the cheese.
- Florentine: Scatter wilted baby spinach, well drained, over the cheese.
- Puttanesca: Top the pizza with chopped black and green olives.
- The classic: Top the pizza with sauteed sliced mushrooms and bell pepper strips.
Broccoli: For many kids, the green veggie of choice on their mini-pizzas is broccoli. Finely chop and lightly steam broccoli florets, and pile them on.
VEGAN AVOCADO REUBEN SANDWICH
This classic deli sandwich can be made meatless as well as dairy-free. It’s great for a quick at-home lunch or for a soup-and-sandwich dinner. The ingredients given here can be easily multiplied for more servings.
Makes: 1 sandwich
- 2 slices fresh whole grain rye bread
- Mustard or vegan Thousand Island dressing
(homemade or store-bought), as needed
- 3 slices vegan bacon such as tempeh Fakin’ Bacon
or other vegan deli slices of choice
- Firm, ripe avocado, thinly sliced, as desired
- Well-drained sauerkraut, as desired
- ¼ cup or so grated nondairy cheese of your choice
Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 375º F.
Spread each slice of bread with mustard or Thousand Island dressing, followed by deli slices, some of the avocado, a little sauerkraut, and 1 slice cheese per sandwich.
Heat the sandwich or sandwiches in the oven for 8 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Serve at once.
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