Crispy tofu and potato is a kid pleasing combo that even the pickiest of eaters are sure to enjoy.
Now I have to preface this recipe by saying I've never tasted an actual tater tot. They're not a thing in New Zealand, but I totally get the concept and understand why they're insanely popular with little people. I mean, crispy and soft potato, what's not to love?
Getting DIY on it and customising the recipe means you can boost the nutritional value, save money and still keep the littles happy. Adding a few dollars worth of tofu instantly triples the protein content. Brilliant, and absolutely perfect for vegetarian kids, or to get a bit of variety into the diets of non-vegetarians kids too.
Raising vegetarian kids is something I haven't written about before, mainly because I know we all have our own ideas about parenting and food. The last thing I want to do is come across like I'm telling anyone what to do, or that I think my way is the only right way. But, it's still something I get asked about a lot, so if you're interested in my thoughts - read on.
My children are being raised on lacto-ovo vegetarian diets (no fish, poultry or meat, but including dairy and egg). This is a decision I've been happy to make on their behalf because I know they're eating a balanced and healthy diet, and in fact they're some of the healthiest kids I've ever known. From an ethical standpoint, the origin of our food and the impact of the decisions we make is something we discuss a lot as a family. If they choose to eat meat (or go vegan) when they're a bit older I won't stand in their way - providing they can demonstrate they understand the decision they're making.
Do I think they're 'missing out'? Not at all! We eat a wide variety of delicious food from a huge range of cultures.
Won't their friends think they're weird? I'd wager that none of my big girl's friends give a damn what she eats. A few are interested in the fact she's vegetarian, but really it's only as noteworthy as the fact a few kids in her class are gluten or dairy free, eat halal or have a nut allergy (so not very noteworthy).
Surely children can't get enough protein or iron from a vegetarian diet? Well, we haven't had any problems so far. Most people eat more protein than they need, and it's not hard to get plenty of protein from a plant-based diet once you change the way you plan your meals (and it's even easier if dairy and egg are part of your diet too).
Plant foods that are high in protein also tend to be high in iron, so to be honest getting enough iron isn't something I give a lot of thought to. This isn't scientific, but I definitely believe that with a vegetarian or vegan diet, if you take care of the protein the iron will take care of itself.
In terms of meal planning, the biggest difference is that we don't have the whole "This is the meat we got out for dinner, so what will we have with it?" conversation, which in my observation seems to be how many people plan their dinners. I start in the vege drawer of the fridge, then consider what proteins we have available to add to that, then consider whether the meal as a whole will be delicious, interesting, varied or filling enough. Then I might add some other extras too just to round things out.
So where do we get our protein then?
- Grains and legumes (and products made with them): Lentils, chickpeas, chickpea flour, rice, wheat, wheat flour, pasta, quinoa, noodles, tortillas, bread, oats, black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, split peas and mung beans.
- Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, almond milk, sesame seeds, tahini and buckwheat.
- Soy products: Tofu, tempeh, soy milk and edamame beans.
- Green vegetables (yep, they're a good source of protein): broccoli, kale, spinach, beans and peas.
- And to a lesser extent: free range eggs, dairy milk and cheeses.
Lots of options huh? The key is having lots of variety in your diet.
But how do you get your children to eat that kind of food? Well despite the kid-friendly nature of this tofu tater tot recipe, on the whole we don't do kid meals. The best way to get your kids to eat healthy food, is simply to serve it to them. I'm not trying to be flippant (and I know all about picky eaters), but that's really what it comes down to. I don't serve really spicy food, or food that's complicated or difficult to eat, other than that almost anything we eat will be served to our children. The earlier this can start, the better.
If your kids need toned down options, some good starting points are: chickpea flour fritters with grated vegetables in the mix, not sausage rolls, French-style lentils, lentil dal (tone down the spices), macaroni tossed with kale pesto, green soup, porridge with LSA, hummus with vege sticks, oat, chia and buckwheat breakfast bowls and curried kumara and quinoa balls (tone down the curry powder). All of these recipes have proven popular with my big girl, but also with the far less adventurous kids of lots of my friends.
Now back to the tofu tater tots. Firstly they're very easy to make, with only three ingredients in the main mix (tofu, potato, flour). You can also choose to crumb them for extra crunch - if you don't have the time or inclination don't worry though, they're delicious uncrumbed too.
This recipe is for the basic mixture. It's plain by nature, but you could add all sorts of other flavours into the mix to make it more interesting: garlic, fresh herbs like basil or chives, dried herbs like oregano or sage, spices like curry powder, cajun seasoning, or cumin seeds. A bit of nutritional yeast would be great, and I'm also thinking of trying a version which includes miso paste. Sky's the limit really.
Serve tofu tater tots up with some plain steamed vegetables and tomato sauce (ketchup) and you have a healthy, pretty familiar, kid friendly vegetarian (vegan actually!) meal they're sure to eat. The tofu tater tots are also a huge hit as finger food for my 11 month old baby.
For the tofu tater tots:
- 1 pack firm tofu (275g, I used Tonzu organic tofu)
- 600 g peeled all purpose potatoes
- 3 tablespoon flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Black pepper
For the crumb coat (optional):
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup soy milk or milk of your choice
- 1-2 cups panko crumbs
- Begin by draining the tofu to get rid of excess moisture. I do this by sitting the block of tofu between a few layers of paper towels, between two plates, with something heavy on top. Leave it for half an hour, or as long as you have time for (even 10 minutes is worth it).
- Grate the tofu on the large holes of a box grater and put into a large mixing bowl.
- Grate the potatoes, then use your hands to squeeze out excess moisture. I just squeeze a handful at a time over the sink, then drop the squeezed potato into the mixing bowl.
- Add flour, salt and a good grind of pepper into the mixing bowl. Mix well, then use your hands to really smoosh everything together.
- Roll generous tablespoonfuls into small tater tot shapes (short sausage shapes). The mixture is quite soft, but if you squeeze it firmly and work it a few times in your hands it will stay together quite well.
- If you choose to crumb them, arrange the flour, soy milk and panko crumbs in separate bowls. Working quickly and gently, roll each tofu tater tot in flour, pass through soy milk, then panko crumbs.
- Finished tofu tater tots (crumbed or uncrumbed) can then be oven baked, or shallow or deep fried until golden brown and crispy.
- To oven bake, brush or spray the tofu tater tots with cooking oil then bake them at 190C (375F) fanbake for 30-40 minutes, turning once or twice during cooking. They should be golden brown and quite crispy when done.