At the children’s museum where I work, there’s an exhibit called Marketplace, which is essentially a mini grocery store engineered just for play. When I give tours to field trip groups, this exhibit is where I educate kids about the various food groups as outlined on MyPlate. I explain to them that MyPlate not only shows the five food groups, but also what portions of them we should fill our plates with (as in, 50% fruits and vegetables).
Part of my spiel in this exhibit is asking kids to tell me examples of their favorite foods in each group. They usually do pretty well on fruits, vegetables, and dairy (except for the occasional kid who tells me that pigs give us dairy products or that oranges are their favorite vegetable), but they are often stumped when I ask them to name foods that contain protein. I can’t tell you how many times kids’ ideas of protein-rich foods are protein bars or protein shakes, rather than natural food sources. Granted, these kids are often second graders, so I have to give them a pass, but as a nutritionist, it’s surprising to me that the school curriculum covers so little about food and nutrition.
Once we get through the idea that protein is found in animal products and some non-animal products, I ask the students again: which protein-containing foods are your favorites?
Steak. Steak is the answer about 80% of the time.
I then ask kids about plant-based protein sources. Have they ever, for example, tried tofu?
Come on! I want to say. You’re eight years old and your parents have already ruined you for tofu? But it’s true–ever since Americans first started experimenting with tofu in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s been saddled with a reputation as the flavorless poster child of the Health Food Movement.
It doesn’t have to be that way. As a meatless protein source, I find tofu easy to prepare, cheap to purchase, and a flavor chameleon that can adapt to anything you throw at it. Case in point: these delicious barbecue tofu sandwiches with veggie slaw. I’ve had tofu in many forms over the years, but the idea of slicing it and putting it in a sandwich was new to me when I first saw this recipe. Now that I’ve been making it for awhile, I can see how the shape and texture of pan-fried tofu sliced off the block is perfect sandwich material! Slathered with barbecue sauce and topped with a cool slaw, these barbecue tofu sandwiches are a super tasty (and totally think-outside-the-box) weeknight dinner.
So if someone asks MY favorite protein-containing food? Well, I won’t say they beat a juicy steak, but I will say these barbecue tofu sandwiches rank pretty high.