Good morning everyone! I am still deeply submerged into writing my thesis on “Food Preferences in Teenagers: The Role of Taste, Odor and Emotion.” Although this journey has been wonderful, I am looking forward to finishing my paper and getting my diploma. This article on teenagers and vegetarian diets was inspired by the research for my paper. Did you know that the spark to follow a vegetarian diet often begins during the teenage years?
Your teenager just announced that he/she is a vegetarian.
(Uhm? What do I do now?)
The adolescent transition period from childhood to adulthood is one marked with independence, individual thinking, motivation for peer acceptance and having the capacity to make more important decisions-such as wanting to eat less animal foods and follow a vegetarian diet.
It is no wonder that following a vegetarian diet often starts during the teenage years!
While vegetarianism is just a phase for most, (gross estimate that 75% of vegetarians revert back to a meat-based diet after nine years), a teenager feels serious and strongly about their diet choice.
There are Three Types of Teen Vegetarians
- Vegans -No animal products consumed
- Lactovegetarians- No animal products consumed except dairy/milk
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians – No animal products consumed except dairy/milk and eggs
Most teenage vegetarians are lacto-ovo vegetarians. This diet is the easiest to follow and can be as healthy or (even) healthier than a meat-based diet.
Why Does Your Teenager Want to Be a Vegetarian?
Does your adolescent seem to choose meat, fish and other animal products less often? Or maybe your teen will eat meat pieces, but not anything that looks like the original animal: no bones or carcasses! Does your teenager question the treatment of the animals (my daughter refuses to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken for this reason). Or perhaps they feel a vegetarian diet will help them to stay thinner?
The main reasons teenagers start a vegetarian diet are:
- eating meat disgusts him/her (food preferences)
- questions about the meat source (ethical reasons)
- religious/cultural reasons
- family reasons
- health or weight reasons
Nutritional Concerns with a Teenage Vegetarian Diet
A younger teenager is in a large growth period, (second to infancy, the adolescent years see the highest height and weight gain in their lifetime) and they require a healthy and balanced diet to support their body’s and brain’s development. A plant-based vegetarian diet must be high in certain nutrients that you would normally get very easily from consuming meat and fish. The main concern with a teenage vegetarian diet is consuming enough iron-rich foods. A teen vegetarian should add foods to their diet that may not be high on their taste list, such as beans, seeds and nuts.
Is your teenager ready for this committment?
A Teenage Vegetarian Plant Based Diet Requires Planning and Balance
If a teenager is a lacto-ovo vegetarian, (they eat dairy and eggs) their diet is easier to balance compared to a vegan vegetarian, a strict no animal products diet.
In general, the main nutrients lacking in a strict vegetarian diet are:
- Calcium (high in dairy products)
- Iron (especially critical in teenage girls who lose blood through their menstrual periods) -(high in red meat)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (high in fatty fish such as salmon)
- Protein (high in meat, fish, eggs)
- Vitamin B-12 (high in meat)
- Vitamin D (high in fortified milk and eggs)
- Zinc (high in shellfish)
As good nutrition ‘insurance’, your teenager should take a daily multi-vitamin with iron. There are great written and online teenage vegetarian resources and cookbooks available to help. (See a popular cookbook for teens below). Health professionals trained in nutrition, like registered dietitians can advise you and your teen if you need additional nutritional guidance. The biggest concern for teen vegetarians is the risk to be anemic, this is the main nutritional area to focus on-getting enough absorbable iron in the diet. But with planning and cooking and involvement both from the teenager and parents can help make this vegetarian diet healthy and delicious!
Commitment to Teen Vegetarianism
Your teenager believes in their commitment to their vegetarian diet. After acceptance and balance the commitment from parents is to support their teen’s vegetarian diet in a fruitful way. A vegetarian phase in your child’s life could start a long avenue towards a non-meat diet or just be a short phase. Either way, it is a commitment.
Note: I highly recommend that a fast growing teenager who follows a strict vegan diet should consult with a dietitian specializing in vegetarian diets to help plan a diet that meets their dietary needs.
And The Most Positive Part of Being A Teenage Vegetarian?
When your teenager makes a committment to eating a plant based vegetarian diet, the way to look at this move is positively!
How positive to see teenagers who take involvement and responsibility in their life choices, especially one as important as what they eat!
With their committment and your support, a vegetarian teenager can eat healthier, tastier and more ethically sustainable foods. Bravissimo!
If you have any tips or techniques from your experience in parenting a vegetarian child or teenager or raising a family to eat vegetarian, I would love to hear them. And, if you have specific questions about teen nutrition for yourself or your teenager, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a question in the comment section.
Other online (trusted) resources for teen vegetarians:
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Warmly in good health,