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Teen Nutrition For A Teen Vegetarian: Parent’s ABC Guide



Rabbits made my teen reflect about why she eats meat. And your teen?

This article on teen vegetarianism is part of a series on teenage nutrition. You can read the introduction to this series from these two articles “What Is On Your Family’s Breakfast Plate” and “Teenage Nutrition: Why You Should Pick This Battle For Your Adolescent.” We are very excited to bring you this and hope you feel comfortable to add your own thoughts, tips and suggestions.

It started with rabbit. My teenage daughter and the rabbit meal. Where we live, the French eat cooked rabbit. Just thinking of eating those cute bunnies stops me from buying rabbit to eat, but it is eaten a lot here in France.  So when my father-in-law came to visit he proudly brought 2 fresh rabbits, skinned and bought that morning at the marché. I suggested nicely to my daughter’s grandfather:


Don’t mention at the table what we are eating unless you are directly asked.

He looked at me with a confused look and I told him that his oldest granddaughter would be upset to know she was eating rabbit.

She did found out (read story here) and at that moment I knew my daughter will probably end up as a vegetarian.

What to do if your teenager is a vegetarian or is heading in this way?

Follow the ABC’s

Acceptance

Your teenager desires to follow a vegetarian diet? Or your adolescent seems to be leaning away from eating meat? Acceptance of your child’s wishes and tastes are important; not only to your teenager but to yourself. Often you can see the signs coming: avoidance of eating meat, questions about animal treatment, the inquisitive remarks, “what animal is this from?”
My daughter is not yet a vegetarian, but I can see the writing on the wall:

  • eating meat disgusts her
  • questions about the meat source
  • high love for animals
  • refusal to eat certain meats and/or fish

For teenagers the choice to withdrawal meat from their diet is often due to ethical animal issues and not on trying to be ‘healthy’

Teens are a hard bunch to argue with. Acceptance that your adolescent wants to be a vegetarian is a support for your child and will help make the transition easier towards their non-meat diet.  As your teenager moves from being a young child to adulthood there are decisions they make that can be avenues for good learning experiences. Perhaps going vegetarian is a stage your teen is going through but it can be an opportunity to discuss the implications of a vegetarian diet in a mature way. A teenage vegetarian requires a plant based diet that is balanced and high in certain nutrients that you would normally get in large quantities from meat. Acceptance and agreement with your teenager of their dietary wishes should be contingent on their own agreement that their vegetarian diet must be balanced. And this means eating foods that may not be high on their taste list. Don’t you feel as a parent this agreement should be non-negotiable?

Balance

Your teenager’s vegetarian diet can be healthy but it requires balance on your part as a parent or caregiver. Balance to be flexible and willing to compromise, balance to be ready because a proper vegetarian diet requires planning, balance in adding the right plant-based foods to your child’s diet. In general, the main nutrients that teenage vegetarians can miss in a plant based diet are:

  • Calcium
  • Iron (especially critical in teenage girls who lose blood monthly through menstrual periods)
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids
  • Protein
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc

The extent on how many nutrients your teen potential misses in their diet depends on what type of vegetarian diet they follow. As good nutrition ‘insurance’, your teenager should take a daily multi-vitamin with iron. There are great resources, cookbooks and health professionals (especially registered dietitians) that can advise you and your teen if you need nutritional guidance.

Commitment

Your teenager believes in their commitment to not eating animals. After acceptance and balance the commitment from parents is to support their teen’s vegetarian commitment in a fruitful way. Your child choosing to go veggie could also be an opportunity to show your commitment to believing in them and a way to bond together to support their beliefs. 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.

Parental call to action:

This article is primarily for families who eat meat but have a wanna be vegetarian child or a newly declared vegetarian teen. In France, teenage vegetarians are rare, but in other countries such as in the United Kingdom and United States, vegetarianism is more common. I think if we lived in another country my daughter would have already declared:

Mom, I am a vegetarian

I want to be ready when or if she does state this.  The difficulties in kids getting all the proper nutrients from a vegetarian diet are not to be underestimated. Teens are undergoing a rapid developmental phase. A balance towards providing what your teen must have in their diet with a commitment from parent to teen on what kids need to eat to grow well should be non-negotiable. Do you believe if your child is following this type of diet they should also be committed to doing it right?  Certain vegetarian diets, such as a vegan diet require even more work to getting a balanced diet. A teenage vegan should consult with a dietitian specializing in child nutrition to plan a diet that meets their teen’s dietary needs. There is also the planning that goes towards the foods your teen eats outside the home. If your teen is making a commitment to be a vegetarian, the food eaten at school, restaurants, at friend’s homes and on vacations have to also be well-thought out. So much to think about! It can be overwhelming.

If you have any tips or techniques from your experience in parenting a vegetarian child or raising a family vegetarian, would love to hear them. You can add feedback in the comment section.

Finally, this article couldn’t answer everything on teenage vegetarian nutritional issues. If you have a specific question, please contact me at: mbrighton@brightonyourhealth.com or leave a question in the comment section. Like what you see? Sign up for the newsletter to receive news on the next article.
If you teen is interested in cooking, here is a cookbook just for teen vegetarians that is perfect to start them off!

Bon Appetit!

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