Teens can have many reasons for choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet. Here are some tips for supporting their latest culinary exploration.
Learn How Committed They Are
Whether it’s to boost their energy or to align with their friends’ food choices, start a conversation with your teen to hear more about their perspective.
“Be supportive and open, and allow them to experiment,” says Alexandra Jamieson, author of The Great American Detox Diet. “Every one has different needs when it comes to diet, so your child might have different needs than you do.” She recommends getting a cookbook and making a few recipes together to show your support. While eating outside the home can be tricky, often other families and restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan options.
Before you lend your support; however, be sure to check in with your gut when it comes to your teen wanting to change their diet.
“Some diets can be masking an eating disorder, so keep an eye out,” Jamieson says. “Trust your instincts. Make sure that they are not losing too much weight too quickly.”
Know the Difference Between Vegetarian Styles
Just as kids assert their own style when it comes to clothes and music, they may also find their own style of diet. Get to know the different types of vegetarianism to help support them:
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Eats dairy products (like milk and cheese) along with eggs and all plant-based foods
Lacto Vegetarian: Eats dairy products and plant-based foods but skips the eggs
Ovo Vegetarian: Eats eggs and plant-based foods with no dairy products (great for those who are lactose-intolerant or have dairy allergies)
Vegan: Eats only plant-based foods skipping all animal-derived products like dairy, eggs, and honey
Pescatarian: Eats a mostly vegetarian diet but will occasionally eat fish
Flexitarian: Eats mostly vegetarian, but occasionally might eat animal-based foods
Whatever style your teen chooses, let their new diet be an opportunity to learn and grow together. Even if you have other family members in the house eating differently, you can all show support simply by sharing one meatless meal a week together or by keeping the house well-stocked with healthy food options.
Be Sure They're Getting Their Vitamins
While vegetarian diets in general provide many health benefits, you may want to consider adding a multivitamin to their day.
Vegans, in particular, can have a hard time getting enough B vitamins, which are important for mood and memory, according to Casey Seidenberg cofounder of Nourish Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition education company. She recommends increasing sea vegetables or talking to your doctor about a supplement.
Great sources of calcium for those avoiding dairy products include green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, and broccoli, as well as fortified orange juice and cereals, according to Monique Ryan, a registered dietitian based in Chicago.
She also recommends nuts to help provide more healthy fats and iron in teen diets. Other vegetarian sources of iron include spinach, lentils, tempeh, and soybeans. Pairing them with sources of Vitamin C like orange juice or tomatoes will increase the body’s iron absorption, according to Ryan.
Don't Let Them Be Junk Food Vegetarians
One pitfall to watch out for is junk-food vegetarianism. While going vegetarian has many health benefits, teens need to be sure they are getting a mix of foods balancing plant proteins, healthy fats, and calcium. Simply eating French fries and pizza can fit the bill as vegetarian-friendly, but these foods don’t have all the nutrients teens need.
Be on the look out for too many processed foods or fake-meat substitutes, which can be loaded with preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients.
“Tofurkey is not a terrible product, but be sure it’s not the only food they are eating,” Jamieson says.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies