What to Feed Your Vegetarian Teen

With recent studies showing that there are now about 367,000 (one in 200) children under the age of 17 choosing a meatless diet, chances are pretty good that there is a vegetarian teen in your life. While most parents (and grandparents!) respect this choice, it often causes angst when trying to figure out what to put on the table. But we are here to help with some practical tips!

Here are some of the considerations to keep in mind when planning a meatless diet, followed by recommendations my clients have found helpful.

Protein – adequate protein intake is necessary to promote the intensive growth and development that takes place during the teen years.

Vitamin B-12 –  needed for red blood cell production.

Iron – especially important for young women.

“French fries and potato chips diet” –  when someone gives up meat, but replaces it with refined carbohydrates (like french fries and potato chips) instead of meatless proteins.  Common among vegetarian teens. Leads to poor nutrition and weight gain.

Eating Disorders -as a long time vegetarian, I would never discourage anyone from choosing a meatless lifestyle. However, a recent study concluded that teens who choose to become vegans or vegetarians are more apt to have an eating disorder than their meat-eating peers. Following the tips below will help to reduce this tendency.

Teen-Friendly Food

Peanut butter – or other nut butters are  wonderful sources of protein. Choose peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter muffins, peanut butter on whole grain crackers or rice cakes, peanut butter and….. well, you get the idea.

Eggs – another good source of protein. Teens will benefit from eating scrambled eggs, egg salad, hard boiled eggs, omelets or frittatas or even pudding (which has both eggs and milk).

Hummus – or bean dip or vegetarian re-fried beans. Beans are a good source of protein and iron and are often more accepted in a “mashed” form. Beans should be part of a vegetarian teen’s diet every day, but if your teen avoids beans you can always use…..

Bean Granules – are simply crushed dehydrated beans. I add bean granules to red pasta sauce (provides a meat like texture), vegetable soups (thickens the soup), and even baked goods. Bean granules or bean powder are often found in the natural foods section as re-fried bean mix. Just make sure you get one that is beans only, not with added lard and salt. Bean granules will boost the protein and iron of any dish without a “beany” taste.

Yogurt – A good source of calcium and protein. Yogurt is convenient and well accepted by children and teens of all ages.

Cereals – fortified breakfast cereals provide several vitamins and minerals including Vitamin B-12 and iron. Choose a whole grain based cereal like Shredded Wheat, Grape-Nuts, or Oatmeal Squares.

Meat analogs –  (meatless meats) are great to keep in the house, especially if you cook most of your meals at home. Vegetarian burgers, franks, etc. allow your teen to eat along with everyone else and are perfect for summer BBQs. Meatless “turkey roasts” make sure that the whole family is involved in the Thanksgiving tradition.  (find meat analog recipes in some of the other posts on this blog).

Molasses – a good plant source of iron. Eat molasses cookies, gingerbread, New England Baked Beans, etc. See recipe below.

Tips

Multivitamin –  a multivitamin is good diet “insurance”. Use it as a supplement though, not in place of good nutrition.

Variety – a vegetarian or meatless diet is not just healthy because of what it leaves out, but because of what it includes. Vegetarian diets should include lots of vegetables, nuts, grains, beans etc. If you feel that your dinner time routine is in a rut, this is the perfect opportunity to try new vegetables, to cook  with lesser used grains like quinoa or kamut, to make delicious soups with wheat berries and lentils, and to try more traditional vegetarian foods like tofu and tempeh. Visit the local health food store and browse the bulk bins for bean varieties, flours, fresh cheeses, and the like.

Teen participation – most teens who choose a vegetarian or meatless diet will be motivated to help plan and prepare meals. Teens can prepare their own snacks and help with the grocery shopping.

Eating out -it can be very difficult to get a truly meatless meal when eating out. Chicken fat, anchovies, and beef broth are routinely added to dishes that you would never expect (just read a creamy salad dressing label sometime). Best choices are usually Mexican, Asian, or Indian restaurants. Ask the waiter about any dish that seems appealing, and see if tofu can be substituted, or nuts added, or if they serve cholesterol-free beans.

Vegan -what if your teen decides to eschew all animal products, not just meat? Vegans do not eat dairy products, eggs, honey, or gelatin. Luckily soy-based yogurts and cream cheese like products are now available. Soy, rice, or almond milk can be used instead of cows or goat milk. But a vegan teen will have to be dedicated to assisting in the planning  to make sure that they eat a balanced diet. I highly recommend purchasing a good vegan cookbook like those mentioned in a previous post here.

Cook at Home – good advice for everyone. Preparing meals at home does not have to be a time-consuming task, simple meals are quick, easy and better for us than almost anything you purchase when eating out. Teens who help out with their meals are learning skills that will help them stay healthy and save money for the rest of their lives. You may find that having a vegetarian teen in the house makes the whole family healthier!

Gingerbread

This simple recipe (mixed in the dish it is baked in!) is from my cookbook, The Happy Lunchbox – 4 Weeks of Menus and Recipes.

1 3/4 cup flour

1/4 cup potato flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp allspice

dash salt

1 cup molasses

1/2 cup oil

1 cup hot water

1/4 cup chopped candied ginger (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an 8 inch baking dish, mix together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt with a fork. Add molasses, oil and water. Mix well, using the fork to break up all the lumps. Stir in candied ginger if using. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a wooden pick insterted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Makes 9 large serving.

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About the Author

Renee Pottle, an author and heart-healthy educator, loves to explore and write about the Mediterranean Diet. She blogs at SeedToPantry.com and HestiasKitchen.com.

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