So Your Teen Is Now Vegan; Here's How You Can Help
Your teen just announced she or he wants to be vegan (or vegetarian) and you’re worried! How will they get enough protein to maintain a healthy diet? How will they manage this new commitment? Will you have to make extra meals? What kinds of groceries will you have to buy?
Here’s everything you need to know to support your little herbivore:
The first question to ask when your teen announces they want to eat a different diet is what led them to this decision. Often, it’s a friend that has adopted a new lifestyle or they watched a YouTube video on how meat goes from the farm to the table. Are they opposed to the way animals are treated in feedlots and factory farms? Maybe they just love animals so much, that the thought of eating one has become repulsive. Or perhaps they are concerned about the environment, and what the production of food from animals contributes to the carbon footprint. Find out why...and gain an understanding of their new lifestyle. Their reasons behind their decision will impact what they can and cannot eat.
Name That Eating Plan
Now that you know why they want to embrace a new eating plan, the next question is, what specific plan will they be embracing? Your teen may be interested in one of these:
- Vegetarian: Eats a plant-based diet with or without eggs and dairy.
- Vegan: Eats nothing with a face (or that comes from something with a face)– no meat, fish, or poultry, including milk, eggs, and sometimes honey (bees produce honey for their own use, so some vegans won’t eat honey).
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Eats no meat, poultry, or fish, but does include milk and eggs.
- Lacto-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, but includes milk.
- Ovo-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, seafood, and milk, but includes eggs.
Get to Know Your Proteins
Your teen will need to get protein and other nutrients from other non-animal sources. General guidelines for proteins are: Boys and girls ages 9-13 need 34 grams; boys 14-18 years, 52 grams; Girls 14 years and older, 46 grams. Plant-based foods rich in proteins include:
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Nutritional yeast
Additionally, you will need to keep an eye on their vitamin B12; an essential vitamin that your body uses for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. It’s found mainly in animal protein, so if your teen is vegetarian, she can obtain it in eggs and dairy, but if she’s a vegan, you’ll have to get it in other sources like plant based milks (soy, almond, coconut, etc.), nutritional yeast, soy burgers, and Ezekiel bread, to name a few. B12 deficiencies normally don’t show up in a vegan diet until a year into it. Low levels of B12 result in anemia and damage to the nervous system.
Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles take a lot of commitment. This is where you’ll find out if it is a true lifestyle change or just a phase. A teen is perfectly capable to prepare their own food. If your teen hasn’t had much experience in the kitchen yet, it’s the ideal opportunity for them to learn to cook.
There are a plethora of cookbooks and online cooking demos they can use. While you appreciate and honor their new lifestyle, it’s important that they take ownership of it. If they are truly embracing it, they ought to help you with the shopping list and meal prep and even finding and preparing new recipes.
All Together Now
There are several meals you can make as a parent that will accommodate your teen’s new diet, without sacrificing yours. Often, it’s just a matter of offering an additional plant-based protein for the same type of meal. The majority of your meals consist of veggies, carbs, and a protein anyway, so it’s not a huge adjustment to add an additional protein, which you can all eat as well.
Take rice bowls for instance. Instead of offering just veggies and chicken, put out a bowl of protein-rich black beans for your teen. Even homemade pizza night can be easy. For the vegetarian, it’s just veggies and cheese; for the vegan, it’s just sauce and veggies, and a dairy-free cheese substitute. Everyone can make their own personal size pizza with their own dough or pre-made crusts. Tofu or tempeh can easily be added to salads, scrambles, and stir-frys as well.
To make sure your teen is getting the right nutrition, add these protein-rich foods to your grocery list: quinoa, buckwheat, edamame, tofu, peanut butter, hummus, lentils, beans, hemp and chia seeds, and nuts are popular for vegans, while vegetarians may add cottage cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, milk, Kefir, and eggs as well.
How do you plan on embracing your teen’s new vegan/vegetarian lifestyle? Share your ideas with us!Tags : teens health vegan vegetarian