What to Do When Your Teen Wants to be a Vegetarian (And You Aren't)

Family meals may become a little complicated when one child wants to be a vegetarian.
Cultura RM/RUSS ROHDE / Cultura / Getty Images

Whether it becomes a life-long choice or she changes her mind in two weeks, your teenager deserves to be heard when she decides to try vegetarianism – even if everyone else in the family is a die-hard omnivore. Here are a few ways to make mealtime more comfortable for everyone.

Respect Your Teen’s Choices

Chances are, your teen has spent at least a little time thinking about what it means to be vegetarian before diving in headfirst.

Whether one of her friends stopped eating meat or she came up with the idea after watching a cooking show designed for vegetarians doesn't matter – she feels the need to explore a change in diet. 

Don’t insist that your teen eat meat. Your insistence will likely only backfire. Instead, give her the freedom to make choices about her diet. 

Create a rule that says everyone must respect one another’s food choices. That means telling a vegetarian she can’t share horror stories about meat at the dinner table, as well as not letting anyone else provide commentary on any interesting vegetarian choices.

Do make sure that your teen is healthy, however. If your teen is cutting out meat to drop a few pounds, make sure she is losing weight in a healthy manner. Any time your teen makes any major diet changes, it's important to keep an eye out for potential eating disorders, as well. 

Family Food Talk

Eating meals as a family is really important, so don’t let your teen’s diet changes prevent you from eating together.

But eating together as a family will take some extra planning if not everyone eats the same foods.

Discuss some of the foods the family already eats and write down items that already are vegetarian or that could easily be changed, such as a favorite pizza, pasta or a Mexican dish. Side dishes are a breeze since many of these are likely already meat-free.

Compile lists of potential vegetarian meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner based on what the family already enjoys together to show that, as a family unit, there's already at least a small core selection of vegetarian-friendly meals. This may make the meal-conversion process a little easier on everyone, and shows the teen that you care about her choices.

Before any of the meat lovers contest the meal plans, remind them that there can be two choices at meals – a pasta sauce with and without meatballs, for instance, or quesadillas with vegetables or chicken.

Get Your Teen Involved in Planning Meals

Your teen probably has some ideas about new foods she would like to try as a vegetarian. Ask if she has any specific dishes in mind and invite other family members to come up with options as well.

Look up recipes together. Dedicate a night or two per week – or whatever works for you – to a brand new vegetarian meal option, prepared as a group (or by those requesting the specific dishes, if they can handle it). It's a great way to get out of a family food rut and to find new foods that all can enjoy.

Nutrition Matters

Research strategies that can ensure your teen is getting enough nutrition if she cuts meat out of her diet.

Get your teen involved in the process too so you can make sure her diet changes will keep her healthy.

Protein can be a cause for concern when switching from a meat-eating to meat-free diet; after all, meats are a major source of protein in the average omnivorous diet.

A vegetarian can get plenty of protein too, in the form of beans, eggs, nuts and soy products such as tofu. Black beans offer an excellent substitute for meat in dishes such as tacos or chili and they're high in protein and nutrients.

Meals away from home

Even if your immediate family accommodates a vegetarian lifestyle, the extended family may not.

Holiday meals can be difficult for teens facing platters full of turkey, ham or other holiday offerings made by others.

Let those preparing food know in advance that your teen is a vegetarian so they're less likely to push her to eat meat. They'll also be more likely to offer at least one main vegetarian course with the meal; otherwise, a plate full of side dishes can be used to make a meal.

If the teen's school does not offer much in the form of a vegetarian lunch, pack lunches instead. It's also worth noting that many chefs prepare items such as mashed potatoes or broth-based soups using chicken stock; ask up front if unsure. 

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