Serving healthy meals for your family can be a challenge if a family member, like a teen, decides to become a vegetarian. To support your teen's food choice, you may need to find new ways to prepare some family meals. Involving your teen in making their own meals can help them learn how to cook and prepare a nutritionally balanced meal. Teens need to know there's more to being a vegetarian than simply eliminating meat! And yes – they do need to eat their vegetables!
What is a vegetarian?
There is more than one type of vegetarian:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy and eggs but do not eat meat, poultry and fish.
- Pesco-vegetarians eat dairy, eggs and fish, but do not eat meat and poultry.
- Vegans do not eat dairy, eggs, meat, poultry and fish.
With some planning and careful attention to important nutrients, any of these vegetarian eating plans can be followed by teens.
The eating pattern for vegetarian teens is no different than that recommended for non-vegetarian teens. The only difference is the types of foods selected. Aim to follow Canada’s Food Guide.
What nutrients should vegetarian teens be concerned about?
All vegetarians, especially those who don't eat any animal products (like vegans), need to be sure they get enough iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and zinc. Protein needs can easily be satisfied by eating a variety of beans, peas, lentils, soy products, nuts, seeds and whole grains (as well as milk products and eggs if they include those in their diet).
Iron - choose whole grain breads and cereal, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, , beans, lentils, and nuts (and eggs if those are part of their diet). To increase absorption of iron from plant foods, eat vitamin C rich foods at the same time. For example: have cereal and orange slices for breakfast; add strawberries, kiwi fruit, sweet peppers, or tomatoes to dark leafy greens; make a vegetarian chili with tomatoes and beans.
Calcium and vitamin D – did you know that children between the ages of 9 and 18 years need more calcium than an adult? The teenage years are important years for bone development, which is why it is key to get enough calcium and vitamin D at this age. Learn more about calcium and how much is recommended for each age group in our calcium article.
Milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified plant-based beverages are a good source of calcium. Some non-dairy foods also provide calcium including tofu made with calcium, broccoli, kale, Bok Choy, almonds or almond butter, and cooked beans (soy, white, navy, black, kidney). Vegetarian teens who don't drink or eat any dairy products or fortified plant-based beverages can benefit from a calcium and vitamin D supplement. Check with your dietitian about choosing a supplement that is right for your teen.
Vitamin B12 – is found in animal foods such as milk and eggs. If animal foods are not eaten, look for foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals, fortified plant-based beverages, and fortified veggie 'meats', or take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Zinc – choose beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs all provide zinc.
Meal Suggestions for Vegetarian Teens
- Omelettes or frittatas made with vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, mushroom, sweet peppers, and onions – serve with whole grain bread or toast and a glass of milk or fortified soy milk
- Burritos or tacos made with kidney beans, black beans or refried beans
- Stir fries made with tofu, vegetables, and nuts – enjoy with whole wheat couscous or brown rice
- Salads made with leafy greens, chickpeas, white or red kidney beans, nuts, vegetables, pasta, rice, quinoa or barley
- Dahl served with whole wheat roti and fruit salad
- Falafels and hummus made with chickpeas served with whole grain pita bread and salad, sweet peppers or carrots
- Fried rice made with edamame and veggies
- Peanut or almond butter on whole wheat or multigrain bagels with banana or apple slices
- Soups made with lentils, beans, and vegetables – serve with whole grain bread or crackers
- Vegetable congee with tofu or soft boiled egg
- Oatmeal made with fortified almond milk and topped with pumpkin seeds and dried fruit
- Canned baked beans in tomato sauce with molasses served with toast, vegetables and dip
- Casseroles made with beans or lentils, rice, corn, and tomatoes
- Pizza topped with vegetables
- Vegetarian chilli served with cornbread or couscous
- Vegetarian lasagne
- Soy beverage smoothies with a banana, frozen berries and a splash of orange juice
Recipes to try:
Sweet chili tofu stir-fry
Tofu vegetable soup
with Braised lentils
Banana nut smoothie
Black bean couscous salad
Overnight apple pie oatmeal
How can a dietitian help?
can work with you and your teen to make sure they are getting all the nutrients, like protein, calcium and iron, they need to grow and be healthy. The dietitian will recommend ways to increase these nutrients in their diet, and suggest a supplement if needed. A dietitian can also help you plan vegetarian meals that your whole family will enjoy, while considering your family’s preferences, culture, traditions and lifestyle. Connect with a dietitian today
Well-planned vegetarian diets can be nutritious for people of all ages and can provide you with all the nutrients for good health. But planning is key! A dietitian can help make sure your teen is getting all the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy.
You may also be interested in:
Nutritional Content of Plant-Based Beverages
What You Need to Know About a Healthy Vegetarian Eating Plan
What You Need to Know About Following a Vegan Eating Plan
How Can I Find a Dietitian Near Me?
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.
Last Update – June 20, 2022