by Diana Simeon
What to do when your teenager announces she’s a vegetarian? For parents unaccustomed to a vegetarian diet, it can be very perplexing. But it doesn’t need to be.
“First, you want to support your teenager,” explains Jill Castle, a childhood nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.
Do this by helping your teenager understand what it really means to be a vegetarian. Vegetarianism is a perfectly healthy diet, when done properly.
“You can’t just eat pasta and cheese pizza,” Castle says. “That’s not being a vegetarian. Vegetarians have a lot of beans in their diet. They eat alternate protein sources, like tofu and maybe fish. They load their diet with vegetables and fruit, and that’s the kind of diet you need to adopt to go about this in a healthy manner.”
Get books from the library or google the Vegetarian Resource Group and ask your teenager to read up on the kinds of foods he’ll need to eat in lieu of animal protein. Forgetting to eat replacement protein altogether can have incredibly negative effects on you teen’s health. If he’s still willing, then stock your home with those foods to help him succeed.
“I tell parents, you don’t really have to change your whole menu. Make your normal food and then fry up some tofu on the side for the teenager who isn’t going to eat the meat. And anyone else in the family can eat it, quite frankly, if they want to,” says Castle.
Note, also, that for many teenagers, vegetarianism—or veganism—can be a short-lived phase. “A lot of teenagers try it and it’s often temporary. It’s a reflection more of their developmental stage,” Castle notes. “So, keep your head together and ride the wave.”