Teens and Sudden Vegetarianism: When Teens Suddenly Veg Out

Teens and sudden vegetarianism. It goes like this:

You serve your daughter’s favorite meatloaf, expecting praise. Instead, she looks at her plate as though she’d been served a hefty portion of steaming cow manure. “Um, Mom?” she says. “I no longer eat the flesh of living creatures.”

Inwardly rolling your eyes, you try a snappy comeback, “No worries then. This cow’s been dead for at least 24 hours!”

“Oo-oh MOM!” she says, pushing her plate away with a hard shove. “I HATE YOU,” she says and storms away from the table and up to her bedroom where she slams the door for emphasis.


You’re used to it by now. A stud in her tongue? Par for the course. A tic tac toe board shaved into the side of her (purple) hair? No biggie.

And now, for the pièce de résistance, sudden vegetarianism.

Teens do this kind of stuff. You know that. But this is your teen and you have to deal with it.

Your first concern is whether her sudden vegetarianism isn’t just a cover-up for some sort of fad diet or eating disorder. In other words, you want to make sure her little rebellion doesn’t harm her health.Teens and Sudden Vegetarianism: When Teens Suddenly Veg Out

As it turns out, your concern is not out of place. For many teens, assuming a vegetarian diet is a way to avoid eating a whole bunch of foods without drawing attention to the fact that it’s really about food avoidance and not really about vegetarianism. It’s a way to say no thank you, as the food gets passed around, “I’m a vegetarian,” a universally accepted excuse.

A 2009 study led by a nutritionist, Ramona Robinson-O’Brien, affiliated with two academic institutions in Minnesota, found that vegetarian teens and young adults were less likely to be overweight but more likely to binge. While most of the teens in this study professed to lofty reasons for their vegetarianism (saving the animals/the environment), when questioned they were ultimately much more concerned with losing weight. Moreover, they didn’t realize that eating chicken (25% of the study subjects) broke their own rules, while up to 46% of the study participants had no problem eating fish.

Going back a bit further, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded that the commonest reason teens supplied for vegetarianism was to either lose weight, or to prevent weight gain. Still other studies suggest that vegetarian teens are way more likely to try risky fad diets and unhealthy weight loss measures such as purging, while teens with diagnosed eating disorders are more likely to be vegetarians than any other age group in the general population.

The findings of these various studies on teens and vegetarianism suggest that parents should have a talk with teens that decide to become vegetarians, to determine the cause of this sudden, dietary turnaround. Perhaps your child saw a film about animals and it hit her: animals are living creatures—how can we eat them?? If that’s the sort of thing that’s going on with your child, you probably don’t have to worry about an eating disorder. But you do need to try to get your child to plan out her new style of eating so that she continues to get all the nutrients she needs for good health. Moreover, it’s going to require a whole new repertoire of supper recipes that suit your teen as well as the others in your family.

Of course, a lot depends on how far your child takes the vegetarian thing. Is she going to adopt a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet in which eggs and dairy products are included? That would make it a lot easier for you to ensure your teenager is getting much-needed nutrients. Or is your teen taking on a lacto vegetarian diet which includes milk products but no eggs? Slightly harder in terms of accommodating the family and in obtaining the minimum daily requirements of vitamins and other nutrients.

Last but not least there is the vegan diet thTeens and Sudden Vegetarianism: When Teens Suddenly Veg Outat excludes living creatures (meat, chicken, fish) and their byproducts (milk, cheese, eggs). This diet is the riskiest of all and makes it darned hard for your teen to get enough vitamin B12 and vitamin D. No matter which type of vegetarian diet your child chooses, it is wise to invest in a good multivitamin supplement and to make sure she uses it. It is almost impossible for a person to get enough vitamin B12 from plant sources alone. VeganHealth.org offers interesting (and persuasive) material on the subject (click HERE).

Vitamin B12, along with folic acid and iron, is one of the building blocks for making blood. Without enough B12, serious anemia can develop, along with symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, numbness, depression, and moodiness. Your biggest challenge (after checking for eating disorders) is in getting enough B12 into your child to prevent anemia.

Compared with keeping your child healthy, adapting meals to suit your teenager’s sudden vegetarianism may seem like a minor concern, but of course, it’s a very real issue, especially when the family has become accustomed to eating certain favorites on certain days of the week. Pleasing everyone is difficult. Some parents cope by keeping the meat separate for the family carnivores. You could, for instance, leave the meatballs on the side to add to spaghetti and red sauce. Or you could make a taco bar, leaving the ground meat separate from the other taco fixings.Teens and Sudden Vegetarianism: When Teens Suddenly Veg Out

What you really want to watch for are teens using vegetarianism as an excuse to avoid food groups they don’t enjoy, so that they end up with a nutrient deficient diet that is heavy on carbohydrates and junk food. Does your child’s “new diet” seem to consist mostly of pasta, bread, snack chips, cheese, and sweets? If so, see if you can’t have a talk (enlist your child’s physician, if necessary) about diet and health. It’s one thing to be a vegetarian and eat a lot of beans, pulses, tofu, leafy green vegetables, and other healthful foods, quite another to load up on white flour and white sugar and call your diet “vegan.”

If you’re the parent of a teen that has suddenly announced he or she is a vegetarian, what you may be seeking most of all are some tips and guidelines. Here are 8 great tips for coping with sudden teenage vegetarianism:

  1. Have your child checked out by a doctor and schedule regular check-ups to ensure she maintains an appropriate weight and is getting the full complement of vitamins and nutrients. You can ask the doctor to recommend a good supplement.
  2. Make sure your child is getting enough protein by serving pulses and legumes (beans, lentils, peas, tofu, and tempeh).
  3. Look for “calcium set” tofu and soy milk fortified with calcium.
  4. Use almond or cashew butter instead of peanut butter in cookies or spread on apple slices. These nut butters contain less protein than good old peanut butter, but they make up for it in a higher ratio of important minerals, for instance, zinc.
  5. When purchasing breads, grains, and cereals, choose whole grain items over bleached white and look for items fortified with iron.
  6. The right kinds of fats, such as long-chain Omega 3 fats are important for brain development. The best source is fish but if your child won’t eat it, make sure her diet includes olive oil, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
  7. Make sure your teen eats vegetables and fruits with high concentrations of vitamin C to help with iron absorption, since the vegetarian diet is low in iron. Citrus fruits and broccoli are winners.
  8. Stock your pantry with healthy items so that an urge to nosh is answered with healthful treats, such as a handful of walnuts instead of a handful of corn chips.
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About Samuel Craig

Warrior for education, with a touch of green on the side. And yes, that is a purple tomato.

Children's education is my passion. That and the environment are the two most important causes in my life.

My wife and two kids are the most important people in my life.

Introduce yourself, I love meeting new people!