TEEN DOC: Your Teen Gone Veggie?
by Dr. Ann Engelland
(December 16, 2003) Has your pre-teen or teenager
decided to become vegetarian? Are you alarmed? Worried? Informed?
First of all, RELAX. Take the time to understand what your
child has in fact decided to do. Often the decision to become
a vegetarian is motivated by very positive issues—sensitivity
toward animals, interest in better health, spiritual experimentation,
or concern for the environment—all good things for
teens to think about and explore.
Your child will be fine. He or she will however need some
guidance and support, not to mention a trip or two to the
health food store with you.
There are a few basic rules for you and your teen to remember:
- You will need to study and learn. The more strictly your
child sticks to a vegetarian diet, the more you'll need
- Try new things and go for variety. Remember, becoming
a vegetarian is making a change in eating, not just dropping
meat or animal products.
- Don’t substitute junk for
meat. Again, the more strict a vegetarian, the more you
will need to experiment.
What is a vegetarian anyway?
Strictly speaking, “vegetarian” is not a correct
term, and there are many approaches to vegetarianism. Some
people drop red meat, but eat chicken or fish. Others eat
no chicken, fish or seafood
but do consume eggs and milk along with grains, legumes,
nuts, and seeds. Still others eat dairy but not eggs.
A strict vegetarian or vegan excludes all foods of animal
origin, including honey.
Almost any effort to decrease animal products in the diet
has the potential to promote a healthier lifestyle, so I
would encourage your kid’s efforts, even if they do
not fit neatly into a category, seem inconsistent philosophically,
or are intermittent or short-lived.
Are there any potential problems with trying out vegetarian
Substituting junk: Kids need to know that
a diet of soda, cheese pizza, fries and ice creams will not
Again, what replaces animal protein is the most important
part of learning to be a healthy vegetarian.
Calories: Because meats tend to contribute
significantly to total daily caloric intake, vegetarian diets
be deficient for active teens. When this happen--and
they get hungry--they may compensate with more “junk” food.
Calcium and Vitamin D: Even meat-eating
teens tend not to get enough calcium in their diets. This
is especially important
for girls who need 1200-1500 mg of calcium per day. If teens
are avoiding milk and dairy products, the best
bet is for them to drink calcium-fortified orange
to take calcium in tablet form. Tums are probably the cheapest
and most convenient and now come in fun tropical,
berry, and mint flavors.
Iron: Meat, especially red meat is the
most easily digested source of iron, but not the only one.
Eggs, cereals and green
leafy veggies have iron. It’s probably a good idea,
especially for girls, who lose blood monthly and are at risk
for anemia, to have their blood checked periodically if they
are limiting iron sources in their diets. Again, supplemental
iron is easy to take and inexpensive.
Vitamin B12 and Zinc: It used to be believed
that these nutrients were not present in vegetarian diets,
vegetarians who eat a lot of whole grains, legumes (beans),
nuts, and green leafy veggies can get enough.
Protein: Getting enough protein is
only a problem with strict vegans, but there are numerous
that can be
eaten straight or incorporated into family recipes.
How can you be helpful to your child?
Try new foods yourself
Offer to go to the health food store together
Make one vegetarian meal a week for the whole family
Try an ethnic restaurant together
Lecture your kid
Sneak meat into the “veggie” lasagna
It's not hard to be a vegetarian in the Larchmont area.
There's a variety of local restaurants with
Hunan Larchmont (Chinese) has many vegetarian choices including
bean curd in sauce—(that’s
Tofu), broccoli with mushrooms, cold noodles with sesame
sauce, and egg drop soup.
Just Meze (Turkish) has veggie soups, many dishes with eggplant,
humus, or chick peas, interesting salads, and a fresh veggie
casserole in tomato sauce.
At Bangkok (Thai), try the sauteed mixed veggies, stir
fry, rice and noodle dishes, or many seafood options for
Abis (Japanese) has vegetable tempura, noodles with veggies,
Yu-dofu (bean curd with dipping sauce) and salads.
And of course the Nautilus Diner has Greek
the anchovies. McDonald’s has salads. Esy’s has
all manner of veggie entrees, soups and salads, and there
and cream cheese. When you think of it, almost every restaurant
has some vegetarian option.
References and helpful resources:
Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy:The Harvard Medical School
Guide to Healthy Eating. Walter C. Willett, M.D. (Simon and Schuster
The Complete Idiot's Guide to
Total Nutrition. Joy Bauer (Alpha Books, 2002)
The Vegetarian Times Cookbook. Editors
of Vegetarian Times & MacMillan Publishing Editors (John
Wiley & Sons, 1984)
The Vegetarian Resource Group at http://www.vrg.org Also:
http://www.fitteen.com, exercise and nutrition site for teens
Dr. Ann L. Engelland has
a practice in Mamaroneck devoted to
Adolescent Primary Care.
Print This Page--For best results, use landscape
option in Preferences