We now have a teenage vegetarian in the house. About eight months ago, my teenager announced that she was going to become a vegetarian. She had done her research and had some solid reasons why she wanted to make the change. We don’t eat a lot of meat around here anyway, so it wasn’t that big of an impact to our family. More than anything I wanted to be supportive of her, so off we went on this teenage vegetarian adventure!
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One challenge I face is making sure she gets enough protein. Eggs and beans are on her “will not eat list” and tofu isn’t a favorite either. She will however eat lentils, quinoa, Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds, nut butters, and a whole slew of vegetables. So we definitely had some options to start with.
Another challenge is that the boys in this house occasionally enjoy eating meat. Cooking two different meals each night isn’t an option, so I’ve become a little creative with my meal planning. For example, if I am making a stir fry with chicken, I will start cooking the veggies and chicken in separate pans. Once the veggies are done I’ll set some aside for my daughter and then add the veggies into the chicken. Often all it takes is a slight tweak to a recipe and I can make it work for everyone.
Admittedly there have been a few evenings where I completely forgot that she had gone the vegetarian route. I’d make a fish or chicken dish with a vegetable side and she’d be left eating broccoli for dinner. Lucky for her, most of the time there was some type of vegetarian leftover in the fridge so she never went hungry.
Teenage Vegetarian Tips For Success
I am by no means an expert on feeding a teenage vegetarian, and am still working on fine tuning our approach. However, if you or a family member are interested in eating more vegetarian meals or going all out vegetarian, here are a few takeaways from the last few months:
Encourage Trying New Foods
Out of my three kids, my teen is the most willing to try new foods. Unlike my five year old who immediately says, “that looks disgusting!” to anything new I serve on her plate. All I ask is for an open mind and a little taste bite. Kids may need to try a new food 10-15 times before they like it. One of these days the little one will come around, right?? I never force my kids to eat new foods, but always offer them a very small serving on their plates. I’ve often found that eventually they will try it, and sometimes even like it!
A few weeks ago I was making a fish recipe with broccoli slaw as a side, but realized I needed something a little heartier for my now vegetarian teen. I did a quick search on one of my favorite vegetarian websites, Cookie and Kate, and found this broccoli slaw recipe with quinoa and a honey mustard dressing. The added quinoa and slivered almonds gave the slaw a good crunch, and boosted the protein. Plus, while initially my teen was a little unsure, ended up giving the dish a thumbs up. My five year old refused to eat it, but she did eat some plain, raw broccoli, so I will call that a win!
Weekly Meal Planning
Making sure everyone in the house has healthy options that they enjoy involves planning ahead. Once a week I carve out time to plan meals, take stock of what is in our pantry/fridge, and create a grocery list. My teen often gets involved in the process now as well. Each week she finds a few vegetarian meals that she likes, and we add them to the menu. If I include a recipe with meat to the menu, I’ll take a quick minute to figure out how to tweak it for my oldest.
You can read more about the how and why of my weekly meal planning here if you are looking for some tips and inspiration. For years I have been planning our meals each week and it has been a lifesaver around here!
Prep Ahead and Make Extras
Anytime I am making quinoa, beans, lentils, rice, etc. I cook extra for next day lunches, or for nights when our dinner is more meat based. Chopping up extra raw veggies makes for easy to grab snacks during the week as well. This practice is a huge time saver, and has come in handy on those evenings when I may not have done a great job planning for my teen.
Each week I set aside 10-15 minutes to search for new vegetarian recipes. I look for recipes most of the family will enjoy, or that I can easily adapt for everyone. Educating myself on ensuring that my growing teenager is eating a healthy, well balanced diet is crucial. Taking a few minutes to read articles on vegetarian diets and nutrition is a practice I’ve found helpful.
I try to regularly check in with my daughter about how she is feeling, and what she is eating. Obviously I know what she is eating for dinner, but now that she is older she usually makes her own breakfasts and lunches. I talk to her about any foods she may want to add to the weekly grocery list, and if she feels she is getting enough variety in her diet.
Eating healthy foods is also a topic that comes up at yearly pediatrician checkups. This year I plan to talk to my teen’s pediatrician about her new eating choices. I want to make sure we are going about things the right way since she is still growing. And I think it is always just a good idea to check in with the experts with a change like this!
I’m going to sound like a broken record with this one, but feel it is THE most important. I’m in her corner. I want to help encourage my teenager to continue to make healthy, educated choices. It is important to me that she feels good about her decision. Even if that means I’m taking a few extra steps when preparing meals in the kitchen. And if she decides six months or a year from now that she would like to add meat back into her diet, I will support that choice as well.
Listed below are a few of my favorite resources for vegetarian meals. So many good ones out there!
Half Baked Harvest (she has a section on vegetarian meals)
The Vegetarian Society (UK based, has a good informational section that is easy to navigate)
Do you have a teenage vegetarian in your household, or are you a vegetarian? I would love to hear some of your favorite cookbooks or vegetarian food bloggers!