Many teenagers go through experimental phases, and if one day your teenager decides to say goodbye to steak, don’t worry. A carefully planned vegetarian diet is possible and can be both healthy and varied.
My advice is to first understand what kind of vegetarian your teenager is choosing to be.
Lacto-ovo: Includes dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs, but excludes meat, poultry and fish.
Lacto: Includes dairy products but excludes eggs and foods containing eggs as well as meat, poultry and fish.
Vegan: Includes only foods of plant origin and excludes meat or animal products such as milk or eggs.
Nutrition plays a huge role in healthy growth and development, and is just as important in teenage years as it is in early childhood. A healthy, varied vegetarian diet includes plenty of leafy greens, fruits, nuts, vegetables, seeds, legumes and whole grain products. And while some vegetarians also choose to eat dairy products and eggs, there are a few key nutrients that as a vegetarian, your teenager may need some help with.
Protein is often associated with meat. However, other forms of protein are also available to a vegetarian like beans, chickpeas, tofu, cereals, nuts, peanut butter and soy milk. A combination of these plant protein foods daily will provide enough essential amino acids.
Since B12 is mainly found in meat and milk products, vegetarians are more prone to being deficient in this vitamin. If your teenager prefers not to eat dairy or eggs, B12 can be found in fortified cereals or in supplementation.
Good sources of calcium such as tofu processed with calcium sulfate, green leafy vegetables, mustard greens, kale, calcium fortified soy milk and orange juice. The Aquamin TG Calcium used in our Zupafood Range is sourced from marine algae, which is ideal for vegetarians.
Iron requirements of teenagers are relatively high and iron isn’t absorbed as well from plant foods as it is from meat. Because of this, it is important to eat foods containing vitamin C as part of the diet to increase absorption of iron from food.
Vitamin C rich foods: Citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, broccoli.
Iron rich foods: Broccoli, raisins, figs, rice, oatmeal, almonds and pistachios, fortified cereals, spinach, black-eyed peas, chickpeas and pinto beans.
Iron supplementation is best recommended by a doctor as very high iron levels may raise disease risk and can also cause constipation.
Phytate (phytic acid) is common in plant foods and may reduce zinc absorption by attaching to zinc in the digestive system and preventing absorption. This could be a problem for vegetarians who get their zinc from high-phytate sources such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. People with high-phytate diets might have zinc requirements up to 50% higher than the general population.
Good sources of zinc include hummus, tofu, chickpeas, lentils, edamame, cashews and pumpkin seeds.
Extra-firm tofu: This type of tofu holds its shape extremely well, this tofu has a slightly chewy texture and is used in grilling, marinating, frying and roasting.
Firm tofu: This tofu has a smooth, soft texture and can hold its shape in boiling, filling and stir-frying.
Soft tofu: This tofu is extremely soft and breaks apart easily into a slightly lumpy texture. It is best used for pureeing.
Silken tofu: This tofu has a beautiful smooth custard texture and is often used for pureeing, simmering, an egg substitute in vegan desserts, as well as a protein source in smoothies.
Vegetarian Meal Ideas
- Fortified cereal with soy milk
- Whole-grain toast with peanut butter
- Oatmeal with nuts, raisins and soy milk
- Vegetable sandwiches containing cherry tomatoes, peppers, avocado, with or without cheese on whole-grain bread
- Vegetable soup with toast
- Falafel with mushrooms, tomato on grain bun
- Pita bread filled with leftover vegetables or peanut butter
- Chilli beans with tofu
- Tofu stir-fry with brown rice
- Winter vegetable or pumpkin soup
- Bean burritos with vegetables and tofu
- Dried figs or raisins
- Trail mix
- Organic yoghurt
- Hummus and carrot
- Nut butter and celery sticks