Your teenager has decided to become vegetarian! Don't fret. A vegetarian diet can be very healthy and, with a little help, an easy transition. The key to a successful vegetarian diet is variety. With easy-to-make recipes, you can explore new food options and transform family favourites. Encourage the whole family to join in and have a vegetarian meal together once a week.
Find 6 modern vegetarian recipes in our Recipe Collection: Vegetarian 101.
Exploring different types of vegetarianism
There are many classifications of vegetarians. Determining which one suits your child's needs and wants makes it easy to create meals that the whole family will enjoy.
• Pure vegetarian or vegan: Avoids all foods of animal origin, including eggs, dairy, gelatin and honey.
• Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Does not eat meat but does include eggs and dairy products. The majority of vegetarians in North America are this type.
• Lacto-vegetarian: Includes dairy products.
• Ovo-vegetarian: Includes eggs.
• Pesco-vegetarian: Includes fish and seafood.
• Semi or partial-vegetarian: Eats primarily vegetarian diet but includes chicken, fish or seafood from time to time.
• Flexitarian: Eats meatless meals most often, but will include red meat, chicken, fish or seafood on occasion.
Will she/he get enough protein?
A good vegetarian diet provides ample protein for good health. But it is common for teenage vegetarian diets to rely heavily on carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, potatoes and cereals) instead of replacing meat with high-protein foods. It is important where protein comes from in a vegetarian diet, so that meals are planned to meet protein needs. The amount of protein required depends on factors such as age, sex, body size and activity level; for example, a high-level athlete requires a high-protein intake.
Current research shows that as long as a variety of vegetarian-sourced proteins are eaten throughout the day, the body has enough amino acids (building blocks of protein) to make complete proteins. Gone are the days of food complementing and combining, although a bowl of rice and beans still makes a great dinner.
As your child decides to make the transition to vegetarianism, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian to help you both understand the requirements of the diet and to ensure the transition is a healthy one.
Good sources of protein for vegetarians
• Grains: Wheat, oats, millet, rice and quinoa provide almost half of the world's protein. Choosing whole grains also provides the bonus of iron, zinc, B vitamins and fibre.
• Eggs and dairy: When following an ovo- or lacto-vegetarian diet, eggs and dairy products form a good source of complete protein. These also provide a source of vitamin B12.
• Nuts and seeds: Although often considered a high-fat snack-food, nuts and seeds provide not only a good source of protein but also unsaturated and essential fats. (When meat is eliminated from the diet, fat intake generally decreases.)
• Vegetables: While vegetables are not a complete source of protein, they do contain some of the amino acids needed to build protein.
• Legumes: Any plant that has seeds in pods, such as peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans and peanuts, is a legume. Soy beans are also legumes, so products made from soybeans fall into this category, including tofu, TVP and tempeh. Legumes are not only high in protein but also provide iron and fibre. Look to ethnic recipes for exciting new ways to add legumes to your diet.
What is TVP?
TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is a dried soy product available in granules or chunks that, when cooked, resemble the texture of ground meat. Available in the health food section of grocery stores, bulk food stores and health food stores, TVP is a very economical way to get protein into a vegetarian diet. Like tofu, TVP has a mild flavour and absorbs the tastes that cook with it.