Vegetarian / Vegan Nutrition for Teenagers

quinoa burgers recipe by Julie Hasson

More and more teenagers are choosing not to eat meat, poultry or fish. They are becoming vegetarians or vegansTeenage vegetarians are often faced with pressures — pressures from parents concerned about their health, and pressures from within to continue on the path they have chosen. Photo above is Julie Hasson’s recipe for Quinoa Burgers.

Variety is the Key to a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Black bean and squash tacosProbably the most frequent questions for teenage vegetarians are about the nutritional adequacy of their food choices. A vegetarian diet can be enjoyed by people of all ages. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is variety. Just as your parents should be concerned if you only eat hamburgers, they should also worry if you only eat potato chips and salad. A healthy, varied vegetarian diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds and legumes. Some vegetarians also choose to eat dairy products and/or eggs.

Teenage vegetarians have nutritional needs that are the same as any other teenager. The years between 13 and 19 are times of especially rapid growth and change. Nutritional needs are high during these years. The nutrients you will probably be asked about the most are protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.

What About Protein?

Soba with tofu, tomatoes, and basil recipeNorth American vegetarian teens eating varied diets rarely have any difficulty getting enough protein as long as their diet contains enough energy (calories) to support growth. Cow’s milk and lowfat cheese are protein sources; however, beans, breads, cereals, nuts, peanut butter, tofu, and soy milk are also some foods that are especially good sources of protein. Only fruits, fats, and alcohol do not provide much protein, and so a diet based only on these foods would have a good chance of being too low in protein.

It is not necessary to plan combinations of foods to obtain enough protein or amino acids (components of protein). A mixture of plant proteins eaten throughout the day will provide enough essential amino acids.

Other Important Nutrients for Vegetarian Teenagers

lacinato kaleEspecially during adolescence, calcium is used to build bones. Bone density is determined in adolescence and young adulthood; so it is important to include three or more good sources of calcium in your diet every day. Cow’s milk and dairy products do contain calcium. However, there are other good sources of calcium such as tofu processed with calcium sulfate, green leafy vegetables including collard greens, mustard greens, and kale, and calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice.

Iron requirements of teenagers are relatively high. By eating a varied diet, a vegetarian can meet his or her iron needs, while avoiding the excess fat and cholesterol found in red meats such as beef or pork. To increase the amount of iron absorbed from a meal, eat a food containing vitamin C as part of the meal. Citrus fruits and juices (for example, orange juice), tomatoes, and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin C. Foods which are high in iron include broccoli, raisins, watermelon, spinach, black-eyed peas, blackstrap molasses, chickpeas, and pinto beans.

Vitamin B12 is a vitamin which only vegans (vegetarians eating no dairy, eggs, meat, fish, and birds) need to add to their diet. Some cereals and fortified soy milks have vitamin B12 (check the label). Red Star T-6635 nutritional yeast flakes (Vegetarian Support Formula) also supply vitamin B12.

Healthy Steps to Your Ideal Weight

Many teenagers are concerned about losing or gaining weight. To lose weight, look at your diet. If it has lots of sweet or fatty foods, replace them with fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. If your diet already seems healthy, try to get more exercise — walking, running or swimming daily, for example.

If you are trying to gain weight, you will need to eat more food. Perhaps eating more often or eating foods somewhat higher in calories and lower in bulk will help. Try to eat three or more times a day whether you are trying to gain weight or lose weight. It is hard to get all of the nutritious foods you need if you only eat one meal a day.

If you feel that you cannot control your eating behavior or if you are losing a great deal of weight, you should discuss this with your health care provider.

Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D. is the nutrition adviser to the Vegetarian Resource Group. Read more of her informative articles, plus lots more vegetarian and vegan information on The Vegetarian Resource Group’s web site.

Print Friendly

10 comments on “Vegetarian / Vegan Nutrition for Teenagers

  1. Nick Oha

    Hi…i must say its really difficult to build a vegan diet plan here in africa especially by people like me trying everything possible to grow taller; i would apreciate your help in building a vegan plan for linear growth;i think thats what its called.Thanks in advance.

  2. Deja C.

    OK I WANT TO BE A VEGAN BUTTTTT I AM A LAZY 13 YEAR OLD GIRL I AM NOT OVER WEIGHT I AM NOT REALLY INTO SPORTS MY MOM EATS MEAT SHE BUYS THE FOOD SO I may not be able to do this she dose force me to do stuff that i dont want to so is there and advice that u have for me to do this full time because i know that if i dont do this is will be sick i will as an adult i know i will so please help me i hope u read this also my family on my fathers side is soooooooo over weight and my moms side has like bad knees and has eye issues please help meeee please please please

  3. Sofia

    I am a 13 year old girl, I want to be a vegetarian but my parents wont let me. I agree to have fish on weekends.
    I play volleyball and I love sports, I am a very avtive girl, I love eating healthy and stuff. Can someone please give me ideas of what can I have for lunch? Also how many proteins should I consume?

  4. Anna

    I have started a website for vegan and vegan-interested teens, I hope anyone reading this great online article by Dr. Mangels here will come check it out. Under the Q&A section, I have some about emotional support, or what to do if families are unsupportive, which is also really important at our age. I am also adding a question and answer about quick, easy vegan meals for one that are reasonably healthy (whole food plant-based). I invite everyone to come see. I just launched it in June 2016! I am adding new content all the time. 🙂

  5. Unicorn

    Well I’m 13 and I’m pesketarijan which meand i eat only fishes and I don’t eat any other animal. I am kickboxing but I’m still thr “fatter” kid in our class.. what should i do I’m thinking about not eating candy every day bit 1 day and a small cookie or something like that. And I’m also thinking about running every day but my lazy ass is probably not gonna do that.. but a list I’m gonna try.

  6. Sad story

    I am 16,I really want to be a vegan but unfortunately I don’t have the time to cook myself and my mum cooks all the time and while at home I’m basically forced to eat meat and other animal products,hope it will change in the future

  7. brianna leidenfrost

    i am 15 full vegetarian. i live with my mom and i make the food. im the only one in a house of 10 that doesnt eat what they do.

  8. Pigeon

    Hello! I found this article to be extremely helpful because my mother was worried about me giving up meat. I am a fourteen year old Catholic female, and I’m giving up meat for all the forty days of Lent. She was worried because I have been growing a lot lately. Thank you for making this article, it was very reassuring for her to see all the different sources of protein other than meat! I have many siblings and they all, including my parents, eat meat. I cook on Wednesdays but I think that during this span of forty days I will be cooking more often! XD

  9. Sophia

    Hey what should I do my mom wouldn’t let me become a vegan and I really want to she says no because how pricey the vegan food is where would be a good place to get vegan food that’s a good price

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Vegan Dinner Recipes   Vegan Recipes   Recipes Galore   Vegan Living   Nutrition   Vegan Summer Recipes