Are You Setting Up the Healthy Habits Your Child Needs to Thrive?

Take The Quiz


Teen Vegetarian: The Guide All Parents Need

Here’s what you need to know if you have a teen who wants to become a vegetarian.

It’s not uncommon for teens to be curious about the vegetarian diet. About 4% of children and teens are vegetarian (3%), or vegan (1%), according to the Vegan Resource Group.

This doesn’t account for teens going vegan and deciding it’s not for them.

I don’t have a teen vegetarian, yet. However, I have had each one of my girls consider it, and try it.

I don’t consider it unusual for teens to try this diet and lifestyle—it’s within the norm of the developmental stage where teens want to experiment, see quick results, and define themselves.

However, to be successful with, and healthy on, a vegetarian diet, there are a few things you should know.

First and foremost, the vegetarian teens can be very healthy! 

Numerous studies show that a healthy vegetarian diet reduces the incidence of chronic disease and promotes a healthy weight.

If the idea of a vegetarian diet triggers visions of not getting enough protein or anemia, you can squelch those worries by paying attention to a few details in their vegetarian meals.

And, teenage vegetarians can be unhealthy eaters too, so don’t be fooled into thinking that “vegetarian” equals healthy.

Got a teen vegetarian? Here's what you need to know.

Different Types of Vegetarian Diets

It can be confusing to hear your teen wants to go vegan, or become a vegetarian. What do these terms mean?

There is a difference between a vegan diet and a vegetarian diet.

A vegan diet eliminates all animal food sources like red meat and dairy products, and the foods and products made from them. So, all meat, fish, and poultry are avoided, as well as eggs, milk and other products made from, or with, animals.

A vegetarian diet is more flexible because the number and type of animal foods that are eliminated from the diet can vary.

For example, your teen could eat fish but no other animal foods (pescetarian), milk and eggs without other animal foods (lacto-ovo vegetarian), or just eggs, or just milk and milk products and no other animal products (ovo-vegetarian, or lacto-vegetarian, respectively).

85+ Healthy Snacks for Teens!

Common Mistakes Teens Make When Going Meat-Free

Becoming a vegetarian may come with some bumps along the road. I see teenagers making mistakes like not replacing animal sources of protein with a plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and beans or tofu.

Or, they miss out on important nutrients like iron, enough calcium, or vitamin B12.

Additionally, some young people who are vegetarians eat a heavily processed diet instead of a diet full of plant foods.

Teens may not understand what their body needs nutritionally, which can be a problem since they are still in a rapid phase of growth.

Parents can also make the mistake of being hands-off when their teen decides to go vegetarian or vegan.

They may not know about the nutrition adjustments that need to be made, or how to execute that within the context of the rest of the family.

Last, some teens may use a vegetarian diet to conceal an eating disorder. Check with your family doctor if you see red flags for disordered eating while vegetarian.

Plant-Based Meals for the Whole Family

For families with a teen who wants to be a vegetarian, planning for a balanced meal isn’t that different.

Offering a vegetarian protein source at meals is the biggest change, and that is relatively easy to do.

Tofu and other soy products, beans, and quinoa are good options for protein. Most sides like veggies, fruits, and whole grains will be okay for all family members to eat provided they are free from animal sources (like butter).

Get your teen to help with meal preparation and you’ll both benefit! And getting teens to cook will increase their knowledge and independence in this area.

A little bit of nutrition know-how and practical tips for executing meals that accommodate both vegetarian and non-vegetarian family members can go a long way to keeping the whole family nourished.

Pay Attention to Nutrients  

There are key nutrients with the growing teen who is “going vegan” to keep an eye on:


Plant sources of protein are the name of the game and should be included at each meal. Good options are beans and bean products like hummus; nuts and nut butters; seeds and seed butters; high protein grains such as quinoa, amaranth, oats and bulgur; soy milk; tofu; and soy-based yogurt.

No need to worry about combining proteins to get all the essential amino acids in one meal, just make sure your teen eats a wide variety of these foods throughout each day. Protein needs should not be a problem to meet when a variety of protein foods are included.

READ: Is It Okay for my Child to Be a Pescatarian?

Quality Carbs

Whole grains like whole wheat bread, whole grain crackers and bran-based cereals will increase fiber consumption and automatically add more nutrients, particularly folate, iron and B vitamins.

All types of fruit and veggies, and non-dairy substitutes like nut milks and coconut yogurt, add healthy versions of carbohydrate too. Steer clear of too many processed carbs like chips, sweets and sugary drinks.

Vitamin B12

Find a good vitamin B12 food source like fortified soy milk or a supplement, such as nutritional yeast. Vitamin B12 requirements are low, but essential, so your teen will want to eat a source of vitamin B12 everyday.


Getting enough iron is a challenge for many teens, even those who eat animal products like beef. Iron is an “at-risk” nutrient for any teen. Iron-rich foods include beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables and iron-fortified breakfast cereals.

Because plant sources of iron are harder for the body to absorb and use, pair vitamin C foods like OJ or berries with iron foods to make absorption easier.

Calcium and vitamin D

Look for fortified foods with calcium and vitamin D, such as orange juice, cereals, and plant-based milks like calcium-fortified soy milk. Teens are still in peak bone building mode and these two nutrients are essential to the process.

Do you have a teen vegetarian or vegan? How’s it going? 

Need More Help with Feeding Teens?

Check out my library of books, workshops and classes.

non-diet tips for kids and teens

Last Post

Non-Diet Tips for Fast Growing Kids and Teens

Next Post

All About Vitamin D for Kids