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Serving healthy meals for your family can be a challenge if a family member, particularly a teen, decides to become a vegetarian. To support your teen's food choice, you may need to find new ways to prepare some family meals. Involving your teen in making his or her own meals can help them learn how to cook and prepare a nutritionally balanced meal. Teens need to know there's more to being a vegetarian than simply eliminating meat! And yes – they do need to eat their vegetables!!
It is the position of Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
All vegetarians, especially individuals who don't eat any animal products, need to be sure they get enough iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and zinc. Protein needs can easily be satisfied by eating a variety of beans, peas, lentils, soy products, nuts, seeds, as well as milk products and eggs.
Iron - choose whole grain breads and cereal, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, eggs, beans, lentils, and nuts. To increase absorption of iron from plant foods eat vitamin C rich foods at the same time. For example: have cereal and orange juice for breakfast; add strawberries, kiwi fruit, sweet peppers, or tomatoes to dark leafy greens; make a vegetarian chili with tomatoes and beans.
Calcium and vitamin D - consume at least 2 cups of milk or fortified soy beverages each day. Some non-dairy foods also provide calcium including tofu made with calcium, broccoli, kale, Bok Choy, almonds or almond butter, and cooked beans (soy, white, navy, black, kidney) and calcium- fortified juice. Vegetarians who don't consume any milk and alternatives including fortified soy beverages can benefit from a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin B12 – is found in animal foods such as milk and eggs. If animal foods are not consumed, look for foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 vitamin, such as fortified cereals, fortified soy milk, and fortified veggie 'meats', or take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Zinc – choose beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs all provide zinc.
The eating pattern for vegetarian teens is no different than that recommended for non-vegetarian teens. The only difference is the types of foods selected. Aim to have the number of Food Guide Servings recommended by Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.
Remember that the Food Guide is just that, a guide to healthy eating. In order to satisfy hunger associated with growth spurts, high activity levels, or for taller people, choose more whole grains and vegetables and fruits to satisfy your higher energy needs.
Check Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide to see what is considered a serving.
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