If you're part of a traditional meat-and-potatoes family, it may come as a surprise or outright shock when one of your children announces his or her attention to become a vegetarian. Multiple questions may swirl through your mind: What am I supposed to cook for her if not beef, chicken, or even fish? Do I need to make separate meals for everyone? Does this mean the end of family dinners?

Your first step is to ascertain exactly what kinds of foods your child is giving up. Is fish completely off-limits? Some vegetarians make exceptions for seafood. Some avoid all meat and fish but are open to dairy and eggs. The most extreme form of vegetarianism is veganism. Vegans avoid all dairy products and eggs, along with meat. Not surprisingly, this can be a challenging diet.

Before you panic about all the foods your teen will no longer eat, make a list together of the foods he will happily indulge. The good news is that vegetarian meals tend to be healthy. Grilled tofu, soy-based meat substitutes, beans, and protein-rich grains like quinoa are delicious and satisfying. Be open minded and offer to prepare family dinners that incorporate them, or ask him to help you make the meals. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy indulging in unfamiliar foods.

Often, parents of vegetarians worry that their children aren't getting enough of the proper nutrients, and it's true that vegetarian and vegan diets can be low in calcium, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and protein. Make sure your child takes a multivitamin and gets proper nutritional balance at each meal. If your daughter wants only steamed vegetables for dinner, encourage her to add some lentils or sautéed tofu to boost her protein intake.

Keep in mind that these nutritional needs can change. Continue to work with your child's doctor to ensure your daughter is getting her nutritional needs appropriate for her age.

One thing to try to avoid is getting into an argument over the morality of meat eating. People become vegetarians or vegans for many reasons, typically to gain better health, as a result of cultural pressure, or to support animal rights. However, her choice to be vegetarian can very well be a means to weight loss, which can be a sign of any eating disorder. If this is concern for you, talk to her pediatrician.

Don't take it personally if your teen turns her back on your family's traditional eating habits. Respect her right to choose for herself how to eat, and incorporate more meatless meals into your repertoire. Keep vegetarian alternatives in the house if you opt to serve meat one evening, and let her know she's welcome to prepare herself something else. If your teen pressures you to give up meat, let him know you support his lifestyle and hope he supports yours. Mutual respect is the key to a peaceful coexistence.

Dr. David Levine reviewed this article.



American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Feeding Your Teen Vegetarian." Web. http://eatright.org/kids/article.aspx?id=6442459390

Palo Alto Medical Foundation. "Vegetarianism in Teens." Web. http://pamf.org/teen/health/nutrition/veggieteens.html