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Moms want to know: Is a vegetarian diet safe for my teen?

Your teen may be old enough to make his or her own food choices, but when your child opts for tofu instead of a burger, is it cause for concern? Not really. A well-planned vegetarian diet can be an effective way for teens to consume often-missing nutrients, such as those from fruits and vegetables. A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which includes eggs and dairy products but generally no meat, poultry or fish, is the best choice for growing teens, says the Nemours Foundation. To help your teen make healthy choices:

  • Discuss nutritional must-haves. Help your teen choose foods that will provide sufficient vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, protein, iron and zinc. Encourage choices like eggs, nuts, dairy products and leafy, green vegetables.
  • Scan school lunch menus for vegetarian options. If the cafeteria lacks healthy meat-free choices, help your child pack a better meal. Peanut butter and jelly with sliced carrots make an easy, nutritional vegetarian lunch.
  • Make it a family affair. Vegetarian diets can be a good way to slash fat and calories from your family’s dinner menu. Support your teen’s choices by preparing a meatless meal like eggplant parmigiana or vegetarian chili regularly.
  • Beware an overly restrictive diet. An eating plan that fails to meet daily nutritional needs may signal an eating disorder. Talk to your family doctor or a registered dietitian about any concerns.