So, your teenager wants to go vegan, huh?
Many people choose to become a vegan or vegetarian in their teen years as this is often when they feel able to express their opinions and make a decision for themselves for the first time. Let’s face it, it’s also a great time to strike out and do something a little rebellious, too!
However, if you are a parent of a teenager and they have announced their decision to become a vegetarian or vegan, you may feel a little uncertain about their newfound lifestyle choice. Especially, if you are an omnivore yourself and have very little knowledge about the vegan lifestyle.
You are likely to have a lot of questions, both in relation to what is included in the diet and also about how it will affect your family as a whole. So, with this in mind, we have put together some facts for you to look through.
Hopefully, the following information will help put your mind at rest and give you the knowledge necessary to be able to support your teenager’s decision to stop using animal products.
Let’s dive straight in.
Understanding your teen’s decision to become a vegan
Firstly, you should talk things through with your teen so that you can learn more about their reasons for becoming a vegan. (1)
This could be for political, ethical, health or environmental reasons or may simply be personal preference. It could even be a combination of factors that have led them to make the choice.
During this conversation, you should try to learn whether they have thought the decision through properly. If not, you can offer to help them learn more before making the transition.
What is a vegan?
The first question you might have is, what exactly is a vegan?
Vegans are people who eschew the use of animal products. A common misconception is that veganism is solely related to diet, but it’s true definition covers every aspect of a vegan’s life. This includes what they wear, the makeup they use (check out our vegan mascara, cruelty-free foundation, and vegan makeup brushes articles for more info), and any other product that may have brought harm to animals in order to exist.
In terms of diet, vegans do not eat any meat, fish, seafood, dairy products, eggs or any food derived from animal produce. Healthy vegans follow a plant-based diet that will consist mainly of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrain products.
However, it’s important to remember that it is becoming increasingly easy to live an unhealthy life as a vegan. Processed vegan products are growing more prevalent, but these “middle-aisle” foods should not make up the majority of your teen’s diet if you want them to remain healthy.
Certain store bought potato chips and cookies may well be 100% vegan, but they are also 100% unhealthy, too!
FIND OUT WHAT OTHERS THINK WITH OUR LIST OF VEGAN QUOTES, SAYINGS, AND SLOGANS!
To make sure your teen continues to eat a varied, balanced and healthy diet once they switch to a plant-based way of life, it is essential that both you and they are fully informed about the topic.
Take the time to find out about which nutrients the body needs to maintain good physical and mental health and which foods contain the nutrients they require.
There is plenty of guidance available on the Internet (especially here at Happy Happy Vegan!), but you might also want to read Generation V by Claire Askew. This book is full of great information, and it is one that both you and your teen can read and get great tips from.
What a balanced diet looks like
Eating a balanced diet is vitally important for all of us, not just teenagers. Most of us know that, but how many of us actually know what a balanced diet consists of?
We all think that we should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, but governments often aim for the achievable when issuing guidelines. Researchers from University College London, however, recently stated that 10 portions per day is closer to the mark for a healthy diet. (2)
Thankfully, this is easily achieved with a plant-based diet.
As well as the fruit and veg, teens on a vegan diet will need two or three portions of protein and six to 11 portions of grains per day, too. Last but not least, two portions of calcium-rich food and a limited amount of sugar and fat are also required.
Nutritional needs of teens
The nutritional needs of a vegan teen are no different to that of any other teenager. The main thing to remember is they should eat a varied and balanced diet.
However, as the bodies of teens are still developing, they do have different nutritional needs to adults. So, during this period, the most important nutrients to concentrate on for a vegan teenager are calcium, iron, protein, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Let’s take a closer look at these.
Teenagers need calcium for bone development and a common concern for parents of vegan teens is that they will not have enough of this mineral in their diet.
Although vegans eliminate dairy products from their diet, there are plenty of plan-based sources of this important nutrient.
Try to make sure your teen includes plenty of leafy greens (kale, spinach, etc.) in their diet and suggest that they include tofu, legumes and fortified non-dairy plant milk as well.
RELATED: VEGAN SOURCES OF CALCIUM
Protein is essential for a teen’s development and wellbeing. Thankfully, protein is not difficult to get on a plant-based diet providing you are eating in a balanced way.
The average amount of protein a child needs is as follows:
Boys aged between 9 and 13 years of age should be getting 40 g of protein per day
For boys aged between 13 and 18, 65 g of protein per day is recommended
Girls aged between 9 and 13 years of age should be getting 35 g of protein per day
For girls aged between 13 and 18, 45 g of protein per day is recommended
However, many believe that a more accurate way of determining a child’s protein requirements is by weight:
11 to 13 year olds – 0.43 g of protein per pound in weight
14 to 18 year olds – 0.4 g of protein per pound in weight
As a rough guide, one slice of bread has approximately 3 g of protein, a cup of cooked dried beans has 15 g and a cup of soy milk has 7 g.
RELATED: BEST SOY MILK MAKERS
When people have low iron levels it is often suggested that they eat red meat. However, there are healthier sources of iron that do not have the fat and cholesterol associated with beef, lamb and the rest.
Examples of iron-rich foods include broccoli, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, blackstrap molasses, spinach, pinto beans and watermelon. Vitamin C helps with iron absorption, so getting plenty of this will also help. Try adding bell peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes regularly into the diet to help the iron do its job. (3)
Vitamin B12 is also an important nutrient during adolescence, but unfortunately this is generally not found in plants. Although B12 is found in some cereals, you must check the packaging as it is not a nutrient found in them all.
Fortified food and drink can help, but it is hard to keep track of how much you have had each day. Therefore, in order to get enough of this particular vitamin, it may be necessary to take a supplement to complement a healthy, balanced diet.
RELATED: BEST B12 SUPPLEMENT
Vitamin D is predominantly absorbed into the body from sunshine, so encouraging your teen to spend time outdoors and keep active will help them to get their quota and also stay fit.
Again, vitamin D supplementation may be necessary, especially at certain times of the year when the sun is at the wrong angle. See our full vegan nutrition guide for more details on vitamin D3 requirements.
RELATED: BEST CRUELTY-FREE SUNSCREEN
Omega-3 fatty acids
In addition to the aforementioned nutrients, it is also vital for teens to eat foods containing omega-3 fatty acids.
Although these are most commonly found in fish and seafood, there are ways for vegans to get these important fatty acids into their diet. Flaxseeds ground up and put into a smoothie (1 to 2 tbsp) are a great source, as are walnuts.
RELATED: BEST FLAX SEED GRINDER
A further nutrient you should take special care to include in your teen’s diet is zinc. This plays an vital role in many key body functions but is especially important to the immune system.
Some of the best sources of zinc are sunflower seeds, legumes, pumpkin seeds, cereals, wholegrain products and wheat germ.
Transitioning to a vegan diet
When transitioning to a vegan diet, or any diet that is significantly different to what your body is accustomed to, you should take things slowly.
The transition is much easier if you gradually eliminate foods from your teen’s diet so that their body can adapt. Try eliminating meat in the first week, fish in the second and dairy products and eggs in the third.
When doing things in stages, remember to up the intake of healthy vegan foods to replace the animal products that they are leaving behind. Going vegan does not mean going hungry!
Family meals together
Another concern you may have is that you will need to create lots of separate meals, but this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.
There are many great family meals that can easily be transformed into vegan meals for you all to enjoy, such as cottage or shepherd’s pie, chilli, curries, stir-fries and much more.
You can also incorporate healthier side dishes into your own diet and make a main meal of them for you teen. Things such as ratatouille can be combined with pasta for a substantial meal.
Lastly, you could go the whole hog (pun most definitely intended) and try out the vegan diet, too. What better way to support your teenager’s decision than to embrace veganism yourself!
Plan your meals
Meal planning in advance can be a great way to save time and money. It will also help you make sure that the nutritional needs of your family are met.
This is particularly helpful if you are catering for both omnivores and vegans in your household. Likewise, preparing vegan meals in advance for your teen is useful for when the rest of the family are eating a meat-based meal.
What about my food budget?
A common concern from parents when a teenager wants to go vegan is that they will need to buy additional food and grocery shopping will become expensive.
However, ingredients such as nuts, seeds and legumes can be bought dried and in bulk, and this may actually save you money. Also, meat and fish are typically more expensive than fruits and vegetables, so eating more plant-based meals is a great way to reduce food costs for your family.
Once your teen has been plant-based for a while, you’ll also notice that they will begin eating less. This is not a concern, it’s merely their bodies recognising that they are getting the nutrients that they need so hunger pangs diminish.
Junk food does not send the right signals to the body, so we constantly feel hungry. Fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts on the other hand, leave us feeling satiated.
Snacks for busy teens
Many teens have a hectic life as they juggle school, family time, hobbies and a social life. This may lead to concerns, as a parent, that they are not finding the time to eat proper meals.
You can help out by providing them with healthy snacks that they can eat on the go, especially ones that fulfil their dietary needs. Think protein bars, dried or fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, nuts and roasted seeds. Anything that can be grabbed on their way out of the door.
At home, make pasta pots, bean burritos, soups, smoothies and veggie burgers to keep your teen happy and healthy.
Eating out as a vegan was once problematic and you may have concerns that you will struggle to find places to eat with your teen.
However, despite things being far from perfect, more restaurants than ever now offer a fantastic range of vegan options on their menu. Many restaurants publish their menus on the Internet, so it can help to check these out before heading off for a meal out as a family.
It’s also worth remembering that restaurateurs are generally helpful folk, so don’t be afraid to ask for something that is not on the main menu. The beauty of vegan cooking is that all of the ingredients will already be in any good kitchen, so most will be happy to help.
Teens and weight issues
It’s a sad fact, but body image is a huge issue for many teens.
Combined with regular exercise, a plant-based diet will help anyone hit a healthy weight and maintain it. No more dangerous yo-yoing. This will help your teen become happier and raise their self-esteem.
Regardless of whether your teen wants to lose or gain weight, eating at least three well-balanced meals per day is key. Any less than that and they will struggle to get all of the nutrients that they need to be healthy.
Seeking help and advice
If you still need further information about vegan diets for teens, there are people who can help you to find out everything you need to know.
You may wish to seek dietary advice from a medical professional before your teen embarks on a vegan diet, especially if they have any health conditions that may be affected by the change. However, it is important to remember that many doctors are simply not very well trained when it comes to nutrition. (4)
Seeking out a specialist in vegan nutrition may well be your best course of action.
Although it is somewhat daunting when your teenager first announces their desire to become a vegan, there are many ways you can help them to make the transition.
By supporting them you can ensure they are making changes in a sensible way and for the right reasons. The following three steps will make it easier for you both:
- Learn more about the vegan diet and nutrients together
- Make sure they eat a varied and balanced diet to maintain good health
- Plan meals in advance and shop wisely to make life easier for you all
If your teenager wants to go vegan or if you are a vegan teen yourself, feel free to comment or ask questions below. If we can help, we most certainly will.
About The Author:
Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.
Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!
- Family Lives | The importance of communicating with teenagers | https://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/teenagers/communicating-with-teenagers/the-importance-of-communicating-with-teenagers/
- Sarah Knapton | Healthy diet means 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, not five | https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10735633/Healthy-diet-means-10-portions-of-fruit-and-vegetables-per-day-not-five.html
- L Hallberg, M Brune, L Rossander | The role of vitamin C in iron absorption | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2507689/
- Kelly M Adams, Karen C Lindell, Martin Kohlmeier, and Steven H Zeisel | Status of nutrition education in medical schools | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2430660/