Meal Plans for a Vegetarian Teenager

Vegetarianism is becoming more common among teenagers. Many choose to become vegetarians for health reasons, religious beliefs or other beliefs. Influences from parents, family members or peers may also play a role in this decision. If you do decide to follow a vegetarian diet, incorporate a variety of foods into your diet in order to get adequate calories, protein, fat and carbohydrate.

Types of Vegetarians

There are different types of vegetarian diets that may be followed. Total vegetarians eat strictly plant foods. They do not eat animal foods of any kind including fish, eggs or dairy products. A lacto-ovo vegetarian includes dairy products and eggs in the diet, but does not eat meat. A lacto vegetarian will eat dairy products, but not eggs. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not any dairy products. The last form of vegetarianism is veganism. This is the strictest form of vegetarianism. Vegans eliminate all animal products from the diet and do not use any animal products such as leather and wool.

Health Benefits of Vegetarianism

Health benefits of following a vegetarian diet include reduced risk for hypertension and heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. The vegetarian diet is also lower in calories, which can help maintain a healthy body weight. Vegetarian diets are also rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are good sources of fiber.

Protein Sources

Depending on which type of vegetarian diet is followed, getting enough protein in the diet may be a challenge if a variety of foods are not included. If included in the diet, eggs, dairy products, fish and chicken can provide good protein. Other sources of protein that may be incorporated are nuts, beans, lentils, legumes or tofu. Regardless of which type of vegetarian diet is followed, adequate protein in the diet is important for maintaing health.

Nutrients of Concern

Although the vegetarian diet does offer several health benefits, there are some concerns for nutrient deficiencies due to the exclusion of some foods from the diet. Nutrients of concern are vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc and iron. Depending on what foods are included in the diet, supplementation of these vitamins and minerals may be necessary to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Having labs done regularly will be important to check for nutrient deficiencies. Consulting with a registered dietitian can help you plan a vegetarian diet that will also meet your nutritional needs.