When your teen becomes vegan

One day my daughter came home from high school and announced she was no longer eating meat. In her science class, she had seen a documentary about cruelty to animals and the meat industry. “I can’t eat meat ever again,“ she declared. 

“Okay, but you will have to make your own meals, “ I told her.

I meant it when I said it but soon after I began modifying family dinners to accommodate her meat-free diet. My boys weren’t happy, especially on chili night when I used ground turkey. I told the family it was healthier for all of us to eat less meat.  One night, after a week of eating chicken for dinner, my husband complained he was going to grow a beak.

Now, a few years later, my daughter has learned she has Celiac. Along with not eating meat, she can’t eat anything with gluten. That means no pasta, which has always been a go-to in our home. So, again I am trying to modify our dinners.

Around me, other parents of teens are modifying, too.

Many of my friends tell me their teens are vegetarian. Others have teens who have become vegan, which is plant-based and eliminates anything from an animal including dairy and eggs.

Teens are embracing these alternative diets for ethical, environmental or health reasons— and parents are struggling with how to respond. 

“She’s on her own with that,” my Italian friend who loves to cook traditional meals told me when her daughter announced she was becoming a vegan.

I knew from experience my friend’s daughter would not be on her own with that. When a teen makes a diet choice, his or her decision affects everyone in the family. It means you have to accommodate your child in the food you buy, the meals you make or the restaurants you choose. 

In some houses, the diet change has become a battle. 

The daughter of my Italian friend didn’t eat the lasagna her mother made for dinner. She refused the spaghetti and bolognese sauce. For two weeks, she just sat at the dinner table with an empty plate. Finally, she convinced her mom to let her make her own dinners. 

Part of me is impressed by a generation that wants to take a stand to make the world a better place and live a healthier life. The other part of me thinks it is a big pain in the butt for parents when a teen declares herself vegan. We already are struggling with grocery shopping and meal making while holding jobs and getting kids where they need to go.

When my 17-year-old cousin wanted to go vegan, he made his case to his parents who had reservations about the choice. “You will get anemia,” they said. “It’s going to affect your growth.”

My cousin explained how as a vegan he will still get protein and other nutrients from eating vegetables and beans. Most of the time he now grocery shops with his mom and makes his own meals and snacks. His mom has consulted a nutritionist to ensure her son won’t have health issues, which tends to be a BIG parent concern. 

I noticed on some websites there are warnings that some teen girls use the vegetarian lifestyle to cover up anorexia. While there can be a correlation, teens’ list environmental concerns and cruelty to animals as top reasons they swear off meat. Like other parents, I worry my daughter will get anemia and I regularly encourage her to take vitamins.

On pizza night in my house, we accommodate my daughter and now order a veggie pizza on a cauliflower crust instead of pepperoni and sausage with extra cheese. When we want to have spaghetti and meatballs we do, but a lot less often, and on those nights my daughter fends for herself. My husband complains often and loudly but he definitely is eating healthier, too.

Parents, as more teens become vegan and vegetarian and all kinds of variations of eating, how are you responding and why? Has it caused arguments? Affected your own eating habits?  Do you worry being vegan or vegetarian will affect your teen’s growth? 

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