At 17, I vividly remember the rolled eyes and the fuss that was made when I made the declaration that I would not be eating meat anymore. My somewhat traditional parents didn’t really know what to make of this, and I think they made casual efforts to ignore it for a while, thinking that it was a fad and something I would grow out of, hehe… Well, put it this way my lovely mam was still asking me if I wanted a burger at least three years after the date I stopped eating meat! Any sign of a sniffle and my dad was telling me it was just because I needed to ‘eat some meat’. A visit to my Auntie’s for tea as she despaired “what are you going to eat?” as if there were no other foods when meat was taken off the menu. Of course, this was nearly 24 years ago, and a lot has changed since, for one thing, today you can get a veggie option in just about any restaurant or cafe. Many people decide to go vegetarian for health reasons, and more for ethical reasons. It is true vegetarians and vegans generally enjoy better health outcomes especially in terms of heart disease and cancer, however, in a large-scale study (Epic-Oxford study – link below) there was found to be very little difference in mortality rates and there are risks of potential deficiencies if an unhealthy diet is followed veggie or not. Read on to find out more about the nutrients you want to include and a sample menu of ideas.
What you do eat matters more than what you don’t
Honestly, I didn’t have a clue about nutrition as a teen, at this point I existed on a pretty high junk food diet, and once I kicked the meat, the sugar consumption increased and so did my weight. I didn’t really have a water tight opinion or an explanation for why I had decided to stop eating meat, other than I just saw an animal and the gruesomeness of eating it freaked me out. I have also tried to avoid the ‘vegetarian’ and some years ‘pescatarian’ then vegan labels. At first, I think this was more about the fear being judged, but now I just don’t want to be labeled and put into an identity box. I feel that it matters more what you do eat than what you don’t. I have been a healthy weight for over 20 years and it is due to listening to my body, researching and learning what works for me and not following crash diets, in addition to having healthy sleep patterns and being active of course.
When I decided to write this post I came across an interesting article in ‘The Guardian’ (link below) in which teenagers were discussing their choice to become ‘Vegan’. The general consensus was that social media has played a huge part in an upsurge of young vegans and statistics show that most of those plant based are under 34 years old. Also, these young people are doing their research, they are aware that they must take a B12, although the omega 3:6 ratio was not mentioned which is a little worrying (I will explain later) and are basing their decision to relinquish meat and dairy due to animal protection, environmental and health reasons.
What can you do?
Your teen has made their decision, they do not want to eat meat. Showing your child you respect their decision and will support them will help them feel they can open up to you and will only help to strengthen your relationship. My hope is that the following information and tips can empower you in nourishing your child in a healthy way so that you can both be happy.
As with any way of eating a varied diet is so important, and can be the biggest challenge for parents. It is good to remember and explain to our children that our taste buds are not unchangeable or static when we try things (the science tells us 10 times on average) we are going to gradually increase our likeness of that food. This is why incorporating foods within curries, sauces, soups, and smoothies etc. is going to increase your palette. Just because we didn’t like peas at 4 years old it really doesn’t mean we should avoid them for the rest of our lives. When we reassure children we would never force a food, in my experience of teaching and as a parent, it makes them more open to trying. More importantly, they need to see you enjoying a variety of new foods too.
Here I will focus on two nutrients that vegetarians/vegans are at risk of deficiency from which can carry long-term implications of neurological diseases.
Vegetarians have been found to have a poor omega 6:3 ratio, it is easy to consume omega 6 fatty acids as they are found in many grains, some seeds, and oils. However, it is important to get lots of omega 3 to increase the ratio. Omega 3 has been correlated with numerous health benefits but a concern is that low DHA (a form of omega 3 fatty acids) has been linked to an increased risk of brain disease e.g. Alzheimers. Good sources of omega 3 are Linseeds/flaxseeds, these can be added to a smoothie or ground up and added to cereals, homemade granola/flapjacks or porridge. More great sources of omega 3 are walnuts and hemp seeds. It is also worth taking an omega 3 supplement either in flaxseed oil form or a vegan source of DHA.
Again B12 deficiency is common in vegetarians and vegans as it is often difficult to obtain enough without consuming animal products. B12 deficiency symptoms can manifest as a weakness of the limbs, loss of appetite, heart palpitations, general weakness, and lightheadedness. There are also links to brain disorders. I would recommend a B12 supplement of at least 10 micrograms (if already deficient higher) for vegans, although food sources are available such as ‘nutritional yeast’ (sprinkle on foods as a cheese replacement) or fortified plant milk. If you would like to know more there is a link to an excellent article by the Vegan society in the links below.
A sample menu for your teen
Try overnight oats, they are a bit of a trend at the moment and a brilliant way of engaging your teen in breakfast! Place 2 tbsp of rolled oats in a jar (with a lid), with between 75 to 100ml of liquid (unsweetened plant milk, e.g. almond/coconut in place of or mixed with coconut or greek yoghurt) and a tsp of chia or ground linseed, blend or mix well, place a lid on and keep in the fridge overnight. There are numerous options to flavour and you can have fun experimenting. Here are some ideas: Cocoa powder, mashed banana, dried fruit, cinnamon, sugar-free nut butter, seeds, coconut flakes, grated apple, lemon juice, vanilla extract, a tsp of maple syrup, berries, grated carrot.
Wraps are an easy and fun way to enjoy a variety of foods, you can fill a wholemeal wrap with hummus, guacamole, grated carrot, cabbage, beetroot, sugar-free nut butter with a scraping organic jam and numerous other fillings. Freshly made veggie soups are also a fab lunch and you can place them into a thermos food jar to keep them warm for a school day.
Veggie lentil chilies, curries, stir-fries are a great way to incorporate lots of different veggies and pulses. Kids often enjoy corn on the cob, sweet potato wedges or carrot batons as an accompaniment to a meal. If your teen eats eggs, serve an omelette with these veggies.
A piece of fruit, fruit kebabs or a fresh fruit salad is always great to increase the micronutrients. A good way to keep them fuelled is to make energy balls (you will find a variety of versions here on my site), kids flapjacks or a simple seedy/nut power mix (place a mix of seeds in a small jar with sea salt/Himalayan salt with optional cacao nibs and coconut flakes and shake up).
I hope you have found value in this post and I wish you amazing health!
lots of love,
useful links and references
Mortality in vegetarians and comparable nonvegetarians in the United Kingdom.
Serum concentrations of vitamin B12 and folate in British male omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans: results from a cross-sectional analysis of the EPIC-Oxford cohort study
Vitamin B-12 Associated Neurological Diseases Clinical Presentation
Learn more about the Epic Oxford UK study
Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts
A Syndrome of Methylmalonic Aciduria, Homocystinuria, Megaloblastic Anemia and Neurologic Abnormalities in a Vitamin B12-Deficient Breast-Fed Infant of a Strict Vegetarian
Omega 3 and omega 6 Vegans
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Recommendations for Vegetarians
What Every Vegan Should Know About Vitamin B12