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Does your teen want to be a vegetarian?

March 26, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Parents often encourage their teenagers to be independent and to make their own decisions, but sometimes those decisions don't fall in line with the rest of the family. The choice to try a vegetarian diet is likely to be one of those decisions.

A teen's decision to become a vegetarian need not upset family meals. Try not to over-react, talk with your teen about his interpretation of a vegetarian diet.

There are degrees of vegetarianism. A semi-vegetarian diet will exclude red meat, but might include fish or fowl with grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, milk and eggs. A typical vegetarian diet excludes all meats, including fish and fowl. A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) diet excludes all animal meat and animal-based products, including eggs and dairy products.

Teens who choose a vegetarian diet will need to think beyond a vegetarian pizza or grilled cheese sandwich.

The teen years are a time of rapid growth and development and not the time to exclude protein, or any other nutrient, for optimum health.

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As a parent, you could choose not to make food an issue, but view your teen's food choice as an opportunity to help him or her learn more about food groups and the nutrients that each provide. Visit www.mypyramid.gov for more information. Click on "Tips and resources" and you will find a section devoted to vegetarian diets. You also will find a link to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Library's vegetarian nutrition resource list.

While some family favorites, such as macaroni and cheese, need no adjustment, you can adapt family recipes, rather than preparing separate entres.

Some tips to help you include:

· Before adding meat to a soup or casserole mixture, set aside a portion for your young vegetarian.

· If some animal-origin foods are acceptable to the family member, try new recipes for traditional favorites, such as "white chili" prepared with chicken or turkey and white beans.

· Share a pizza by choosing half meat and half veggie toppings.

· Look for recipes that include lentils and dried beans as nonmeat protein sources.

· Shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables that add color and health-promoting nutrients to family meals.

Whether a teen's choice to be vegetarian is a passing fancy or the beginning of a lifetime commitment, everyone in the family can benefit from eating a greater variety of foods and learning more about the selections they choose from each food group.

To help with your family's menu planning, visit www.mypyramid.gov and check out the new MyPyramid Menu Planner. The planner can help you plan food choices to meet your family's nutrition goals.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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