Your teenager declares that s/he is now a vegetarian. What do you do? Here are some tips and food ideas to meld your child’s new practice into your family’s lifestyle.

Tips to Turning Vegetarian

1. Let Go of the Apron Strings  Let your teen cook. Deviating from your family’s eating style is a sign of autonomy, and cooking is an act of independence. Your teen can run the show and be as creative as desired with ingredients. Give your teen some praise and respect for learning how to make new things and discover new tastes. By sharing their food with family and friends, your child can connect with others and find satisfaction in expanding their culinary point of view.

2. Veggie Basics  Often teens transition to vegetarianism by eating a diet of pizza, junk food and sweets…and by gaining weight. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are the basics for building a healthy vegetarian foundation that will help your teen thrive and grow into a healthy adult.

3. Salads  Abandon your current vision of a salad, i.e., lots of leaves and dressing. Salads can be power-packed with nutrition, color, freshness and best of all, they can be spontaneous and easy to create. Teens love to be inventive (no rules!), so encourage them to be free spirits in the kitchen and create some ‘off-the-cuff’ salads with fruit and grains too.

Use darker greens like romaine, red leaf, arugula, baby beet greens, and gourmet salad blends over iceberg. Think color and toss in splashes of bright orange, red, yellow, and purple produce. Add anything you have on hand — from pasta, bell peppers, beets, corn kernels, cubed tofu, beans, nuts/seeds, raisins, wheat germ, quinoa, crusty bread. Winning ideas include:

4. Sandwiches  Your teen may no longer rush the burger and pepperoni pizza line with friends at school, but that doesn’t mean they’re destined to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until they graduate. Vegetarian sandwiches can be full of flavor with multiple layers of texture.

Sandwich/filling ideas range from variations of tofu to garbanzo beans:

  • Chickpea Salad
  • No Egg Salad with Tofu Mayo
  • Hummus
  • Savory Tofu Slices (broiled with anything from BBQ to Szechwan sauce)
  • Broiled Open-faced Apple Sandwich (thinly sliced apples, cheese, raisins, and walnuts and/or cashews)
  • BBQ or Curried Tempeh Burgers
  • Grilled Eggplant
  • Falafel Ball Pockets
  • Tofu Slicer Sandwich
  • French Arugula Sandwich (fresh mozzarella, arugula, Roma tomatoes, and tapenade)

5. Lunch Box Add-Ons 

  • Fresh fruit/vegetables
  • Crackers/rice cakes
  • Dried nuts/seeds
  • Popcorn
  • Fruit leather
  • Small cans of applesauce/fruit
  • Box of soymilk
  • Homemade treat

6. Snacks  What would a growing, ravenous teen do without munchies! After-school snack ideas:

7. Entrees   Your teen doesn’t have to settle for feasting on your family’s side dishes. Vegetarian dining is a whole lot more than just eating vegetables and salad. There are no limits to what can be created.

You may find that you and your family members like or prefer vegetarian dinners as they’re easy and delicious. Clean-up is especially easy without meat and poultry bacteria contaminating your kitchen. Entree ideas:

8. Soups  Soups are one of THE best things to eat. Here’s why. Soups are:

  • Soup, Salad and SandwichEasy to make and requires cleaning just one pot.
  • Flexible and random. Your teenager can put anything in it. Again, no rules!
  • Suitable to everyone’s taste. They can be made creamy, chunky, spicy, with noodles…any which way your teen likes it.
  • Transportable. Teens are always on the go. Packed in a thermos, they can take soup anywhere.
  • Inexpensive. Ever hear of “Garbage Soup”? You can freeze leftover veggies, sides, spaghetti, ravioli, chili, etc. in a container and once you fill it, your teen can dump it into a big pot with some tomato sauce or tomato juice for a hearty, one-of-a-kind meal!


Karen Owoc

Karen Owoc is a certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist specializing in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and lifestyle medicine. Her science-based approach to longevity, nutrition, and muscle health has made her the go-to source for health seekers and medical professionals alike. Karen's best-selling book on functional longevity, "Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100", and her transformative perspective have mended many minds, hearts, and spirits.

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  1. I think the question should be “What to do WHEN your teenager turns vegaterian.” Most of them grow out of it. Many don’t and live into old age. It’s not an illness.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Conor. Point taken. Being ‘pescetarian’ (I eat fish but no other animal products) and active since I was a teen, many parents ask me how to keep their athletic teen fueled and satisfied. I never grew out of it. 🙂

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