Written by Suzy Sorensen, RD, LD, CDE
Vegan teens should choose a variety of foods and aim for a balanced plate including fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes at most meals. Teens can meet all their nutritional needs through a mindfully planned vegan diet!
Research shows that vegan and vegetarian teens tend to be well-nourished compared to their non-veg peers. Generally, they have lower cholesterol, lower risk of obesity, and healthier weight for height. Vegan teens eat less fast food, fewer salty and sweet snacks, and have a higher intake of fiber, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin A.
One other health benefit that has been observed: vegan teens often have a later onset of menstruation which is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer.
Studies suggest there is no difference in growth between vegan teens and their non-veg peers. Teens do have higher calorie needs than adults to support growth, needing as much as 50% more calories than their parents. For girls, once menarche is reached, their calorie needs decrease as growth slows.
There are a few key nutrients that are important at this critical stage of growth. See the table (on right) for details (1). Food is always the first choice, but a once-daily vitamin may be helpful to assure micronutrient needs are consistently met.
Vegan athletes usually need additional calories to support physical activity. It’s easy to add in snacks like trail mix, mixed nuts, dried fruits, smoothies, crackers with nut butter or hummus, or healthy granola bars to meet the needs of growing teens on the go.
It’s increasingly easier for vegan teens to “match” what their non-veg peers are eating to decrease the potential for feeling different or left out. Vegan pizza, burgers, burritos, corn dogs, nuggets, and more are available at grocery stores, and more and more restaurants and food trucks offer vegan versions of classic favorites.
While it is important to respect a teen’s need for privacy and independence, it is fair to expect participation in family mealtime including responsibility for helping with meal prep or clean up and sharing the meal.
Teenage years can be an exciting time for exploring independence and learning about one’s place in the larger world! Many teens from non-veg families choose to try a vegetarian or vegan meal plan as they learn about the environmental impact of raising animals used in the food industry and the ethics of consuming them. Others teens who have grown up in a vegan family might experiment with eating meat away from home as they make more independent choices and are influenced by peers. As Brenda Davis R.D. and Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D. say in their great reference book, Becoming Vegan, “For parents, this is a great time to learn a lesson about boundaries and letting go.”
However, we can provide a foundation of compassion and healthy eating that allows teens to make informed choices and encourages plant-based eating!
(1) Adapted from the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group resource on Vegetarian Teens.
Please note: This information, while accurate, does not provide an all-inclusive feeding plan and is not intended to substitute personal medical advice. It is intended to offer guidance only. We recommend working with a registered dietitian to help meet any specific questions you may have.
Suzy Sorensen is a Twin Cities-based Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who is passionate about plant-based eating! She has a Certificate of Training in Vegetarian Nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and opened Move2Veg Nutrition Counseling in 2009 to support those interested in plant-based eating. For more information, visit move2veg.com.