Teenagers and vegetarian diets

All teenagers need nutrients like protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin B12 to fuel the physical changes of puberty. These nutrients are also important for general health and development.

Teenagers who choose vegetarian diets need to work a bit harder to get these nutrients, which non-vegetarians get in foods like red meat, chicken and fish.

If your child is thinking about trying a vegetarian diet, it might be a good idea for him to speak with his GP or a dietitian. These health professionals can help him make sure his diet is well-balanced and gives him all the nutrients he needs.

Nutrients for vegetarian teenagers

Protein
For protein, your vegetarian child can include beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and nuts in her diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Flaxseed and walnuts are good vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Iron
Good sources of iron for vegetarian teenagers include:

  • dark green leafy vegetables like spinach
  • legumes like beans and lentils
  • wholegrains and fortified cereals.

If your child is a vegetarian, encourage him to eat foods high in vitamin C at the same time as he eats foods high in iron. This will help him absorb iron better. For example, he could try lentils with tomato sauce at dinner, or wholegrain cereal with an orange at breakfast.

Vitamin B12
Your child can get vitamin B12 from eggs and milk if she eats a vegetarian diet that includes these animal products. Fortified breakfast cereals can be a great source of vitamin B12 if your child avoids all animal products. Not all cereals have added B12 so be sure to read food labels.