Recommended Vegetarian Diet for Teenagers

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Two young women at lunch break

For a variety of reasons, teenagers may desire to cut meat from their diets. While careful planning is necessary for vegetarian teens to meet daily nutritional needs, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states it's perfectly safe for kids and teens to following vegetarian meal plans. However, knowing how to plan nutritionally-adequate vegetarian menus is a must.

Vegetarian Meal Plan for Teens

A teen's individual calorie needs vary based on age, gender, and activity level. Use the chart provided by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 to determine individualized calorie needs and a corresponding vegetarian meal plan. For example, a moderately active 16-year-old teenage girl needs about 2,000 calories, and should eat:

  • 2.5 cups of vegetables
  • 2 cups of fruits
  • 6.5 ounces of grains
  • 3 cups of dairy foods
  • 3.5 ounces of protein foods
  • 6 teaspoons of oils

Sample Vegetarian Menus

Below are some sample vegetarian menu ideas for teens; portion sizes will vary based on individualized calorie needs.

Day 1

Vegetarian teenagers will love this menu because it's simple, and they can easily pack the lunch to take to school. It's well balanced and provides all essential nutrients teens require daily.

Breakfast

  • 1 egg
  • 1 whole-grain English muffin
  • 1 slice of cheese
  • 1 cup of cantaloupe

Snack

  • 1 apple
  • 1 cup of yogurt

Lunch

  • 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of carrot sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of ranch dip

Snack

  • 1 ounce of almonds

Dinner

  • ½ cup of cooked tofu
  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa
  • 1.5 cups of steamed broccoli

Snack

  • 2 cups of popcorn

Day 2

The following menu is filled with teen-friendly vegetarian foods, including a lunch they can pack for school, and even frozen yogurt as a snack.

Breakfast

  • 1 cup of oatmeal
  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • 1 cup of blueberries

Snack

  • 1 orange

Lunch

  • Cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 ounce of peanuts

Snack

  • 1 cup of frozen yogurt

Dinner

  • One veggie burger on whole-grain bun
  • Sliced tomatoes and sliced pickles
  • ½ avocado
  • 1 cup of cooked asparagus

Snack

  • 2 tablespoons of hummus
  • ½ cup of pretzels

Day 3 (Vegan Menu)

This menu can be used for teens following vegan meal plans -- teens who don't eat any type of animal-based foods (even eggs and dairy products).

Breakfast

  • 1.5 cups of breakfast cereal
  • 1.5 cups of soy or protein-fortified almond milk
  • 1/3 ounce of sliced almonds
  • 1 cup of strawberries

Snack

  • 1 cup of grapes

Lunch

  • 1 burrito on whole-grain tortilla with ¼ cup of beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and shredded vegan cheese substitute
  • 1 cup of soy yogurt
  • 1 cup of raw green beans

Snack

  • 1/3 cup of vegan cheese substitute, or 1 cup of soy or protein almond milk

Dinner

  • Stir fry made with ½ cup of cooked seitan, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, 1 cup of sautéed veggies, and 1 cup of brown rice

Snack

  • 1 ounce of cashews

Day 4

Cheese and veggie pizza

Teens will enjoy this well-balanced menu, which helps vegetarians meet daily nutritional needs with easy-to-prepare, teen-loving foods -- like pizza. Likewise, they can easily pack the lunch for school.

Breakfast

  • Omelet made with 2 eggs, feta cheese, and spinach
  • 2 slices of whole-grain toast with 2 teaspoons of trans fat-free margarine

Snack

  • 2 cups of cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of cantaloupe

Lunch

  • Pita bread with 2 tablespoons of hummus and sliced tomatoes
  • 1 cup of sliced cucumbers
  • 1 cup of milk

Snack

  • 1 ounce of pistachios

Dinner

  • Baked cheese with veggie pizza

Snack

  • One banana, sliced and topped with 2 teaspoons of almond or cashew butter

Key Nutrients for Vegetarian Teens

According to KidsHealth.org and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarian teenagers should be sure to get plenty of the following nutrients in their diets:

Nutrient

Vegetarian Sources

Protein

Eggs, dairy foods, peas, beans, tofu, other soy products, veggie burgers, seitan, nuts, seeds, nut butter, and quinoa

Zinc

Zinc-fortified breakfast cereal, legumes, dairy foods, and nuts

Iron

Iron-fortified breakfast cereals, eggs, legumes, tofu, spinach, and dark chocolate

Calcium

Dairy foods, soy milk, almond milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, tofu, leafy greens, and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals

Vitamin D

Dairy foods, egg yolks, vitamin D-fortified orange juice, and vitamin D-fortified breakfast cereals (also sunlight)

Vitamin B12

B12-fortified breakfast cereals, dairy foods, and eggs

Iodine

Seaweed, iodized salt, dairy foods, eggs, enriched bread, enriched macaroni, prunes, and creamed corn

Omega-3 fatty acids

Walnuts, walnut oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, soybeans, soybean oil, flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, algae, krill, and vegetarian omega- 3 oils supplements

Complete Protein Considerations

Teens who avoid meat can still get plenty of essential amino acids by eating vegetarian sources of complete protein, or pairing incomplete complementary proteins together. However, you don't have to eat complementary protein pairings together at each meal, as the total amount of protein you're getting throughout the day is most important. Below are some vegetarian sources of complete protein:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy foods
  • Soy foods
  • Legumes plus whole grains
  • Grains plus nuts or seeds
  • Legumes plus nuts or seeds

Vegetarian Teens

Vegetarian teenagers can meet their nutritional needs without eating meat by using carefully planned, well-balanced vegetarian meal and menu plans. Work together with your teen to come up with lots of options for healthy meals and snacks.

Recommended Vegetarian Diet for Teenagers