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VEGETARIAN TEENS AND NUTRITION:
MAKING SMART CHOICES

Teens are into music. Teens are into expressing their individuality. Teens are into hanging out with their friends. Teens are into nutrition?

Well, I'm finding that vegetarian teens are. I recently spoke with a group of vegetarian teens, asking them questions about their familiarity and adherence to the guidelines of the American Dietetic Association's Food Pyramid, about the variety of choices in their school cafeteria, as well as the options and opinions that they encounter when out with their friends.

These teens are making smart food choices. Shannon, a 13 year-old tennis player from Oregon, told me that "As an athlete, people would tell me that I was going to be drained of energy, but I think that's a wives' tale and in my experience it just wasn't true." Shannon chooses cheese pizza and the salad bar when hanging out with her friends. Vannessa, a California teen, explains how she is questioned about eating enough protein, "Ironically, protein is the one thing I know I never have to worry about getting enough of. I eat a lot of meat substitutes and beans. People would be surprised, to see how good a can of garbanzo beans is for you."

All the teens wish that their school cafeterias offered more in the way of variety for lunch. A kid can't eat cheese pizza everyday. Bringing a brown bag lunch from home is another option. Wrap sandwiches, bean dip and baked tortilla chips, mini carrots and hummus are good additions to the traditional apple and granola bar.

Vannessa's whole family is vegetarian, including an aunt and uncle. She explains that the majority of her friends are also vegetarian and that they "know where (she's) coming from." Unfortunately, friends who still eat meat do not understand and feel that her food choices make her feel superior to them. "This is absolutely not true," Vannessa asserts. One of the big reasons that she does not eat meat, is her absolute avoidance of "dangerous amounts of pesticides in meat. We're taught to wash off our fruit and vegetables because pesticides are bad things to consume, but for some reason, the same parents that praise cleansing off pesticides can plop a steak down in front of their child, at the same meal."

Kimberly, from New Jersey, says that her brother likes to taunt her with a fork full of meat and that her parents have tried to force her to reverse her decision, but Kimberly is hanging tough. She has no desire to "eat something that had a face." Shannon agrees with this philosophy and says that thinking about how meat is processed "turns her stomach."

Teens place much importance on image and many find it easier to just go along with the crowd. The vegetarian teens that I spoke with encountered some resistance and teasing by their peers, but ultimately find strength in their personal beliefs and morals. to just go along with the crowd.

The vegetarian teens that I spoke with encountered some resistance and teasing by their peers, but ultimately find strength in their personal beliefs and morals.


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