Q. "My family doesn’t eat very much meat, so we’re interested in trying a vegetarian diet. How can I ensure that my two teenagers won’t miss out on all the nutrients they need?"
Natalie, Fremantle, WA
A. Accredited Practising Dietitian Brooke Longfield responds:
Going vegetarian together will certainly make mealtimes easier, but remember: When you go meat free, it’s easy to fill up on starchy carbs, such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, or to eat too many processed foods, which are full of salt. And this may sound obvious, but you still need to ensure you’re reaching your daily target of five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit.
Vegetarians are at risk of becoming deficient in certain key nutrients, namely iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Meat is a major source of iron, so seek out vegetarian iron sources, such as eggs, dark-green leafy veg, unsalted nuts and iron-fortified cereals.
Calcium is important for adolescents because it helps build healthy bones. Your teenagers’ diets should include a wide range of reduced-fat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and ricotta.
Vitamin B12 is present only in animal foods, so if eggs and dairy products stay on the family menu in adequate amounts, you should meet your requirements; if not, you may need a supplement to boost your intake.
Oil-rich fish is the best source of naturally occurring omega-3 fats, but walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds all contain small amounts, as do fortified eggs and table spreads.
Pay a little more attention to the way you eat, and going vego is easy!