Tracy Satov: Dealing with a vegetarian in the family

Nearly 12 million Canadians are vegetarians. There are now fast food vegetarian restaurants and high-end vegan restaurants all over the city, and just about at every food court contains a vegetarian restaurant.

These days, many families have at least one member that is experimenting with vegetarianism. For most parents, a dreaded question at the end of the day is, “What’s for dinner?” It is hard enough to please all family members every night of the week.

This situation is even more challenging when your child is a vegetarian in a house filled with carnivores. The once innocent question now becomes almost unbearable and can even cause stress on the parent-child relationship. The simple, rotating meat-based menu is no longer an option. Now the questions include: What should they eat? Are they getting enough nutrition? How can I make a family dinner without becoming a short order cook?

There are three main reasons why kids today become vegetarians. 1) They don’t want to contribute to cruelty to animals; 2) They want to do their part to help stop world hunger; 3) They want the health benefits of eating only a plant-based diet Let’s start with debunking some of myths of being a vegetarian. Yes, a child could eat a vegetarian diet and get all the nutrients he or she needs. Yes, it is a little more time consuming to make sure they are getting all the nutrients, but not more so than for all our children.

The macronutrients that everyone needs are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Carbohydrates are easily obtained through the vegetarian diet as breads, grains, pasta, cereals, fruits, and most vegetables are considered carbohydrates. Fats are also easily available through non-animal based foods, such olive oil, nut oils (walnut, sesame, or sunflower), coconut oil, flaxseeds, and avocados. Protein is the most challenging, especially if your child choses to follow a vegan diet where they do not eat any animal products or bi products — no butter, eggs, milk or cheese.

Veganism is most restrictive type of vegetarianism. On the other end, the most liberal type of vegetarianism is the pescatarian, who will eat everything except meat or poultry.

Their main protein can include fish, eggs, and dairy products. They don’t lack much from their diet. The second most liberal is the lacto-ovo vegetarian as they can eat all foods that include milk and egg products. Again, their protein sources are easily found in eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt. Lacto-vegetarian includes milk products but not egg products, which makes it a little more difficult but still very easy to obtain the nutrients through cheese, yogurt, and fortified cereal with milk. An ovo vegetarian is a vegetarian that eats eggs but not dairy products. As there are many non-dairy calcium-fortified beverages — soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk and rice milk — it is still quite easy to obtain all the essential nutrients.

As I mentioned, the most challenging vegetarian diet is the vegan diet. Quite often, certain nutrients could be lacking in their daily diet, specifically vitamin B12, zinc, protein and iron. However, by making minor changes and adding a little more effort, this diet can support a thriving child. To obtain these nutrients it is essential to add a variety of nuts and seeds to their diet. Each type of nut contains multiple vitamins and minerals, so try to add brazil, cashew, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp and chia seeds.

Soybeans are considered a complete protein as they contain both the essential and non-essential amino acids that make up a complete protein. Soybeans can be eaten on their own or as tofu or tempeh. All other beans — such as chickpea, black beans, adzuki beans, white beans, kidney and navy — contain protein, complex B vitamins, iron, magnesium, copper and zinc. There are numerous vegetarian substitutes such as veggie dogs, veggies burgers, mock chicken, tofurkey and more. Some food manufactures use mushrooms as a base for burgers, hot dogs, and noodles.

You can now find in the grocery store vegetarian options for nearly everything. Now, the dreaded question “What’s for dinner?” is one that you can look forward to as the options are endless.

Here’s to eating well,


Tracy Satov, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and a regular columnist with If you have any questions you’d like answered, email her at or call 514-946-4158.

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