When your teenager says, "I have something important to tell you," a lot of things run through a parent's mind. "I'm becoming a vegetarian" is usually not one of them. Since most kids are less, rather than more inclined to eat their veggies, this can be refreshing news. A 2010 poll conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group found that 7 percent of 8- to 18-year-old Americans never eat meat.
But the news may add an element of complexity to the family meal. You want to make sure that your child is getting a complete and balanced diet, including enough protein, while making sure the omnivores in your life are also happy at the dinner table.
Although I haven't had to deal with this situation myself, I have many friends with one or more kids who have made the decision to stop eating meat. The consensus among them is that you, as head cook, need to make it work in a way that doesn't create more effort in the kitchen. That seems to translate into either heartier sides that can constitute a vegetarian main course or vegetarian meals that everyone can enjoy.
Neither scenario seems too difficult to achieve successfully -- nor does it involve adding beans to every meal, especially if you research what constitutes a complete protein. There are many combinations of vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains that work. With a little research and some creativity, you can serve a wide variety of delicious and nutritious, protein-packed meals. After all, teenagers cannot live on brown rice and beans alone.
One of my favorite vegetarian dishes is barley risotto. It's savory, hearty and completely satisfying. Substituting barley for white rice gives it a lovely chewiness and nutty flavor not found in traditional risotto.
Whether you're cooking for one vegetarian or an entire family, it's easy to keep your meals exciting, varied and delicious for everyone at the table.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.