Your daughter approaches as you saute chicken breasts for dinner. "Mom?" she asks. You hear the edge in her voice. "I have something to tell you." You nod, eyebrows raised.
"That chicken you're cooking," she says. "I can't eat it."

Before you dismiss your daughter's announcement to become a vegetarian as a passing phase or let your kitchen become a battleground, ask a few questions.

Is she a partial vegetarian - one who cuts back on eating meat? An ovo-lacto vegetarian - one who doesn't eat meat, but still eats eggs and dairy products? Perhaps she's an ovo-vegetarian - one who doesn't eat meat or dairy products, but eats eggs. How about lacto-vegetarian - one who doesn't eat meat or eggs, but eats dairy products. And then there's vegan (pronounced "vee-gun") - a vegetarian who doesn't eat anything that originated from an animal.

How does she plan to get enough protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B-12 in her diet? How does she plan to intake enough calories to maintain her growth?

Take time to understand why your daughter has decided to become vegetarian. Is it for health, religious, environmental or animal-rights reasons? Be sure it's not to avoid eating with the family or to give her an excuse not to eat. Research shows vegetarian teens have a higher incidence of eating disorders than the non-vegetarian teen population. If you suspect your daughter's vegetarian diet is a guise to hide an eating disorder, immediately contact her pediatrician and ask for help.

If you're satisfied her vegetarian impulses are genuine, take comfort in the fact that a properly balanced vegetarian diet - of any kind - is a healthy alternative to our traditional Western diet.

But what about dinner? Even if you love to cook, you probably don't have the time to cook two meals each evening. And chances are, at least in the beginning, the rest of the family won't be thrilled to eat vegetarian. What do you do? If your daughter is mature enough to become a vegetarian, she's mature enough to help plan and prepare her meals. Explain to her that together the two of you can learn to prepare a properly balanced diet for her. Taking the time to support your daughter's decision will make you her ally rather than her adversary during her potentially tumultuous adolescent years.

Here's a vegetarian primer to get you started.

Vegetarians need to replace the protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B-12, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids formerly provided by meat, fish, poultry, and dairy.

Menstruating girls need nearly double iron intake. Breads, flours, and breakfast cereals are enriched, but quantities must increase to handle this requirement. Other iron rich foods include broccoli, spinach, black-eyed peas, blackstrap molasses, chickpeas, pinto beans, raisins,
lentils, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, tofu, green vegetables, dried fruit, and yes, watermelon!

Food containing vitamin C helps a body adsorb iron. To meet her iron needs, make sure your daughter includes vitamin C rich foods at each meal. Vitamin C foods include citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, leafy vegetables, green peppers and other green and yellow vegetables.

If your daughter plans to go vegan, she'll need to add non-dairy vitamin B-12 to her diet. Consider fortified cereals or fortified soy milks.

Calcium deficiency is another risk for non-dairy teenage vegans whose bones are still growing. Although many nutritionists recommend a calcium supplement, calcium-fortified orange juice and green, leafy vegetables should be included in her diet.

To replace Omega-3 Fatty Acids include rapeseed oil, soya oil, linseeds, and walnuts in her diet.

To replace zinc include whole-grains, nuts and green vegetables in her diet.

Sunlight is a vegan's only source of Vitamin D. Make sure your daughter gets outside for at least 10-15 minutes at least 2-3 times per week. Non-vegan vegetarians can eat dairy foods and eggs to insure an adequate supply of zinc and Vitamin D in their diets.

Although you may not relish having to rethink the way your family eats, be thankful your daughter's choice is a healthy one.

In the words of the Vegetarian Resource Group, "Vegetarianism represents a positive move toward a cleaner and more compassionate world, a reduction in global hunger and improved personal health."

Visit them at http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/teennutrition.htm for information and links to other vegetarian sites.

Author's Bio: 

Dede Perkins is host of Bella Online's Daughters site. For weekly articles and links to information on Your Daughter's Health, Communicating with your Daughter, Raising Resilient Daughters, Money and your Daughter, Fun Sites for Her, Shopping for her Perfect Gift, Your Daughter, the Athlete, Homework Help, Girls and Women in History, and Your Creative Daughter, visit http://www.bellaonline.com/family/daughters.