Vegan and Paleo Teenagers Are Causing Drama at Thanksgiving Dinner

A poll shows that despite greater mainstream acceptance of vegan, gluten-free, and Paleo diets, there's still trouble at the Thanksgiving table over special diets.

by Gigen Mammoser
Nov 24 2016, 12:00am

Thanksgiving, the annual holiday celebration marked by parents repeatedly telling their kids to take their earbuds out and talk to Grandma, is here once again. The perennial menu of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole remains a permanent and unassailable tradition in these otherwise trying times.

Except that this year, your kid has waited until the last minute to inform you that they no longer eat nightshades, or any foods heated above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Your niece from San Francisco asks if there is stuffing available made with spelt or kamut.

A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving this is not.

That's because, according to a recent poll conducted by the University of Michigan, teenagers are trying all kinds of special diets (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and paleo)—and that makes a huge difference during the holidays.

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The poll, which interviewed 910 parents with at least one child aged 13 to 19, revealed some interesting statistics. One in six parents reported that their child had tried one or more of these four special diets over the past two years. The reasoning for the change varied from case to case but included: health reasons (32 percent), having another family member on the diet (29 percent), a friend suggesting it (17 percent), and ecological reasons (14 percent). The report does also admit that "some teen diet choices were more discretionary, spurred on by friends or the media."

Most interesting however, was how a teen on a special diet affected family meal dynamics. Fifty-one percent of participants said that their teen's diet had caused conflict at holidays and family gatherings.

Sarah Clark, co-director of the poll, tells MUNCHIES "We've heard from a number of people who deal with this in a range of ways: from those who prepare two sets of food (e.g., a turkey and a Tofurky!) to those who described a battle of wills when an adult tried to force a teen to eat the traditional meal."

Parents also cited numerous other challenges related to their kid's eating habits like: problems eating out as a family (61 percent), taking extra time to prepare diet-specific food items (55 percent), and additional costs associated with specialty items (50 percent).

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Families go through the dog and pony show of fad and specialty diets all while apparently knowing very little about the health benefits (if any) associated with them. Fifty-six percent of parents revealed that they did their own research on the proposed diet(s). However, Clark is still skeptical.

Asked whether she felt parents knew enough to make an informed decision about a specialty diet for their child she says, "Probably not."

"As more teens try these diets, we need research on those who stick with the diets over an extended period of time, so we can get a clearer understanding of those benefits and risks. Right now, the research is pretty limited."

In the meantime, make sure you've done your research for when you inevitably have to explain to Grandpa what seitan is.