Growing up, there was meat on Halei Warren's family dinner table every night. She'd stare at it and push it away.
"I was never really that interested in eating meat," she said.
Dozens of beefy dinners and years later, her parents weren't too surprised when their Lodi High School student decided to ditch meat altogether and go vegetarian.
She not the only one making changes to her diet. About 367,000 other kids have caught on, according to a 2008 study by Centers for Disease Control that provides the government's first estimate of how many children avoid meat. That's about one in 200.
Other surveys suggest the rate could be fourto six-times that among older teens who have more control over what they eat than young children do.
Most high school students are known for their diets comprised of liters of Dr. Pepper, bags of hot Cheetos and cherry Icees. But that's changing. They are starting to pay attention to headlines that warn of diabetes, heart issues and other health problems that may stem from a generally poor diet.
Some see going vegetarian, vegan or even organic as a new trend, in the same way Chuck Taylors, Hip-Hop and the iPhone are just cool.
Warren was a vegan for six months before she switched to vegetarianism for health reasons not related to her diet. She says even as a high school student surrounded by drive-thrus and junk food, it's easy to stick to her no-meat diet. She loads up on dark, leafy greens, like spinach, for protein. On the go, she eats a lot of nuts and trail mix and says she genuinely likes to eat carrots.
For Samantha Ellis, veganism started with a school assignment, the senior project in which students dedicate their senior year to studying one topic. Seeing the health conditions of people around her, she decided to see if eating meat really makes a difference.
"It seems a lot of people I know have a lot of health problems," Ellis said. "It seems diet is important."
Ellis, who thinks she might want to study nutrition, chose veganism for her project. For six weeks, she and a few friends gave up everything made with animal products, including cheese and ice cream.
It's harder than she expected. Her new diet requires cooking, which is why she eats a lot of frozen vegetarian meals. At home, she eats a lot of pasta with meatless sauce, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Oreos - they're the one single weakness she says she can have as a vegan. She jokes that her dad says things like, "Eat a hot dog, Sam." When she goes out with friends during lunch, she sticks to bean burritos at Taco Bell, salads or a veggie-stuffed sandwiches.
As students are switching to vegetable-based diets, Lodi schools are being forced to adapt their lunch menus.
Warren Sun, director of food services for Lodi Unified School District, says in the last five years he has seen a significant growth in the number of vegetarian students, most of whom are girls. He gets many food requests from parents, but even the students make requests.
He says there are more choices in high schools, including cheese pizza, cheese burritos and salad bars.
Sun says Lodi is even trying to bring in more organic foods since organic-eating is gaining popularity. So far, they have locally grown kiwis and they are working with a local farm organization to provide food for the schools.
For her senior project, Moriah Lilienstein is studying organic foods and working with Lucero Farms to plant vegetables she can use to make 100-percent organic meals.
Like vegetarianism and veganism, she says eating organically is also important.
"I started reading about how they spray a lot of produce with herbicides and pesticides and how it's basically poison. After you have so much of it, it starts to hurt the body," she said.
While teens are obsessed with their cars and the Jonas Brothers, most agree it is good health that is starting to sneak into their what's-cool mindset. Instead of hitting grabbing a fast-food burger or hitting the candy aisle at 7-11, students are rallying together and ordering fresher, healthier choices.
"People are realizing what fast food is made from and how it's made," Lilienstein said. It's not really appealing anymore."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Are you a tomato-juice-sipping vampire?
A few fun vegan/vegetarian/organic terms
Veganorexic: A person with anorexia who denies or hides it by saying he/she is vegan. A person who pretends to be vegan, but is truly just hiding their anorexia.
Vegan steagan: An extremely attractive girl, who is also vegan.
Vegan vampire: A vampire who drinks tomato juice.
Veganishism: An eating practice for people who kinda want to be vegan, but sometimes just need to eat some cheese or chicken.
Vegetarian: A secret underground society that takes pleasure in torturing fruits and vegetables. They also are trying to monopolize the bottled water market.
Vegetarian kryptonite: A meat containing dish that a vegetarian would consider eating. Typically, the person greatly enjoyed the dish before becoming a vegetarian, misses it, and would consider temporarily breaking their own rules to eat it.
Andre 3000 Benjamin, musician from OutKast (vegan)
Alicia Silverstone, actress (vegan)
Anne Hathaway, actress
Avril Lavigne, singer and musician
Brad Pitt, actor
Carrie Underwood, country singer
Jamie Lee Curtis, actress
Kate Winslet, actress
Natalie Portman, actress
Oliver Stone, American film director
Pink, American pop singer
Richard Gere, actor
Shania Twain, American country singer
Zooey Deschanel, actress, musician, singer source: http://www.happycow.net">http://www.happycow.net
Know Your Vegetarian
Vegetarian: Used to describe a person who does
not consume meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. This grouping includes
vegans and the various subcategories of vegetarian; however, it
generally implies someone who has less dietary restrictions than a
Semi-Vegetarian: The term semi-vegetarian is usually used to describe someone who is a vegetarian who consumes dairy products, eggs, chicken, and fish, but does not consume other animal flesh.
Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian: Ovo-lacto vegetarians are vegetarians who do not consume meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, but do consume eggs and milk. This is the largest group of vegetarians.
Ovo-Vegetarian: Ovo-vegetarian is a term used to describe someone who would be a vegan if they did not consume eggs.
Lacto-Vegetarian: Lacto-vegetarian is a term used to describe someone who would be a vegan if they did not consume milk.
Vegan: Vegan is the strictest sub-category of vegetarians. Vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products. Some go as far as not even consuming honey and yeast. Others do not wear any clothing made from animal products.