Many families have faced this, but it’s a new one for me -- my 13-year-old daughter recently decided she wants to eat vegetarian. What can I say? She’s 13 and easily influenced by her friends, the media and celebrity lifestyles.

She’s not a “vegan” anyway. She’ll eat eggs and dairy, and doesn’t object to her food coming into contact with meat during the cooking process, such as her veggie burger cooked on the same grill with my real burgers.  

We’re hoping it’s a passing phase. We're concerned with her nutrition, and talk with her about the role of meat in a healthy diet. Cooking a separate entree adds to the already challenging process of putting a balanced dinner on the table every evening. I’m also concerned over the expense.

I know that many nutritious veggies can be purchased at relatively low cost, including good protein sources such as various types of beans. I eat all those things too, along with my meat. But, like a lot of vegetarians, my daughter likes something “meat like” with her dinner. That brings us to the meat-substitute products that populate the frozen-foods section in your local supermarket. I’ve learned they come in all kinds of shapes, textures and flavor combinations to simulate a range of meat products.

This week, my wife requested I make a particular family favorite dish that includes Italian sausages. I was making the grocery stop, so she asked me to pick up the sausages along with other ingredients, and some “veggie sausages” for the girl. When I reached the meat counter, I was happy to see the store-brand Italian sausages, which are quite good, were on special – two 18-ounce packages for $5. I grabbed two – one for dinner and one for the freezer. Then I proceeded to the freezer section in pursuit of the meatless-wonder sausages. After some searching, I found them – Morning Star Farms Italian Sausage: “Classic veggie Italian sausage bursting with zesty spices.”

The nine-ounce package contains four sausages and cost $4.95. Ouch. I did some quick calculations. The real sausages, admittedly on sale, cost about $2.20 per pound. The veggie sausages cost four times as much, at $8.80 per pound. For $5 I took home 36 ounces of actual Italian sausages, while for the same price I received nine ounces of veggie sausage. Now I know that most sausages, Italian or otherwise, are not the healthiest meat selection. We cook them just occasionally. The veggie-sausage label boast 66 percent less fat than pork Italian sausages and 120 calories per serving. The ingredient list begins with “textured vegetable protein (wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate, water for hydration caramel color), water, corn oil and egg whites, followed by a long list of seasonings and other ingredients. (They would not fit in a vegan diet.)

I haven’t tried the veggie sausages yet, but I’m guessing they’ll taste OK and do a reasonable job of imitating the texture of a meat sausage. Nevertheless, they cost four times as much. Like I said, we’re hoping it’s a passing phase.