A growing number of families are turning to the principles of the Paleo diet for wellness. At their most basic, Paleo meal plans aim to steer eating habits away from an American heavy-carb and processed food diet towards a diet that is more common to that of our primal ancestors (such as vegetables, meat, eggs, seafood, fruit, and nuts), and things such as gluten, grains, sugar, dairy, and legumes are generally excluded.
When it comes to major shifts in the diet and nutrition practices at home many parent's are probably asking "is this safe for my kids"? I applaud parents for asking themselves this question. Adults often come to Paleo based nutrition after struggling with chronic illness, weight loss on other diets or suffering from dietary intolerances. Often, they find themselves introducing the entire family to Paleo foods, kids included. Most people living a paleo lifestyle eat less sugar and other processed foods, and the result can be very healthy for both children and adults. I think we can safely say that limiting sugars and feeding children unprocessed meals composed of animal proteins, vegetables, healthy fats, some fruits and nuts is not only healthy, but also safe and extremely beneficial to their growth and development.
"Children can get all the nutrition they need from a Paleo diet."
With this statement, there are always a few questions that arise. We will explore some of these in a little more detail.
Do Children Need Grains?
Grains contain a little protein, and an array of vitamins and minerals. However, one serving of grains alone will do little to provide an adequate amount of nutrition. You would need to consume several servings several times a day to make a nutritional impact. Furthermore, there are no known nutrients found exclusively in grains and no nutrient deficiencies have been recorded unless the entire diet being followed was imbalanced and nutritionally void.
Grains contain anti-nutrients that actually, which are bad because they combine together with the nutrients from your other food, preventing your body from absorbing them. The inflammatory properties in grains can contribute to the manifestation of chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
With the paleo diet however, the array of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds provide a ton of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They provide optimum nutrition along with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients (plant based compounds) that work to increase your child's overall health, growth and development.
Many of today’s whole grain products are made with synthetic vitamins, particularly folic acid. This is a synthetic form of folate is extremely dangerous as it can build up in the body overtime and become toxic in the body rather than being digested or broken down. Instead of processed breads and cereals, consider feeding your child an abundance of foods containing folate. These include broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, collard greens. Vegetables are your friend and can give your child what his body needs.
Feed your children vegetables at every meal and they will get used to eating them! Meat and eggs are also excellent sources of nutrition, and provide a much larger amount of nutrients per serving than grains. All Pete’s Paleo meals come with organic, locally sourced, seasonal vegetables prepared in delicious (and perhaps new) ways to entice even the most skeptical of children (and adults) to forgo their grains in place of these nutrition powerhouses.
What About Dairy?
This is always a touchy subject. While many paleo enthusiasts are anti-dairy, there is also evidence that children need milk proteins until at least the age of 5. Supplementing your child’s diet with dairy may seem like a good idea (this is what would technically be referred to as a Primal, rather than Paleo philosophy).
However, it is document that gut irritants may be found in commercially available pasteurized cow’s milk. So try to stick to cultured dairies like whole milk, full fat yogurt and kefir. Ideally you would want to source yogurt from grass-fed cows, which is relatively easy to find these days. Your local farmer’s market may also be a sure for raw cheese from grass-fed cows. Goat’s milk and goat’s milk products are a good option as they tend to be less problematic. There are those who believe in feeding their children raw milk (again, ideally from grass-fed cows or goats). While the nutritional quality is higher and the milk contains many beneficial enzymes, the source of the raw milk is incredibly important, especially regarding the health of the cows.
If dairy is not an option for your child, due to choice or an allergy or intolerance, the nutritional benefits, especially the calcium, potassium vitamin A, D and K2 are still available in many Paleo compliant whole foods.
- Some foods that are rich in calcium include green veggies like collard greens, broccoli and bok choy.
- Potassium is found in bananas and potatoes.
- Vitamins A and D are present in organ meats and cod liver oil.
Calcium is particularly important for children, especially girls (who are more likely to develop osteoporosis or other bone problems later in life). Including even more calcium rich sources from bones (bone-in salmon and sardines), bone broth (make your own or order Chef Pete’s organic broth from pastured animals) and leafy green vegetables can provide more absorbable calcium than that found in dairy. Children can have a well-rounded diet without milk.
Children’s Carbohydrate Needs
A lot of the reluctance to put children on a Paleo-style diet comes from the misconception that the Paleo eating plan has to be low in carbohydrates. Nothing is further from the truth. A Paleo diet can have any amount of carbohydrate that you want and there are many starchy and carbohydrate dense foods that are part of the Paleo eating plan. Think sweet potatoes, plantains, beets, rutabagas, turnips and the abundance of seasonal fruit available for starters. Paleo can be low, moderate or high in carbohydrate, depending on the amount of threes foods you choose to include.
For most children, the extreme end of the low carb diet spectrum (referred to as a ketogenic diet) tends to be less than ideal. This protocol has been found to be a very effective treatment for medication-resistant childhood epilepsy along with other neurological and mood disorders, but is not recommended for healthy, growing children. Research has shown that children can safely eat a moderate carbohydrate diet, well within Paleo norms.
Your child’s carbohydrate needs will probably vary depending on their growth, development and age. On average, the amount of carbs your child needs will go down as they get older (and this will be replaced by protein).
Determining your child’s carbohydrate needs may be challenging, but a great starting point would be to ensure that at each meal, at least 50-75% of the food on their plates are filled with fruit and vegetables (including plenty of starchy vegetables). In other words, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and fried plantains are your friends :) You may be surprised at how much your children enjoy these whole, real foods!
There Is No Perfect Diet
There is no one ideal eating plan for children any more than there is one for adults. The evidence does suggest that a Paleo diet can absolutely be safe and healthy for children. It is both easy and healthy to meet any special nutritional needs of childhood with the abundant whole, fresh foods consumed on a Paleo diet. And yes! It is possible to get children to eat broccoli.
Before assuming that a child’s nutritional needs cannot be met on a Paleo diet meet, remember that a well-balanced diet with a variety of vegetables, as well as meats, eggs, and raw and cultured dairy (if they aren't lactose-intolerant) is an excellent way to feed your children. Taking advantage of some of Pete’s Paleo meals can help get some extra variety on their plates too. Children are not being denied by feeding them a Paleo based diet. They are, instead, being provided with amazing nutrition that will set their bodies up for a lifetime of health!