Childhood nutrition is an incredibly important topic that is often not discussed enough. There are also so many contradictory messages about what to feed your growing children. These combined with the constant barrage of food commercials aimed at children to the confusing government guidelines along with poor quality of school cafeteria food it’s no wonder the messages get mixed up.
Is Paleo Safe For Kids?
A Paleo diet is an excellent lifestyle plan for any stage of life, and yes, that includes childhood.
Parents often ask if Paleo is safe for children since it excludes common “kid foods”, including breads and sandwiches, cereals, milk, fried foods, peanut butter, and store-bought, pre-packaged snacks. Conversely you may perhaps want to ask whether these “kid foods” are what you would want your growing and developing child to eat!
Those cereals claiming to help start your child’s day off on the right foot and support growth are often packed full of sugar and artificial ingredients. The average children’s cereal contains over 2 ½ teaspoons of sugar per serving. This only gets compounded by other sources of sugar found throughout the day such as packaged snacks, processed foods offered at school, and dessert.
Some people may believe that children should experience these types of foods as part of their childhood. You might also have heard that your children may miss out on vital nutrients if they avoid grains and legumes. Unfortunately, these foods are nutrient poor, contain additives, preservatives and other toxic ingredients, are highly addictive, and can lead to multiple health issues including blood sugar imbalances, sleep disturbances, decreased performance in school, and in some cases can even lead to obesity.
There are no known nutrients found only in grains, legumes and other fortified and enriched food products. Your child will not develop a nutrient deficiency from avoiding those foods. Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber and antioxidants and animal protein is a rich source of B vitamins, iron and healthy fats.
The Benefits of Paleo for Kids
Fat & Iron: Kids need nutrient dense foods to grow. Children also need fat and iron for optimal brain development. Healthy fats are also needed to help build nerve tissue and support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Iron is needed for proper body function. Most packaged “kid foods” are not rich in iron or healthy, naturally occurring fats. Paleo eating encourages those healthy fats and high-quality protein to support young brains and bodies developing well.
Grain & Gluten Free
Whilst avoiding grains on a Paleo diet does not automatically make it a low-carbohydrate way of eating, it does eliminate processed and refined carbs that are linked to obesity which affects 1 in six children. Diabetes and insulin resistance are also on the rise and are associated with processed carbohydrate and refined sugar consumption. A Paleo diet supports eating foods that help to naturally balance blood sugar levels instead of spiking them.
Low in Gut Irritating Foods
The processed and packaged foods that are made available to your kids are very detrimental to their guts. Foods high in processed and refined sugars and carbohydrates can lead to gut health imbalances and food addictions. A Paleo diet naturally eliminates many gut irritating foods (grains, gluten, dairy, sugar) and your child is more likely to have an optimal functioning digestive system. This is incredibly important because gut health is at the center of overall health.
Along with the naturally occurring, healthy fats and quality proteins your child will be eating on a Paleo diet, the wide array of vegetable and low sugar fruit options pack a further nutritional punch. A Paleo diet is a great way to ensure your child is eating lots of nutrient dense foods.
Special Considerations for Children
Children are growing and do have some special nutritional needs which are easily addressed through a Paleo diet:
Calcium is particularly important for children, especially girls (who are more likely to develop osteoporosis or other bone problems later in life). Calcium from bones (bone-in salmon and sardines), bone broth and leafy green vegetables is more absorbable than calcium from dairy. You may wish to include dairy as an option – read more on that here
Low Vitamin D status is problematic for those spending too much time indoors or living in more northern climates. Vitamin D deficiency is not associated with a child being overweight. even if his weight is normal. The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight and the Paleo diet encourages moving one’s body often, preferably outdoors. Get more ideas on getting you and your kids their vitamin D by reading on here
Iron deficiency is more common amongst children who are overweight. Although these children eat adequate iron consumption, the low-grade inflammation in their body prevents its use and absorption. A well-formulated, possibly lower carbohydrate Paleo diet will heal the inflammation and optimize iron utilization.
Easing your Kids Into A Paleo diet
There are a few ideas we have found to be very helpful for parents who are looking to transition their kids to a Paleo diet. It is important to be practical and realistic as opposed to trying to make a massive shift overnight. It helps to gradually introduce new foods while eliminating the processed foods from the diet.
Eliminate the Easy Foods First: Start by eliminating things like take-out pizza, mac and cheese, bread, and cereal.
Use Healthy & Tasty Alternatives: Instead of the sugary cereal, make some Paleo approved granola with some soaked nuts, pure maple syrup, and cinnamon with a splash of a milk alternative. Instead of mac and cheese, make butternut squash or cauliflower and nutritional yeast mac and cheese sauce poured over spaghetti squash. For dessert, make some delicious and easy ice cream (use this recipe)
Snack Smartly: Snacks are where many parents are challenged. There are so many poor but really well marketed “kids snack” choices available and it can be VERY difficult to truly avoid them all. Always keep unsweetened coconut yogurt or coconut cream on hand to mix that with some berries and raw honey. Another great snack option is an almond milk-based smoothie with some berries, avocado, and coconut oil.
Make Dinner Easy: Parents often struggle with finding a balance between making a healthy dinner and not having enough time or energy to make something nutritious. An easy dinner involves a crockpot with some well-raised and sourced animal protein. Add some bone broth, vegetables, herbs, and spices. A crockpot is a great way to save time on cooking but also to pack in some healthy nutrition into your family’s diet.
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Get Them Involved: Kids who are involved can experience a lot more enthusiasm about eating healthy. Let them help meal plan for the week, by letting them tell you what recipes they’ve really liked in the past. Buy a set of kid-friendly knives and let them help cook! Keep Paleo friendly snacks available to pack into their lunches and let them help fill their own lunch boxes. Take them to a farmer’s market and encourage them to pick out a new item of produce they’ve never tried before. This is not only fun, but an opportunity to introduce new foods!
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Positive Reinforcement: Celebrate your child’s good choices. Kids seek your approval and want you to be proud of them. Sometimes positive reinforcement of eating their baby spinach can be a lot more encouraging than punishing them for not doing so.
You can take charge and change the way your kids are eating. Make small changes to start and before you know it you will have the whole family switched to a delicious and healthy Paleo diet! Taking these steps now is an excellent way to safeguard your family’s health for the future.