Paleo for Kids?

January 3, 2012 in Categories: , , , , , by

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Can kids benefit from paleolithic nutrition?  Of course they can!  Maybe even more so than adults because their food habits and associations are just starting to form.  Plus, gluten and the other lectins in grains and legumes can be even more damaging to a child’s immature digestive tract than to an adult’s.  A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is crucial for brain development.  And of course, a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables provides all the vitamins and minerals a growing child needs.  In fact, a paleo diet is more nutritionally dense than any other diet.

 If you found paleolithic nutrition prior to having children, then you have a wonderful opportunity to start your baby off with outstanding nutrition.  Avocado is an excellent first food as are banana, sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, and egg yolk (see this post for more information about Paleo baby foods, and when to introduce specific foods). If you are trying to transition an older child to paleolithic foods, then you’re probably experiencing some of the frustrations that I am (my oldest is exceptionally picky and it’s hard to say no to my youngest if I let my oldest eat cheese and crackers).  But any improvement to your child’s nutrition will benefit them, so keep trying and be patient.

Try your best, but also give yourself a break.  Your child’s diet does not need to be perfectly paleo.  In an ideal world, you would provide a 100% paleolithic diet at home.  You would probably allow all the gray area foods (well, obviously not alcohol or caffeine!) and limit refined sugars while not worrying about carbohydrates (especially from fruit and starchy vegetables).  But what happens when your child goes to a birthday party?  Birthday cake, cookies and ice cream are a rite of passage for a child and I don’t believe in depriving our children of those experiences.  What happens if your child goes to a school with a mandatory lunch program?  Hopefully there will at least be a gluten-free option that you can sign your child up for.  Do you worry about your child eating pizza at a playdate?  I think it’s important to do whatever we can to raise our children with optimal nutrition but also with a healthy, not obsessive, attitude toward food.  Let’s not make a big deal out of those occasional treats, but also strive toward a tasty, healthy variety of paleo foods at home.  Of course, do be aware of whether your child is extra sensitive to those occasional exposures to neolithic foods.  Most kids will be okay, but trust your instincts.

Now, what about dairy?  This is a tricky one.  While many paleo enthusiasts are adamant that dairy should not be included in our diets, there is also evidence that children need milk proteins until at least the age of 5.  This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view because prehistorically (and indeed until only the last hundred years or so), children were breastfed until at least 3 or 4 years old, and often older.  In our current society, this is rare (I am a strong supporter of breastfeeding but both my girls still weaned shortly after turning 2).  So supplementing a child’s diet with dairy seems like a good idea (this is what we would call a lacto-paleo diet or a primal diet).  But, how can you avoid the gut irritants found in commercially available pasteurized cow’s milk?  Cultured dairy tends to be better, so try to stick to yogurt and kefir (whole fat is better too).  Even better is yogurt from grass-fed cows, which is pretty easy to find these days (Whole Foods has a few different options).  Your local farmer’s market may have raw cheese from grass-fed cows too (and I’ve heard that Trader Joe’s has a pastured cheddar).  Goat’s milk and goat’s milk products are also a good choice because they tend to be less problematic, and are very easy to find these days.  Many paleo enthusiasts believe in giving 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, you really need to know where your raw milk is coming from, especially about the health of the cows.  Remember that unpasteurized milk was the main source of tuberculosis just a century ago.  I am still researching this as an option for my family, and am not at a point where I can recommend it across the board.

Please see this section of my blog that is dedicated to posts about feeding babies and kids, and other topics for Paleo families. I hope that the blog posts in this section will provide you with ideas, moral support and also recipes to help you transition your children to paleolithic nutrition.

Comments

Thanks for the post. I have a 5 month old that I am just now starting to introduce solid foods to. I am also a new paleo follower (within the past month), so when I told my husband I wanted our son to also follow a paleo diet, I know he thought I was crazy. Luckily, my baby HATED rice when I grudgingly gave it to him, so I think I may have my husband on board a little…

I am also struggling with what to do regarding milk. I have had to stop breastfeeding already, so breastmilk unfortunately isn’t an option. I would like to know what other paleo moms have done regarding cow’s milk.

Thanks!

Thanks for the comment, Becca! You can tell your husband that even many pediatricians are backing away from rice as a first food. Allergies to rice are on the rise and it’s not as easy to digest as we’ve been led to believe (I had one pediatrician tell me that rice cereal turns to cement in the gut and causes constipation in many babies)!

With a baby so young, you don’t have many options when it comes to breastmilk alternatives. I’d try and find an organic, soy-free formula (soy would be considered worse than cow’s milk) and just watch your baby for signs of tummy upset. If your baby seems gassy or colicky, try switching formulas. As for the switch over to cow’s milk, typically around age 1 (but introduced around 9 or 10 months), you do have many more options.

Milk is a touchy subject for most paleo enthusiasts. I personally recommend including dairy products in our children’s diets (there is evidence that children need milk proteins and fats until at least age 5). That doesn’t need to come from milk, though. Whole fat yogurt or kefir are great options. Cheese is good too. Whatever dairy product you choose, it’s much, much better if you can get them from grass-fed/pastured cows or from goats. But when it comes to kids, I prioritize avoiding gluten-containing grains, then omega-6 fatty acids, then the rest of the grains, and then legumes. I hope this helps!

Good luck. And remember that the important thing isn’t to be perfect, but to just do the best you can. :)

Hi Becca,
I just came across your post. I’m not sure if your still reading this but I thought I would provide some feedback for your now 10 month old. I have a two year old and although she is still breastfed, she will never have milk. No child needs milk after age one and if someone tells you they do, find someone who knows better. They definitely need calcium so make sure you feed them calcium enriched foods or natural sources such as broccoli, spinach and oranges. If your child has a varied diet of foods, then you won’t have to worry about it. If your child likes milk/formula, try the cans of Coconut milk. Make sure you buy the BPA free ones. Good luck and going paleo with your baby is really give them a huge advantage!

Thanks so much for this. I have a 2.6 year old daughter who drinks a lot of milk (I discovered paleo a couple of months ago – if only I had discovered it earlier!)

I’ve reduced her milk consumption, but there is no easy fix here. Almond milk is too high in omega-6, and coconut milk isn’t really a substitute. Raw milk is illegal here in Australia – I can buy a brand marketed as ‘bathing milk’, but I have reservations. If it made my daughter ill, I’d never forgive myself.

She doesn’t seem to have any “gut irritations” from milk….
Wish there was a better solution than “no you can’t drink milk anymore” (which I’m not prepared to do either!)

I forgot to say, she was breastfed for 26.5 months and weaned herself. But she started drinking cow’s milk at 1 year of age (our govt promotes this as being ok) :(

Whether or not we should drink milk is one of the most debated topics in the paleo community. Chris Kresser has a great article (http://chriskresser.com/dairy-food-of-the-gods-or-neolithic-agent-of-disease). I’m still on the fence about dairy myself. I left dairy in my children’s diets for a long time after we went paleo and feel like our current lack of dairy is really just a trial to see how they do (they both have health issues that I’m hoping to resolve). If your daughter she seems healthy and eats a paleo diet otherwise, I think leaving milk in for now is okay (but I would suggest sticking with organic milk). I hope this helps!

I rarely drop responses, however i did a few searching and wound up here “Paleo for Kids?”. And I do have some questions for you if you do not mind. Could it be simply me or does it appear like a few of these responses appear like coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are posting on additional social sites, I would like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of your shared pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?
Also see my pageTruth about 6 pack abs review

Does Paleo diet drop your breast feeding supply? I’m breast feeding and I just started Paleo and wanted to make sure I will not lose my supply.
Thank you
Katie

It really depends on how you are implementing paleo and how you ate before. In general for breastfeeding, you want to make sure that you are eating enough (and sometimes when you first switch to paleo, especially if you do a lower carb version, it’s easy to under-eat), drinking enough, and sleeping as much as you can (sleep and rest is ridiculously important for your milk supply). If you ate fairly high carbohydrate before, make sure that you aren’t shocking your body too much now. Initially, eat lots of starchy vegetables and fruit, and then you can slowly decrease those to something more in line with paleo carb recommendations for your goals (I don’t recommend going too low with carbs for as long as you are lactating). Make sure that you are eating good protein and fat too (don’t skimp on the fat!). And I recommend oily cold-water fish at least 3 times per week (all that DHA is great for your baby’s developing brain and I have a post coming on why you don’t need to worry about mercury). Other than that, eating paleo means that you are eating the most nutritionally dense food so it’s an ideal diet to support what your body needs and what your baby needs.

Hi!

I’m so glad I found your blog. I’ve been gluten and dairy free for a few years, but I’ve just gone full paleo over the last few months. I have IBS-type issues and lots of food sensitivities. I’m gearing up for making my house as paleo as possible! I have 2 kids (5 and 8) and I’m very interested in kid friendly paleo-recipes.

I’m also training to be a health coach and can’t wait to help other people with their health. Food makes such a dramatic impact on our health and happiness! Can’t wait to check back with you.

Cortney

hi! My daughter has just been diagnosed with an AI disorder and i have decided to put her on the paleo diet. I was wondering if there was specific ‘paleo’ foods sold? like the gluten-free bread or the dairy-free yogurt. my daughter is a very good eater and will eat just about anything. i hope you can help. thanks!

It’s still typically the best to make your own, although that is slowly changing with more pre-made options around. So far, all of the paleo breads that you can buy contain ingredients that I would not recommend (psyllium fiber in particular). But, you could look into Pure Wraps and a tortilla alternative. There are some grain-free granolas (watch for fake sugar sweeteners like stevia) and paleo-friendly jerky. Look for coconut milk yogurt or almond milk yogurt in your local health food stores (again, read the ingredients)

Granola:
http://primalpaleoconcepts.com/home.php
http://www.paleonola.com/
http://www.paleopeople.com/

Pure Wraps:
http://improveat.com/whatoffer.php

Jerky:
http://stevesoriginal.com/
http://grassfedjerkychews.com/
https://www.itsumoahijerky.com/product-details/paleo

I wanted to see if I could get your help with my son! We have recently switch to a Paleo diet for our whole family. My oldest is 9 and knows what we are doing (I actually talked to him before making the change.) He is having a really hard time at school because kids are always asking him what is that (today it was homemade pizza, buckwheat crust!?!?!? I thought he was doing okay until tonight we were getting ready for bed and he broke down and told me he hates that we had to change what we eat. He says that it bothers him that everyone is always asking what “that” is. My husband and I decided that if the kids are offered something outside of the home (school, party, etc.) that the kids could partake, but that we would do what we could at home (which also means packed lunch). He has always loved fruit and veggies, but since he started 4th grade at a charter school (he was at home prior to this), he is not eating 1/2 the food he used to eat. His lunch comes home almost full everyday.

How can I help him to transition better with the change that we are doing? Do you think it could be just from the kids at school and I should approach his teacher (in my opinion if kids are constantly making fun of another kid, that is bulling)? Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

I haven’t had to deal with this with my daughter, who likes the food I pack in her lunch, doesn’t seem at all tempted by what other kids are eating, and whose school is such a tremendously positive environment. So, I’ll give you my ideas for you to try and hopefully something will work. My first thought is to make things that look like what the other kids are eating, paleo adaptation type foods–although, it sounds like you’re doing this with homemade pizza. Things like paleo pepperoni sticks (Chomps or US Wellness Meats has them), lunch meats (US Wellness Meats), homemade paleo bread for sandwiches, or something like Pure Wraps for making wraps. I guess where this gets challenging is if other kids in your son’s class think fruit and veggies are “weird”. Because I don’t think there’s anything weird about some carrot and celery sticks with a paleo-friendly dip (guacamole, homemade dips, almond butter if the school allows tree nuts or sunflower seed butter if they don’t). Maybe something like coconut or almond milk yogurt? Jackson’s potato chips are make in coconut oil and you might be able to find sweet potato chips made in a good oil too. Homemade trail mix is one of my kid’s favorites (made with various nuts, a little dried fruit and a few dark chocolate chips). There are more and more paleo friendly granola bar type bars out there too (like yawp bars) and cookies.

I think that if you kids do alright with the occasional SAD treat and it makes them feel more normal and fit in to have them at a birthday party, I think that’s a good policy. My kids have terrible reactions to gluten, food dyes, and my youngest is super sensitive to dairy, so we always bring something to parties or send something to school for school parties, but usually a paleo treat like a homemade cookie (my oldest usually gets larabars because she loves those and they’re so easy). My kids feel so crummy when they eat those foods, that it’s pretty easy for them to have something different as long as it’s still a treat for them.

I think talking to the teacher about the teasing makes a lot of sense to me too. Also remember that sometimes that type of teasing behavior is due to examples by the adults in the school, so that might be an uphill battle. I feel so fortunate that my oldest goes to a school where there is such a strong anti-bullying program. Also, it might be something that your son is overreacting to (innocent questions of curious kids, but your son if feeling defensive) and that might just be part of the emotional adjustment, although it’s not good that he doesn’t feel comfortable eating his lunch at school.

I hope this helps!

I have a 4 year old with nut and egg allergies. He is extremely picky which can be common in his situation. He gets really bad eczema and I feel he would benefit from this diet but I am so reluctant to change because he is so picky.

Right now I am trying to get 30 days under my belt first and then slowly transition him. He will not eat dairy but does drink milk. So my biggest switches will be gluten and getting him to eat meat. Right now he only eats fish sticks and nuggets. I buy high quality brands but would like to see him eat real meat! (I swore I would never give him fish sticks or nuggets, how the mighty have fallen)

Another transition factor would be textures too.

As a concerned Grandmother I think my grandson is being over fed. He is just going to be 8 months old and his dad has him eating 11/2 bananas for breakfast and he has him eating it whole the baby has no teeth , a whole avocado for lunch. Is that normal amounts for children on the Paleo diet?
Concerned Grama

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