or, Why Paleo Grows Awesome Kids
We get a lot of questions in our workshops, on the website, and from consulting clients about the benefits of Paleo nutrition for kids of all ages. Based on our background, education and consulting experience, we are sharing our thoughts on raising happy, healthy kids and providing your children with optimal nutrition. However, to give you some real-life perspective from real-life parents, we are also going to be publishing a succession of articles that address the methods, benefits and challenges of raising “Generation P”… Paleo for parents, written by parents. Our “Kiddo Manifesto” is the introductory post in this series.
The perfect food
For infants, breast milk is the perfect food. Scientific literature supports the health benefits of breast milk, the most natural food possible, reporting that infants who are breastfed have lower rates of respiratory illness and ear infections as infants, and lower rates of type I diabetes, asthma, and allergies as adults. Better yet, babies who are breastfed longer grow up to have higher IQs than those breastfed for fewer months. Because of the numerous advantages breast milk presents for an infant’s development, we encourage mothers to breastfeed for longer than 12 months (although that is ultimately a personal and individual decision).
Kids are people, too
Once children begin to wean from their “perfect food”, however, parents are faced with choosing foods for them. Robb Wolf has said, “Kids are just little people”, and we think so, too. Since your kids are working so hard to grow into adults (though we can’t imagine why they all want to do that), they need plenty of calories to support growth, activity, and normal physical and cognitive development. But eating well isn’t just about getting adequate calories (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) – otherwise, we could all thrive on nothing but McDonald’s cheeseburgers, fries and a Coke… or our Paleo bacon, bananas, and almond butter, for that matter. No, there is far more to healthy eating than supplying adequate macronutrients – it’s the micronutrients that contribute to our health, and that of our children.
One significant reason that fresh, unprocessed foods like meat, vegetables, fruit and good fats are so healthy for us is that these foods supply liberal amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals – the stuff that actually benefits your child’s health. Choosing foods that supply adequate macronutrients while being very nutrient-dense is the “best-case scenario” for growing kids, from toddlers to teenagers. (Check this related Robb Wolf post for additional nutritional breakdowns.) So much like we encourage our readers to Eat Real Food, we believe your kid’s food should also be Real Food.
Growing healthy kids
Your child’s diet should be comprised of nutrient-dense foods which are in harmony with our genetic heritage and require minimal processing to be eaten – things like beef, chicken, and fish; sweet potato, carrots, and spinach; blueberries, cantaloupe and plums; avocado, olives, and coconut milk. Sound familiar? It should! As we’ve mentioned here once or twice, Eating Real Food confers a host of benefits on us adults, including improved performance, effortless weight management, and optimal long-term health, not to mention reducing systemic inflammation and your risk for a number of lifestyle related diseases and conditions. And kids are just little people, right? This same food – Real Food – promotes their healthy immune function, supports growth and activity, and contributes a wide variety of micronutrients that has been shown to decrease risk of (and improve) conditions such as asthma, allergies, ADD and various autoimmune diseases.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, much in the way foods like sugar, grains, legumes, or dairy negatively affect our health, they also negatively impact our children’s health – perhaps even more so, as their immature immune system and GI tract can be even more vulnerable than ours. Even in the youngest of us, typical “kid food” like milk, yogurt, cereal and bread at worst promote systemic inflammation, create immune system dysfunction, increase the risk of diseases like type I diabetes. At best, these foods comparatively lack the nutrient density that would significantly contribute to your child’s overall health. (Yes, even milk, despite what your pediatrician may tell you.)
Lots of parents we’ve talked to say, “But my kids don’t like vegetables…” or, “But my son loves Froot Loops.” (This is where we often get in trouble, asking, “Um, does your toddler drive himself to the corner store for cereal?”) Admittedly, we don’t know how difficult it is to try to take away a child’s Froot Loops – although we can imagine, knowing how hard it is for our adult Whole30 participants to change their eating habits. But until your children are buying their own food with their own money, you as the parent are the single largest supplier of your child’s nutritional needs. And we believe it’s just as critical to your child’s long-term success to feed them healthy food as it is to make sure they don’t drop out of school in 3rd grade. Admittedly, getting kids to love Real Food is easier said than done, especially if they’re accustomed to sweeter, more processed foods on their plate. But we think that there are few parental duties more noble than loving your children wholeheartedly, and feeding them as best as you can – even if you have to fight them on it, even if they go to bed hungry for a night or two, even if you have to resort to saying, “It’s for your own good.”
Raising Generation P
This particular topic – the food fights, the tough transitions, the methods employed and some inspiring kiddo success stories – will remain in the spotlight here, so stay tuned as we continue to share information by acting a conduit for parents who we think are doing it right. We’ll be featuring their stories (and the stories of their children, from infants to teens), allowing health-minded parents to share their personal experiences with raising the next generation of Paleo-eating kids… Generation P.
Additional Whole9 resources:
- Refer to our Resources page if you’d like more information about Eating Real Food.
- Check out the rest of our Manifesto Series for the scoop on grains, dairy and peanut butter.
- Our still-growing Conscientious Omnivore series will help you select the healthiest animal proteins.
- Selecting from our Seasonal Produce Guide will help you save money and choose the freshest vegetable and fruit.
We can help you live the Whole9 life.
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Awesome as usual. Check out the info (actually and surprisingly from government organizations!!):
* The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” They also note that “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.” (AAFP 2008)
* A US Surgeon General has stated that it is a lucky baby who continues to nurse until age two. (Novello 1990)
* The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of nursing up to two years of age or beyond (WHO 1993, WHO 2002).
Melissa @ Whole9 says
Excellent information! Thank you for the references.
Jodi DePorter says
Great topic!! I’ve lived it with my two kiddos when my husband and I transitioned our eating habits. Initially we left the kiddos diet alone, thinking we would be depriving them of things kids NEED. Well, it didnt take us long before we said, enough is enough, they eat what we eat…and the benefits to their bodies and minds has been amazing.
We eat a simple paleo diet, most of the time. Each night one of my boys gets to choose one of the two veggies with dinner. If they choose it, they take pride in eating it.
This year we are doing a garden, and they get to have little plots for “their” veggies. They will plant the seeds, water them, pick them….and ultimately prepare and eat them. They are just 6 and 8, but they choose the right foods (most of the time), they are kids after all, so some splurges are ok. But they see the same results as we do when we throw unclean foods into our diets….tummy aches, headaches, low energy, etc. I think its important for them to be in tune to what foods do to them, and they are already aware. They tell their friends and grandparents what they should and should not eat…LOL.
I say start ’em early!!
I’m looking forward to this series! I have found that our kids will eat what we eat. If we snack on almonds and apple slices, so will they. If I grab a few olives, they’ll ask for some, too. They are not paleo because they do enjoy steel cut oatmeal, ezekial bread, pasta and yogurt (but not all in the same day), but dinner is always lean protein and veggies.
We send alternative homemade treats to school that mimic cupcakes and such for birthdays. I sent in a request to the teachers on the first day of school to be notified when parents would be sending items in for celebrations so I could make a healthy version. I also have them store some in the freezer for when parents just show up with treats.
They love steamed broccoli, green beans, and peas and my three-year-old finally tried a hard-boiled egg for the first time a couple of months ago. We never forced her, but we always offered them. She would tell us over and over that she didn’t like them (even though she never tried them) but we offered them just the same. One day she said yes and started munching away…so you just never know.
Oh, and I find that including the kids in the cooking process encourages them to try foods we might not expect them to (like guacamole) because they helped create it. The hardest part, believe it or not, has been getting family to respect our “no sweets” wishes. It’s been a constant battle of family trying to “sneak” a treat or showing up with bakery goods when I have made a healthier version the kids would be just as happy with- that and fruit as dessert. So when it’s in front of them they want to eat it…
Can’t wait to hear the suggestions from others!
Terrific Article. I’ve cross posted this for my athletes, many of whom have kids. Keep up the great work, and thanks for all the great info.
My kids are 80% paleo. It is difficult only because my oldest eats at school for lunch. Our school like 99% in Canada are nut free. My kids love nuts and nut butters. Favorite snack it apple slices with almond butter to dip into. But this is a no no at the school. I look forward to this series and seeing what other parents go through with this.
Great post guys. My 3 year old goes back and forth between mostly my place(where we eat Paleo and my clients come to our home based facility to train) and his mums place where food only comes from a box unless it’s fruit. His behaviour, energy and focus is so much better when he is dialed in at my place. Sometimes it’s a battle to get him to eat his eggs, sometimes he piles back 10lbs of grassfed beef, guac and brocco but it’s always worth the effort and the younger you start em, the easier it will be!
Keep trying foods over and over, they will surpise you! Ethan ate two avocados worth of guac one day after refusing it for weeks. I find keeping the snacking down helps with a willingness to try new stuff at meal time…if they tantrum…then it’s time for an intermittent fast!!
PS- he never fights me on sunbutter and fruit…but who would?
Hey Melissa, this is a great site for all things regarding kids and breastfeeding, healthy living.
And I second what others have said, have the kids help with choices and prep. If its offered enough, they will eat it even if it was rejected initially. A good way to get the to eat their veggies/fruits if they balk, is to have a tray prepped in the fridge or on the table all the time. They will always be noshing on them!
My kids always adored fruits and veggies; the more exotic the more it was embraced. I mean how many little people really do like passionfruit and artichokes!! Now they are all out of the house, some with their own kids too and it’s amazing what habits they pass on and carry with them. But then if the inlaw kids dont eat the right things……
Just today, I went out to Trader Joe’s with list in hand and purchased only good protein sources, fresh fruits, veggies and almonds. I have been trying to change my family’s eating for some time now and in the heat of it all, I have fallen off more times then I would like to admit. I have decided to take the power back and am now going to cook for everyone for one month and they will eat only what I cook. My husband has struggled with weight problems all his life and suffers from psoriasis (sp?) and my 9 year old son has intermittent asthma. For the next month, they will eat only what I give them…I am certain my husband will probably lose a good chunk of weight and my kids will feel better….I am not going to tell them when the time is up, because I am sure by then, the changes will be intact and no one will miss the crap… Anyway, I will be back often to see what other parent’s are saying about their families eating and maybe some day I can help another family out. Wish me luck!!
Just Jen says
Yay! I CANNOT wait for the series…..I have two kids who were both born 3-4 months premature and are still catching up (boys aged 7 and 11) in weight. Their pediatrician has always been of the mindset “it doesn’t matter what they eat, as long as they eat”. Looks like it’s time to educate the doctor. :-)
My husband and I are just about to get started on our “paleo adventure” and I’ve been worried about what to do for my 2 year old. I’m nursing my 6 month old, and starting to introduce foods to him (he’d rip bacon out of my hand if his arms were long enough). I’m excited to read what you come up with! I’ve started slowly weaning grains out of 2yo’s diet and I’m already not enjoying her whining for crackers. Thanks for focusing on kids for a series!
I am a fairly new parent and i will say the paleo battle for children is very very hard. there are a few reasons for this:
1. grandparents, relatives, friends, etc: everyone loves to see how a kid will love their cookies they make or how they crunch on a potato chip. if its friends you can easily say no thanks. if its a grandparent the hurt feelings that they cant bring joy to their grandbaby via their spaghetti is a tough thing to do.
2. doctors/books/”big food”: if a doctor spock book says kids shouldnt eat strawberries until they are a year old and the books say your kid should start eating solidish food at 8 months. well your stuck between a rock and a hard place. Everydaypaleo suggested that i give my kid some freeze dried fruit this early. Well the packaging on the gerber freeze dried fruit says atleast 12 months. we tried it anyway and it resulted in gagging and spitting out but we havent dont a lot of foods because books give a ton of age limits on things. that means no almond butter but nuts are the vilified as the most dangerous food known to children.
3. if the kid is hungry he will eat eventually….right? this is kind of a game to us. we tried it once and it seemed like the kid didnt eat for a whole day. and we know he wont wither away to nothing but it is a fear for new parents. everyone who reads this blog is a smart person and knows whats good and whats bad. but when it comes to a kid you worry a lot about if they are hitting their developmental marks of being able to eat certain foods and drinking enough.
Ray - Pure Spontaneity says
My kids eat about an 90% paleo diet with the occasional birthday cake, grandparents, holiday cheats. They do tend to consume a little more fruit than I would like, but how detrimental is fructose in kids? They eat at least a banana a day! Thanks.
Melissa, I am SO looking forward to your seminar in Feb at CFSTC. I have always been a pretty good eater, so Paleo isn’t a huge stretch for me. But have been really struggling with my 14 yr old daughter who is battling being overweight (30-40 pounds) and would give anything to be slimmer, but just fights me like crazy on really making solid changes in her eating habits. Which she knows the weight will not come off without it. It’s not that she doesn’t like most fruits, meats, etc (only some veggies) she just will choose the nuggets/mac & cheese every time if given the option. So I’m learning to remove the options completely, and find a way to help her that way until she gets it enough to do it for herself. I plan on bringing her with me, have told he rabout it, and she is excited about coming too. I think it will be very inspirational to her hearing this stuff from someone else than her Mom! (Likely she will believe you!) Looking forward to reading more from you on the P Generation! Thanks Melissa!
Yes, yes, yes. Kids are people too. It’s amazing to me how many people I know eat great diets and feed their kids the chicken nuggets and pasta. I have a 2.5 year old (still happily nursing for now) and we have followed a pretty good WAPF diet since he was born. Now that he is getting older we are transitioning to a grain- and dairy-free exisitence. Will he be 100% paleo? Probably not. One, I rely on butter as one of his major food groups for now. And the fact is, he goes places without me sometimes (like grandpa’s where he visited yesterday and came home having eaten some salami and a granola bar).
I figure if 90% of the time he gets an awesome diet and taste buds being primed for paleo he will be fine.
Thanks for this post, and this blog. I’m starting a Whole 30 experiment with my friend on the 1st and we’re both so excited!
I look forward to reading on this topic. Good for Whole 9 taking a lead on this arena (it appears to be lacking).
Wow, I’m excited to find this. My husband and I have started our Paleo journey today with a whole 30 challenge. I want to see the benefits of this lifestyle first hand and am ready to lose weight. My husband and I are very much obese. I am tempted to leave our 4yr old’s diet alone because he is a healthy weight, but I am sick to death of severe temper tantrums that I believe sugar/processed foods is creating. I have zero idea how to begin with him since he has never eaten meat before (except for a hot dog or two) or vegetables. His diet consists of some fruit, cheese, oatmeal, goldfish crackers, some pizza, frozen gogurt, milk and juice. He refuses to eat fast food, so I guess that’s one less battle I have to fight. I have a feeling this is going to be a war and he will go to bed hungry more than once. I have to keep telling myself it is better for him in the long run. Advice and ideas are much appreciated!
Dallas @ Whole9 says
Great work with your little monsters! Your “let them choose” idea is awesome. We’re taking notes! :)
Try unsweetened coconut flakes as a non-nut (fat) snack.
Way to lead your entire family into a healthier 2011! We’re proud of folks like you that take ownership of their influence and use it for good. Rock on!
Unfortunately, yes, the doctors need educating. I spent 9 years working in the medical community (as a physical therapist), and I have a pretty good idea what they (don’t) know.
Keep nursing! We’ve got a couple parents who will chime in with ideas on how to integrate ongoing breastfeeding with “first foods”. Stay tuned!
Yes, there are some serious challenges of parenting, including feeding those growing monsters, err, angels. We’re going to spend some time talking about how to handle delicate family situations. Also, one key point that we’d make to you about starting your kids on food is that you don’t have to quit breastfeeding right away just because they’re eating some food. You can do both! Thanks for your comment.
Good question. Fructose has been demonized a little, but it is clearly NOT good stuff in any large quantities. We think it prudent to choose fruit lower in fructose (and other sugars, too!), and highest in micronutrients. So, choose more berries, cherries, and melon, and do fewer bananas, since they’re dense in both sugar AND starch (carbs), and are not very micronutrient-dense. (Don’t forget, it’s not just the fructose that’s bad for them. Sugar is sugar is sugar!) Steer your kids towards snacks like carrots, snow peas, sweet pepper slices, jicama, etc., instead of so much fruit. It’ll do better for them now, and will help to not turn them into a Sugar Addict in later years. Great question!
Bring your daughter to our workshop! We’ve got a “high school kids come free” policy, so if she’s interested in learning, bring her to CFSTC! (If she does want to come, shoot us an email so we can put her on the registration list.)
Good work on blending traditional cultures’ diets (WAPF) with science-based recommendations (removing grains and dairy). There is tremendous value in both perspectives, and we can all learn from them. Have you read our Butter Manifesto? If you’re feeding your son a lot of butter, it might be worth reading. Welcome aboard the Whole30, too!
Good for you for tackling a tough transition. Stay tuned to our “Generation P” series for ideas about how other parents have transitioned their kids to a healthier diet. For now, work more veggies into his diet, probably cooked. And you’re completely right that diet can affect (and create) behavior disorders. Stay the course, and do the best you can. Your whole family will be better for it!
The toughest part about kids & the paleo diet can be play dates and play groups. I have a 15 month old who has never had graham crackers, or fish crackers, or pasta – and processed stuff – we’ve been really strict about making sure of that. But when we are out with other moms and their kids have huge cups filled with cheese crackers – or some other junk “food” – and they ask if my baby can have some, I have to say “no” … and I feel it alienates us from other moms. Especially when they ask “why not?” I don’t want it to seem like I am judging others.
I am already dreading birthday parties held at pizza places or ice cream parlors, and school lunches.
I’m tempted to lie to other moms and say he is allergic to gluten and peanuts.
So I have a question. The problem is not with me but my inlaws and extended family functions. I am able to choose the foods and supply a healthy nutritious paleo diet to my child (whom loves jsut about everything) but when we go to the grandparents or aunts and uncles homes it gets thrown out the window. How do I combat that as a parent and handle it with class without putting anyone on the defensive or even being annoying.
Thanks advance for your help
Liz McGurrin says
Great idea, Melissa and Dallas! Kids are indeed little people. I’ve got some coping strategies, learned from my 2 year old. She’s been a real-foods baby her whole life, but we still have our moments of disagreement.
1. “I don’t have any” is a powerful phrase, even more powerful if it’s true. If your child says “I want some cookies!” and you respond with “you can’t have any”, then it’s the beginning of an argument/negotiation. “I don’t have any” isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact. It ends the discussion more often than not.
2. Educating daycare providers is challenging. I’ve sent lists, explained the no grains, sugar, legumes, dairy thing, only to pick my daughter up at the end of the day to hear “oh she loved the lentil soup with rice crackers we had today”. The tactic that has worked best for us has been to make and send her lunch with her every day, and to insist she be offered only the food we send. It took emphasizing how upset her tummy was getting to make this point stick.
3. Sugar is sugar is sugar. Raisins are sugar. Dried blueberries are sugar. Do yourself a favour and don’t keep them in the house.
4. A 2-year-old eating crunchy carrots is hilarious.
I would love some ideas about what to put in my children’s lunchboxes. They are both fussy and love things like sandwiches (my husband and I don’t eat bread but I keep it in the house because I don’t know what else to give them for school lunch). They would eat fruit all day if I let them. They won’t eat leftovers. I want them to eat more protein – mini quiches worked for a while (using bacon as the base!) but they get sick of them and the food comes home uneaten. I get complaints about the ‘yummy’ food the other kids get in their lunchboxes. Dinner is always a variation of meat and veg and they usually eat it, after complaining about it first, mind you. I’m totally sick of discussing food and hearing complaints – I want them to just eat what they get and be grateful for it!!
Any help and ideas appreciated. Thanks for your great website.
Thank you for this article and for everyone’s responses/comments. I am starting Whole30 in 10 days and I wasn’t going to change my kids food much, but after reading this and the replies, why shouldn’t I? They deserve better health too don’t they? My 5 year old throws tantrums for no reason, my 10 year old is developing acne. They currently eat school lunch, so I would want to make and send their lunches and daily snacks myself. So I am looking for some good school lunch ideas that don’t require them to reheat their food.
Looking forward to beginning this journey!
I have a question, I am hoping someone can answer. I want to switch my 20 month old to something other than cow’s milk. I don’t want to do soy milk for obvious reasons, but what should I use instead? He doesn’t seem to particularly like cows milk, so since I am changing the rest of our diets, I might as well try to find something else he likes. Almond milk? Rice milk? Coconut milk? Something else? Where should I start looking?
I also am wondering about the transition from cows milk? Anyone have any suggestions on goats milk, almond or coconut? Thanks
Melissa @ Whole9 says
We think coconut milk is the healthiest alternative to cow/goat/sheep’s milk. It’s loaded with healthy fats and can easily be watered down to more of a milk-like consistency. You can buy the full-fat or light stuff in a can, but avoid the coconut milk in the milk-like cartons. They’re often sweetened, and contain additives and preservatives that we don’t think are the best option.
I’m about to start Whole30 for my whole family tomorrow! I have a 2 year old (with no known allergies who LOVES dairy) and an almost 4 year old who has a TON of allergies with bad eczema. I think cutting grain will be the most difficult part of the process (i just read the grain manifesto as well). my kids are voracious eaters (even of broccoli!) and i’m wondering how sustainable no grains will be. It’s sad but ever since I’ve been doing the research, I notice how often they’re asking for grains (“healthy” stuff like whole grain o’s, etc.). Are there certain grains that elicit more of an inflammatory response than others? I’m thinking a bit ahead here, but after 30 days, do i just keep my allergy-prone 4 year old off of all grains or try to reintroduce more “whole” grains (brown rice, steel cut oats, quinoa)? If i do, what should I start with first, or does it really just depend on the person?
Melissa @ Whole9 says
We’ve got a full reintroduction schedule outlined in our Whole30 Success Guide – that should help you figure out what to reintroduce and in what order. We do lump certain grains as “more problematic” and others as “less problematic”, but everyone is different in terms of how they respond to different compounds. It’s all about the reintroduction period, and the patience to reintroduce new things one at a time so you can effectively evaluate their influence.
Hope that helps! Best of luck to you and your family – consider posting on our Whole30 Facebook page (www.facebook.com/whole30) for ideas, motivation, support and help.
eema gray says
It would be amazing if I could be directed to research data supporting this article – even if it’s looking more at adults than at children. I’m in the middle of transitioning my 2 year old and 4 year olds onto paleo eating plans to hopefully help with balance, coordination, and (in my 4 year old) a neurological condition that caused an extremely severe speech delay. My husband and I can already see the differences a week into our plan. However, I have a sister in law who has a Ph.D in immunology and an M.D. in pathology, her husband, my brother, is a bio engineer. Just saying “this is what works” doesn’t go far enough for them. If I have the research to back it up, then it makes more sense
We have more than 400 references supporting our nutritional recommendations in the appendix of our new book, It Starts With Food. (http://bit.ly/whole9iswf). That should get them started.
As for “it just works” not being enough, ask them what’s the worst that can happen? Your kid eats lots of super nutritious food for 30 days. They must know enough to realize that there are zero nutrients found in whole grains or dairy that you can’t also get from high quality meats, seafood, eggs, and copious amounts of veggies and fruit. (And if they disagree, press them to name one. It ain’t happening.)
The bottom line is that regardless of what they think, they are your children, and you need to do what you feel is best for them. I wish you all the best of luck, please keep me posted.