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.