So far in our Good Food Kids series, we’ve given you three strategies for changing the food on your family’s plates, and we’ve told you what you can expect from your kids during that transition. Today, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Whole9′s own Robin Strathdee asked (and then answered) some of the most frequently asked questions about nurturing Good Food Kids.
Note: all photos are from our friend Michele Tam at NomNomPaleo.com. Her site is a treasure trove of family-friendly recipes, so click on any photo when you’re done reading and see what Nom Nom has to offer your kiddos.
What should my kid’s plate look like?
For the most part, we think your kids’ plates should look like yours – some protein, plenty of fat, and lots of veggies. You can use our meal planning template as a jumping-off point, but don’t stress if your kids don’t seem to want eat according to plan. Offer plenty of good food at each meal, let them help decide what goes on their plates, and your kids will work it out in the end. Keep a mindful eye, but help your kids learn to trust their bodies when it comes to their food.
Making mealtimes relaxed and social can help with teaching them to pay attention to their hunger and satiety cues. Model good mealtime behavior, eating slowly, chewing carefully, and doing so without outside distractions like phones, iPads, or television.
It’s important to note here that when you first make the transition, you may meet with more resistance than usual at meal times. Relax, take a deep breath, and remember that your kids will not starve themselves. Most kids don’t have the willpower to resist a marshmallow, let alone go hungry long enough to cause real problems. (As added back-up, Paleo Super-Mom Sarah Fragoso agrees - check out her interview with Whole9.)
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How much protein do my kids need? Can they eat too much?
Researchers at Baylor University recommend the following daily allowances of protein for children:
- 1-3 years: 0.55g of protein per pound of bodyweight
- 4-6 years: 0.5g per lb.
- 7-14 years: 0.45g per lb
However, protein is one of nature’s most naturally self-regulating foods. Dense in satiety factors and nutrition, it’s really hard for anyone (even kids) to over-eat protein from real food. In addition, this information is not designed to encourage you to weigh, measure and track your children’s food intake. If you have specific concerns about their nutrient intake, keep track of a day or two to set a baseline, but don’t stress – kids who are fed Good Food will balance their own diets instinctively.
Unless your kiddos have a kidney disease that affects their ability to process the nitrogen your body makes when it breaks down proteins, your kids couldn’t eat enough food to reach an undesirable protein level. You’re more likely to encounter a kid who doesn’t get enough protein – which is why it’s important to experiment with different cuts, cooking techniques, and preparation methods.
The Whole9 program emphasizes eating fat – is that good for my kids?
It’s important to clarify here: We emphasize the consumption of healthy, high quality fats like coconut, olives, and avocado. We discourage the use of volatile, easily damaged fats like vegetable oils, or fats found in processed foods like french fries. That said, consumption of fats that make us healthier is essential for proper growth and function in children. Prepare your foods using our recommended cooking fats, and offer your kids healthy fats like avocado and coconut milk every day to ensure they get enough for proper growth and development.
If I remove dairy from my kids’ diet, where will they get their calcium?
Calcium is a key factor in building strong, healthy bones, but it’s important to remember that it’s not the only factor. Other vitamins and minerals play a big role in bone development, as do lifestyle choices like activity levels and stress. In addition, the calcium added to dairy products (and orange juice) is not in its most easily accessible form. We think you should look to other, naturally calcium-rich foods for your daily intake.
Want the science? Check out our full article What About Calcium, which applies to you and your children!
If my kids don’t eat whole grains, will they still get enough fiber?
Many Americans believe that whole grains are the best source of fiber in their diets, and their misconceptions are reinforced by many nutritional agencies. Still, despite the emphasis on whole grains, current opinion is that many children get less than half of their recommended intake of fiber each day. The National Academy of Sciences Research Council recommends that children between the ages of 4 and 18 consume 25-38 grams of dietary fiber per day, based on their gender and age.
The truth is that fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are packed with fiber, plus vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, calcium, and gobs of other compounds that make you healthier.
- 1 cup of raspberries has more fiber than 1 cup of whole wheat spaghetti (8.0>6.3)
- 1 cup of broccoli (cooked) has more fiber than 1 cup of instant oatmeal (5.1>4.0)
- 1 ounce of almonds has more fiber than 1 slice of whole wheat, multi-grain or rye bread (3.5>1.9)
If we cut out milk, soda, and juice, what’s left for my kids to drink?
We tackled this topic in a detailed article recently. Some kid-friendly hydration options: plain ol’ water, water infused with fruit for fun and flavor, sparkling mineral water, fruity herbal teas, kombucha (it has great probiotic properties, but start off slowly), and coconut milk (from a can, thinned with water if needed).
Want more ideas? This was also a hot topic on our Whole30 forum . Follow the link to find out what they came up with: What Can I Drink?
My little one still drinks milk. What can I replace that with?
Once your kiddos are past the age where they need breast milk as their main source of nutrition, they can drink water (or anything else appropriate). However, we recognize that there’s a psychological connection there for your kiddo. For young ones, bottles or sippy cups (and the liquids contained therein) are often comfort items. Thinned down coconut milk (from a can, not the sweetened stuff in a milk-like carton) is a good option for parents and kids working through that phase. Homemade almond milk is also an option, but consumption of nuts (in any form) should be fairly moderate – and who has time to make your own almond milk?
Note, rice milk or soy milk are not recommended healthy substitutes for cow’s milk.
How much water should kids drink every day?
According to the Institutes of Medicine (at the NAS):
- Kids ages 1-8 should take in about 1.5 L (or 48 oz) per day.
- Kids ages 9-13 need between 2 and 2.5 L (64-96 oz) per day.
Again, don’t stress about measuring their intake, but on hot days or especially active days, make sure they have the means to hydrate all day long (using a sippy cup, a non-plastic bottle, or another age-appropriate container). Note: Melissa and Dallas just bought a few of these Pura Kiki stainless steel bottles for their soon-to-be kiddo – they’re plastic-free, and convert to sippy cups when the infant is ready.
My kid won’t eat (fill in the food group here). Can we still make this transition?
Absolutely! You’re just going to need to put on your patience cap, set some boundaries and let things happen on their own. Here’s the answer I gave to one of our forum members having the same problem with her son (and protein):
“Kids at are continually exploring their autonomy, discovering that they are in control of their own minds and bodies and learning that we, as parents, cannot read their minds or move their bodies. These seemingly random exercises of will come and go and take some really interesting forms.
I suggest a little experiment: Give him a week of no nagging, no forcing, no rules. If he eats fruits and veggies well, let him load up. Fill him full of whatever fats he’ll eat. Take the pressure off and don’t even address the issue. But, don’t take him to any restaurants either (In a more general sense, don’t make your kids alternative meals). He eats what you’ve cooked – protein or no….There’s a chance that, once he sees that you respect his autonomy, he’ll choose to partake with you. If he doesn’t, then you can start working through some other plans. At the very least, though, you’ll get some fight-free meals under your belt and it will help return the sanity we so very much need as parents.
The guiding principle I use with my girls is this: As a parent, I can control what they eat in my home. But life is so much more than being told what to do. I want my girls to learn how to eat – what, when, why – and (IMHO) deciding what goes into their mouths is a part of that.”
And remember to re-read this article to help you craft just the right strategy to transition your child.
Are there any tricks to getting my kids to eat (and like!) vegetables?
Absolutely! We’ve done the research, and created five ways science can help your kiddos eat their greens (and reds, oranges, and yellows, too). Read this Whole9 article for the best strategies, and feel free to mix-and-match.
Should I let my kids have less healthy foods outside of my house (school, daycare, parties, etc)?
That’s really up to you (and, in some cases, your kids). In my house, we base those decisions on what the food is/will be and how we know that food affects my kids. For example, High Fructose Corn Syrup transforms my children from relatively well-behaved humans to something akin to Damien from The Omen. I (obviously) recognize that and, at this point, my kids do too. My four year old says that “yucky sugar” makes her feel like she will never go to Disneyland again. So, HFCS is never an option for us. Gluten, on the other hand, doesn’t have too much impact on them in occasional, single serving doses. So, if I forget to bring a back up treat to a party, I know it’s okay if they have a cupcake.
The bottom line – you have to make the healthiest, and most liveable choice you can for you and yours, and being too restrictive can lead to a backfire the likes of which will see your child cramming candy into her pie-hole at every available opportunity, even if it makes her feel awful.
What should I do if my kids get accidentally “dosed” with less healthy food?
First things first, unless there’s a significant sensitivity or an allergy involved, take a deep breath and calm down. It’s not that big of a deal. This is a great opportunity to open up the discussion about food, how it works in our body, and how it makes us feel. Time to revisit our A is for Awareness article, and talk to your kids about the experience and how their bodies feel. Remind them that some foods are more healthy (anytime) choices and some foods are less healthy (sometimes or never) choices.
If the “dosing” happened when you weren’t present, take that opportunity to inform or remind your caregiver (teacher, neighbor, grandparent, etc.) of your family’s food boundaries. Be polite. Offer to bring in alternatives for your kids, if that will work for you.
What are some simple foods I can pack my kids for snack or lunch at school or daycare?
My default combination is protein, fruit, veggie (and sometimes a condiment, like a dipping sauce). It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. For a closer look at the lunches of some pretty well-fed kids, check out Nom Nom Paleo’s Week of School Lunches and Primal Bliss’ Month of Real Food School Lunches.
Have a question you don’t see here? Ask us in comments below!