Should Toddlers Eat Paleo? A Dieting Mom’s Dilemma
Some parents have switched their young children to the grain-free, dairy-free Paleo diet. Is eating like a cave baby right for your toddler?
Have I mentioned that I’ve spent much of the past year living life as a modern day cave woman? About a year ago, my chiropractor gave me the book, Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle, which explains the basics of the Paleo diet, a way of eating that mimics our supposedly uber-healthy Paleolithic ancestors. Eating Paleo generally means embracing fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts — the things our cave man and woman ancestors ate — and staying away from they things they didn’t, mainly because the foods didn’t exist yet. These foods include grains, dairy, legumes, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.
Proponents of the diet say our DNA is crying out for us to return to the ways of our ancient forbearers, and that eating a cave diet can offer health benefits ranging from clearing up digestive issues to reducing the risk for obesity, diabetes and other diseases. After 10 months of eating Paleo most of the time, I can personally vouch for some benefits. The runaway Mommy Brain that had turned into chronic brain fog disappeared almost overnight after I gave up wheat and dairy. My energy levels, which had flagged over the past few years, have also made a welcome rebound.
So, in other words, yay me! But since I am a mom of two, my success eating Paleo and desire to keep going with my 21st century cave woman ways have brought up a tricky question. Should my kids start eating Paleo, too? As with most diets I’ve followed in the past, so far this has just been my thing. Our cupboards and fridge are filled with bread and pasta and beans and milk, which my kids and husband happily eat. As for my husband, I am not so worried about whether or not he should make the switch. Like me, I think he will be pleasantly surprised at how good he feels without the grains and dairy. But what about the kids?
According to ThePaleoMom, aka Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D., a medical biophysicst, author of the upcoming book, The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease, Heal Your Body, and a mom of two, toddlers and preschoolers can benefit from eating this way. “Children who follow paleolithic diets . . . tend to sleep better, tend to get sick less often, tend to pay attention in school better, tend to have more energy to play, and tend to have more even moods,” she wrote in a recent blog post.
Eating Paleo can also provide toddlers with more nutritient-packed foods, says Paleo advocate Sébastien Noël, who blogs at Paleolifestyle.com and has a Facebook following of over 150,000 cave diet enthusiasts. “Feeding your children a Paleo diet provides them with an enormous amount of benefits that they simply couldn’t get from standard American ‘kid foods,’” he explains. This is because unlike highly processed snacks, “Paleo foods provide all the micronutrients they need to support a healthy growing body.”
There are also different shades of Paleo. As Ballantyne describes, some families follow a strictly Paleo diet, meaning no dairy and no grains, while others include grass-fed dairy in their diets (this is called a lacto-Paleo diet) or occasionally eat sprouted grains.
To help toddlers accustomed to constant snacking on goldfish crackers and cereal bars transition to a Paleo diet, making simple swaps with foods they already eat is a good place to start, Ballantyne suggests. Peanut butter (peanuts are a legume) can usually be replaced with almond butter without too much of a fuss and the internet is filled with Paleo-friendly recipes for toddler favorites, such as chicken fingers and gluten/grain-free bread.
How does this translate into real life? “People sometimes give me a weird look when I say my two kids eat Paleo,” says dad Michael H. of Portland, Maine. “I often get asked,‘Don’t they eat carbs?’ Paleo isn’t Atkins and my kids eat plenty of sugar! However, my kids eat the right kinds of sugar, which means things like bananas, apples, pears, beets, sweet potatoes, squash, organic raw honey, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and grade b maple syrup. I even break the rules a little bit and give them oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes every now and again, but we don’t eat wheat or rice. I’ve noticed my kids do much better when they get their sugars from natural sources.”
And, he adds, “so far, there have been no cavities and they rarely get sick.”
I am at the point in our Paleo transition where I have located a local farm that sells grass-fed dairy (I’m thinking lacto-Paleo is the way to go for us) and have been dialing back on the bread with the kids for the past few weeks. Still, there’s that nagging little voice in my head that questions the wiseness of this shift. My kids don’t have brain fog — that was me. Am I just setting them up to crave the processed food they see others eating? Does Paleo really cover the bases of good nutrition for kids? I plan to ask our pediatrician at our next check up what her opinion is.
I will also remember some wisdom that I bet even our Paleolithic ancestors believed: everything in moderation. I am all for ditching the sugar and processed foods, but when it comes to the rest, I think we will need to creep cautiously into that cave.
Do you think cave baby diets are okay for modern tots?
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN