Is Paleo Safe for Kids?

The question of whether or not Paleo is a safe diet for kids comes up frequently. People also wonder if it’s okay for their babies, and whether or not it’s enough nutrient variety for growing teenagers.

The fact is that Paleo is an excellent diet for any stage of life, and yes, that includes childhood.

Paleo Is Safe for Kids

Parents wonder if Paleo is safe for children since it excludes typical kid food, like milk, cereal, peanut butter, and most store-bought snacks. The real question should be: should your child really be eating all of those normal kid foods in the first place?

The top worries that parents have about Paleo is that it:

  • Won’t have enough nutrients
  • Will include too much meat
  • Excludes dairy and won’t nourish their growing bones
  • Skips grains which are fiber and “necessary” carbs

Let’s address each of these concerns individually.

Will Paleo Have Enough Nutrients for Children?

Children, while they’re growing more rapidly than adults, still have the same basic set of nutritional needs. A Paleo diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, calcium, and amino acids—all of which provide a stable, healthy foundation for which children can thrive on.

Paleo for children needs to be focused on vegetables and fruits, as well as a variety of other nutrients. Opting for entirely store-bought Paleo goods won’t give them enough nutritional depth, and thinking that Paleo is mostly meat with little else is a false view of the diet.

If your child is a picky eater, you’ll have to put in the extra work to ensure they’re getting the proper amount of veggies and fruits, but thanks to Paleo wonders like spiralized zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, and cauliflower rice, it’s pretty easy to give kids their favorite dishes, just Paleoized.

Is Paleo Too Much Meat for Children?

The Paleo diet isn’t a meat-only diet, as much as critics would have you think. Paleo should be a well-rounded food plan that involves lots of vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds—and yes, meat, sourced from quality animals.

What your child eats on a Paleo diet is up to you, but Paleo food choices are infinitely healthier than the typical “kid foods” that most parents are choosing from: refined grains for cereal and pasta, processed meats for sandwiches and hotdogs, and excess sugar from snacks, juices, and just about everything else.

Do Children Need Dairy Products for Their Bones?

Children don’t need milk, cheese, yogurt and the like in order to have strong bones. In fact, more often than not, children and adults struggle to properly digest dairy products, so even if they have a nutritional benefit, they’re also causing digestive or gut health problems at the same time.

Dairy products can be especially irritating for skin, and are often one of the culprits behind persistent eczema, recurrent sinus infections, and frequent earaches in children. Pediatricians will sometimes make food connections to frequently sick children, but in many cases they won’t.

Dairy products have the potential to cause more harm in children than benefits, so why not opt for calcium from other sources? The Paleo diet is rich in calcium even though it excludes all dairy. How? Because dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and certain fish (like sardines) are excellent sources of bioavailable calcium. That means that the calcium from these sources more readily absorbs and is used by the body than calcium from cow’s milk or other dairy sources.

Even if you’re dealing with a picky eater, it’s pretty easy to blend leafy greens into smoothies or other main meals, and ground sardines can easily be mixed in with kid-friendly tuna salad without raising suspicion.

Will Paleo Have Enough Carbs for Kids?

With kids, you need to make sure they’re getting plenty of Paleo sources of carbs so that they have energy, but you don’t need to resort to grains or sugar to get this done. The best kid-friendly sources of Paleo carbs are:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • White potatoes
  • Squash (all kinds)
  • Bananas
  • Tapioca and cassava flour
  • Apples
  • Citrus fruits
  • Berries
  • Seeds and nuts

Children need carbs in order to have vitality while they’re going through their many growth spurts, but they also don’t need a carb-only diet. They need a healthy mix of carbs, fat, and protein. A Paleo diet allows just enough of every nutrient for a child to grow and thrive.

Paleo is Compatible with Allergies

Another kid-friendly bonus about the Paleo diet is that it can be modified to be allergy-friendly for any child. It already naturally excludes peanuts, soy, dairy products, and wheat which are three common allergens in children and adults.

Paleo can also be modified to avoid other common allergens: tree nuts, eggs, sesame, and coconut. While it may take a little extra work to modify a Paleo diet, it’s actually easier to control what’s going into your child’s mouth via a Paleo diet than a typical American diet because much of Paleo comes from unprocessed food sources. Food processing is one of the top ways that food-allergic children can get contaminated, thanks to shared facilities and production lines.

I’ve personally made a Paleo diet work well for my peanut, egg, and tree nut allergic son, and he’s thriving. He was also a Paleo baby, where he stayed consistent on the growth chart and never needed any of the typical baby foods like cereal, teething wafers, or dairy products.

Bottom Line

Paleo is a safe and nourishing diet for people of all ages, children included. Just like adults need to customize their diet to meet their individual needs, children thrive best when the foods they’re eating are tailored to their specific needs. A Paleo diet presents the perfect framework for making this kind of individualized, nutrient-dense eating plan happen.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this post!!! It’s being sent directly to my parents and in laws, who despite my hubby being and MD and having a master’s degree in nutrition, still think we’re crazy having our kids eat Paleo with us. Argh! Now….I would love some links or posts for kids eating Paleo on the go. Our school is nut free, so I’m feeling pretty limited. Help, please! Thanks!!

  2. I think it really just takes seeing one child, who is near and dear to you, change/improve dramatically as a result of living a paleo lifestyle. We’ve seen various changes with all of our grandchildren since they changed over to paleo. Some of these have been quite dramatic improvements in general health and wellbeing. They love that they feel better and are able to tell others about eating good, healthy foods.

  3. my son is paleo with me, i also did baby-led weaning and at 16 months Im still breastfeeding so i do get some odd looks from people from time to time but mt son is so happy and strong and well behaved and healthy that i wouldnt change for the world.
    he loves nuts and avocado and fish and broccoli… need i go on? Its funny because when people do give him cakes or biscuits he will give them back after a bite – he simply doesn’t like sugary crap.

  4. Am i the only one who has noticed that kids like meat? My family is a little more WAP, so my kids do enjoy hunks of cheese too. But both my kids succeeded at stealing steak off my plate before 8 months old. They out eat me with sausage and bacon. I also think they know what best fuels their bodies and if meat was going to hurt them they wouldn’t be the first food they try to eat.

  5. I don’t know what to give my kids to drink. I mean it’s easy for me to commit to water and herb tea – I’m 34. But it’s gonna be tough to convince my kids that they’re only gonna drink water amd lemon wedges forever. Now they chiefly drink water and milk – we aren’t big juice drinkers. But we need some more variety. They’ve got a long life ahead of them.

    1. Anonymous – Try getting them lunch boxes instead of bags and that should solve that problem. Containers with dividers so there are different cubbies to put food in are great. Some lunch meat, veggies, fruit, and sweet potatoes would be a great lunch option. Or leftovers, or whatever you’re going to make yourself for lunch.

  6. I have a 6 year old son who is borderline underweight. I fear that this diet will make him thinner. How can I be sure he will not? How do I alter this diet for him?

    1. Terry – I’d begin by logging your son’s food intake in myfitnesspal.com for a few days to get a baseline of how much he eats. Then just make sure he’s getting at least that much on Paleo, and make sure like I said in the article that he gets plenty of fruits, starchy veggies, and veggies in general. And plenty of fat. But the main point is to record what he’s eating for a few days, then be sure to record at least a few days on Paleo as well to make sure he’s getting enough.

  7. Here’s a realistic view and comparison of the “My plate” or USDA recommended diet compared to paleo for kids’ nutrition http://robbwolf.com/2010/04/16/kids-paleo-and-nutrient-density/ misinformation is rampant in all things. The carbs and sugars recommended in this article are simply not necessary. Your child’s body regardless of activity level does not require insulin spikes that heavy starches, carbs and sugars produce. These should be “special occasion” treats not diet staples.

  8. We’ve been doing Paleo for 8 days now and my picky 2 year old is now pale and tired. I’m pretty sure we are starving him. He won’t eat meat. He’s never really liked it and he doesn’t like veggies. I figured by this point he’d be giving in and eating the amazing foods we are putting in front of him. I just gave him some oatmeal out of pure desperation. He eats tons of fruit and loves avocados (eating at least 2 a day which seems excessive to me). I’m miserable and want to encourage this type of eating but at what cost? My husband and I are happy as can be with this new eating but watching our baby starve isn’t working. Any ideas???

    1. Jennifer W. – It’s really hard to say what’s wrong without knowing what your child was eating before Paleo and what he’s eating now. My suggestions would be to 1) go to myfitnesspal.com and plug in a few days’ worth of what he was eating before to see how many calories/carbs/protein/fat he was getting per day. Then plug in a few days’ worth of what he’s been eating on Paleo (you can do all of this from memory – it just needs to be approximate) and see where the drastic differences lie. If he’s not getting as many carbs as he was (I’m guessing this is the case), then start giving him more sweet potatoes, fruit, fruit compotes, and even Paleo muffins/breads/cakes, since they’re usually low sugar but higher carb than some other Paleo foods (there are pumpkin muffins on this site that are very low sugar). Dress them up however you need to to make him eat them. 2)If he won’t eat meat, then try giving him more eggs for a while? And try some new recipes with meat that he may be more interested in. Sometimes when you dress meat up with fruit and other unconventional ingredients (blueberry pork loin, etc), it brings out different flavors in the meat. Or smoke the meat, which makes everyone love meat more. Either way, I’d definitely start working on this right now, and look into Sarah Fragoso’s recipe book for kids and thepaleoparents book for kids (Eat Like A Dinosaur I believe). Hope that helps!

  9. My grandson is 5 almost 6 yrs old. His mother is on the Paleo diet & looks the healthiest I’ve ever seen her look. My grandson on the other hand is pale, very small for his age, tires easily, gets nauseous easily. The mother is constantly eliminating foods that he loves; oatmeal, cheese, brown rice, beans. It appears to me that the diet is good for her but not for him. The Paleo diet is a fad & parents shouldn’t be starving their kids for the latest. The mother isn’t open to any discussion about the diet. As a grandma when he visits, I don’t follow the diet in the foods I give him & he loves it but he feels guilty at the same time & that’s sad too for him. Kids are not the same as adults nor are they mini adults. Any suggestions ?

  10. First off, I found your website looking for Paleo RV food — we’re about to embark on a month-long trip in our Class B van with our one-year-old daughter. Our van doesn’t have a microwave currently, so we’ll be limited to the stove. I have loved reading your posts on van living!!! Just wish there were more.. I definitely think there is a niche for RV Paleo food, especially due to the limited fridge/freezer space, and the lack of guaranteed food sources. Now, secondly — my one year old has eaten nothing but Paleo since she was born and she’s beyond thriving. She’s 98% percentile in weight, 75% percentile in height, and the perfect picture of health at one years old. For the first 6 months, she was exclusively breastfed. But once she started eating solids, we pretty much followed her lead – and she detested the texture of purees, so we pretty much did Baby Led Weaning (BLW) from the start. She loves her meat and eggs!! She didn’t like the texture of soft boiled egg yolk, but she LOVES egg cooked. We started with egg yolk omelettes fried in coconut oil for breakfast. Sometimes I would mix in grated liver and/or breastmilk in her omelettes, but if dad was making them he just did the eggs :) Just cut them into strips, and they make a great finger food. Now that she’s older, we’re transitioning to scrambled eggs (both whites and yolks). She loves all fish, which makes me so happy, she’s been eating sardines straight out of the can for months now. Seriously the easiest meal to feed a baby/toddler is sardines with a veggie on the side (her favorite is steamed broccoli). She loves grass fed beef hot dogs. I make big batches of turkey or chicken meat “muffins” or balls, and freeze them, and thaw them one at a time. My husband makes huge batches of vegetable soup in the pressure cooker (so the veggies get nice and soft — that way you dont have to worry about choking when they’re young and have so few teeth), with bucketloads of different veggies. She doesn’t like avocados, but will eat guacamole by the spoonful, go figure. And her favorite snack is an organic apple — we get the little small ones and she looks so cute toddling about, with a little apple in her fist. She goes bananas for freeze dried apples and blueberries as a snack…She’s had no bread, rice cereal, oatmeal, or any other grains to speak of, and she’s doing great. She’s sensitive to dairy, so we eliminated that early on (me too, since I’m BFing). We’re still nursing, and I know that has a lot to do with her thriving so well, but I just wanted to provide a counterargument to Margarite’s comment above. I also want to point out that if you look at what comes out the other end in their diapers for the first year, everything but the meat & eggs pretty much comes out whole! Anyone who has fed their kid peas or blueberries and changed their diaper knows what I mean :) If babies love meat so much, and it’s easiest for their little systems to digest….then I’d say it’s pretty darn good for them.

    1. Heather – Thank you so much for this comment! It’s really helpful to look inside the world of a totally Paleo toddler! As for my RV food, you guys will be just fine. I’ll tell you what we’re having for dinner right now, in fact. My husband just made himself a hash dish, which is very typical. By hash I just mean that it’s a one-pan meal with a hodge-podge of veggies, meat, and fat in it. Tonight he diced up organic hot dogs, sweet potato, celery, cabbage, squash, salt, and spices all fried up in a bunch of coconut oil. I don’t eat beef (sensitive to it), so I’m going to have a can of sardines mushed up with half an avocado, mustard, chopped up celery, cabbage, and tomatoes. For breakfast we just have meat, veggies, and eggs all fried up in one pan, and a piece of fruit. For lunch when we’re climbing we usually just have fruit and tapioca crepes, which we make in the van. There are 3 recipes on the site for those. Hope that helps, and have fun on your trip – sounds awesome! And thanks again for writing!

  11. Neely, I think you’re right. We’re going to be having lots of “hashes” in our future :) I picked up organic celery today at the store, thinking of you. And I already pinned your tapioca crepes, those look awesome, they will be a great quick lunch idea! Thanks!

  12. Please help I’m confused a friend wants to put her 5 year old daughter who is very thin on this diet I don’t think it’s right

  13. Hi there i enjoyed reading the article, i been Paleo for over two weeks and feel great!
    I staying on it for sure and when I get married and have babies i want them to be on it to. I was going suggest to those who are worried about their grandkids not getting enough calories to start giving them almond butter with veggie sticks also Lara bars are a great treat as well as nuts and seed mix with chocolate chips. You can also give them wild rice, which is not a rice it us a grass. It needs to be soaked over night though so it blooms. This can be mixed with pretty much anything. Corn and potatoes are fine as long as their organic and it is a side dish. Also buckwheat is from the herb family and is not a grain. This can be mixed with almond and coconut flour and makes great pancakes. Anyways this should helo any kind gain some weight and become healthu again. Hope this helps.

  14. Where is your proof that it is safe for kids ? Where are your studies ? Any parent who puts their kid on a FAD diet of any sorts is nuts. You don’t use kids as guinea pigs. The Mediterranean been proven to be healthy so why not eat like they do ? Why would you eliminate so many foods for a kids diet ? Especially with the new study that says a lot meat , eggs , can be harmful to your health. Realistically kids a very limited diet ? Balanced hardly . A money maker diet some – I suggest reading science reports tather than blogs and pro palio propaganda

  15. Can we hold you responsible when kids become malnourished?
    Because my daughter has put her 2 skinny kids on the palio diet and since then they have lost a lot of weight. Sure just tell parents to let them eat their sweet potatoes, but realistically in real world they don’t care to eat them. So they are living on meat and fruit with a few veggies. Hardly enough to provide good nutrition. kids need fat reserves and more than adults do. Don’t let your kids become guinea pigs to a fad diet that has no long term studies. We know the Japanese lived long lives on diets that had rice in it. We know the Mediterranean’s lived well also with diets that include some grains and heavy vegetables, cavemen died young. It all about the right proportion not elimination of food groups. Run when anyone suggest a palio diet for your kids and please note this site is run by palio folks most likely making money off of it. http://www.parentingscience.com/Diets-for-kids.html.

  16. My 7 year old daughter has Fructose Malasorbption and we have switched to a mostly Paleo style of eating after the 21 Day Sugar Detox back in January of 2014. She is one pound underweight for her height and very small in general- ( 46 inches and 39lbs) Her GI doc says Paleo is only a weight loss plan and she shouldn’t be on it. The dietician basically told me I was starving my daughter and I was giving her too many fruits and veggies- She is fairly active soccer and swimming several days a week and lots of other outside play in between and has a strong family history of small, thin people on both sides. They pretty much want her to eat 4-5 servings of gluten free grain every day. I have been following their advice mostly for the past week- and we are back to a whiney, lethargic kid who wants to sit around… Do you have any advice for us? She has to eat a low-fodmop diet and GF and Lactose free.

  17. I put my under weight 6 year old on the Paleo diet along with me. We have been on it for almost two months. I have lost weight 25 pounds. He has gained weight and is looking better than ever. If your kids wont eat veggies it is your fault as a parent.

  18. Wasn’t the life expectancy of the Paleolithic human 35.4 years? Which indicates extraordinarily high infant mortality rates?

    Enough said!

    1. Katrina,

      In the absence of infectious disease and the precarious realities of prehistoric living, the life expectancy would have been much higher. It is believed that those Paleolithic folks who got past the treacherous years of infancy/childhood/adolescence lived generally into their 60s in a much healthier state than we find ourselves in today.

      Sally

  19. This just seems too one-sided to me. The author suggests that there are only 2 options available to parents: the paleo diet, or an unhealthy diet full of sugary foods. What gives? My son eats healthy foods from all food groups, including whole grains, which I think are an important source of vitamins, minerals, and calories to help my fast-growing two-year old. He does not eat “sugary snack foods” or “white foods with fake vitamins in them and pasteurized, lifeless cheese.” The author suggests if you’re not eating paleo, these are your only other options. It’s like she’s using scare tactics to make parents think a paleo diet is the only way to get your kids to eat healthy (its not!).
    Eliminating entire food groups from your kids diet is not sustainable in the long run, and can have extreme nutritional consequences for picky toddlers. It may be fine for a consenting adult who knows what nutritional requirements their body needs, but not for a toddler. Kids need to be offered a variety of whole foods from all food groups in order to meet optimal nutrition. Yes, cave babies ate paleo diets, but they probably only lived until they were about 30 years old, so nutrition didn’t matter all that much in the long run.

    1. Hi Callie,

      This is one of our older posts, and the current team here at PaleoPlan has some slightly different views than the author of this post did. There are certainly numerous options for creating a well-balanced diet for children, and certainly picky eating needs to be taken into account.

      My son, who is a little over age 1, has several severe food allergies. By default, he has ended up Paleo, but I wouldn’t be feeding him sugar or white stuff regardless. I firmly believe in individuality of diet, and each child should eat foods that nourish them and meet their dietary needs. While eliminating grains is not problematic in the sense that true deficiencies will occur, gluten-free grains can definitely be fine for children, depending on their gut health and tolerance levels.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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