Paleo Plan

Is Paleo Safe for Kids?

I get this question more than I’d like to admit: Is eating Paleo safe for kids and babies? Allow me to answer a question with a better question: Is eating a Western diet safe for kids? No, it’s not. And yes, eating Paleo is.

Why Wouldn’t It Be?

The top reasons I’m assuming people think eating Paleo might be dangerous for their child or baby are these:

  • Not enough nutrients
  • Too much meat
  • Not enough dairy (in other words, not enough calcium)
  • Too much meat
  • Not enough sugary snack foods?

Now, I could take this opportunity to make fun of people for being brainwashed by multi-gazillion-dollar marketing schemes and demented health “officials” into believing that Cocoa Puffs made with whole wheat (or whatever) are really the paragon of a good breakfast. Or for believing that milk from a different species is a vital part of a human’s diet. Or that sugary snacks are a good thing to give kids. Or adults for that matter. But I won’t because I’m a nice person.

It’s Safe

The straight answer to the question, again, is yes. Paleo is safe for children and babies alike. In fact, baby and children humans evolved eating Paleo the same as adult humans did for millions of years. Babies of hunter gatherers were given their mother’s Paleo teat and then their mother’s Paleo food to eat just like all the adults. Our ancestors didn’t grow crops of soy, grains, and sugar just so they could make soy formula and soy crackers and Clif bars and rice cereal for their kids to suckle on before they changed them over to an “adult” diet of meat, fish, veggies, and fruits. You get my point. I strongly believe – ahem… KNOW – that Paleo is safe for kids and babies. They have all the digestive faculties in place to eat Paleo foods (aka “real” foods), and if you make it their only option to eat those foods, most kids won’t hunger strike for very long until they figure out that being hungry sucks.

Having said that…

There are some things you should know.

Babies
For instance, a 6-month old’s first solid food on his Paleo diet shouldn’t be almonds or raw carrots or a big hunk of steak, either. Now maybe if that steak were blended…

And it shouldn’t be super processed rice cereal like you’re told by your doctor. If you read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, you’ll find that traditional (and generally very healthy) people all over the world have given their children the same whole foods they eat from the get-go. They give their babies spiced foods, fish (even raw fish – gasp!), fish eggs, miso soup, decaffeinated green tea, liver, eggs, fermented soy mash, rice mash, but always there’s a solid protein source in there. Babies are better at digesting protein than carbohydrates before the age of 1, says Chris Kresser in his fantastic resource, The Healthy Baby Code.

Giving such young kids such flavorful foods begs the question: Would American kids like a wider array of foods if they weren’t reared on bland food products like rice, crackers, and rice crackers?

Instead of rice cereal fortified with synthetic nutrients, start with, say, a cooked egg yolk and liver (video). If you’re going Paleo yourself while you’re breastfeeding, I wrote a blog post  on what changes to make in your own diet when you’re breastfeeding.

Kids
In terms of nutritional needs, kids are just like small adults, so they should be eating adult foods; not white foods with fake vitamins in them and pasteurized, lifeless cheese. I have to put my two cents in here and say that while this may be hard to implement in your household if you have kids who only want mac & cheese or else, it’s better you do this now while you can sort of control what goes into their bodies. Be strong and be firm with them when you go Paleo. They’ll get used to it and most likely start to like the foods you give them. Plus, your kids’ waistlines and health will thank you for it later.

Kids and Carbs
Now, people do make mistakes when they put their kids on a Paleo diet, especially if those kids are active. Namely, parents put their little skinny kids on the same weight-loss Paleo menu that they’re on. That is, low carb.  GIVE YOUR KIDS ENOUGH CARBS! If they’re hungry all the time, not growing properly, fatigued, nauseous, or not able to concentrate, you’re A) probably not feeding them enough food in general and B) not feeding them enough carbs and fat. Meat and veggies are great, but just like an endurance athlete needs more carbs, so do your active, growing kids.

Sweet potatoes, squash, banana tapioca crepes, potatoes (yes, potatoes), and plenty of fruit will be your kids’ friends. How much of all of those things really depends on your kid, but I’d shoot for a couple pieces of fruit a day and a small serving of sweet potatoes or one of the other starchy veggies I mentioned above with at least one meal per day. And don’t skimp on those fatty, grass-fed cuts of meat. Kids need more fat than what comes on boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Give them the pork, the good cuts of beef, and some bacon. Coconut milk, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados will also do the trick. The fat will give them energy.

Nutritional Density of Paleo Diet Compared to Western Diet

I did a comparison of the nutrient density of a typical Western diet and a typical Paleo diet. What I found was that Paleo won on all accounts except for calcium, sodium (not necessarily a bad thing), and vitamin D (because there’s no fortified milk on the diet). I highly recommend you read that post because I go into why that’s not a bad thing more than I will go into it here. I’ll only talk about calcium here because I know it’s on your minds.

Calcium
Basically, Western countries have the highest incidences of osteoporosis AND the highest consumption of dairy products. So what gives?

In another blog post, I discussed how you need more than just calcium to build bones, and not as much calcium as your doctor may be over-recommending to you. Plus, it’s important to know that calcium needs an alkaline environment to be absorbed properly, and when you’re eating a ton of grains, dairy, beans, and sugar, you’re creating an acidic environment.

Also, a lot of the calcium we ingest on a Western diet is bound to phytic acid, which is carried out of the intestines unabsorbed. You only get what you absorb.

Plus, on this particular day that I analyzed, the difference in calcium intake was only 97 mg, with Paleo coming in at 614 mg and the Western diet at 711 mg. Many cultures do well with way under those amounts. Here’s what Mark Sisson of www.marksdailyapple.com has to say about calcium.

You can get a balanced array of calcium and other bone-building minerals from… wait for it… bones. Make some bone broth. It literally takes 1 minute of prep time to make it.

Meat

All I’ll say about meat is that I’ve said it before. Your kid isn’t going to die of rabbit starvation on a balanced Paleo diet. His kidneys won’t fail (unless maybe he already has kidney disease), and he won’t get gout. Read this blog post and this one for more information on why meat is not the devil. Oh, and this one on gout. Having said that, though, you don’t have to be pounding kilos of meat every day to call yourself Paleo. Some people just don’t like meat that much. Fine. Eat less of it, more veggies, more fat, more fruit, and more nuts and seeds (sprouted and soaked, of course) and you’ll be just fine.

In Closing…
From what I hear, parents are often surprised and delighted by how much their kids enjoy the meat and veggie recipes they make for them when they go Paleo. I think we underestimate kids’ appetites for good, nourishing foods. Make some interesting, fun recipes like our Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry Sauce or the Coconut Salmon with Cream Sauce. You might be surprised!

Anyone have anything to share about their own kids’ experiences with going Paleo?

 

 

 

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22 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.

  6. Anonymous

    I need ideas for packed lunches for school? Fruit gets mashed up by lunch time and the boys are not keen on cold meat

    • Neely Quinn

      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.

  7. 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?

    • Neely Quinn

      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.

  8. Steven

    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.

  9. I’m confused – i thought on paleo diet you can’t eat potatoes??

  10. Jennifer W.

    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???

    • Neely Quinn

      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!

  11. Margarite Charney

    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 ?

  12. Heather

    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.

    • Neely Quinn

      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!

  13. Heather

    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!

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. healthy eating

    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

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