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)
- Tapioca and cassava flour
- Citrus fruits
- 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.
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.