This guest blog post on “Healthy Food Options for Kids” is by Christine Muldoon, M.ed, NTP of Nourishing Littles.
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The abundance of information available to parents these days can be confusing and daunting, especially when trying to figure out how to feed kids. Everywhere parents turn, there is a new fad diet, superfoods for kids, or study touting the best foods for kids.
Not to mention that a walk down the a grocery store aisle with all the different marketing techniques and labels can make a parent’s head spin. So how do we know what and how to feed our littles? How do we truly know what are healthy food options for kids?
Healthy Food Options for Kids – In History
Let’s go back in time a bit to our great, great, grandparents—a time before chronic disease was rampant—and investigate what they were eating.
Our ancestors were relying mostly on the land to supply their food: harvesting what they could grow or forage and consuming animals that they hunted or cared for on their land. They weren’t actually thinking of what was healthy snacks for kids, or healthy meals for kids… they were eating pure food, from the land.
The actual foods themselves vary from region to region in the U.S. and around the world… but to the core, they were all the same.
Dr. Price, dentist and author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (a recommended read for all people!), found that the foods consumed by natives were nutrient dense, natural foods such as:
- meat with its fat
- organ meats
- whole unprocessed milk products from grass fed animals
- whole grains
- tubers, vegetables and fruit
- All these foods contained 4 core fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K2 in addition to minerals
- The packaged puffs, squeeze pouches, and cereals of today are a far cry from the foods our great, great, grandparents and ancestors were feeding their children
Vitamins for Children
Many of us have heard of these vitamins before, but are not sure as to why they are so necessary for developing and growing children. Below is a list of these powerhouse vitamins and their functions in the body.
Not surprisingly, these vitamins can be found in real food, and the most bio-available forms of them, in animal foods. Keep reading to find out what types of foods contain these valuable vitamins, and why vitamins for children are so important.
- Vitamin K2: necessary for reproduction, infant growth, facial structure, mineral utilization, bone density, protection from cavities and fatigue. It also supports mental development and neurological health
- Vitamin A: provides protection against environmental chemicals and toxins, necessary for the formation of all organ systems and supports growth of these systems, plays a key role in the development of the visual system, inner ear, spinal cord, and cranial-facial area including dental arches and sinus passages
- Vitamin D: vitamins A and D work together during development. D plays a role in lung development and protects against heart failure and rapid skeletal growth
- Vitamin E: powerful antioxidant and protects cells against free radical damage
So when you’re thinking of healthy food options for kids, skip the packaged foods! Or, as Dr. Price called them: “the displacing foods of modern commerce.”
So how do we nourish our littles in a sea of modern food and advice?
Below, I will outline several strategies for feeding children and how to implement them.
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. The perimeter is generally where produce, meats, fish, bulk dry items, dairy, and fresh baked breads are located. The middle grocery aisles are where all the packaged food products are located. Avoiding the middle aisle as much as possible is a simple way to to transition from processed foods to real foods.
- Avoid keeping junk or processed foods in the home. Do a pantry clean out and throw away (don’t worry it’s not real food anyway!) food-like items with paragraph long ingredient lists, foods with high sugar content, or anything that has the following ingredients listed: high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors (red #40, yellow #5, yellow #6), MSG, vegetable oils (canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, rice oil, corn oil, etc.), and artificial sweeteners (aspartame, nutra sweet, sweet and low).
- Reduce the amount of packaged foods. Some common ones are cereals, granola bars, frozen pizzas, frozen chicken nuggets, and packaged Mac and cheese. Eliminate ONE of these packaged food items per month and slowly wean the family off of them. The goal is to become more organized and proficient in the kitchen so relying on these processed food staples is no longer a necessity. Also, by removing and staying strong: “sorry honey, we aren’t going to eat that cereal anymore,” you are slowly changing your little’s palate to not need the processed foods.
- Acknowledge all the feelings. Many of these packaged foods are designed to hook us. Eliminating packaged foods from the diet can result in a “die off.” Symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, change in bowel movements, cravings, and nausea. Kids will most likely have big emotions surrounding the foods they are used to eating and can no longer have. Prepare for frequent emotional releases and cravings. Acknowledging your little’s feelings is key, ie: “I know you really like that pirate booty, we aren’t going to eat it anymore. I hear how upset you are, you really liked it. I can offer a carrot instead.”
Ways to Encourage Healthy Eating at Mealtimes
When encouraging healthy food options for kids, here are some tips:
- Multiple exposures: This is essential! Studies show it takes littles 15-20 exposures to a food before they even try it. This means offering a food several different times and using different presentations.
- Avoid coercing, bribing, distracting, or guilting littles into eating foods. Our job as parents is to offer the nutrient dense meal and it is our little’s job to decide how much and what to eat from the meal. Imagine your little is a friend at a dinner party you have thrown. You wouldn’t comment on how well she ate her vegetables or cleaned her plate. Give your children the same respect you would to your friend. Nurturing intuitive eating begins in childhood.
- Offer one meal for the whole family: Avoid asking children what they want to eat—as the adult we decide, we prepare it, we offer it. This makes meal times easier for everyone. It eliminates the chaos of catering to different whims and the unpredictability of what will be served. When the whole family eats the same foods, parents lead by example.
- Meal prepping, menu planning, and batch cooking are life savers! If the whole family loves tacos for dinners, make a larger batch of the meat. Save it to re-use as lunch the next day. Defrosting meat and chopping veggies ahead of time are all easy ways to make the dinner rush go smoother. Meal planning is not for everyone but can definitely help. If every Tuesday you eat tacos, make Tuesday taco night!
Okay, but what should I feed my littles – Healthy Food For Kids
This is a controversial topic for which there will be many different opinions and schools of thought. According to Dr. Price’s findings, the most nutrient dense foods loaded with necessary vitamins and minerals for littles are:
- pasture raised animal proteins: beef, lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, pork
- wild caught seafood: fish, shellfish, and fish roe
- organ meats: liver, bone marrow, heart, kidney, tripe, etc.
- animal fats: raw butter, lard, tallow, duck fat
- healthy fats: coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil
- bone broths: made from the bones of pastured animals
- raw dairy: milk, kefir, cream, yoghurt, and cheeses
- fermented foods: sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, kimchi, beet kvass, etc.
- vegetables and fruits: local, seasonal, organic, and in smaller quantities
Grains, nuts, and legumes should be prepared properly: soaked, sprouted, fermented, and avoided until 18 months to 2yrs of age. This is when baby begins producing amylase which is the digestive enzyme needed to break down carbohydrates found in grains. Reducing the amount of grains and focusing on high quality proteins and fats are the best foods for growing children.
Interested in learning more about feeding nutrient dense foods to littles? Give me a follow on instagram at @nourishthelittles!
1 Fallon Morell, Sally, and Thomas S. Cowan. “Introduction .” The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child
Care , New Trends Publishing, Inc, 2013, pp. –8.
2 Fallon Morell, Sally, and Thomas S. Cowan. “Nutrition for Fetal Development .” The Nourishing Traditions Book of
Baby and Child Care , New Trends Publishing, Inc, 2013, pp. 45–47.
3 Fallon Morell, Sally, and Thomas S. Cowan. “Nutrition for Fetal Development .” The Nourishing Traditions Book of
Baby and Child Care , New Trends Publishing, Inc, 2013, pp. 45–47.