Our Top 5 Hacks for Raising Healthy Eaters
If you know anything about us, you know that raising healthy eaters is one of our top priorities in life. Helping our kids build healthy habits that will stick with them throughout their life is an invaluable lesson, and one of the most important lessons, in our opinion. With obesity, autoimmune disorders, and mental disorders on the rise in our adolescents, this is a no-brainer. As their parents, we are responsible for their well being. However, it can be extremely difficult when we are surrounded by an endless amount of harmful food choices marketed directly to our young children. When was the last time you saw Elmo avocados, or Dora the Explorer steaks? Our point exactly.
Because of our parenting philosophy and our commitment to autonomy, it can be a challenge to balance that with our desire for them to be as healthy and robust as possible. We want to give them freedom, but we also don’t want sick children. We simply cannot know the information we know, and continue to enable our children to continue on a self-destructive path that will only become harder to heal from as time goes on. Before getting to the list, it is important to mention that education is key. Talking to your children about the new information you have learned and are implementing is vital. Be open and honest about your struggles, health issues, and your plan on how you have gone about (or will be going about) fixing them.
We believe that raising healthy eaters starts in the womb, every step adding another layer to the development of great eaters who try new things and have a palette for nutritious food. However, if you have older children and are past this stage, it still isn’t totally hopeless! We can still be examples for our children in showing them that we are all humans who make mistakes, and we can regard those failures as opportunities for growth. We can show them that we aren’t confined to a diagnosis, and that food can be the best medicine.
Before you roll your eyes, hear us out. We absolutely understand and respect any mother’s choice to not breastfeed. We also understand that there are circumstances where a mother has to go back to work immediately or she is unable to breastfeed. Our issue isn’t with formula feeding moms, our issue is with the formula companies who are putting toxic chemical laden formulas on shelves for infants. We need to start protesting with our money and refuse to give any more money to these companies. With that said, we will share the homemade formulas we recommend as well as the few companies who are offering quality formula for infants at the end of this article.
Take an infant. Now compare that infant to itself at 3,6, and 9 months. That same human has vastly different nutritional needs at each of those ages, and it continues to change into toddlerhood. Breast milk is constantly changing and adapting to your child’s needs. Breast milk also changes in flavor depending on what mom is eating. This is an amazing thing about breast milk, and a way to expose your child to different flavors, and the foods you want them to eat once they start eating. There have even been studies showing that breast-fed children grow up to be less picky. Maybe this is why? Makes sense!
Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ear infections, reduces the risk of mom developing breast cancer, and (in our opinion) is easier! After you get over that initial learning curve and the newbie nursing struggles, nursing is actually quite convenient! We never had to pack any bottles or formula to leave the house. There have also been studies showing that the nutrient quality of the breast milk greatly depends on the quality of the mother’s diet. So making sure you are getting adequate micronutrients in your diet is crucial so you don’t end up deficient.
2. Don’t spoon feed them
Please put away that food processor. We never spoon fed our kids and we promise there are reasons for this. The first reason is simple, we value convenience (we are lazy). In this case, laziness is a wonderful thing because it also allows our children to learn to regulate their hunger/fullness, experiment with different textures, and it fosters independence. We follow a method called Baby Led Weaning. The gist of BLW is allowing your children to feed themselves as you begin the weaning process. The term was coined by former midwife, Gill Rapley. Spoon feeding pureed food teaches babies to swallow first, then chew. Always receiving mushed food can lead to texture aversions later on. Allowing them to feed themselves gives them control over the learning process. It teaches them to chew first, then swallow.
When Do I Start?
Most research shows that babies begin to show interest in food at around 6 months. We usually wouldn’t introduce food before 6 months. However, Dean didn’t show interest until around 8 months although we began offering at 6 months.
It’s pretty simple. You cut food into “french fry” shape so that the child can pick it up and hold it while chewing on the other end. We like to start with some avocados or soft boiled egg yolk with grass-fed liver. We continue with these two for the first few months. Then, at around 8-9 months, we will introduce grass-fed or pasture raised meats. Shredded meat is great for BLW. If there aren’t any allergies in the family, we may try nut butters between 12-18 months. Whole eggs came after a year for our two boys who had reactions to egg white until they were over a year old. After 12 months of age, we may introduce whole foods like starchy vegetables, organic fruits, and other organic vegetables for them try…all cooked in grass-fed butter, of course.
3. Protein and Fat are Our First Priority
Let’s talk about meat. Meat has a bad reputation in the states, which is obvious with the rise of plant-based and vegan diets. However, we find these diets to be devoid of nutrients and can lead to deficiency, especially in children. Plant foods and processed foods also lack the fat needed to absorb most essential nutrients that are fat soluble. For the first time ever, children are shrinking, and it doesn’t end there. They are also predicted to have shorter life spans than us and our parents. It’s time we screamed, “Enough is enough!” Let’s stop blaming a food that we have evolved with and eaten for millions of years, and eliminate all of the fake food we are feeding them, which is mostly processed chemicals out of a box. Making protein a priority is key. It is very difficult to meet protein requirements using plant foods. When our boys went low carb and started eating real food, they both shot up in height and packed on a few healthy pounds of pure muscle at a much faster rate than before.
Maura recently came to the realization that the majority of children are actually accidental vegans--not because they are trying to be vegans, or because their parents are trying to make them vegans--but because they eat processed grains, sugars, starches, and vegetable oils all day then reject protein at meals. An example of an accidental vegan food is Oreos. So are crackers, juice boxes, candy, and we are sure many others. Your child will never ever eat her meat if she is constantly snacking on carb-heavy foods all day.
“But my child refuses to eat any meat and will just starve!”
First of all, no they will not starve. Every human being has built in survival mechanisms. Your child has no idea what hunger feels like. Our children didn’t eat their meat either. It wasn’t until we threw every last box of crap out that they started to eat. There is no such thing as a picky eater in third world countries.
“So do I just let them go hungry?”
In short, this is what we did, and it only lasted a couple of days. We know this sounds cruel, but the truth is that some people have children who are either severely autistic or have severe autoimmune issues and they have no choice but to allow their children to feel hunger so that they eat real whole foods that are nutritious. Those children cannot afford to eat poorly or their symptoms will be unbearable. Kids these days never feel hunger and we don’t think that is a good thing. How will they learn to regulate themselves? Or know when to stop? We have created a snacking epidemic and it is harming our children and future generations.
Lastly, we want to mention how these snack foods (that were created in a lab with the sole purpose of creating addicts who continue to throw money at these companies), These foods have powerful artificial flavors that desensitize their palettes. It takes some time to recalibrate your child's palette but we promise it is worth it. We now have boys who can enjoy a piece of dark chocolate--something they would have never liked before.
Ditch the crap, and watch your children begin to eat real whole foods. You will be surprised at all the amazing benefits that come with a whole food diet. Our oldest has terrible allergy induced asthma that used to have him up all night during the spring coughing up a lung. He hasn’t needed his inhaler or allergy meds since changing his diet. Our youngest had eczema flares which have completely gone away. They both used to get a few colds a year. Now? NOTHING. No one is sick. EVER. It is incredible how the human body can thrive when you feed it human food.
4. Earn Your Carbs
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests 130g of sugar/carbohydrates a day for 1 year olds. WHATTTTTT? This is absolutely ridiculous and it is obvious that children are overeating carbohydrates, and they aren’t getting enough activity to burn through all of those sugars. Since he is well aware of this, it is not uncommon for Desmond to go for a short run around the block before he has a dinner that contains sweet potatoes, for example. Do we prompt him to do this? No. But we definitely do not stop him. Diabetes, autoimmune issues, and obesity (just to name few), are on the rise and increasing rapidly. Carbs will always find your child, so minimizing them is recommended. The types of carbohydrate they eat also matter. Sticking to real food carbohydrates will have the least damaging effect. An apple paired with peanut butter is in no way comparable to Oreos, which are loaded with toxic vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup, and other processed chemicals and ingredients offering virtually no nutritional benefit, as any “vitamins” that have been fortified are not bioavailable. Sticking with real food carbohydrates like starchy vegetables and organic fruit will also offer vitamins and minerals that your child’s body can use. Another rule we have, which we have stolen from one of our favorite dietitians, Ali Miller, is NO NAKED CARBS. This means that we always pair carbs with fat and/or protein. Doing so will slow the digestive process and in turn, slows the sugar’s release into the bloodstream. For example, the boys will enjoy half an apple paired with a nut butter, just after having dinner.
Lastly, we want to mention that timing matters when it comes to carbs. You never want to start your day, or the kid’s day, with a carb heavy breakfast. The hormone cortisol is naturally high in the mornings. This is just the natural process of our sleep cycle, and cortisol helps us wake up. However, cortisol can also increase the fat storing potential of insulin, so spiking insulin when cortisol is high can lead to fat storage and can also fuel cravings throughout the day.
5. Model the Behavior You Wish to See
We left the most important point for last. This is probably the hardest part for most parents. You cannot get your child to eat well if you do not eat well. It always begins with us. We must model the behavior we wish to see in our children. They will not “do as you say”, they will do as you do. This goes for anything in life. For example, if we want our children to stop yelling, we must stop yelling. Be the example for your children.
If you are just beginning your transition from a standard American diet (aka the fitting acronym “SAD”) to a real food ketogenic diet, talk to your children about the new information you have learned. Talk to them about any health issues you are having and how you plan on helping yourself. We were keto for a full year before transitioning the kids. We had to model the behavior and show results before getting them to try. Talk about food as fuel and food as medicine. Watch documentaries together. One we highly recommend is ‘The Magic Pill’ on Netflix.
If you want to transition the entire family, something you can tell your kids is that you have now learned information that you cannot un-hear. You can no longer contribute to their unhealthy eating habits, because you care about their future and their health. Something we like to do is give the boys a weekly grocery allowance. It’s not much…we do $10 each. You can decide on an amount that works for your family. They get to choose items they want at the grocery store. We usually choose a health food store so the choices are better, but you may be surprised at how great their choices are when they are given that responsibility.
We understand that this is easier said than done with some children, especially if you have teenagers. It can be very difficult, especially because they often need it the most. Our teens are now facing increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. This matters! Show them stories of others helping themselves with food. Show them all the foods they already like that they can have. Focus on what they CAN have rather than what they CANNOT have. At first, you may want to make them keto versions of their favorite foods so they can see that it isn’t boring and they aren’t depriving themselves.
We hope this list has given you hope that this is possible. We hope that these tips and tricks will help you and your family as you try to live a healthy life in a world where it seems like everything is working against you. Find your tribe and surround yourself with people who are of the same mindset. With the internet nowadays, you can find support on any social media platform. Below is a list of links to studies and support groups full of families following this way of life and having success.
Maura & Danny
Study: Breast Milk Changes Flavor
Breast Fed Kids Less Picky
Comparison of Formula to Breastmilk
Baby Led Weaning
Weston A. Price Foundation
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