I read an article today about Moms who restrict their children's diets. Gluten-free, vegetarian, Paleo, pescetarian... these are buzzwords in the health community and some mothers are extending the lifestyle shifts to their children.
I think there is a big difference between "clean eating" and eating restrictions. While clean eating does eliminate or reduce the amount of processed food in a diet, it does not by definition eliminate any food groups.
Personally, I do not restrict my children from eating any category of food -- they eat meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, dairy, grains, nuts, and legumes. What I do restrict is their consumption of processed foods, and most of their food is organic. And I feed them this way for health benefits, NOT for weight control. (The article interviewed several mothers who put their children on clean eating diets as a pre-emptive strike against weight issues).
I see nothing wrong with giving my children organic foods over conventional, or sprouted grain bread over white. I also allow them to eat whatever they want on special occasions such as holidays, birthday parties, or some plain Jane Tuesday when we all decide to go out for dinner as a family. But in general, and especially at home, they eat real food.
I have certainly experimented with various styles of eating for myself, from vegetarianism to low-carb to low-sugar and Paleo. I have witnessed the effects of different eating patterns on my own body and I make choices for myself according to what I feel works for me. But I do not believe that my children are the same as me, for two reasons:
1. They are, well, not the same as me. They have their own specific genetic code and I believe every single person is different, with different dietary strategies that work for them. Adulthood is a great place to explore those strategies. Which leads me to...
2. They are KIDS. Children's dietary needs are different from those of adults. They are growing and developing. We do not fully understand the effects of a Paleo diet on developing bodies. There isn't enough science around it.
But I admit that it can be a slippery slope. At one point, I was studying the principles of food combining and I read about the detriments of eating fruit paired with carbs (or protein). For a while, I admit that I stopped putting fruit in my kids' morning oatmeal (and my own).
This lasted for about a week when I realized several things:
- This is not practical for me, my kids, or my lifestyle.
- This restriction makes me feel obsessive.
- This restriction makes food more complicated and impacts my stress level in negative ways, which is potentially worse than maintaining proper food combining principles.
- My kids would eventually start to question this, and I do not want them to feel obsessed with anything around food.
- Kids need fruit. Let them just eat it, by God.
- Just, no.
And perhaps the most important realization? My kids don't NEED to food combine. They have no apparent digestive distress. Their bellies are happy with berries and oatmeal.
Not to mention the fact that food rules change all the time, and a study might come out one day that says you better start putting fruit in your oatmeal.
So I stopped.
Do my children still eat clean? Yes. Do I still limit added sugars? Yes, insofar as I don't buy flavored yogurts or overdose them on ketchup. I believe there is an overabundance of sugar in American diets and I don't think limiting that kind of stuff is going to hurt them.
Common sense nutrition? Yes. I abide. But when I'm experimenting with grain-free diets, I do not extend the protocol to my children. I don't believe in arbitrarily cutting food groups out of a growing child's diet.
That said, my kids have shown no need for food group restrictions or dietary modifications of any kind. There is a difference between cutting out a food group arbitrarily, as stated above, versus in response to a symptom.
I know several moms who have adopted gluten-free or dairy-free diets for their children based on issues ranging from digestive troubles, skin rashes, hyperactivity, and autism.
A friend of mine recently put her son on a gluten-free diet, and I swear he's a brand new kid -- gone are the temper tantrums, lack of eye contact, and nonexistent attention span. He was diagnosed as mildly autistic and has made amazing strides since the diet modification. That's wonderful. That's using nutrition as medicine.
So if the child appears to benefit from a food restriction, i.e. it reduces a problem or a symptom, I think it's a valid approach for sure. Nutrition affects our health in larger ways than we are trained to believe.
But if children are otherwise healthy, then a clean, well-balanced diet should serve them just fine.
What do you think?