Increasingly, children are developing digestive problems that were once reserved for adults. The underlying cause of these problems including bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and even inflammatory bowel disease is often inappropriate eating habits.
Digestion is how your body takes food and makes it usable in the form of energy and nutrients. In many healing modalities, it is believed that problems with digestion are at the heart of all other health conditions. If digestion is impaired, the food we eat will not be broken down and absorbed properly.
Nutrition is about what and how we teach our kids to eat. So, to help improve your child’s digestion and their body’s access to nutrients, modifying some of the harmful habits that overwhelm their system can bring about change.
A lot of the principles of paleo eating are actually more about what we choose NOT to eat and the space this choice leaves for what we need to eat. Perhaps the same could be said for paleo meal nutrients and digestion which are perhaps disguised as ‘what’ to eat.
Build Your Kids Digestive Health
1. Avoid processed foods
By following paleo guidelines and choosing nutrient dense foods you’re automatically avoiding weird sugars, fats and chemicals your body wasn’t designed to break down. These cost the body more than they provide. When you eat this type of food it leaves your body operating below par. Processed foods, packaged and fast foods should be removed from all kids’ diets but particularly children with digestive problems.
Say No To Processed Foods
Processed food tends to contain many harmful substances such as trans fats and preservatives that can interfere with digestion. Kids’ bodies in particular, are not sure what to do with them, complicating digestion. In addition, processed foods contain very few nutrients, using up the body’s nutrients as they are digested. Children should stick to natural, whole foods that the body recognizes and can readily use.
2. Don’t over-eat (or over-snack)
Choosing paleo approved meals (& even snacks which could almost be seen as smaller meals), you’re not only satisfying your tummy but also your body’s needs to repair and rebuild the new you each day. Overeating puts a lot of pressure on the digestive system and should be avoided. When too much food is eaten, it taxes the body’s ability to properly break down and assimilate nutrients.
We Are In Control
As parents we are in control of food preparation. Give smaller portions with a larger amount in sight. Place a small amount of on their plate so that rather than feeling overwhelmed by too much food, your baby or child has the opportunity to signal for more. We want to trust our kids to be in charge of their appetites to indicate a desire for foods by opening their mouths when we present food to them. Playing airplane or saying “one more bite” turns into something babies do to please us, encouraging over eating or power struggle. Slow down to your child’s eating pace, which is another factor in digestive problems.
3. Don’t drink with meals
You’ll not only dilute nutrients but also your stomach acid and digestive enzymes, leaving you full of liquid and undigested foods and their subsequent discomforts. When most children sit down to eat, they expect to drink something. The combination of food and liquid can lead to slower digestion as the digestive juices are diluted by the liquids consumed. It is best to keep the amount of fluids around mealtime to a minimum. Have children drink their water before meals – up to 15 minutes prior or about 30 to 45 minutes after meals.
4. Avoid grains
Most of us are sensitive to grains. They’re job in life is to germinate, not to be eaten, so they resist digestion, binding nutrients through their phytic acids. A lot of the time it’s only their absence then reintroduction that can show us just how much they’re harming us. Kids don’t have the enzymes to digest carbohydrates let alone grains until the emergence of their third molar. Grains are also often fillers on our plate, instead start with the veggies your mom harped on you to eat. Lather vegetables in healthy fats like butter, coconut or olive oil so your body can harness their fat soluble vitamins.
5. Avoid conventional-farmed produce and animal products
Paleo principles are also about choosing, meaning you’ll be mindful of what you’re eating and that’s one of the biggest aids to digestion, called the body’s cephalic response. Choose organic produce and pastured animals, grown as close to their natural requirements as possible for maximum nutrition for you. We are what we eat but also what we eat eats and avoiding toxins from as many sources as possible can make digestion in your body as easy as it should be, unimpeded by extras.
6. Model healthy eating
Walk the walk for your kids. Not just in the what but also in the how you eat. While we may like eating while standing this is an area where hectic parents need to improve. Don’t encourage your kids to play and gobble, running around after them as you try and get them to eat. Even snacks should be done separately from play. So, no toys or books at the table. Make meal time, a family meal that’s a sit down event. They’re a social occasion no matter what kids’ ages.
8. Beware of using food for comfort or reward
Nursing or eating other than for hunger (as a reward, even soothing) can create dependencies. It’s safest to give kids food when they’re hungry or thirsty only.
Paleo nutrient density means kids eat less in quantity but more quality and more of what they need (before what they ‘want’ ) so their digestive system gets some rest between meals. Only our kids can truly know their own appetite. We as parents can encourage them to stay attuned, listening and trusting their tummy. Sure the what to eat is as much about what they’ll actually eat. But what (& how) we as parents offer our kids is how we can establish healthy eating in these early years.