According to my non-scientific “anecdata” from a statistically-insignificant sample of a self-selecting population, the answer is yes :). Okay, so I really can’t answer the question, but I’d like to reflect on some of the reasons why kids who are following a Paleo (or Primal, or similar) diet might be perceived — especially by their parents 😉 — to be better eaters than other children.
First, what defines a “good” eater? I believe most parents, when evaluating their child’s eating as good or bad, are referring to the following three measures:
1. The quantity of food eaten at each meal;
2. The variety of foods a child will eat; and
3. The perceived healthiness of foods eaten (e.g. lots of vegetables, few or no sweets).
When I hear parents expressing concerns about picky or poor eaters, they are usually worried that:
1. Their child does not eat enough;
2. Their child eats only a limited number of foods (usually the “beige” foods); and/or
3. Their child won’t eat vegetables.
Quantity of Food
From my experience with Oliver, and from what I hear from other parents who are following a mostly Paleo/Primal approach, these kids eat absolutely vast quantities of food. I was cautioned to expect a sharp reduction in appetite after his first birthday, but if anything, Oliver eats even more food now than he did back then. He eats so much that it often takes him twice as long to finish his meal as it does J and me! Today, for example, 16-month-old Oliver consumed:
– breast milk (2 nursing sessions: 24 minutes and 9 minutes)
– 3 eggs fried in 1 tablespoon of butter
– 1 medium apple
– 20 raspberries
– 3 cherry tomatoes
– 1 medium avocado
– 1 large banana
– 3 small chicken thighs
– half of a large carrot
– a small head of broccoli
– 2 tablespoons of 11% fat Greek yoghurt
It’s completely counter-intuitive. I always assumed that Oliver would eat less food than his peers, since the food he eats tends to be much more dense and filling than the typical toddler fare of Goldfish crackers and pasta. I thought Oliver was an outlier with his eating habits, until I started hearing the same thing, time after time, from other Paleo/Primal parents.
What could explain this phenomenon? I believe there are two factors at play: snacking and milk.
Toddlers nowadays — at least where I live — snack constantly. I’m amazed at how rare it is to see a child in a stroller without a snack tray full of Goldfish, Cheerios or animal crackers. They snack during play groups, while running around at the park, and even in the car. It seems that nary a minute of awake time goes by where toddlers don’t have unfettered access to some sort of food and drink.
Children who are eating Paleo, on the other hand, are less likely to be snacking all day long for the simple fact that Paleo snacks take forethought and work to prepare. There are very few Paleo-compliant packaged foods, so snacks for Paleo toddlers have to be washed or cooked, chopped, and packaged into food containers. They can’t be stored conveniently and indefinitely in the diaper bag or car, like a canister of Gerber Puffs or a baggie of cereal.
If we are going to be away from home during a designated snack (or meal) time, I will prepare and pack food for Oliver. Otherwise, as a general rule, I don’t carry snacks with me. Oliver has learned not to expect food handouts at the first sign of hunger or fussiness, and I have learned some more creative ways to appease him when he’s cranky.
So I don’t think it’s as much a case that conventionally-fed children are actually eating less overall, as it is that they eat less at mealtimes because they’re not as hungry. They are perhaps also eating less of what their parents want them to eat. When parents observe that their children “don’t eat much,” they may be forgetting to account for all the calories consumed between meals.
Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend that children aged 12 months through five years drink two cups (16 ounces) of 3.25 % fat milk per day. Many toddlers, however, drink much more than this. Aside from being strongly correlated with childhood iron-deficiency anemia, consuming too much milk causes children to eat less food, simply because they become full from the liquid calories. The same could be said for excessive breastfeeding at this age; however, you don’t generally see toddlers breastfeeding all day long, whereas it’s quite common for them to have constant access to a sippy cup or bottle of milk.
Since milk is not part of the Paleo diet, more calories need to be obtained from food — especially for those toddlers who are no longer breastfeeding on a regular basis.
Variety of Foods
Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, and can be very single-minded. Once they’ve jumped on the “beige foods” bandwagon — bread, crackers, cereal, rice, pasta, bananas, breaded chicken, etc. — it can be incredibly difficult to get them to eat anything else. These foods are thought to have brain-altering, addictive properties! Since most beige foods are not Paleo compliant, Paleo-eating toddlers never really have the chance to develop a love for or addiction to these foods, and are therefore much more open to experiencing a variety of foods.
Healthiness of Foods
The Paleo Diet, in a nutshell, consists of meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. By default, even the pickiest of Paleo toddlers will still be eating a diet of fresh, healthy, unprocessed foods, since they don’t have the option to get hooked on junk food. Some parents marvel at how I “get” Oliver to eat so many different fruits and vegetables, and so much meat, but the reality is he’s never known anything different. Toddlers like what they know, so these are the foods that are interesting and appealing to him. The other day, I was lamenting the fact that I think Oliver eats too much banana, apple and avocado — sometimes to the exclusion of other foods. Another mother put things in perspective when she responded, “I wish that was the worst of my kid’s eating problems.”
Do you feed your child a Paleo (or other special) diet, or a more conventional diet? How would you rate your child’s eating habits?