“In sum, the position of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior is that there are no differences between healthful food for children aged 2 and older than those for adults, except for age-appropriate adjustments in texture and portion size.” 
As a parent of two 4 and 7 year old kids, I know the battle of trying to get kids to eat all too well.
It is not easy.
They often don’t want to eat what you make.
Their peers are often eating differently than they are.
Your family members are always giving them food you would never give them.
There are kids’ social engagements where food is provided.
There is a lot of marketing targeting kids showing them all kinds of different foods.
As a parent you have a lot on your plate and the last thing you want to do is argue with your kids about their food.
As the quote above points out, there is no real need for kids to eat differently than adults once they are the age of 2. At the same time I realize saying that is one thing, making it happen in practice is a whole other story.
If we think about children’s diets from an ancestral point of view we know that there must have been minimal difference between what adults and children ate. Whatever was hunted or gathered by the tribe was what was available. There were no kids’ foods to hunt or gather, it was all the same. We know that despite eating the same foods as adults, those kids grew up to be productive members of the tribe and pass on their genes, if they didn’t we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.
Why then today do we think that kids need to eat differently than adults?
Well first let’s address the elephant in the room…lots of adults are eating just like kids. Pizza, soda, candy, cookies, crackers, bread, much of the adult population is just eating glorified “kids meals” in larger proportions. Instead of the kids pizza, adults are having the 12 inch pizza. Instead of the chicken tenders and french fries, they are having the fried chicken sandwich with triple the amount of fries. I think you get my point.
So when I say kids shouldn’t eat any differently than adults I mean kids should be eating a whole foods diet just like adults SHOULD be eating.
The idea of kids eating differently than adults actually has to do with alcohol. Yep alcohol. When Prohibition banned the sale of alcohol in 1919 the hospitality industry needed a way to offset the loss in revenue from alcohol sales. During this period of time it was considered inappropriate to bring kids to a restaurant where alcohol was consumed so the restaurants decided since alcohol was no longer being served they could offset the lost revenue by having their customers bring their kids to the restaurants. At the same time a book called The Care and Feeding of Children was published which recommended the delayed consumption of fruit until 5, and delaying the consumption of meat and certain vegetables till the age of 10 based on the belief that their chewing and digestive capabilities were not mature enough!
This was the perfect storm, the restaurants wanted to attract kids, they used guidelines from The Care and Feeding of Children to develop a menu specifically for kids, and the kids menu was born!
The idea of a “kids menu” became ingrained in our culture. Then the marketing and advertising industry got a hold of it. They realized they could market certain foods to kids and parents would buy them because the kids would be asking for them. Ever watch a kids channel on TV, or the ads that are displayed to kids on YouTube? I have. If the advertisement is not for a toy, it’s for some kind of highly processed junk food with a toy included with it. As parents caved to the demands of their kids for these foods, the idea of “kids foods” made its way into the home as well.
Like I said at the beginning, there is a lot working against you as a parent who wants to promote a healthy whole foods diet to their kids. I do not think all hope is lost however. I have a 4 and 7 year old, and in the grand scheme of things they eat pretty darn healthy in my opinion. Is it perfect? No, no way, but perfect should not be the enemy of good enough. I know for a fact their diet is better than the fish stick, chicken nugget, frozen dinner, kids cereal, bread, and pasta diet I was consuming up until I was in my 20s!
There are three big things I think you can do if you want your kids to eat a healthy diet.
First YOU need to be an example. That’s right, step one is for you to change your diet. If you are not eating the foods you want your kids to eat it is a lost cause. Your kids look to you for guidance, they want to emulate what you do, they think what you do is what is best for them. If you are eating highly processed junk foods, that is what your kids are going to want to eat. So step number one is to change your own diet.
The second big thing you need to do is start NOW! Don’t wait! The more time that passes, the harder it will be for you to make changes to your child’s diet. I did not change my own diet to a whole foods ancestral diet until after my daughter was born, so for the first few years of her life her diet was the standard American kids diet after my wife finished breastfeeding her (go Stephanie!). My son on the other hand was fed an ancestral whole foods diet from the start. The difference in their food preference today at the age of 7 and 4 is quite stark. My son loves pretty much anything, he tries all kinds of foods, and likes most of them. My daughter can be much more of a challenge to try anything and she really has a very limited taste for things particularly whole foods.
To be fair this might have nothing to do with my daughters standard american diet for the first few years of life, maybe it is just a difference in who they are. However, the point remains, trying to change your child’s diet when they are older is going to be harder when they are much younger, so start now!
Third, be persistent. It’s hard. You are a parent, you are tired, you have lots of other stressors. Preparing healthy meals, and then going through the effort to get your children to eat them is hard and it is quite easy to get a $10 kids meal from the local drive through that they will not only eat but do so happily without any complaints.
However just like any other lifestyle change, there are going to be hard times. It is not always going to be easy, but when times get hard, that’s when it’s time to buckle down and show up day after day and keep trying. Also, keep in mind it’s quite easy to recreate “kids meals” in a healthy way. For example we have tacos and chicken tenders and french fries several times a week on average. We just make them ourselves using high quality meats, without the seed oils, and using products like Siete Tortillas, and Pork Panko. The kids tell us it’s not the same as what they get at the restaurants, but they happily eat them.
I also think that it’s OK to let children be children sometimes. They are going to go to their grandparents house and their grandparents will shower them with all kinds of stuff including foods you might not want them to have. It’s OK, your kids will be fine. Similarly they will go to friends’ houses, they will go to birthday parties, there will be delicious “kid foods” there and they will eat them. That’s fine too. The reason why it’s fine is because these are few and far between because at home they are eating a healthy whole foods diet.
I think we can all agree that kids do not need to eat differently than adults. Once a kid can start consuming solid foods, they can eat meat, veggies, fruits, and even grains if that is something you want them to consume. They can consume the same stuff that you eat….minus the alcohol 😉 Kids have been eating this way for a long time until very recently and they were fine, and perhaps grew up healthier as a result of eating a whole foods diet from the start and continued to follow those practices into adulthood. Once again we can look to our ancestral norms to help make the best decision for our health as well as our children’s health.
I know this blog post is a bit different than my normal ones, but my goal is to always help people navigate their health challenges, and as a parent I think our children’s health is just as important as our own, and some may view it as more important. If you like this content please let me know by joining my newsletter and spreading the word to others. Just enter your email address below and you will get useful content like this on a weekly basis.
1. (2022, January 1). Healthful Food for Children is the Same as Adults – Journal of …. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://www.jneb.org/article/S1499-4046(21)00814-9/fulltext ↑