I’ve had a lot of questions about how we feed our girls, Zoe (Age 4 in May) and Sagan (age 2 in July) so I’ll take a crack at that finally. Just a few “rules of engagement” upfront:
1-I am not suggesting what we do is the “best” way to do things, it’s just what we do. I’ll provide some reasoning behind what we are up to, use that information to your best advantage, not as doctrine written in stone.
2-The kid topic seems…dodgy. Folks get really cranky about this stuff. I have suspicions why this is the case but I want this to be a practical piece on how we feed our kids, not a psychological treatise on bad internet behavior. Be nice. You may be wondering where my prickliness comes from on this, just check out some of the comments which popped up on posts related to type 1 diabetes…folks get really cranky and reactionary about the feeding and watering of kids.
Feeding the little ones starts not long after their arrival, so I think a little context there could be helpful: Nicki had pretty easy pregnancies with both girls (easy for me to say sitting on the sideline!) and reasonably uneventful deliveries. We had some problems with latching Zoe (long story) and Nicki ended up pumping for 9 months in that case. Sagan latched pretty easily and is coming up on 2 years of breastfeeding. All things considered we were lucky and the girls got off to a pretty damn idyllic start when you think about epigenetics, gut biome etc. Nicki ate well throughout both pregnancies. Not “perfect paleo” but quite well and tried to keep her glycemic load consistent and not too high. We opted for an A1C in lieu of a the OGTT (oral glucose tolerance test). I did a great podcast with Lily Nichols RD on this topic and I have written about this several times on the blog. We used a lot of the information from Chris Kresser’s “Healthy Baby Code” to do our best to shore up any possible nutritional deficiencies Nicki might have faced, I highly recommend this program.
Ok, what did/do the girls actually eat?
Both girls exclusively took breastmilk up to about 6-7 months of age and then we started rotating in the following:
Meats (including some liver, heart etc), bone broth, squash, sweet potatoes, fruit and soups. I make the bone broth weekly using a pressure cooker and we cook as much as possible with this. This process is dead simple: Add bones to the pressure cooker + a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar. Bring up to heat, let it cook for a few hours, turn it off and let it cool off, typically overnight. Store the broth in mason jars in the fridge! The girls will also drink this straight with just a pinch of added sea salt. If we are out of bone broth we do use this commercially available option from Thrive Market which is pretty damn good.
We cooked and blended most of the girls food initially, but both girls STRONGLY preferred…wait for it….pre-chewed food. I know, “dirty and unhygienic” right? I’ll be honest, it was a bit odd for me at first but they strongly preferred the pre-chewed food vs what came out of a blender. We rotated in things like liver and egg yolk pretty frequently as these tend to be both very nutrient dense, but can give some kids GI problems initially. Fortunately, we seemed to have no issues. I could make a pretty strong case for holding off on solid food longer than what we did as the GI lining of infants is not fully formed until around age two. Why might this be? Infants absorb large, intact proteins (antibodies/immunoglobulins) via the breast milk which are critical for the immune status of newborns. The realities of modern life being what they are however, we started introducing solid food a bit sooner than what MIGHT be biologically optimal. This is a key takeaway: You can be awash with information, but what can you reasonably pull off and not hang yourself from stress? For us, introducing some solid food meant a bit more freedom and it seemed like better sleep for all of us as the solid food seemed to “stick with” the girls quite well and helped them sleep through the night.
What about “non-paleo” foods?
We kept Zoe grain free until almost 2 years old at which time she’d get the occasional bit of white rice or corn tortillas if we made tacos. Zoe also started taking some goat milk around 12 months. Here is another takeaway: I actually DO try to get as much variety and latitude in the girls diets as possible, while weighing the immunogenic potential of the foods they eat. I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with thousands of people who went through this process before me and I noticed certain things that consistently caused problems. What’s the first food we are supposed to give our infants? Most people (our pediatrician included) tend to gravitate towards some kind of rice cereal. Even the orthodox medical types know that rice is much less immunogenic than say wheat. We tended to rotate through potatoes, yams, bananas, plantains and squash for carbs. And purple sweet potatoes. Our girls absolutely love those! I can make an easy argument that all of these foods are far more nutritious than rice cereal and tend to be less immunogenic. Ok, back to that goat milk: Zoe started “weaning” around 9 months (remember Nicki was pumping all that breast milk) and Nicki felt like we needed some kind of supplement to fill the gaps given the decrease in breast milk for Zoe. We opted to make a powdered goat milk formula designed by Mt. Capra. I know some of the WAPF leaning folks will lose their shizz at not going for one of the liver formulas, but the goat milk formula was both convenient and seemed well tolerated by Zoe. Again, this is some of the process of trying to figure out “what is best” vs “what can I pull off.” During this time Nicki was a co-founder of a tech start-up and I do whatever the hell it is that I do…said another way, we are really busy. Had Zoe experienced problems with the goat milk formula you can bet that we would have tried more time consuming options, but I weighed the risks/rewards and opted for something that was much more time efficient than the liver formula (and easy to do on the road) but much better than the soy/cow milk based formula.
Some folks will read this and think “Wow, that’s a very balanced, reasonable approach…I thought Robb might be pretty zealous about all this.” Others will be appalled by the degree of non-paleo latitude I practice. Funny how the interwebz work!
As I said, it seemed like Zoe was doing pretty well on the goat milk but then we noticed that Zoe had a really distended belly after drinking it. She also seemed to have some wacky-poo things going on. We deleted the goat milk and within a day or two all issues resolved. We motored along pretty well until summer hit last year and one of the truly amazing features of summer became a staple for us: watermelon. Zoe would eat, literally, a half a watermelon per day and again started having poo problems and a distended belly. I have some fructose malabsorption issues so guessed that she might also. We pulled out the watermelon and again, in 3 days, no problems. Zoe does fine on low fructose fruits like bananas, peaches etc and there is a reality of dose to be considered here. She does not eat the same volume of these other fruits as she does in watermelon. Take Away: People are unique and you need to tinker and figure out what works. Fruit is great, but as with all things, the poison is in the dose. Similar story with Sagan: The kid can sit and eat a whole flat of blueberries. At first there were no issues, but we noticed Sagan developing some kind of eczema on her arms. We added more liver for Vit’s A and D. No change. We reduced her amount of fruit and within a week one arm was completely clear and the other arm was 90% better. Again, fruit is good, too much fruit may not be.
I know someone will bring up “raw dairy” so I might as well address it here: Other than some grassfed butter and ghee in the sweet potatoes for both girls and some goat cheeses on the occasional gluten free pizza (I’ll get to that later) we no longer do much dairy for the girls. Raw milk is a pain to procure where we live and I’ve seen enough WAPF type folks migrate towards the paleo side of the street (due to dairy issues, even from raw milk) to decide that the cost/benefit story was not favorable. Y’all do what you want, but that’s how we have tackled things.
As I mentioned above, the girls get a wide variety of fermentable carbohydrate in the form of bananas, white potatoes, a little white rice, etc. Both girls eat homemade sauerkraut like it’s some kind of magic elixir. Sagan will eat SPICY kimchi until her tongue burns and she wipes it with a napkin, chugs water and then eats more! Zoe will not touch the stuff. When introducing new foods we are fairly insistent that the kids try it. If they don’t like it, no biggie, we shelve it for a few months and try again. It’s not a lot of drama and we notice that the girls have a decent variation in what they initially like and what they grow in and out of.
A quick lesson on hyper-palatable foods
Zoe was about a year and a half old when Nicki decided to make some “christmas cookies” with Zoe’s help. These were an almond meal snicker-doodle type of cookie and they are DAMN GOOD. Zoe had a lot of fun helping, and when she tried one of these cookies you could see some kind of light in her eyes. For days and weeks afterwards, Zoe requested those cookies.
Now, hang with me on this as I think it’s important. We let Zoe try some good quality ice cream prior to this and she was totally uninterested. Similarly, when we’d do a coffee out we let her try a pretty watered down hot cocoa…she had a few sips and was done. Both of these things were way sweeter than what I’d normally eat and I too am pretty uninterested in either ice cream or hot chocolate. Those cookies though…they were “just right.” They ticked the palatability box in ways that are hard to describe other than saying I’m not a big sweets guy but I could eat a metric ton of these. They are much tastier than what we normally do, but not over the top like most of the stuff you find commercially. It was like crack for Zoe. I related this story on Facebook in the hopes of getting folks to think about just how powerfully hyper-palatable foods can override our sense of taste and satiety. What I got was a bunch of people telling me Zoe had, at the age of 1.5 years, associated these cookies with “The Holiday Season” and it was in fact NOT a case of hyper palatability, but wistful nostalgia of “The Holidays.” I say “bullocks” and I’ll use one other example to make my case. As Zoe got older we let her try some 90% dark chocolate. She liked it, but no big deal. Then, Nicki switched the type of chocolate to an 85% variety. I’ll be honest, the 85% tastes WAY better than the 90%. Result? Zoe was obsessed with that chocolate. We had to just stop the whole thing entirely for a month and then went back to the 90%. Result-2? Zoe was NOT obsessed with the 90% chocolate. She would ask for it occasionally, but not every 5 min like the 85%. This is largely speculation but I “think” that if anyone, kids included, is eating a largely whole food diet, foods that are WAY out of the ordinary (like commercial ice cream) are overwhelming. But, if we start ratcheting up the palatability we can find a sweet spot where the foods are bypassing satiety signals and that can spiral on and on. This makes more sense to me than ascribing deep emotional connections in a 1.5 year old to “holiday foods.” Can we get a double hit of hyper palatability and emotional ties to an event like the holidays? Absolutely, but I think that comes later. As an aside we have found both girls love the Paleo Power Balls. I’m pretty fond of them too and “might” hide a few packs in my sock and underwear drawer.
“Treats” and other potential pitfalls
We don’t have “treats” in the house, we have food. I have not tied emotionally charged behavior or rewards with food. It’s not an easy road to navigate but as may have been made clear by my missive above regarding “holiday cookies” I think we can get into deep water by tying hyper-palatable foods to rewards. We occasionally have gluten free pizza, chocolate and a gluten free cookie or muffin. It’s not a big deal when we have these things, it’s also not a big deal when we do not have these things. Again, some will see this as balanced and reasonable, some will call it orthorexia.
What about gluten exposure?
There is some literature that indicates early exposure to certain foods, like gluten or dairy, can decrease the prevalence of things like type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. This exposure needs to happen at around 7 months of age…but the flip-side of this is we also know these foods are suspected triggers for a host of GI problems and aforementioned autoimmune diseases AND there are research papers saying the exact opposite, that we should limit exposure of these foods as long as possible to decrease the potential for problems. It’s not a cut and dried topic. We also know that highly processed foods, particularly carbs, tend to shift the gut micro biome towards an unhealthy state. I have seen enough people report that their kids GI problems resolved after removing commonly offending foods that I opted to kick the can down the road on this and keep the kids as gluten free as possible as long as possible. Perhaps it’s a great idea, perhaps it’s a mess. My mom lamented that she did not know that smoking during pregnancy (and while all of us kids were growing up) was a bad thing. In that day and age they simply did not know. We are earlobe deep in information and this is one area that I simply do not know what the right option is. It likely depends on the individual. As far as I know Zoe was “100%” gluten free up until the age of three when we had dinner with some friends at a BBQ joint and our friends ordered some sweet potato fries that were lightly breaded. Zoe really wanted to try them and I thought “good a time as any to test this out.” She had a few fries and fortunately, had no reaction to them. Now, this does not incline me to start ordering toast for her meals as the likelihood of me getting a cross contamination is increased, and she loves “paleo” carbs. Also, I did not start out as reactive to gluten as I am now. I ate it almost daily as kid and I have no doubt there was some brain fog and other problems, but the terrible GI distress and neurological issues I now experience did not happen until after I caught giardia in my 20’s. As far back as the 1950’s we can find literature connecting giardia infection with the development of celiac.
This is why I encourage people to keep an open mind and to tinker. What might not have been a problem for you last year might be a huge issue this year. My hope is that feeding the girls as well as possible early on will set them up for better health than I have. Again, we have a lot of information to process and I just do the best I can to make good decisions.
Are the girls healthy?
The short answer (fortunately) is “yes, very.” Both girls are 98% percentile on height, 15-20th percentile on weight. They are tall and skinny. Both girls have been early walkers and talkers. Our pediatrician and I had a few dick measuring contests on our first few visits as he was pretty put off by the whole paleo gig BUT he has been quite impressed with the health and development of both girls. He related a funny story to me about nine months ago that really shifted things: One of his colleagues discovered that our girls are patients of his. The guy said “that paleo diet is spot on and Robb really knows his stuff.” Clearly I have that guy snowed! The net result was that our ped looked at all this with a fresh set of eyes and you really can’t ask more than that.
Why bother with all this? The girls will eat what they want eventually?
I’ve had a few people, almost gleefully, proclaim that at some point the girls will be out with friends and will eat whatever they want. This was relayed as almost a victory on their part that no matter what my efforts, my kids will one day eat “non-paleo food.” I don’t want to speculate as to the psychology of these folks, but I’ll tell you why I do this: It’s my job as a parent to do the “best job I can.” I don’t let my kids climb on the furniture, we have wrestling mats and foam blocks for that. They say “please” and ‘thank you.” All of this is, hopefully, setting them up for success. It is not my intention to raise automatons, but kids need some lane-lines to not be little animals. I do my best to supply that. Zoe, at the age of three can tell you what the outcome of poor decisions are: Consequences. As she gets older, IF she understands where the lane lines exist, she can make informed decisions about what is involved with going outside the lane-lines, be this related to food, drugs or picking good friends.
I hope you have found this to be helpful, I’ve tried to be a thorough as possible. I do not put this stuff forward as the way YOU should do things, I’m just sharing what we have done and provided some of the reasoning behind it. I’m not recommending that you try to tackle this as some kind of perfectionist crusade, we can leave that for the raw-vegans. What I hope you take from this is an understanding of how one very busy family navigates the feeding and watering of their kids. I also hope that if you or your children’s early life story is not optimal you may have found a few things you can do to stack the deck more in your (and your kids) favor.