Choosing nutritious, whole food can be a challenge in the face of modern life—we’re told to speed up, to eat on the go, and to “fuel” our bodies rather than to take time to slow down and enjoy our meals.
Feeding our children well is one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents. Not only are we nourishing our children’s growing bodies, but we’re providing them a foundation for lifelong health and wellness. Sitting down to a meal together provides community, connection, and security.
Between the hustle and bustle of modern parenthood and the ever-conflicting nutrition advice, even the most well-meaning parents can struggle with knowing what and how to feed their kids. You know that mac and cheese isn’t a health food, but how can you persuade your picky toddler to eat broccoli?
I recently attended a local children’s nutrition talk given by Leslie Bumpas, a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who counsels clients through her nutritional practice, Redeeming Wellness. As soon as I heard her speak, I knew I wanted to interview her and help spread the message that she was sharing.
From first foods to picky eating, Leslie shares her thoughts below on the importance of real food for kids and how to promote healthy eating as a family.
Children’s Nutrition with Leslie Bumpas of Redeeming Wellness
What are the most important foods for young children to be eating?
Let’s talk about what the most important foods are for young children. Of course, under the age of one, breast milk is most important.
There is a saying, “food under the age of one is just for fun.” Somewhere around 6-9 months, babies will express an interest in foods that you are eating. From 1 year to age 12, try to think about your children’s bodies as little banks into which you are making deposits. Children need organic, whole and nutrient dense foods—foods that support skeletal, muscle and brain development.
Vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins D, C, E and K are vital for bone and brain development, as well as zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron. The best sources for these are grass-fed beef, organic chicken and wild caught fish. Pastured eggs and pastured butter are also excellent sources.
What are the best first foods for baby, and how should they be introduced?
When babies develop finger grasping skills and reach for your food, this is a sign they may be ready to eat solids.
The earliest foods can be adult foods, but in pureed form. Steamed salmon, salmon roe, avocado, coconut, eggs, sweet potato, steamed leafy greens—these can all be baby’s first foods.
I would avoid overusing fruit as an option, due to the fructose content. Once babies taste sweet, it can be harder to “turn the ship around” for savory.
What are some foods or ingredients that parents should be avoiding?
The ingredients/foods that should be avoided at every age are: high fructose corn syrup [now being labeled in different ways] artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring and excessive preservatives. Sports drinks and packaged snacks have some of the worst offending ingredients.
These chemicals can interfere with the body’s ability to detoxify, elimination, and hormone systems in children. Sugar consumption, even in its purest form, inhibits the immune system from protecting the body.
What do you suggest for parents of picky eaters?
Picky eaters can be a challenge. It can start very early, sometimes due to structural issues, sensory issues, and habits of convenience. Young moms are just trying to get through the day and fast food can become a habit. Unfortunately, the picky eating cycle is self-perpetuating and difficult, but not impossible, to break.
For instance, kids need zinc to create hydrochloric acid [HCL] in the stomach in order to break down proteins, and zinc is vital for smell and taste. Children get zinc from red meats. When I think of a picky eater, I imagine one that only eats “white” foods: chicken fingers, french fries, pasta. These children have lost the ability to digest real foods and smell or taste them. These foods are mostly devoid of nutrients and need to be eliminated completely.
Most nutritional practitioners agree that with picky eaters, one needs to:
1. Remove fake foods
2. Replace with whole foods
3. Restore good gut bacteria to replace the bad bacteria
Foods will have to be introduced 13-20 times consistently before a child will develop a taste and habit of eating them—so don’t give up after 2 or 3 attempts!
I think ownership is important for picky eaters. Let the children shop, chop and prep meals for the family.
What are some healthy snack ideas for children?
Healthy snacking can be a challenge. We’ve developed such a culture around snacking, which really isn’t necessary, but let’s at least make it nutrient dense.
Avocado/guacamole with vegetable crudités. Turkey roll-ups with whole milk cheese. Green apple slices with almond butter. Chicken drumsticks. Think about a clean protein and accompany it with a healthy fat.
Do children need vitamins and supplements?
While we do see an upswing in organic farming, most of our soils are devoid of important minerals, making our crop foods also devoid.
Depending on the child, I believe a vitamin and mineral supplement program can be part of making those “deposits” for a healthy child, especially if they have spent any time being a picky eater.
And for sure, for every round of antibiotics a child has been on, a probiotic is indicated. Fortunately, there are some nice product lines for children.
What are the top three changes that families should make to start eating healthier?
When I work with young families, we first look for what we can remove—the offenders. Then we look at what we can replace.
Baby steps in the kitchen are good beginnings. Just switching from sports drinks and sodas to pure water is a great beginning.
Families should shop, chop and prep at least two meals a week together. And teach label reading. Children learn so much about food by visiting the local farmer’s markets or going out to a farm together to purchase local milk, butter and cheeses.
Teaching our children about foods, sources, and label reading will go a long way to building a healthy family. Getting them involved in the kitchen and giving them ownership can motivate a healthy attitude towards food and eating!
We all know kids who will only eat chicken nuggets and fish-shaped crackers, and they often grow up to be adults who struggle with to eat healthfully as well. If we take the time while our children are young to instill positive feelings about healthy eating, we’re setting them up for a lifetime of wellness and a healthy relationship with food.
By prioritizing real food as part of our family culture, we can raise children who leave the table nourished, in body and in spirit.
What are some ways that you’ve gotten your kids on board with eating real food?
To learn more about whole-food nutrition or to get in touch with Leslie for individualized counseling, be sure to visit Redeeming Wellness!
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