Why are healthy fats so important for children?
A recent tabloid article berating mums for giving their children fish fingers and all the funny #solidaritea responses on social media made me cross, laugh and feel better about myself all at once. I know in many circles there is much pearl clutching about giving kids fish fingers. However, when you have a fussy eater to contend with, your life becomes a series of pragmatic decisions. This photograph is of my son aged 18 months eating fish fingers as this was one of the four meals he would eat at that time. Of course it would be better if your child happily ate mackerel pate but if you don't have a mackerel pate eating child then fish fingers do contain some omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Omega-3 and other healthy fats are indeed essential for children. These fats are crucial for brain growth and development, for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, and for lowering the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. Fat helps keep children feeling full, it helps with energy levels and as adults we know it just makes food taste better. Who can eat a baked potato without butter? These healthy fats are found in fish but also in nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut oil.
How to include healthy fats in your child's diet?
Getting kids to eat these foods can however be tricky and in some parent's cases (mine) a jaw clenching (literally) nightmare. So what can you do? If you have a child that is a good eater then it can be relatively easy to add them into your child's diet with or without fish fingers. Salmon and other oily fish are good straight-forward options, guacamole with vegetable sticks ticks the avocado box and you can add coconut oil to smoothies, soups and casseroles. Nuts and seeds can be added to home made energy bars and coconut yoghurt is a good option for a dessert.
And then we come to the children that the parents of the good eaters can't comprehend. These are the kids who treat every new food as if you have laced it with arsenic and think eating something 'mushy' like a casserole is a punishment worse than turning off the wi-fi. Soup isn't happening, smoothies are a no and handing over a bowl of guacamole would just be so ridiculous it isn't even worth attempting. The parents of these children know that it is a battle you lose three or four times a day. Every day.
Over the years, I have learnt that once you accept you can't win this battle and take a different approach you might have a chance of winning the war. I believe this means starting from where the child is at, working with them and accepting it is going to take baby steps whilst playing the long game. For me, this has meant accepting my child will not easily eat any new 'wet' food. I now always start with 'dry' food and then build upon it. My son has recently had to eat a lot more healthy fats due to healing gut issues. This is an ongoing process and it has taken a lot of trial and error but after a few weeks I have found the following foods and recipes have been successful ways to get healthy fats into his diet.
Stealth Ninja tips
I am still working hard to find more ideas and recipes to include a broader range of healthy fats. I still haven't worked out how to include avocado. Anything my son eats has to definitely not look green or be in anyway squishy which is a tough ask for an avocado but the Ninja in me will not give up. I hope you find some of these tips and recipes useful. Any other suggestions will be very gratefully received in the comments section below!
I tend not to talk about what I eat unless I really have to. I have always felt that what you eat is personal and should not be commented on or questioned too much. When you do have to say that you eat a Paleo diet most people are interested and ask questions politely. However, you do sometimes get a very skeptical response, often followed by comments such as Paleolithic man only lived to about the age of 20 and is therefore not the best role model. What do you do? Club them over the head and drag them to your plate of delicious food? Or just answer the question politely? So far, I have gone with the latter.
I am not surprised I get asked questions as the Paleo Diet is still not that well known in Scotland or the rest of the UK. If you google you get bizarre images of cavemen (weirdly, rarely cavewomen or cavekids) and lots of meat. It would be easy to think the Paleo Diet is a slab of raw meat with chicken wings as a side. It also seems to get jumbled up into the media- fuelled view that if you follow any diet that isn't traditional you are somehow a demanding snowflake who does so for attention. This media distortion is invariably backed up the medical community who repeatedly point out that only a tiny minority of people need to omit any food groups from the standard Western diet.
However, despite this prevailing view, there does seem to have been an enormous cultural shift and people are trying different ways of eating and realising that they feel much better for doing so. If you glance at any news stand you will see a vast range of magazines on health, super-foods, vegan diets, gluten and dairy-free and now also Paleo. In America and Australia in particular, Paleo cook books are often the best sellers and there are now a huge number of food companies selling Paleo friendly products.
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet really is just eating the simple, natural foods that our ancestors ate. This means eating foods that we are genetically adapted to eat and that we have evolved to eat over millions of years. This includes good quality meat, fish and eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
The traditional Paleo diet does exclude grains, starchy foods and dairy products. This seems like a tough ask but it is important to stress that a traditional Paleo diet is only a starting point from which you work out the that foods really work for you. Doing so is much easier if you can stick to a traditional Paleo diet for about a month. This is because it appears to be that when we repeatedly eat foods that we are actually intolerant to, our bodies have this unhelpful glitch of getting used to those foods and masking our true reaction to it. We often can't sense this true reaction until we go back to basics and do a 're-set'.
Changes in health
The results can be really surprising. It can transpire that you really do feel better when you cut out certain foods that you have eaten for years. Conversely, other foods are fine when you re-introduce them and of course you should continue eating them. For myself, I can't eat any gluten at all and I definitely feel better without dairy and sugar but I am fine with rice and potatoes and I can eat non gluten grains like corn in small amounts. My husband isn't intolerant to any foods but chooses to eat paleo (most of the time!) as he realised he just felt better. He is not alone in this. Many people report feeling better when they follow the Paleo Diet and there is growing scientific evidence that supports this way of eating. Ultimately though, I believe that everbody is unique and that there is not one diet or approach that fits all. Trying it out and then seeing how you feel is the best 'evidence-base' to rely upon.
NB: I didn't have to club my husband over the head to get him to change his diet. He did so voluntarily. Honest.
If you have any comments or questions about trying to eat this way please feel free to ask me below or contact me on social media via the links on this blog. I will be very happy to help.
Superhero Paleo Bread
My Paleo bread recipe meets my three requirements of a recipe. It tastes brilliant, it is very healthy AND simple. It is so simple that my nine year old son can easily make it. He hasn't of course eaten it yet but that is a whole other blog post!
I haven't, however, given up on him eating this particular recipe because it is perfect for school children as well as adults. The eggs and the seeds provide protein and the range of seeds also provide a whole range of other nutrients including calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E and selenium. This makes it especially good for bone function. The loaf also has a high level of healthy fats making it a perfect breakfast for brain function and for keeping you feeling full until lunchtime.
It is also my sort of cooking as you really do just throw everything in and it can't go wrong. I prefer it made with Kerrygold Butter as it is grass-fed (and tastes brilliant) but if you can't tolerate any dairy at all it also works perfectly with any of the fats listed below. It works with any fresh or dried herbs that you have to hand but I tend to make it with fresh rosemary because it is the one herb that I have in my garden that always survives whatever the Scottish weather has thrown at it!
My only tip with this recipe is not to put in too many pumpkin seeds as it then looks slightly green. However, if this happens you just tell your child it is called Hulk Bread instead...
Serves 8. Prep 10 minutes. Cooks in 55 minutes
200g of ground golden flaxseeds.
75 g of any other seeds i.e pumpkin, sunflower, etc.
25g of chia seeds
40g of melted butter (or melted ghee, coconut oil or butter)
1 teaspoon of gluten free baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary
125 ml of water.
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius/Gas Mark 6.
2. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.
3. Whisk the eggs, then add the oil of your choice.
4. In a separate bowl mix all the other ingredients together.
5. Thoroughly mix the two bowls together.
6. Pour the batter into a loaf tin, then bake in the oven for approximately 55 minutes until fully cooked.