As the internet becomes flooded with recipes for healthy homemade versions of dessert foods, and the shops stock more “healthy” packaged snacks, more parents are using these foods as daily staples with their children. Health-minded mums are the most likely to fall deep into this trap, which seems like such a great alternative at first. If there are only healthy ingredients in these treats, and no nasties in the snacks, what could be wrong with giving them to your kids every day?
Your kid won’t eat his chicken and veggies? Oh well, just give him a paleo pancake instead!
Paleo pancakes and other healthy baked goods
I’ve seen first-hand in my house how easy it is to get sucked into a never-ending paleo treat party. Facebook, Pinterest and loads of amazing blog sites keep our mouths watering every day with new recipes for muffins, cakes, cookies, puddings, mousses, ice creams, pancakes and chocolates that are actually healthy. Desserts that are healthy! Who wouldn’t want to eat desserts all the time if they are not bad for you?
Your kids, of course. You are so happy that your kid is finally eating something healthy, so you make them almond meal pancakes for breakfast, coconut flour banana muffins for lunch, date-sweetened cookies for snacks and cacao avocado mousse when they are still hungry 10 minutes later.
Now YOU know that a balanced diet includes whole plant and animal foods, and you enforce that on yourself because you are an adult. But a child thinks, “Why would I eat anything else if all these snack foods are healthy too, and so much tastier and addictive?” You have now made it 100 times more likely that your child will refuse a carrot stick or apple at snack time, because they are holding out for more paleo brownies. You have taught them that if they don’t want to eat their chicken and veggies for dinner, you will probably give them something more interesting anyway.
Our 4-year-old daughter Kaiya, who has been enthusiastically eating healthy primal meat and veggie meals since she was a baby (you can see her awesome toddler eating habits here), alerted me to this trap before I fell in too deep. After we had tried a few recipes for healthy treats and homemade baked goods, she started saying at meal times, “I don’t want dinner. I want something special.” My delicious home-cooked meals were suddenly not special anymore. Not in comparison to cake that is good for you.
So let them eat cake
I know what you’re saying. But all those treats have such healthy ingredients…even superfoods! Almond meal, coconut oil, cacao, dates, chia seeds and more. Even we make raw cacao balls, quinoa pancakes, and healthy party food. Yes, these foods are nutritious, but only as additions to your diet, not as the whole diet. It’s easy to get carried away and forget that your child is not getting basic proteins, fats and fibrous carbohydrates from your healthy baked treats. And you can definitely have too much of a good thing, especially nuts and seeds and gluten-free flours; all of which can be very taxing on the digestive system. As for superfoods like chia and cacao, read this article, The Only Superfoods You’ll Ever Need, and you’ll see what I’m getting at.
Cake, even if made with “paleo-approved” ingredients, is still cake, which most children understand is an occasional food, not an everyday food. Keep it that way if you want your kids to develop lifelong healthy eating habits.
The problem with healthy packaged snacks
However, almond meal banana cake isn’t the only type of healthy treat culprit. There are also many packaged snacks that easily become staples in children’s diets. Most popular are rice cakes and crackers, muesli/granola bars, dried fruit and yogurts. The packages say natural, sugar-free, gluten-free, high fiber, and no artificial flavours or colours. So what could be bad?
Well you know what’s NOT in it, so what’s in it? The answer is not much. Not much protein, fat or fibrous carbohydrates. Not many vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Not much nutrition.
As I talk about in another article about not worrying that your kids don’t eat enough, it is usually better for kids to eat nothing than to eat nutrition-less food. Every time we eat something that has very little nutritional value, nutrients have to be pulled from the body in order to assimilate and digest the deficient food. Now that rice cracker doesn’t seem so harmless, does it?
Instead of serving up snacks that are nothing more than nutrient deficient processed grains, pasteurised dairy, or fruit dehydrated of everything except its sugars, how about a nutritious raw vegetable or fresh whole piece of fruit? As with the paleo pancakes, your child will never learn to love real whole foods if you always have a rice cracker ready for them as an alternative.
Reclaim your time and money
To cement your new thinking about packaged snacks, read the article Eat Healthy by Ignoring the Labels, and start making real, whole unpackaged foods the #1 staple in your child’s diet. Take the money that you are spending on “healthy” packaged snacks and the time you are spending baking healthy treats, and put that money and time toward buying and cooking nutritious whole food meals and snacks.
“When children eat beyond a steady diet of ‘kiddie foods’,
their taste buds grow to appreciate a broader variety of flavors.”
– Nancy Tringali Piho, author of the book ‘My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything’
More resources for feeding kids well
See if you are guilty of any of the other 7 Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Child’s Healthy Eating Habits, then learn:
Get loads of meal and snack ideas from our Pinterest boards:
Is your child dependent on healthy baked goods or ‘healthy’ packaged snacks?
The Dangers of Kids Living on Healthy Treats