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The 5 most important elements of nutrition for kids

The 5 most important elements of nutrition for kids

The world of nutrition is constantly changing and it can feel daunting as a parent thinking about nourishing our littles. I definitely have found myself overwhelmed at times, as I’ve worried about what to feed them to cover all the food groups  - and if they’ll even eat what I put in front of them! When I took a moment to really focus instead on what an incredible gift it is to get to raise them, I simplified their nutrition down to 5 main components. And voila, it became completely manageable (and even fun).

What are these 5 elements, you ask? Well, I believe they are a mindful connection to their food, water, macronutrients, micronutrients and bugs (gut bugs, that is!). Let’s break it down.

#1 – Mindfulness.

Nourishing our bodies consists of more than just the foods we eat.

The connection to how we feed ourselves needs to be number one. This should be innate in us but with the modern world it is becoming more and more distant for too many. Being mindful of where our food comes from and knowing how to prepare it is essential to full nourishment.
With children let them get their hands in there… whether it be dirt when planting a garden or mixing up a batch of a family favourite. They will connect much deeper with the nourishing of their bodies if they can feel “it.” It is important that they understand that it takes time to prepare meals so please don’t ever feel guilty about spending time in the kitchen. Do invite your littles to join you as often as possible.

#2 – Water.

Did you know that your body is largely made up of water? And for littles, it is even more! The consumption of water - clean water - is magical. Water is our family’s beverage of choice - and everything else is considered a treat, to be enjoyed only once in a while. Proper hydration is essential to optimal function of every single cell in the body. And very, very important for digestion. If you’ve ever been around a constipated kid (or adult for that fact) you know how miserable it can be. When they’re young and you’re in the bathroom with them, make note of the health and ease of bowel movements. They should be smooth and formed, not bumpy or lumpy. They should happen with ease, not with any stress to force them out. Pay attention to this stuff and teach them about drinking water regularly and how it can help.

#3 – Macronutrients.

These are the nutrition elements we are most used to hearing about, and that we need in high amounts (hence the “macro”): Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. Here are the most important things to consider with each of our macro’s:
Protein - For protein it’s all about complete proteins. Which means making sure a serving is complete with all 9 essential amino acids. Animal proteins are complete proteins. Meat, eggs, yogurt, etc. But these are not your only options - as long as you balance your amino acids over the day your body will know what to do. This is how most plant protein sources work.

The key is to know the source and ensure you are getting a complete spectrum of essential amino acids. This is best achieved by varying / combining your plant protein sources. There are a few plant complete proteins - quinoa, soybeans and buckwheat. For all others you need to combine 2 groups to make a whole – legumes + nuts, whole grains + legumes or nuts + whole grains.

Know the farmer!! Buy local. Ask to visit the farm. A good farmer will be very transparent and happily answer your questions. You can feel good about eating meat if you can see how the animals are treated. There is an energy exchange present in our world. This animal is giving its body to nourish another being. Be grateful. Welcome the questions from your kids about where their steak comes from.

Pasture raised meats are key. We want to nourish and minimize toxins in the body. The fatty acids available from pasture raised meats have been shown to be far more beneficial than from conventional sources. Grass-fed and grass finished beef has a higher content of CLA (Conjugated linoleic acid) and omega 3, both of which have anti-inflammatory and immune supporting properties.
Carbohydrates – Think fruits and vegetables most often and whole grains in moderation. Your kiddos need lots of energy. We want to fuel them with “clean burning” sources to keep their energy and mood stable throughout the day. The brain functions on carbohydrates. Do you want your little’s brain operating on oatmeal or Corn Pops? Carrots or Veggie Straws? Refined carbohydrates are dangerous to our children’s energy levels because they cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar. This can have long term health effects but for now it can cause Momma a lot of stress… over stimulated children that can not self regulate are exhausting!!

Variety is the key. Switch it up naturally by buying locally and seasonally. Offer vegetables first when your littles want a snack. Once they finish that if they are still hungry offer something else. For me it is often homemade muffins, homemade gummies or cheese, whole crackers and pickles, etc. This is a great way to get some extra nutrient dense veggies into them, and by having the veggies first they will be tastiest.
Fats – The crucial component to brain development for our littles are Essential Fatty Acids. These are fats that our body needs but cannot make so they must come from our diet. Omega 3s are the ones we want to focus on as they are not often abundant in our diets. Some great sources are cold water fatty fish such as salmon, and seeds including flaxseed.

For all fats getting in our children though, we must think natural sources ONLY – butter, coconut, olives, nuts, seeds, salmon, etc. These are all items that if pressed between 2 fingers you would feel a little oily. That’s what makes them brilliant natural sources of fat - nature made. Do you know of any vegetables that leave that same residue on your hands (if pressed)? What about a canola plant? Honestly, I have never squeezed a canola plant but I feel certain this is not something humans should be consuming. Please read all labels and avoid Trans Fats for your littles and yourself.

#4 – Micronutrients.

These are the vitamins and minerals that every cell in our bodies needs to function (we call them “micro” not because they’re less important than the macros above, but because we need them in much lower amounts). We are supposed to be getting these from the foods we eat, however with large commercial farming operations being the source for much of the food available today, the vitamin and mineral content of our foods is diminishing. The soil becomes depleted and therefore the foods are depleted. Another case for getting your hands in the dirt… starting with a rich organic compost pile. Or at least buy from a local farm or organic whenever possible.

Over and above this I think having your kids take a high quality multivitamin (formulated for children) is a safe bet. We do our very best to practice all of the above in our home and our kids also take their vitamin every morning. There is a heavy concentration of free radicals in the world we are living in. For this reason having extra antioxidants available to my littles is very important to me.

#5 – the BUGS!

We must be looking after our littles at all times. And that means also looking after our little’s  gut bugs that are tasked with looking after them. The majority of your immune system is in your gut, and probiotics mean Pro-Life. We can help maintain a strong immune system by keeping our microbiome (your bodies own ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and other microbes) nice and robust.
So, how do you nourish your child’s microbiome? For us, this looks like regular consumption of naturally fermented foods (aka. lacto-fermentation).

Lacto-fermentation is a natural process of preservation. This is how vegetables were kept edible for long periods of time before every house hold had a freezer and canning practices. This is done by using the most nutrient dense vegetables (local, organic) available with only water and salt, and allowing them to sit at room temperature until a desirable taste and texture is reached. It is the process of converting the sugars and starches from the veggies into lactic acid that gets us that delicious fermented taste and offers the proliferation of lactobacilli. All of this to say these veggies are easier to digest, full of healthy happy gut bugs and have higher vitamin levels.

These are foods you may need to try on multiple occasions before they become an easy one to feed your littles but it will be worth it. And you don’t need much: a teaspoon of sauerkraut or half a pickle will be enough to help their good gut bugs thrive. Or they may surprise you. Your kids might love these gut goodies.

Lacto-ferments are quite easy and inexpensive to make at home but don’t feel like you need to take this on. There are great products available in most grocery stores now a days. The key to knowing you’re getting a good one is that it is sold from the refrigerator section. Also, the ingredients should include only the vegetable and salt.

These are some basics to think about as you plan meals for your family. Remember to have some fun with feeding your littles. Try not to stress about if they are getting everything they need at every meal. Nutrition is about the big picture. What is the overall knowledge you want your kids to have about health? I think if you stick to knowing where you food comes from and all foods you serve at home are whole foods, then you can absolutely do this.

There are definitely a few more elements we could look at to complete the picture of fully nourishing these small beings. Sleep, sunshine and movement should also be considered as we raise strong, healthy and happy humans.

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