Most kids grow up with a mixed diet. This includes good things, like vegetables, whole milk, and grains. But for most of us, there are some bad things, too, including the occasional Cheeto or cupcake.
But one Australian mother raised her daughter on a special diet from toddlerhood.
Shannon Cooper is an avid nutritionist and wellness coach. She became interested in specialized diets after struggling with food allergies. That interest led to a degree in agricultural science.
When Cooper’s daughter Grace came along in 2014, she’d been following the Paleo diet for several years. But her friends and family were surprised to hear she intended to put Grace on it as well.
That means Grace’s growing up eating a low-carb, mostly plant-based diet.
There’s no bread, no crackers, and no sugar outside of what naturally occurs in fruit and other foods. Cooper consulted with Grace’s pediatrician. They said there wasn’t a lot of research about the effect of the Paleo diet in children. So, she was advised to use caution. Cooper breastfed Grace during her infancy. Then once it was time for solid foods, they were all Paleo.
Cooper said her primary goal is to help Grace have a diet that makes her feel good. She knows she’s eventually going to try sugar and other things. She also doesn’t intend to force her to stay on the Paleo food plan if she doesn’t want to.
“I’m not going to not let her go to kids’ parties,” she said.
“She’s going to go to kids’ parties and eat what’s there. I’m never going to go to Grace, ‘You can’t eat anything at this party – but I packed you some kale, here you go.’”
For now, Grace eats a healthy diet that consists of lots of fruits, vegetables, and proteins. While most kids get a cake on their first birthday, she got a homemade strawberry panna cotta.
Cooper said she doesn’t aim to obsess over food, but rather, eat the things that keep her feeling healthy and strong.
“I don’t want there to be any disordered eating around food,” she said. “Females particularly have enough problems with eating disorders. I want Grace to eat what makes her feel good. That’s the reason I eat this way. I don’t think eating a piece of bread is going to kill me.”
There are good things about the Paleo diet.
But many nutritionists say there isn’t a big difference between Paleo and a normal, balanced diet. And some express concern that Grace isn’t getting all the vitamins she needs.
“It’s really not usually a good idea to put a child on such a restricted diet, particularly when there’s no valid grounds for it,” said Dr. Rosemary Stanton, a respected Australian dietician. “Depriving her child of grains and legumes will make it much more difficult to achieve a balanced diet. I’d certainly sound a note of caution (to other people considering following her).”
For now, Grace’s healthy.
She started kindergarten in 2018, so she may have her first taste of sugar sooner rather than later.
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