It’s story time… with the rising popularity of the carnivore diet I know there will be parents wondering if this is an okay diet for children. While I wouldn’t recommend limiting your child to only animal foods, I do have a child who self-limited to nearly all animal foods (carnivore) as a toddler and absolutely thrived.
Back in 2009, when we started the GAPS diet for autism recovery, I had my preschooler with autism and a nursling 2 years younger.
As we transitioned onto GAPS, I made GAPS food for all of us, so that meant that as the little boy started solids, he went right onto the GAPS intro diet, which essentially is soup and meat and more soup.
Because I was a maxed out mama, and I knew that GAPS was plenty nutrient dense, he pretty much only had access to nursing + GAPS foods as he started solid foods. I also was only serving 3 meals a day (no snacks), because, once again, I was pretty overwhelmed with life. I now know that not serving snacks is a fantastic way to prevent picky eating, but at the time it was because I could only wrap my head around cooking/serving/cleaning up 3 times a day.
Meat meat meat
Anyway, this little boy LOVED his meat. He cut teeth on beef ribs, and would cheer when he saw the cod liver oil coming. Pureed soup made with chicken stock (drank from my coffee cup) was a favorite as well.
And, more than that, though I’d serve both kids a serving of vegetables, meat, and a fruit if we weren’t doing ‘Keto GAPS‘, half way through their plates (above), the kids would get up and trade spots.
When they traded, my daughter had barely touched her meat, and my son had not touched his vegetables. Then they finished the other’s vegetables and meat until it was all gone.
Naturally, they gravitated to meat for my son, and vegetables for my daughter.
Again, I think that I just *didn’t care* because I had so much other stuff going on in my life really contributed to them being able to follow their instincts for what they needed on any given day.
Young toddlers will make healthy choices
Because I had read a study (source) about how, when given access to only nutrient dense foods, young children will choose what they need for optimal growth and development I wasn’t too worried.
I was kind of fascinated by the whole process, with my children begging for cod liver oil and happily eating patties of meat and cultured sauerkraut by the bowl.
Self-Selecting Carnivore Toddler Food
Looking back, our meals were pretty simple, these are most of the foods that he ate. Remember, I did put fruit and vegetables (especially ferments) on his plate, and he just opted out of eating them for the most part. At the time we didn’t eat shellfish or pork, so he ate mostly chicken and beef.
- Hamburger patties (we ate a lot of those! We had purchased a huge quantity of grassfed ground beef at a steep discount that year)
- Meatballs (I did sneak the veggies in there)
- Scrambled eggs
- Chicken or beef stock from my coffee cup (he loved the salt!)
- Chicken thighs with the skin on
- Beef ribs
- The meat from around beef marrow bones (osso bucco)
- Liver, both cooked with onions and as a pate that he would eat with a spoon, given the chance
- Cod Liver Oil
- Fresh caught trout
- Salmon Patties
- Later into toddlerhood: Plain 24-hour yogurt (we were mostly dairy free when we first started autism recovery)
- Raw milk
- Breast milk
Growth & Immune Systems
Both children were growing (we were on WIC – a food assistance program for young children- at the time, with quarterly weight checks) and had amazing immune systems; it’s a story for another time… but when I tried to get them life-long immunity to chicken pox, it was quite the ordeal to actually get their immune systems to let them catch it!
This boy wasn’t completely carnivore, as he loved sauerkraut, and peeled onions cooked in chicken stock (which you might recognize from GAPS Intro day 3, start at 23:40 for the recipe), but the majority of his diet came from human milk (me! my olders were slow to wean) and M-E-A-T.
As you can see from the picture to the right, he has now turned into a strapping young man.
Together we are excited to share the encouragement that just offering your children nutrient dense foods is enough.
Between him avoiding vegetables, and my daughter avoiding protein for many meals, I was seriously questioning whether my grand nutrition experiment would work at the time.
But you can benefit from my small case study by knowing that they did indeed grow into healthy vibrant children.
Note about child-directed feeding:
I do allow my young toddlers to choose from the nutrient-dense food that I offer, at set meal times. To accommodate growth spurts, I still nurse at-will at wakeup and sleep times. For us, this looked like 4 nursing sessions a day, another in the middle of the night*, and 3 meals. As they cut back on nursing sessions, we just keep the 3 meals a day.
*I’ve always relied on a 3 a.m. feed to keep my milk production up. I made plenty of milk to feed my babies, but I noticed that my production would go down if my little ones skipped their night nursing session. Sleeping through without nursing was never a priority for me.
As toddlers develop into preschoolers and wean, I transition more into a parent-led approach, with the kids being allowed to ask for seconds of whatever they want after finishing what I put on their plate. I put small portions of each a vegetable, protein, and fat on their plate to start.
Young vs older children
Young toddlers are operating nearly completely out of instinct, and if they are in a ‘healthy food bubble’ where they have never tasted sugar or refined carbohydrates, they most likely will choose what they need.
As they become more strong willed (this is developmentally appropriate as their brain develops!) and notice all the other food-like products out there the growing children usually benefit from a parent-led approach to eating.
You can see more of my picky-eating prevention or solution protocol to keep parents sane and kids eating (even if they have sensory issues) in the free Picky Eating Solution webinar.
I Love this post. It is so heart warming to see all 3 your “healthy, vibrant children”.
Cara, I’ve been following your blog for 5 years now and used much of your advice and many recipes to help us through the GAPS diet when my kids were 2 and 7. My daughter ate ENORMOUS amounts of broccoli and green beans, along with almost exclusively meat otherwise, while we were on the GAPS diet. She is now 7 and is very healthy, active and bright. I love hearing your story about letting toddlers follow their instinct to eat what they need–and your explanation and rationale of why you need to have a more parent-led approach once they are exposed to more processed foods. Thanks so much for your wisdom and insight!
When I was a toddler I would only like to eat meat, I have always rejected vegetables, and nearly all the fruits but not oranges. Well also I could potatoes and bread.
I think should be a crime to give vegetables to a toddler or baby, I think the best is mom milk until you feel like it and then move to fat meats.. maybe real cow milk and eggs.
Thanks for writing this! My husband is carnivore (now there months in and looks amazing, and he says he feels amazing) and my boy is almost 6 months old so am looking at options.
Could you share how you go about night weaning? I am nursing baby number three, and didn’t figure out night weaning with first two until completely weaning around 2.5-3 years old! And yes they snack and I’m working on cutting that out.
I keep one night nursing session once they’re a year but I just don’t let them stay attached if that’s what they’re doing. yes, they cry, but once they are toddlers I set more limits on nursing- before bed/naps and once in the middle of the night, and I’m okay with them crying about it- I can accept that they are sad/mad about it without giving in. I had one I needed to move out of the bed during this, but the others were able to hear ‘no’ and get over it pretty quickly.
That is cool. Our kids growing we were sucked into carbs, but I eventually offered more meats and veggies, like you it’s just easier and was easier for travelling. Our younger two did better eating this way.do you have info on it’s effect on aiding the brain during those years?