Tips for Increasing Gut-Healthy Foods in Your Picky Eater's Diet
You are what you eat.
Though we’ve all heard this before, most of us take it for granted. The truth is, the food we put in our bodies has an enormous influence on our health.
In our gut health series, we learned that:
- All disease begins in the gut.
- Our (and our children’s) gut health is the number one determining factor in our overall health.
- There’s a growing body of research linking neurological conditions like ASD, ADHD and SPD to gut dysbiosis (an unhealthy gut).
- The most powerful intervention for reversing gut dysfunction is replacing gut-irritating foods with gut-friendly foods.
Cardiologist and best-selling author Dr. Joel Kahn says,
“Our fork is so powerful it can not only transport food to our mouth, it can be used as a genetic on and off switch to alter our weight, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, cancer growth, and even our chances of healthy aging.”
So, what do we do when we suspect our child’s gut is out of balance and we know we need to change his diet, but he's the World’s. Pickiest. Eater.?
I’ve struggled with this question for years; my older son is that kid. If your child has underlying sensory processing challenges, chances are you’re in the same boat. I feel your pain, and I'm here to help.
After several years of experimenting, here are my go-to “tricks” for increasing gut-healthy foods in my boys’ diets…
- Purée cauliflower and add it to your egg mix when making scrambled eggs (my kids can’t taste the difference).
- Purée peas and add it to mashed up avocado to make a dip for crackers or a spread for toast.
- Add spinach to a smoothie.
- Make cauliflower pizza crust.
- Make sweet potato pizza crust.
- Cut up jicama and sprinkle with sea salt (my boys love this- it’s the perfect mix of sweet and salty and jicama is a prebiotic).
- Try breading - you’ll need one beaten egg in a bowl and some gluten-free bread crumbs in another bowl. Grab some raw veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and asparagus are good options), dip veggie in the egg batter first, then the bread crumbs, then sauté with coconut oil, olive oil or grass-fed butter. This is a great trick for kids who love bread, carbs and crunchy foods.
- Add sweet potato purée to your pancake batter.
- Add a thin slice of sweet potato to a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Mix puréed butternut squash and grated cheese for a delicious quesadilla.
- Put veggies in muffins, like these delicious paleo banana carrot muffins.
- Mix a teaspoon of XCT or coconut oil into yogurt.
- Put a teaspoon of olive oil or avocado oil on toast before you butter it.
- Add 1 teaspoon avocado oil to a serving of hummus.
- Serve sliced avocado sprinkled with sea salt with each meal.
- Make avocado pudding.
- Make these delicious [fudge fat bombs].(http://realbalanced.com/recipe/fudge-fat-bombs)
- Use extra grass-fed butter or ghee on toast.
- Use generous amounts of ghee or olive oil for cooking.
- Make these amazing chocolate keto muffins
Now for the hard part: eliminating your kids' favorite gut-irritating foods. If you have a picky and/or problem eater, this is especially difficult.
When your child will only eat a few select foods, the thought of eliminating those foods (assuming they are not the most gut-friendly options) is anxiety-inducing (to put it mildly). I mean, what in the heck is he going to eat?!
I asked myself and stressed over this question for months. No...for years.
Then, one day it hit me - what’s worse, my child melting down because he can’t have his favorite (gut-irritant) granola bar or giving him the granola bar, avoiding the meltdown but adding fuel to his already inflamed gut?
Some of you whose kiddos’ meltdowns are next-level are probably thinking, um… the meltdown is definitely worse!
I've felt that way too. But, taking steps to ensure your child’s gut is healthy will have a huge payoff in the long-run. As we’ve learned, our gut health affects every aspect of our physical, emotional and mental health.
On that note, my number one tip for eliminating gut-irritating foods is to stop buying them!
I know, not what you wanted to hear. It wasn't what I wanted to hear either. It will be hard at first, but I promise, it’s not as hard as you think and your child will learn to adjust.
During toddlerhood, H basically lived on Whenever Bars. They were his “most favorite thing” to eat. They’re gluten-free, but the ingredient list is full of gut-irritants (agave, cane sugar, sunflower oil). After my epiphany, I stopped buying them.
The first morning we didn’t have them (H usually got half of one with his breakfast), he lost it. The screaming, kicking and hitting lasted for what seemed like an eternity. Every morning for a week, he had a massive Whenever Bar meltdown. And then, it stopped. That was over a year ago and he hasn't asked about them since.
We’ve gone through this with several of his favorite foods -dairy, various gluten-free bars and breads that had gut-inflaming ingredients and processed meats. Each time I stopped buying something, there was backlash. But, it didn’t last forever and eventually he moved on.
It was helpful to explain why I wasn’t buying those foods anymore.
Here’s what I said:
We all have tiny, microscopic bugs that live inside our bodies. Some of the bugs are good bugs and some are bad bugs. The foods we eat feed the bugs. Certain foods feed the good bugs and certain foods feed the bad bugs. We have to be careful about what we eat - if we eat too many of the foods that feed the bad bugs, it makes us sick. We want to make sure we eat lots of foods that feed the good bugs because that is what keeps us healthy. It's not that we can never eat bad-bug-feeding-foods, we just want to eat them sparingly.
This explanation worked surprisingly well for both my boys, who now regularly ask, “Mommy, does this feed the good bugs or the bad bugs?”
If you’re starting to feel panicky (like I was at first), hang in there. I have some ideas for you. Next week I'll share my top 20 kid-friendly, gut-healthy recipes for picky eaters.
In the meantime, here are two incredible resources for dealing with picky and/or problem eaters:
Do you have a picky eater? What have you tried that's worked and what hasn't? The Sensory Mom community and I would love to hear from you.