One of our community members shared this photo and asked the following question:
“My 3.5 year old son insists on putting this much butter on each tiny cracker I give him. When I turn away for a second, he will also try to eat spoonfuls of butter on its own. It’s organic and grass-fed (although I wish it were more orange), and I don’t believe in limiting my own self on butter by any means, but still I sometimes wonder if I should intervene because of how extreme his desired/consumed quantity is. Is he deficient in something? Is this just a normal fat craving for his age? He also wants endless amounts of cheese and yogurt. Thank you.”
Our answer would be, follow your child’s lead!
This is a guest post by Heather Dessinger of The Mommypotamus written for Nourishing Our Children.
So, The Other Night …
My son lunged over a plate of pot roast to grab a stick of butter … for dinner. Did I snatch it away from him or run to check the CDC’s prediction regarding the likelihood he will develop heart disease? Um, no, I grabbed my camera!
You see, butter cravings are a milestone in my house.
They mark the midway point of my children’s transition from breast milk to pastured dairy products Yep, I’m one of those. It’s more than just a difference in source, though. As all mamas know, we do not come with buttons that allow a child to select strawberry flavored milk. Though the flavor is influenced by what we eat, our bodies create without the child’s input. The same is true for babies who receive donated breast milk or homemade formula.
The thing about butter cravings – and most cravings during the toddler years – is that they are so much more than awesome slideshow opportunities. We are witnessing the awakening of our child’s internal gastronomic sage . . . their own inner wisdom about how to feed themselves for optimal nourishment. Chances are they will never wake up and say “I need 2000 IU of Vitamin D, stat!” – but they just might ask for bacon and eggs. Based on this post from Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride you might say it’s the same thing.
Unfortunately, this inner wisdom is very often derailed by well-meaning (we hope) yet inaccurate advice. Back in the 1920’s doctors “began prescribing with bank teller–like precision what and when and how much a child should eat in order to be healthy.” Their choice? Bland, sieved vegetable soup. [ source ] Later on, we were encouraged to switch to MSG-laden baby food, which by it’s very nature alters the cravings of a child. More recently, deprivation seems to be the advised path. Consider this recommendation from Babycenter:
Your 2-year-old now
Time to trim the fat! Once your child turns 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you reduce her fat intake to less than 30 percent of her daily calories. You don’t have to zealously monitor fat intake. Just switch from whole milk to 2 percent, and look for low-fat versions of cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. For the rest of her diet, provide a balanced offering of whole grains, lean meats or beans, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t cut out fats entirely; your preschooler’s growing brain and body depend on them for proper development. And many dairy products that contain fat are also terrific sources of calcium.
Yikes! Fat is still where it’s at for toddlers and preschoolers! Most of us know that, but there is another issue here worth considering. When we as parents carefully assemble our panel of nutritional experts let’s not leave the most important one out – the child!
A Bold Feeding Experiment
What would a child do if given free reign over their own diet? Back in the 1920’s, Chicago pediatrician Clara Davis decided to find out. She gathered a group of babies – mostly breastfed orphans who had recently been weaned – for a bold feeding experiment. With the help of a team of nurses, Dr. Davis provided these little subjects with a range of food from which they could eat whatever they wanted.
“The complete smorgasbord included broiled ground beef and lamb, steamed and minced haddock, chicken, sweetbreads, brains, liver and kidneys; broiled beef and veal bone marrow; bone jelly (or reduced veal stock); raw and poached eggs; steel-cut oats, ground whole wheat, cornmeal, and whole barley (all boiled); raw oats and wheat; rye crackers; raw apples, bananas, oranges, pineapple and peaches; steamed apples; baked bananas; raw tomatoes, lettuce carrots, cabbage and peas; steamed beets, carrots, peas, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage and spinach; and baked potatoes. The babies could drink water, whole milk, cultured milk, and sometimes fresh orange juice. Each baby got his own dish of sea salt.”¹
“Each meal included grains, a couple of meats, and fruits and vegetables. Every dish was unseasoned and unmixed; that is, there were no recipes. Instead of meatloaf, babies got beef in one bowl and carrots in another, the better to measure consumption.” Over the course of the experiment (which lasted several months), the children were given no encouragement or discouragement regarding particular foods. They ate apart from the other babies to prevent copycat behavior, with only a nurse present that would refill dishes if asked.”²
[Sandrine’s note – I found it interesting that the smorgasbord included many of the foods that are in our very own nutrient dense food pyramid!]
So what happened? “At a given meal, choices could be extreme. One baby ate mostly bone marrow; another regularly drank a quart of milk with lunch. One baby ate seven eggs in one day and another, four bananas, while one occasionally took handfuls of salt … But over time, all the babies ate a varied diet, including much more meat than doctors recommended.”
“Most revealing,” she continues, “all the children thrived … A nine-month-old boy with rickets drank cod liver oil until his rickets was cured, then ignored it.”³
What I love about Clara Davis’ experiment is how it demonstrates that different children are, well … different. Their little gastronomic sage is unlike anyone else’s, and by listening to it and helping them learn to listen to it we position them for a lifetime of healthy choices.
So What Does This Look Like In Real Life?
Well, I for one am not serving thirty items at every meal! However, there are several practical takeaways that I’ve implemented with my kids:
- Only provide nutrient dense foods. That is the “trick” to Clara’s experiment – it was fail safe! She selected the foods and the child selected the portions. In my home the same is basically true, but as a realist I do limit some things. Most of us cannot say no to too much sugar … even the natural stuff like fruit and honey. In the past nature helped us with this by making these items scarce. These days we can fly things in from all over the world so we have to choose to limit our consumption and help our kids do the same. Also, items like bread are always served with a generous helping of butter.
- Indulge healthy cravings. There have been times when my kids could eat their weight in smoked salmon, goat cheese and scallops. There have been brief obsessions with tangerines and mayonnaise. I try to supply as much of these items as my budget will allow, knowing that when their bodies have received the nourishment they need the cravings will subside.
- Encourage adventurous eating. When I make something new my kids don’t have to eat it all, but they DO have to try it! The babies in Clara’s experiment had no notion of food . . . they gnawed on the trays that the food was brought on and the dishes, too! As we get older we tend to cling to the familiar and may need a little help getting outside of our comfort zone. So while I admire that her little charges were neither encouraged nor discouraged toward a particular food, I’m perfectly fine with giving my children a little nudge (especially toward liver).
- Make sure they have good gut flora. Without it pathogenic microbes tend to take over the digestive tract and alter our cravings in destructive ways. [source] When this happens trusting our cravings is like trusting a faulty compass. Though gut flora is established at birth and can be affected by antibiotics, stress, and diet, it can also be positively influenced by probiotic supplements and yummy fermented foods like water kefir, probiotic-infused lemonade jello, yogurt and ketchup
- Be okay if they say no. Part of learning to honor our internal wisdom is to know which foods are compatible with us and which are not. Children may refuse a food because it is something they don’t like or it doesn’t serve a need, but issues like food sensitivities may also be a factor. In general if my kids refuse a particular food consistently while eating well overall I rotate it out and try again later.
¹ ² ³ Source: Real Food For Mother And Baby, p. 186-188
About Our Guest Author
Heather Dessinger, aka The Mommypotamus, is a wife, blogger and mom to two amazing kiddos, both waterborn at home. She loves all things fermenty, talks to sock puppets, and dreams of owning her very own flock of backyard chickens. She is the author of two ebooks. Nourished Baby is a simple guide to introducing real food to little ones, and DIY Organic Beauty Recipes is a collection of 50+ beauty and personal care product recipes that really work.
52 Responses to Cravings: Follow your child’s lead.
At what age do you start to ‘assist’ choices. A friend of mine has a 13 yr old that chooses bread every chance she gets. The mother is concerned that her daughter is not choosing more nutrient dense choices like veggies, cheese, or even fruit as a snack.
Though I cannot say what is right for a particular situation, it may be helpful to look into the research of Dr. Campbell-McBride, author of Gut & Psychology Syndrome. According to her, abnormal gut flora can be the cause of inordinate cravings for items like bread, pasta and sugar. If that is the case she recommends a special diet that the patient will probably not appreciate at first (you can find it here: http://www.gapsdiet.com). There are also more specialized approaches to healing these kinds of issues. This article lists one I find very interesting: https://nourishingourchildren.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/if-gaps-hasnt-work-for-you-or-yours-read-this/
Bread and other refined carbs turn quickly into sugar in the body, so bread cravings in older children as well as adults indicate an imbalance of intestinal flora. This preponderance of sugar-loving microbes in the gut means the bad guys outnumber the good guys in the inner ecology and there will likely be health issues if they are not brought into balance.
Clara Davis’ study dealt with babies aged 6 to 11 months, an age when babies still have this innate inner wisdom intact. It’s just like animals that self select from different minerals and other foods to meet their nutritional needs. By the time people are adolescents and teens, many times this natural wisdom has been corrupted by industrial convenience foods and other factors like peer influence.
It’s so worth it to correct this imbalance, though!
Children change. When my son was young, we used to juice, etc. Now he is 17, and does all the opposite, as if he does not know how unhealthy his diet is.
My advice – if possible, she should introduce healthier and good-tasting choices to replace bread. For example, sprouted or raw bread, squashes, potatoes – anything is better than bread, especially the nowadays altered grains.
I’m following to hear the response to the above question.
heal gut by changing diet (gaps diet or paleo diet) and also killing off bad gut flora (bacteria) adn replacing with good-this is done with ferments such as saurkraut, pickles, water kefir, milk kefir, PROBIOTICS are huuuge in healing the gut and also reducing or cutting out comepletely the foods that inflame (grains, beans, and for some dairy) — childrens first foods should be protien adn fats NOT rice cereal ect. check out weston a price for first foods and the whys. hope this helps
Crystal, by “the above question” I mean the “at what age do you start to ‘assist’ choices”. I think I read that question differently than the others. I thought stanhoop meant assisting choices vs. leaving the choice to the child completely.
I read about the study by Clara Davis a long time ago but honestly I think that one study isn’t enough to prove anything. I think children’s preference of carbs (and I mean preference, not unusual craving) could be due to other factors too, not necessarily abnormal gut flora, especially if that preference is temporary.
I’m a WAPF follower mostly by the way. I wasn’t when my little was born; still, she never got any rice cereal (or any significant grains until closer to 2.5YO; her first food was avocado).
By the way, how do you know if a food “inflames”? (true, honest question)
My toddler is especially fond of raw meat. I only offer grassfed beef and pastured pork products raw (he doesn’t seem interested in poultry raw). Should this be encouraged? Merely tolerated? Or steered in a different direction?
Hi Liz, I think this may be of interest: http://theprimalparent.com/2011/11/07/years-eating-raw-meat/
The book Nourishing Traditions does contain several recipes for raw meat.
Hi Liz! I am not an expert on this subject, but I do find it interesting that Sally Fallon highlights the practice of eating raw meat in her book, Nourishing Traditions. According to her, almost all the traditional cultures Dr. Price visited ate some percentage of their animal protein raw.
Personally, my daughter went through a period (around age three) where she craved raw beef. After sourcing it well (pastured only) and freezing it for 14 days (according to the protocol recommended in Nourishing Traditions to kill any parasites present) I let her have as much as she wanted. The craving didn’t last very long!
I have never heard of eating pork raw so perhaps someone else can share their experience on that, but this has been mine with raw beef. You may also find these articles helpful:
I believe with raw pork there is a danger of trichinosis … so it may be wiser to stick to beef. Google it and see if you can find out more about it, and whether it is likely to be found in pastured pork.
thanks for the post and all the comments are really helpful
i have a 10 month old who is learning to nibble with her fingers, i offer food for her with a very tiny bit of freedom for her to choose what she wants. this sounds nice and i agree with her but in practice it’s really hard to do because i can never provide the correct amount plus we end up with a lot of leftovers which i feel so bad throwing away and then they all went into my tummy which then makes it so hard for me to lose the baby fat, what should i do please help!
Hi Liz! I am not an expert on this subject, but when my daughter began craving raw beef around the age of three I took my cues from the cultures Dr. Price studied. Most consumed at least a percentage of their animal protein raw, so I allowed her to as well.
I made sure to source my meat carefully (pastured organic only) and I froze it for two weeks prior to serving (according to the protocol described in Nourishing Traditions for killing any parasites that may be present). The craving didn’t last long, but it is definitely something I will remember!
We still enjoy raw (fermented) fish as often as we can, but I have no experience with pork and cannot say whether there should be any difference in safety protocols. Perhaps someone else will come along and share their wisdom on that.
If you would like to read more you may find these articles helpful:
In her marvelous book Super Nutrition for Babies, Dr. Katherine Erlich talks about this study as well and said that when the group had a fever, one of the foods they self selected most was raw beef!
This is so great!! I was babysitting a very verbal two year old a couple of months ago and his mom had left out bread and butter for me to give him with dinner. He was munching the butter off the bread and I asked him if he would rather have some butter alone. He gave me a very shifty glance and I handed him a pat of butter. He looked very suspicious and took a careful bite. He slowly munched and licked his lips, without looking up, he said, “It’s soooo tender….” and finished the pat. I gave him another and he looked at me full of delight and said, “It’s so smooth! It’s sooooo creamy!!” :) And a true butter lover was born!
Leah, I loved reading your comment! I like this article on “Why Butter is Better”: http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/why-butter-is-better
LOL that’s awesome!
i love this and it brings great peace, my 2 year old goes mad for “but but” (butter) he would eat a pack , it started when he was smelling things in the shopping trolley, got to butter and literlaly ripped it open and started eating it, i was getting very disturbed and judgmental looks but my gut said let him carry on ( he didn’t eat that much!) but when at a resturant and he started eatingt he pat of butter and asking for it ALL the time, i was concerned and started trying to discourage but my husband said “its fine, fat is good for toddlers , he knows what he needs” i was still wary and although allowed him extra butter ive also been giving him coconut butter, he seems to be having a little bit less now but this has given me peace about the whole thing, he is also still breastfeeding a lot, and has decided he needs blueberries, grapes, bananas and potatoes and nothing else, the last few days. I am not worried about this though as he is a great and adventurous eater normally. I also have a question about hemp oil, is it beneficial , harmful, unncessary to give him a teaspoon twice a day? love that i found this site, thank you x
Fabulous information! Can’t wait to try it out on my kids (when I have them!)
I am equally excited you to try this out on your kids! You can blog about it when you do!
I enjoyed learning about that study, thank you. I believe also that the key to helping your child make healthy food choices is to only keep nourishing food around. I limit some things a bit too, but in general it makes things easier when your child’s only choices are good ones.
Lisa, you have become one of the top 3 commenters on our blog – behind me and one other! I want to send you a gift as a token of appreciation for your continual participation which I experience as very positive and supportive! Please write to email@example.com from the email address you’d like us to use to email you our gift! We’ll expect you!
What a wonderful article! I actually just had a dream last night that my son wanted to eat butter and my husband tried to tell me it was fattening and bad for him (my husband is not like that in real life). I kept arguing with him that butter is healthy and the fat is good for him!
Makes me feel better when he goes through phases of eating certain only certain things and that a real rounded nutrition for kids is more on a weekly basis rather than daily.
Thank you for your positive feedback! I agree! I thought it was a wonderful article as well!
I loved this article! My little dude (14 months) can’t get enough of raw cheese, raisins, pastured pork sausage, and butter. Sometimes he’ll be into some beef. I’ve been careful not to push things on him, even though sometimes I feel like he’s going to turn into a cheese cube. He also drinks an incredible amount of raw goat’s milk. That also sometimes worries me, but he’s a healthy, active, and thriving kiddo.
I think the study speaks to that power of our intuition to guide us eat what we need!
I found this post to be very interesting – I loved reading about that study with the infants! I also believe our bodies help us seek out the foods we need. In our house, we encourage a lot of adventurous eating but to help our kids keep track of what they have tried, I created “My Food Notebook” – it helps when my picky eater claims not to have eaten a food we know he loves.
Would I let my children eat butter alone for dinner if that’s all they wanted? YES, and I HAVE :) I so much loved this post! I truly do believe that wether children are aware or not, they have an innate wisdom all their own. If my kids prefer something other than what I am serving, I’m ok with that- I don’t have picky eaters- I just have kids who know what they want / need. My daughter and one of the twins has eaten spoonfuls of just butter on several occasions. All of them have at times preferred nothing more than raw milk all day. both twin toddlers have gone days where they eat 5-6 bananas a day each! My oldest son will eat boiled egg after boiled egg in a day. I nourish them well, so I trust their cravings like I do my own. I smile big actually, every time I witness my chidden listening to their bodies :) And when the craving subsides, I probably feel as content as they do, having witnessed it.
Great post! My 2 year old absolutely loves eating butter raw. When it comes to introducing foods to kids, it’s all in what you offer. Kids don’t know that sardines and sauerkrat are supposed to be yucky when they start eating solids, so why not offer them the moon? If we start our little ones on the right foot, with good, wholesome foods, then they can be prepared to make wise choices when they get older.
Loved hearing about the studies and how the babies were drawn to what they were missing, etc. I still struggle with how much my daughter eats. I know she eats only good food and I shouldn’t worry, but the outside comments tend to weigh on a person. I just need to learn to trust her and follow her lead :)
I must confess that when my kids say, “I’m hungry,” just as they’re crawling into bed, I sometimes give them a tablespoon of butter. It’s nutrient dense, filling, and doesn’t have a lot of yuckies that I’m worried about leaving on the teeth overnight.
My 15 month old is allergic to about everything. It is very discouraging because the healing foods that you are talking about he breaks out in hives too. He cannot have any raw fruits or vegetables at all. Absolutely no dairy. Nothing with eggs in it. Tomatoes are horrible and he will be sick for days after eating them. And mostly everything that he is allergic to I am also only with a smaller reaction. He is also breastfeeding. Is he even getting any nutrition for me since I am Not really healthy? I tried to start GAPS A few months ago and got discouraged because every recipe that I came across, there was something in it that we both were allergic to. Any encouragement would be appreciated.
My son was very sensitive to a lot of things when he first started solids. He was living on pretty much just beef and egg yolks! If he can have meat, you are golden. It’s okay for him to have some for every meal, and liver once a week or so if he likes it. Fish is also good if he can have it, especially cod liver oil.
Be assured, your breastmilk is still good for him. Obviously eat all the most nourishing food you can tolerate. When he is weaned will be a great time to try to heal your gut and correct any deficiencies.
Thank you so much, Sheila! I sounded so discouraging and I didn’t mean to be. Sometimes, with all this studying, I feel like I am searching for a needle in a hay stack. And I am needing to hurry cuz my child’s teeth and bones and structure are forming now… I feel much pressure. I apologize for sounding so discouraging. ThNk you very much for the encouragment. :) It helped more than u know!!!
I love this post. I’m curious though why this indicates the midway point of weaning? What’s the significance as it relates to weaning?
Hi Christy! It may be something that’s just specific to my family, but I’ve noticed that as my toddlers got more active (and therefore nursed less throughout the day) they instinctively increased their butter and cheese consumption. Looking back, I see that my daughter’s love of butter happened about midway between her birth and later weaning. My son is still nursing but seems to be on a similar track, so I’m just guessing when it comes to him :)
Had to laugh because just today my 16 month old son downed a couple of tablespoons of butter at dinner. This was even more shocking for me because he still gets most of his calories from breast milk and is not usually much of a big eater. But butter it was for dinner today … Along with some salmon and carrots as a garnish :)
I’m commenting mostly because the first thing I thought when I saw the picture was that this darling little boy and my daughter could very likely be soul mates. While I say it jokingly to those who ask, butter really is my daughter’s favorite food.
This is a great post and I really enjoyed the excerpt about the smorgasbord experiment. Boy, wouldn’t I love to try this out with my little one. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what our children would pick? Especially when I know we spend more time mentally and physically trying to painstakingly plan most, if not all, meals to be not only fulfilling and nourishing, but also TASTY!
Love this. My parents gawk at me for allowing my super skinny girl to eat lots of butter.
This may be my favorite article of them all! If I ever nanny small children again, I will try the smorgasbord experiment, but on a smaller scale, of course. So interesting!
May I use your food pyramid picture as a picture on my blog?
Hi Ali, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and Katie Louderback will assist you with this request!
This is sooo different to me but very interesting!!! We have just recently switched our diets to a mainly plant-based diet (compared to what it was before). I’m actually embarrased to say it was pretty bad and full of processed foods. Anywho…my son who just turned 7 has a fascination with butter. I’ve always laughed about it but for the past 6 months or so he will sneak spoonfulls of butter when it is sitting out on the counter. He will even ask me why I will not let him eat butter straight like it is! I wonder what this means for my 7 yo to be wanting so much butter (since this article and all of the comments have been geared towards the younger ones). Should I let him eat butter then????
All comments will be appreciated!!
Hi Lindsey! I think butter should always be consumed until an individual is satisfied. It is one of the most wholesome, nourishing foods available.
So, a funny thing happened as I was getting my two-year-old ready for bed tonight. I gave him 1/2 teaspoon of fermented cod liver oil and then reloaded the shooter for my husband.
He immediately grabbed the syringe thingy and downed it, so I smiled and refilled it again. He grabbed that one too, so I reloaded and he did it AGAIN.
Just a few weeks ago he would cover his mouth and run away when he saw me open the jar. That was unusual for him and he was eating well otherwise so I didn’t push it.
I’m totally amazed by the internal wisdom children (sometimes) have about when they do and don’t need something. It reminded me of the boy in the Clara Davis experiment who cured his rickets by drinking cod liver oil.
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I just want to say I find this reassuring. My 19 month old wee boy eats butter and mayo like it’s going out of fashion and my mother in law stresses out. I obviously don’t give him free reign to the butter dish but still I try to trust his eating habits. He very rarely eats pasta or bread but loves rice, fruit, veg, meat and fish. The only protein I wish he ate more of is eggs but he is refusing them at the moment. I try to stay as zen as possible about his eating habits and hopefully if he sees me relaxed he will be and continue to eat a healthy balanced diet!!! Il come back in 10 years and probably say it’s all gone to pot but for now I’m happy he eats butter hehe.
Thank you for your interesting and helpful story