Alternative diets becoming more common, but resources for parents are slim

(11/09/2017) - With more and more children being diagnosed as obese, families are becoming health conscious.

Some are even looking to alter the way they eat. Other families are changing their diets to fit their beliefs on animal rights or to protect the environment.

Those include diets with no meat, no eggs, no dairy, no gluten. That means saying goodbye to pastas, bread and even most baked goods.

"People think that we're a little strange but at the end of the day we feel better and we're happy with our choices," said Jessica Swanson, a gluten free mother.

But what about raising a family with that lifestyle?

"I think people have this misconception that you have feed toddlers chicken fingers, grilled cheese and mac and cheese -- and you just don't," Swanson said.

She is married to a vegetarian and is raising a gluten-free daughter, who had stomach issues as a toddler until breads and pastas were removed from her diet.

"It's just a matter of what you feel is best for your family and it's not taboo it's becoming a lot more common," Swanson said.

Mother, dietitian and vegan Lauren Panoff said more people are turning to alternative diets and they need help determining what nutrients they need. She found few resources outlining what nutrients her body needs vs. what her children need.

"For vegan kids specifically, fat is a really important one since we chose not to do whole cow's milk once he was done nursing," Panoff said. "It was important to find other ways for him to get those healthy fats and the omega 3s. B12, of course, is probably the biggest one that everyone should be taking if you're not eating animal based foods."

Getting toddlers to eat protein- and vitamin-rich foods like broccoli and flax seed can be easier said than done. That's where parents have to get creative.

"We try Indian foods and stir fries and I make broccoli tots, which is my new favorite thing," Swanson said. "You just puree broccoli and a little bit of cheese and we blend it all together and just make it into fun shapes and she loves that. She just enjoys eating and that's what is a fun process to watch."

Swanson and Panoff say the not-so-fun part is the judgment that comes along with the decision to eat differently.

"Veganism and going plant-based is still seen as this kind of niche kind of strange crowd," Panoff said. "The nutrition aspect is not really that hard. It's just, for lack of better wording, just dealing with everyone else. Dealing with issues in society and situations like school and day care."

Swanson said people refer to her diet as a fad.

"But if it is a fad, it's one that I feel better in my daily life doing," she said. "So once they take a look at my daughter and look at how she is doing they usually just kind of say, 'OK, it looks like what you're doing seems to be working for you' and that's not to say I judge people that don't feed their child the same thing."

To Swanson and Panoff, the issue boils down to doing what's best for their families.

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