Doing the GAPS intro diet is a challenge, no matter how old you are. It can be especially challenging with a stubborn toddler. I’m going to share with you all my tips and tricks from my experience with my son doing the GAPS intro diet for toddlers.
GAPS diet for toddlers
The GAPS diet isn’t the easiest thing to do, but the results are SO worth it. Young children can experience benefits quickly and deeply, compared to older kids, teens, and adults. Doing the GAPS intro diet for toddlers can sound daunting, but the toddler years can be the ideal time for doing the GAPS diet for kids.
But toddlers can be challenging. This is especially true when they’re dealing with things like sensory issues, digestive upsets, and the physical and mental difficulties that can come with leaky gut.
Need help getting your child to overcome picky eating? Get my Picky Eating Blueprint: Empowering parents of picky eaters with confidence to transform their child’s relationship with food in three weeks or less. Check out Picky Eating Blueprint here.
If you’re wondering what is the GAPS diet, I explain it in this post entitled The GAPS Diet Explained in a Nutshell.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to get started with GAPS in general, I share all my best tips on how to start the GAPS intro diet here.
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I’ve been there with my toddler on the GAPS diet
All of the information here comes from my personal, real life experience. My son (now almost 3 years old) is on the GAPS diet currently. I have helped him go through the GAPS intro diet for toddlers twice.
Currently, my son eagerly eats and enjoys all kinds of meat, just about any vegetable we serve him, and he likes eating soup and meat stock. He asks for these foods!
I’m going to divide this post into three sections. First I’m going to talk about doing the GAPS introduction diet with a younger toddler, aged around 9 months to 24 months or so. Next I’ll talk about doing GAPS intro with an older toddler, from about age 2 years to age 3 or 4 years.
After that I’ll go into why GAPS children have a hard time accepting new, healing foods. I think it’s helpful to have a look at what is going on in the body to cause these challenges.
I’ve done the GAPS introduction diet with my son at both of these ages. There are differences in doing GAPS intro with a younger or older toddler, and I’ve found different approaches that work better at different ages.
Of course, there will also be some overlap between the two age groups, and some variation.
Make sure to read all the tips for both age groups, no matter what age your child is right now. Many things I share will help across both age ranges.
Every kid is different, and there is definitely not a “one size fits all” strategy.
With that in mind, I hope you find these tips helpful as you navigate the GAPS introduction diet with your child.
Doing GAPS intro with a young toddler or baby
At this age, you have more control. This makes many things easier. Babies and young toddlers haven’t developed as many opinions as older toddlers and preschoolers. They also aren’t able to voice as many complaints or come up with quite so many creative excuses and problems.
I found that at this younger age, it’s easier to get them to start enjoying a variety of GAPS foods compared to an older toddler. They might not be so excited at first, especially if they’re used to eating mostly sweet and starchy foods. With firmness, consistency, and love, they will soon start to accept new foods, like meat and vegetables. And before you know it, they’ll actually be enjoying these new foods and asking for them!
How do I get my picky toddler to eat?
As you work through the GAPS intro diet for toddlers, try spoon feeding them, or letting them pick up food from off their tray. Most likely, you’ll need to spoon feed most or all of their food at first, especially when they’re getting used to the new foods. After a while they will be more eager to feed themselves.
Make sure to offer as much variety as you can within the allowed foods of whatever stage they’re in. There is a lot they can have, even on the GAPS Diet stage 1. This is how you can discover what foods they enjoy, or at will at least accept.
Once you find some foods they like, use this to help them eat other foods they aren’t quite as excited about. For example, my son loves pumpkin. In the beginning, I mixed meat stock into pumpkin. It was a great way to start getting meat stock into him before he enjoyed meat stock on its own. I also “hid” fats and probiotic foods in pumpkin, as an easy way to start getting those into him.
Make sure you’re feeding them often enough. The foods on GAPS intro, especially in the beginning few stages, are probably more low carb than how your child was previously eating. Having them eat 4-6 meals a day instead of only 3 will help avoid blood sugar issues. Try to feed them plenty of carb rich foods that are allowed on GAPS intro, like cooked carrots, peas, and pumpkin.
Get creative and make it a game. Pretend that the bite of food is an airplane that needs a place to land. If they’re getting downright grumpy and are flat out refusing food, clean them up and try again in an hour.
Consistency and firmness are key. They will eventually accept the new foods. I’ll be sharing some more tips on stubbornness and picky eating a little later on, as these things get more challenging the older kids get.
Meat stock for toddlers on the GAPS introduction diet
Meat stock can be one of the hardest things to get toddlers to enjoy. Just like I mentioned with the other foods, they key is to stay consistent and firm while doing the GAPS diet for toddlers. They will eventually enjoy meat stock and ask for it!
You can use some fun ways to take the focus off of the food. Get creative and see what your child enjoys. Some of the things my son likes are:
- Serving the meat stock at a different temperature. My son likes it best at room temperature!
- Read a book with your child. Every time you turn the page, they have to take a spoonful or drink of meat stock.
- Count bites of meat stock, one number for each bite.
- Try serving it in different ways: by itself with a spoon, in a sippy cup or bottle, in soup with other vegetables and meat, in blended soup, like this blended carrot soup, in other GAPS diet recipes, or hidden in other soft foods that they enjoy.
GAPS intro gear for toddlers and babies
You can try offering meat stock in a sippy cup or a bottle, if your child is very young and likes bottles. With glass sippy cups and bottles like the ones I mentioned, you can easily warm up meat stock right in the cup or bottle in a pan of warm water. Check out my meat stock recipe for the GAPS Diet here.
The silicone squeeze pouches make it really easy for them to eat pureed vegetables and meat mixed with meat stock. I also gave my son yogurt in a silicone squeeze pouch. Check out my 24 hour raw milk yogurt recipe here. That makes a really handy snack. I love how those silicone squeeze pouches have an insert that eliminates messes. They’re perfect for on the go.
Doing GAPS intro with an older toddler or preschooler
At this age, you start to have a little less control compared to a younger toddler or baby. However definitely keep something in mind: Doing the GAPS introduction diet with a preschooler is still much easier than doing it with an older, school aged child or a teenager. You still have complete control over what they are eating, and they are very much under your care. You have a much easier time limiting their exposure to non GAPS foods.
That being said, there are still challenges! A lot of the things I mentioned for younger toddlers and babies still apply to older toddlers. And, because there is some overlap, there will probably be some tips in the section on older toddlers than may work well with your younger toddler. Keep these tips in mind as you’re being creative and figuring out ways to help them.
Feeding tips for toddlers
At this age, you can take advantage of their growing curiosity and love for learning. I think it is really important to talk to your child and explain what that GAPS diet is doing for them.
We do this with our son. He listens when we explain, “these are nourishing foods that will help your tummy get better. You will feel so good when your tummy is well!”
Keep life simple and structured. All kids, but especially GAPS kids, seem to thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. Don’t plan too many errands, visits, and activities outside the home. Even if they don’t nap, plan a quiet time for them each afternoon.
Let them help cook. My son loves to help make scrambled eggs in the morning! Of course, only do this if your child can listen and follow instructions, and is able to learn simple safety rules.
Don’t overthink the fact that they can’t have certain foods for a while. Chances are, this bothers you more than it bothers them.
At this age, you can control a lot of their environment, but they still will see some foods they can’t eat right now. Just talk to them, explain that they’ll probably be able to have that food again once their tummy is better, but just not right now. Direct them to the big variety of allowed foods that they can have right now.
More tips for older toddlers and preschoolers on the GAPS diet
Say “yes” to them as often as you can. Since you have to sometimes say “no” to foods they used to be able to eat and can’t right now, it’s helpful to say “yes” as often as you can to their non food requests.
Give them lots of extra snuggles and attention. Keep in mind that as they work through the GAPS diet introduction phase stage 1, they will probably experience some detox and die off, and might not feel well for a little bit. Just be extra patient and loving towards them as they work through this.
Surround yourself with positive people who are supportive of what you are doing for your child. It can be stressful when well meaning friends or family members watch what you’re doing closely. Having a community that can support and encourage you and your child on your GAPS diet journey is so helpful. There is a GAPS diet Facebook group for people who are doing the GAPS diet, and I have a Traditional Health Wisdom Facebook group as well.
If you have birthday parties, holidays, and other social gatherings to plan, try to take the focus off of food while your child is on GAPS intro. Instead, focus on other things, like spending time with people and doing fun activities.
Keep the goal in mind
As you’re helping your child through the GAPS intro diet for toddlers, try to remember the big picture of what you’re doing. Even though the toddler years can be challenging, the GAPS diet is actually more doable and even more effective than going through GAPS with an older child.
More and more people have to live with chronic physical and mental illness, food intolerances, and restrictive diets. By doing the GAPS diet with a young child, you are giving them the gift of wellness, for years to come. Because of your efforts, they won’t have to struggle later in life, as they would have without the benefits that the GAPS diet provides.
Common issues that can come up
Here are some common pitfalls that I’ve learned from my expereince to avoid when doing the GAPS intro diet for toddlers:
- Don’t introduce fermented or cultured foods too soon. Excess die off is very uncomfortable. When you do introduce them, go very slowly, always watching for how they’re doing.
- Wait with a probiotic supplement until they’ve completed the entire GAPS introduction stages. Introducing a probiotic supplement can cause too much die off to happen too soon.
- Add foods one at a time, giving enough time to watch how they are doing with each new food. Nothing is more confusing than figuring out what foods are causing issues when you’ve added more than one at a time!
I go over supplements for the GAPS diet here.
How do they become picking eating toddlers?
Eating challenges are very common with GAPS people of all ages. Here are some of the reasons:
- Abnormal gut flora leads to sensory processing disorders. Food doesn’t feel or taste like it should in the mouth.
- Candida overgrowth makes GAPS people crave only starchy and/or sweet foods.
- Abnormal mouth flora makes healing foods uncomfortable to eat.
In her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride explains that even though GAPS people don’t want to eat the foods that will help them most, they need these foods. Eating the GAPS foods is the only way to heal and overcome the health problems that lead to picky eating.
Read more about what gut dysbiosis is here.
How to get a picky autistic child to eat
Dr. Campbell-Mcbride also says that she doesn’t believe there are any hopeless situations, even in doing the GAPS intro diet for toddlers. She says, “where there is a will, there is a way.” But how do you start to make it happen? How do you get the healing foods into a stubborn toddler? This is especially difficult when they are autistic and nonverbal.
The steps that Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends are simple behavior training, where the child has to work for what they want. Here is what she says to do:
- Have something on hand that your child enjoys, such as a show they love to watch. If your child isn’t interested in videos, find something they really like. As a last resort, if nothing else will work, use an old food that they really liked to eat, even if it isn’t allowed on the GAPS diet. This is just a temporary tool. Once you’ve made enough progress, switch from the non allowed food to something else, like a show or activity.
- Play the show, or hold the reward for them to see. Pause the show, and let them know that before the show can turn back on, they have to take a bite of the new, GAPS food. Don’t give in to any tantrums or crying. Stay firm. Once they’ve had a bite, turn on the show. Repeat several more times. If you have to use a food reward, tell them that they must take a bite of the GAPS food before they can have a bite of the reward food. Once they have gotten through a few bites, make it so they have to have 2 bites of the GAPS food before they have the reward, and so on. As soon as you can, switch from non GAPS food to another reward.
- Stay consistent and very firm. Never give in to crying or tantrums. It’s hard, but you can do it! Eventually they will accept and even enjoy the new foods. Before you know it, their body will want the nourishing foods.
Is the GAPS diet safe for toddlers?
Yes. The GAPS diet is just a way of eating that focuses on nourishing foods, and avoids problematic foods for a temporary time.
You do want to make sure that your child is at a healthy weight and growth rate before beginning GAPS intro. If this isn’t the case, it can be a good idea to start the GAPS diet differently. For example, you can do a “backing in” approach, where you start with the full GAPS diet for 3-6 months, and then go through GAPS intro.
Many families are very successful doing the GAPS diet with their child on their own. Sometimes, though, there are special situations where a professional is important.
If your toddler has any of these conditions or tendencies, I highly recommend finding a certified GAPS practitioner to work with your child:
- Very underweight
- Serious chronic health problems
- Things seem to be getting worse instead of better after giving it your best effort for 1-2 months
Our bodies are complicated, and sometimes there are underlying issues that can be made worse when a child suddenly goes on a restrictive diet. If you have any doubts in your mind or are unsure about anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to a certified GAPS practitioner. They will help guide you and help navigate any obstacles that may come up as you do the GAPS intro diet for toddlers.
GAPS diet recipes for toddlers
Have you done any healing diets with your child?
Do you have any experience with picky eating? What tips would you add to this list? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Need help overcoming picky eating?
Get my Picky Eating Blueprint: Empowering parents of picky eaters with confidence to transform their child’s relationship with food in three weeks or less. Check out Picky Eating Blueprint here.
Looking for a GAPS intro meal plan?
GAPS to Go is a 30 day meal plan for the GAPS introduction diet that tells you what to eat each day, with complete cooking instructions, and guidance on when to move to each intro diet stage. Check out GAPS to Go here.
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GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.