We get asked this question quite a lot, particularly in relation to the types of fermented foods we make - sauerkraut and kimchi. But in short, kids sure can eat fermented foods and probably already do (remember that cheese, yoghurt and bread are all fermented). What you probably want to know though is can kids eat living fermented food, right? In this blog we'll address some of the main concerns parents have when exposing their kids to fermented foods and look at some of the ways to help encourage your kids to accept - and maybe one day love - both fermented foods and a wider range of foods!
What are the concerns?
Living fermented foods can contain a wide range of different microbes including yeasts and bacteria from the Bifidobacteriaceae and Lactobacillaceae family. These beneficial microbes can help contribute to our transient gut microbiome which can help support the already established microbiome in our gut (learn more here). There's often some thought that these live cultures might upset little tummies if they eat too much in one go. And yes this can be a potential issue, the same goes for adults - if you're not used to eating live fermented foods you'll want to start slow. However, if your kid already eats say live yoghurts then they have a baseline to go from. Anytime you're introducing a new living fermented food though, it's probably a good idea to introduce slowly and then include it regularly in small amounts.
Babies and children should eat less salt than adults (see below for daily recommendations). This is because their kidneys aren't fully developed enough to process it properly. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles can be high in salt. Foods are classified as high in salt if they contain more than 1.5g salt per 100g. Our sauerkrauts and kimchis contain 1.7g-2g salt per 100g so are classified as high in salt. For these reasons it's a good idea to introduce these kinds of foods in small tastes for weaning babies, to get them used to the flavours, and then in small quantities for children on a more consistent basis (rather than a large amount occasionally).
Daily maximum salt recommendations:
1-3 year olds - 2g salt/day
4-6 year olds - 3g salt/day
7-10 year olds - 5g salt/day
11 years-adults - 6g/day
The key thing with fermented foods that contain salt is to think of these as your seasoning. We always recommend under-seasoning dishes (or for children adding no salt) and then using your kraut and kimchi as the seasoning for your dish, either within the food or on the side. This way you're not getting a whole heap of salt with each meal and you're getting all the benefits of live fermented foods, which you just don't get with plain old salt.
Some fermented foods, most commonly fermented drinks, might also contain alcohol. Drinks such as kombucha contain yeasts which convert sugars to alcohol which is then converted to acetic acid (vinegar) by bacteria. Water kefir is another common living fermented drink which has alcohol produced as a by-product of fermentation. Commercial drink manufacturers have to put on the label if their drink contains more than 0.5% alcohol, so kombucha and water kefir brewers should be measuring the alcohol content of each batch to ensure they're below this level. However, this doesn't mean there's zero alcohol, so it's important to consider this when giving kids fermented drinks especially.
Fermented foods that are great for kids
There are lots of fermented foods which are great to try with kids, these include yoghurt, milk kefir, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, (kimchi if they don't mind some spice) and cheese. These are all nutrient dense foods, for example milk kefir contains calcium, B vitamins and potassium and sauerkraut contains vitamin K, C and fibre. They can easily be added to meals and snacks to gradually introduce them as a daily food. But don't pressure your kids to eat them just have them available, make sure they see you eat them and eventually they might get curious. We also recommend getting kids involved in making fermented foods, this is a tried and tested way to get kids excited about food, help them to explore new taste, textures and cooking methods and to make it more likely that they'll try something new. Plus making sauerkraut at home especially is relatively straightforward and in our experience kids tend to love getting their hands dirty in the process!
How to encourage our kids to eat a diverse diet
We all wanna do the best for our kids and one of the daily struggles is their diet. As parents we're responsible for a big proportion of what they eat. Kids can be notoriously limited eaters, but the worst thing we can do is to stop offering them foods and to stop introducing new foods. That's a sure fire way to ensure they won't be open to a wider range of food as they get older and are less likely to be confident with new foods. So if you want your kid to be a connoisseur of fermented foods, then get them involved early and make them a normal part of both your and their daily diet. It might take them months or even years to even touch certain foods, and some kids just might never like particular fermented foods (we all have our own unique taste preferences!) but be patient and accepting of their autonomy.
So don't be scared of offering fermented foods to kids - start them young! Even if they don't immediately like them, keep offering without judgement. Our lil' man has been offered tastes of sauerkraut since he started weaning and it's taken a year but now he goes for sauerkraut over the rest of his meal, even over his pudding! Kids go through phases of loving and then (annoyingly) not loving foods, but this doesn't mean this will always be the case. So keep offering, be patient and don't pressure, that's our best advice.