Eric and I often get asked how we get our kids to eat paleo, or get comments on how lucky we are that our kids will eat “this stuff”. I assure you, getting your kids to eat healthy has nothing to do with luck.
Let’s rewind for a minute…
When I first started paleo, I did it solo. I did it because I thought I was the only “broken” one in my house, with health issues that required this extreme elimination diet. Some days that meant we were all eating beautifully (paleo-ish); other days it meant I was scavenging in the kitchen for something I could eat while Eric and kids had pizza delivered (don’t try this at home…torture). A month into it, with more health improvements than I could count and a lot of reading under my belt, it was very clear to me that Sofia, my 3 year old, would very likely benefit from removing gluten and possibly dairy from her diet. Eric humored me and we removed gluten from the house, making the commitment to do it for 30 days. By week 2, the behavioral and health improvements in the kids were undeniable and, by accident, Eric was feeling great as well. He wrote about it here.
We were sold
Before we started this journey my kids diet consisted most days of the following supposedly “healthy” foods: Oatmeal for breakfast with raisins and slivered almonds, quesadillas for lunch with whole wheat tortillas and organic (read: expensive) cheese, and dinner would be maybe some grilled chicken breasts or pasta with bolognese or beans and rice. Sprinkle in fruits and a few vegetables throughout the day and that was our diet. We ordered pizza and/or ate out about once a month, mostly for budget reasons and also for “health”. We thought we were doing everything right, but were still fat, tired and cranky. The kids were tired and cranky too.
I knew transitioning the kids to paleo might not be easy, but it was a challenge I was willing to take on
Three important things we learned during these first few weeks:
- Kids will not starve if you are out of stock of the junk they want
- Kids will eat whatever you put in front of them if you hold your ground long/firmly enough
- Kids are unbiased when it comes to foods WE think are “weird” (ie: organ meat, fermented food etc)
How to Transition Your Kids to the Paleo Diet:
1- START SLOWLY:
Swap out one food or meal at a time and let them adjust. When we first transitioned the quesadilla junkies, I just swapped out the tortillas for their gluten free counterparts (brown rice tortillas from Trader Joe’s) and also reduced the frequency of their rotation in the menu (twice a week instead of 4-5 times per week). I focused on remaining gluten free 100% and swapping out one non-optimal food at a time as we ran out of it.
2- RUN OUT:
Run out of stuff and just don’t buy it again. Don’t take them to the store if that’s a problematic trip during that transitionary period. At first our kids asked for oatmeal every morning. Some days we just told them we ran out and all we had was eggs. We lied.
3- HOLD YOUR GROUND:
If you’re ready to make changes and you believe the food they’re currently eating is not what is best for them then say no, and stick to it just like you do in other parenting scenarios that are not negotiable (running into the street, seatbelts on in the car, you get the gist). Our kids definitely noticed each change we made. Some days we got a mini hissy fit. Other days we were boycotted. Other days we got a full on kicking-on-the-floor fit (which, of course, we filmed for blackmailing later in life).
4- ADVANCED: EXPERIMENT WITH TRADITIONAL SUPERFOODS if/when you’re ready:
The coolest thing about grabbing them while they’re young (damn, that sounds like we’re pushing crack or something) is that they don’t have peer pressure or preconceived notions working against them. Our palates are pretty corrupt but theirs are a lot more maleable. They don’t mind liver, fermented cod liver oil, and other “crazy” things. Before I could stop her, Sofia was gnawing on chicken feet like it was the best thing ever. Get your gelatin on girl!
So, it’s not luck. It’s persistence. And laziness.
I always describe my parenting style as LAZY. Sometimes that happens to coincide with some attachment parenting type stuff: breastfeeding, baby led weaning, baby wearing, but really, its mostly a consequence of LAZY. I have 3 of them and I’m 14 years into this parenting gig. That’s a lot of sleep deficit and parenting books read. For my first I may have played “short order cook” for a stint. For my third, it just ain’t happening. Sorry, bud. Even when you make this face. Mama’s tired.
But there’s hope!
The transition doesn’t have to happen overnight but it will go a lot faster than you think. It also doesn’t have to be perfect. We’re far from it and have no interest in being paleo perfect. As they feel better, it will get easier, and also more motivating to stick with it.
Do my kids still whine and beg for food, especially treats? Yes, they do (relentless buggers). But now those “treats” they ask for are usually booch, fruit, bacon, and definitely paleo treats if they’re around. We hide larabars like they’re contraban around here.
A few resources that have been helpful in this journey:
Going to birthday parties are another story altogether, and here is some advice on how to be paleo at a party. And also, teenagers are a whole other animal. If you’ve got a teen, you might like to read the interview with my 14 year old about her experience as a paleo teen.