Transitioning My Kids To Paleo

May 3, 2012 in Categories: by

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Getting kids to eat healthy food is one of the great challenges of parenting.  Changing how they eat once some sort of routine is established is tantamount to torture (both for the kids and for the parents!).  Changing my kids’ diet was probably the most intimidating challenge I have faced as a parent (and no, I am not looking forward to their teen years) and the process has been a roller-coaster ride of triumph, defeat, set-backs, frustration, tears, laughter, and discovery. 

I started this transition by first focusing on finding paleo foods that my kids like (especially my oldest who is ridiculously picky), while simultaneously phasing out gluten-containing foods (my first priority).  This worked for treats really well because my kids love paleo muffins and cookies.  This didn’t work as well for replacing breakfast cereal or crackers or car foods.  For those things, we tried to just get used to not eating them anymore.  My oldest used to each cheese and crackers for at least one meal per day.  Now, she gets some meat or fish, vegetables and fruit instead.  Now, our only car food is raisins (except for longer, special trips, in which case bananas and bags of nuts make an appearance).  I have tried to focus on making foods they like, but also slowly adjusting their taste buds to enjoy less sweet foods.  I have tried to do this as gradually and nicely as possible, but with my oldest some very firm lunch and supper rules were required.

So, what foods helped the transition and what do my kids eat?  Breakfast was a huge challenge.  Neither of my girls are super fond of eggs (although my youngest will eat them if she isn’t presented with them too often).  My oldest doesn’t even like bacon!  Initially, we moved to Chex cereal for my oldest and Trader Joe’s gluten free waffles for my youngest.   At least they were gluten free, which was my initial goal.  But, I hated that this low protein breakfast left my oldest child with a blood sugar dip that typically resulted in whiney and emotional behaviors and left my youngest child hungry an hour later.  Two recipes saved the day.  For my youngest, it was the waffle recipe from Eat Like a Dinosaur.  She now gets to eat grain-free waffles for breakfast with substantially more protein, good fats and fiber that keep her full and energetic for much longer.  For my oldest, it was my Cinnamon “French Toast” Flat Bread recipe (well, the 6th iteration of it, anyway) that finally won her over and is now her favorite breakfast (both girls love it and I make two batches a week!).  This breakfast noticeably improved my oldest’s energy and general behavior (at least in the morning).  I still try to present eggs about twice per week, but feel much more comfortable with these higher-protein, grain-free options.

When we first started the transition to paleo (or lacto-paleo, which was my initial goal), typical snacks involved cheese, yogurt, paleo muffins or paleo cookies, and occasionally fresh fruit.  We have evolved away from these sweeter snacks and now my children typically eat fresh fruit, raisins or dried cranberries, nuts, coconut chips, nut butters (usually on a spoon) and date squares (like my recipe for Chocolate Date Squares but I typically make them without chocolate now).  My youngest will even eat some jerky.  My oldest does sometimes still get cheese with her snack.  Yogurt has found its way into “dessert” classification.  The gluten-free treats like rice cakes, rice crackers, and popcorn that we relied on initially are no longer an option.  Lunch typically consists of a natural, nitrite-free lunch meat or canned fish, some raw veggies and some fruit.  My oldest still likes her meat in sandwich form with two large slices of cheese substituting for the bread.  Yogurt often follows lunch.  Supper consists of some kind of meat or fish, several different vegetables and usually one type of fruit. We try to eat organ meat twice per week, which the girls seem relatively indifferent to.

I have worked very hard to enforce the rule that the kids eat what we are all eating, that they have to eat at least a little of everything on their plate, that they have to eat all of their meat or fish, and I don’t bribe with dessert.  Changing to this rule was absolutely the hardest part, especially with my oldest (it actually made things much easier with my youngest who likes food and will eat most things but feeds off the cues of my oldest).  Supper still seems like a struggle most nights.  We discovered that the best enforcement of this rule was to not allow my oldest to be excused until her meat is finished and she has eaten a good portion of her veggies.  My youngest is in that stage where sitting still is boring.  She typically eats half her meal, goes off to play, and then strolls in for a bite here and there while the rest of us finish our meals.  My oldest doesn’t seem bothered by the double standard, so we’re not worrying about it.  For a while, we had to use a timer in order to get my oldest to eat her supper.  We would set it for 10 minutes and tell her that whatever time she took beyond that would come out of her play time before bed.  I felt horrible giving her this ultimatum and engaging in a food battle with her (this is what all the experts say NOT to do!), but it seems to have worked.  After a while, just threatening to bring out the timer was enough to get her to eat.  And for each of the last three nights, she has eaten her supper immediately upon sitting up at the table, without complaint and without attempting negotiation. 

So, are my girls paleo?  Yes, I think they qualify as lacto-paleo now.  They are grain-free, except for the occasional treat of a bowl of Chex cereal or rice at supper (they both love wild rice especially).  I don’t plan to buy any more Chex or rice, so those treats will eventually no longer occur.  Avoiding legumes was actually quite easy as both my girls like almond butter and neither complained when I stopped making edemame.  We all eat good fats and high quality meat and a variety of fruits and vegetables.  And the quantity of refined sugar that my girls eat is very low.  When I started this venture, I was undecided about removing dairy from their diets.  Only recently did I decide that going dairy-free should be the next challenge (more on this in my next post).  When I think back to how my kids ate just 6 months ago, I am completely amazed at how much progress we have made.  And I stand by my choice to tackle this transition gradually.  For my girls, it’s working.

Comments

I know I will eventually have to write a “What I Actually Eat” post, but I keep changing as I try and experiment with what’s optimal for me. I have to admit that I don’t typically eat breakfast (can’t eat eggs, cant eat nuts, cant do too many carbs…) I just have two cups of coffee (a couple of hours apart) with coconut oil in it (throw it in the blender to whip it up and it is SO yummy!). Then late morning to lunch time, I eat a big meal of meat or fish and veggies, maybe a little fruit, sometimes some homemade sauerkraut, sometimes some homemade yogurt and berries (often leftovers from supper the night before topped up with jerky or canned fish if there isn’t much meat leftover). I really really really try not to snack in the afternoon but it is hard! Not because I’m hungry but just because I love to eat.

Thank you for this post! I’m a few years away from having kids, but this is very helpful information for anyone transitioning to Paleo. I sometimes worry about getting my future kids to eat healthy, especially seeing how picky my young nephew is, but this has made me feel like it is possible.

Thanks for sharing! You are SO lucky to be doing this when they are so young. I transitioned my 3 boys many years ago to a GFCF diet for about 6 months, just before the oldest two started middle school. The days before middle school started, they put up a huge fight, were losing weight, & it the whole situation caused more stress that in was worth. Their doc was shaking her head at me-what, no milk?! How could I?! I decided to give up. Fast forward to when they are teenagers, they witnessed me doing a Paleo like diet for almost a year, my middle son needed to do some sort of modification to his diet for wrestling, and the attempt #2 began. This time there was a motivation, I wasn’t forcing them and they understood the science behind Paleo, AND, I wasn’t introducing a bunch of new grains their bodies weren’t used to, like the first time! It’s not easy, I totally relate to your struggles. Sometimes they get frustrated, they are hungry ALL the time (teens eat NON-stop) and they get sick of the same Paleo foods. They really don’t like all the fats I add to their food either (too much butter, mom!). They don’t eat nuts or much dried fruit, eggs are hard because my husband is so allergic he can’t be in the house when I cook them. Actually, my husband is allergic to all nuts, including coconut too so I don’t make many Paleo goodies like waffles. A lot of people that don’t have kids, don’t understand the struggles, it’s nice to have some other parents out there to bounce ideas off of. I only prepare Paleo foods now, with the exception of rice. I don’t make a big deal about it if they chose non-Paleo foods when they are away from home and I allow a “cheat” once a week. I know that rubs some people the wrong way but it works for us and it was part of the buy in deal I made with them (I had been doing a once a week cheat too-but I don’t really anymore). They are at the 6 month mark and so far so good with buy-in! [By the way, my middle son won the regional title in wrestling and my youngest one 3rd in our district. My youngest is doing SO much better-that is a whole different story (we’ve had unexpected but wonderful results with him)!]

I started with breakfast as part of my kiddo transition… Here are the results of my experiment so far:

Smoothie morning is a hit. For the kids, I usually make banana, berries, unsweetened coconut milk, cinnamon, some honey if the banana isn’t uber ripe (or a pear)… and I through an egg in so it’ll stick with them through the morning. This morning, I made a banana, avocado, almond butter, coconut milk, cocoa smoothie for myself.

Also, my kids love bacon and eggs… so that’s pretty easy. They love kale chips too. I do braised kale and poached eggs for myself a couple times a week, and I throw in carrots. I saute the carrots in ‘piggy pudding’ (what we call bacon fat around here)… and the kids eat them up.

They also like kefir… and my daughter likes kombucha too.. I’ll let her have a glass in the morning. My homemade stuff has some good fizz.

Other than that, I keep some Chex on hand for emergencies. My son only likes ‘real milk’… and my ‘appropriately skeptical’ husband doesn’t want whole milk in the house (yet – I’ll convince him of it’s superiority to low fat).

I’m getting there – and transition is key in our place for sure.

FYI Paleo Mom, I gave skeptical husband a Mg supplement and Melatonin last night… and this morning, he told me he “actually got good sleep”. My evil plan is working :)

YAY for sleep! (maybe good sleep will take the edge off his skepticism!).

My 2-year old LOVES my homemade kombucha. It’s one of the best bribes ever. Your smoothies sounds like the ones I make for my husband (but his have 3 eggs). I should totally try those with my kids! Hrm, maybe that would make a good afternoon snack. :)

Lol, Mert, I enjoyed your response! My husband is kinda on board. He still has corn products but at least sticks with Organic. He won’t give up his morning cappacino w/milk and refuses to drink it raw (or allow our teens to) so I at least got him to switch to whole non-homogenized grass fed. He still worries somebody might be wrong about all this butter and red meat we are eating. I need to make my own kombucha!

Yes, I love my kombucha… I was almost bullied out of my kombucha brewing… Skeptical husband makes fun of the scoby… calls it a ‘rot knobber’. Nice. But I confronted him, explained the economics of the situation… and he backed off.

Mostly.

Do u have any idea how much protein is in a serving? My son is hypoglycemic and needs nut free snacks with a good combo of protein and carbs to bring for snacks in school.

So, there are two general rules of thumb. First, that kids should eat somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of an adult. Second, that kids should get somewhere between 1/2 and 1 grams of protein per pound bodyweight. My kids typically eat the equivalent of 1 egg (or slightly less) or about 1 oz of meat at a time. So, I would say somewhere between 5-8g as a rough guide.

Can I ask roughly, how much time per day are you spending cooking and baking? I have 2 kids in school and I feel as though I spend hours in the kitchen baking snacks for them. In Australia it is impossible to source Paleo snacks like you can in America.

That’s a hard question to answer because I also cook for the blog (we eat it of course, but I often wouldn’t make something so involved if I wasn’t motivated to create great recipes to post). It fluctuates, but I would say on a normal day, I probably cook/bake around 1 to 1.5 hours, spread out throughout the day (the biggest chunk is typically preparing supper). Then I have 1 (sometimes 2) day a week where I do extra baking, which typically adds another 1.5 to 2 hours (then I might make 2-3 things for the week). I do make all of our own snacks etc. for budget reasons rather than availability. I try and be as efficient as possible and do alot of multitasking. I also love leftovers. :)

I keep hearing about the ELAD waffle recipe. Is it nut free? My daughter is allergic. I’m afraid to buy any more paleo cookbooks because it seems there are just so many recipes using almond flour. Thanks!

Thank-you for your blog. I have been following paleo for a few months and trying to get my husband and kids on board. My kids are going to be hard they love cearl (not fans of eggs at all)and bread. They are 2 and 5. My son will be starting Kindergarten and my challenge is his lunch has to be meat free since it’s at a temple. Any advice on how to transition my kids and veggie lunch ideas? Last year he lived on PB whole wheat sandwhiches. I appreciate any advice. Thank-you!

I’ve made the transition, but I’m definitely challenged with my two young teenage boys. The sugar addiction is the hardest for me to break, especially because the paleo lifestyle is not supported by their other parent and schools still don’t get it as far as just simply not offering that junk. And they, like me, are lovers of sourdough bread (which I do miss terribly); however, they are both highly athletic. I just keep pushing the good stuff, which thankfully they do eat. The challenge is getting them to stop the not-good stuff.

Thanks so much for all your hard work. I am very recently trying my hardest to eat an AIP-Paleo diet because I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Disease. I found out quickly my family will have to come along for the ride if they want to eat LOL. This “leg work” of yours has inspired me. May God continue to bless you and your family.

We are transitioning to paleo – the whole family, which consists of mom (me), dad and two boys (4 and 7yrs respectively). My oldest son isn’t really bothered with most foods and will eat or try to eat anything I put in front of him, but my youngest is very set in what he wants and doesn’t want to eat. We actually came to this paleo-lifestyle through the two boys who got asthma from gluten foods, one thing led to another and they have been mostly off gluten products for the better part of a year, and only have asthma attacks when they have a whole muffin or two or three slices of bread/rusks made with normal wheat flour. The youngest is also very susceptible to pasteurised milk, which make him hyper active, so we now only use raw milk.

How do I get them to crave less sugar-stuff? Neither of them have a huge liking in fatty meat or extra fat like butter, etc. I have tried giving them more cheese, nuts (but the youngest doesn’t like nuts, except peanut butter), cream cheese, but we are always back to them wanting chocolate or even just a spoon of brown sugar.

I don’t have a lot of people I can ask, as most people frown upon the way we eat, or I get the answer to give them more gluten-free breads, muffins, biscuits, etc. What I have against gluten-free baked products are that the pre-mixed flours (which is basically what we get here in South Africa) all contain a lot of soya, which a family member in food research said is not good at all for boys and their hormones.

What can I give them as substitute for the sweet craving? I need something that will help with energy as they are very busy, and I mean very busy boys. Eating more fat has helped me with my cravings in general, but maybe I am not giving them enough? As we home school they are at home, so I don’t have a problem with a cafeteria, etc. except if you count the weekly trip to the supermarket. That is definitely also a problem.

Any advice with regards to what to try would be welcome.

We did a very gradual transition with my kids, very slowly decreasing the sugar content of paleo baked goods, going to darker and darker chocolate (they now eat 80%), eating more fruit for treats rather than paleo muffins etc. So, I think fruit is a great option, dark chocolate is an option if they aren’t sensitve to the caffeine (we have a noon cut-off time for chocolate in our house), or baked goods where you can control the sugar content (but yes, I agree with avoiding soy for both girls and boys). I hope this helps!

Thank you! They do eat about two or three fruits (apples, bananas, naartjies, oranges, strawberries) a day though, but I am going to try your date-squares recipe, and see what else there is that doesn’t contain any type of flour. We struggle to get a lot of the food (like different coconut products, arrowroot powder) that goes into most of the recipes. My husband wants us to go cold turkey on milk and yoghurt (not cheese) as well as all flours. He doesn’t like substitution products like rice milk, etc. at all.
The boys don’t mind dark chocolate and we also don’t allow any sweet things after shower/bath time (7pm). A friend suggested Lindt’s dark chocolate maybe once a week?

Another question if you don’t mind:
How much good fats do your children eat compared to the amount of food – meat and veg? My boys don’t have that much fats extra, which I suspect is why they don’t “last that long” and become hungry quickly and crave sweet things?

Thank you very much for your informative blog and taking the time to try and help us. I really appreciate it.

I don’t really measure anything and it certainly varies day to day. It would be typical for snacks to contain nuts in some form and something like olives to go in their lunch. I don’t necessarily add fats to meals, but instead cook in fat and we eat meat, fish or eggs with every meal.

I’m loving your blog, thank you!! At least I know there’s hope! I have four girls from 1 to 9 yo) and I can’t even make them try/taste veggies. How did you do this in the first place?

So happy I stumbled upon your blog today! I was looking for paleo apple crisp. Anyway, I am just starting out on my paleo lifestyle, and would love to involve my boys. They are 8 & 12. My problem is the 12 year old. He absolutely will not eat any veggie other than corn. Believe me I’ve tried! He likes beef and chicken at least. He also has a tremendous sweet tooth and is prone to headaches. He never seems to eat enough at meal time and always wants to snack. I can say no, or offer something healthy, but if he doesn’t want it then he just won’t eat. Inevitably he will end up with a headache. The 8 yr. old used to eat anything, but has recently gotten picky and junk food oriented. He is built like me (big) and needs to stay away from junk food and sugar at all cost. Any advice, or other posts I can read would be great! Thanks

My kids were younger, but my oldest was similarly picky. In the beginning, I let them eat a lot of fruit (who am I kidding, they still eat a lot of fruit!) and I made a lot of paleo baked goods (I have a number of recipes that hide veggies in muffins and brownies etc.). We very slowly reduced the number of treat-like foods and they very slowly came around and started eating better (with my oldest, the hardest was meat).

We just started full lacto-paleo on the first of January. It is refreshing to hear someone else’s struggles with it. My girls are 2, 4, 6, and 10. The 4 yo is very over-weight, 13 lbs over 95th percentile. If she drops 2 lbs by the end of the month I will consider it a success. If not we will need more modifications.

I’m 14 and generally I’m very open to new things, I’ve tried things from rice crackers to quail and have found many things I really love but my mom has been trying to make our house paleo and in general I really hate the food. I am not trying to be cruel or mean to paleo eaters but I honestly have tried a great range of the recipes my mom has made and I have liked five at most. At this point if the recipe for dinner is paleo I will usually just skip dinner. I have looked at your recipes and over 75% of them contain foods that taste so horrible to me that I have thrown them up multiple times over the years. Any suggestions?

Anybody else here with bad memories of (grand) parents who would not let you get up until you had eaten all you spinach even though you thoroughly hated it? I think the paleo diet sounds interesting, but how about letting kids make their own choices and experiences? Don’t tell me the choices are theirs, you talk about “enforcing” the rules and how hard this work was and describe them like pets you are keeping: “they qualify as lacto-paleo now. They are grain-free, except for the occasional treat of a bowl of Chex cereal”. Awful.

Yes, it is SO awful to limit foods that actually cause harm! LOL

So what if you have some unpleasant memories about having to eat a food you didn’t like? I think I would rather my kid have a few bad memories about having to eat spinach (or whatever) than have to live with diabetes or obesity (or memory loss, or, a million things)! And bad memories and experiences with healthy food is not a guarantee anyway, many kids either don’t mind, or are happy with the results themselves.

Unless you are a radical unschooler, kids just do not get to make every choice for themselves, especially not with something like food. It is a parents job to ensure their kid eats healthy, develops healthy habits and learns about nutrition (amongst other things). There are many ways of making this happen, as long as you aren’t being abusive or hurtful, I don’t see the problem.

Letting kids eat POISON because others are doing it, or it tastes good, is irresponsible. If people really realized what is actually going into their food, and knew the consequences, they would not see it as harmless.

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