Two months after adopting the Paleo template for myself, I was convinced that this was something my entire family needed to do as well. It was not an easy sell. Even though my husband was impressed with the dramatic improvements to my own health (read more in My Story), he lacked motivation to make changes himself. Our daughters were not quite 2- and 5-years old at the time, so the idea of radically changing the foods on their plates was intimidating (hello toddler tantrums!). It wasn’t easy, it took time, and it took patience, but it was so worth it.
Where I jumped in with both feet, there didn’t seem to be a compelling reason for my family to transition overnight. Instead, my husband and girls made iterative progress from a Standard American Diet to the Paleo diet over a six-month time span. We first tackled gluten, swapping out some of their staples like cereal and waffles with store-bought gluten-free versions. I worked on inventing as many Paleo versions of their staples as I could, like muffins, cookies, bread, granola, crackers (all recipes you can find on this website). I focused on meals we already loved that happened to be Paleo, things like roast chicken and vegetables, and let those displace meals that were harder to adapt to the Paleo template in a way that my family enjoyed, like spaghetti. After successfully ditching gluten, the next challenge was all other grains. This involved switching to eggs or Paleo baked goods for breakfast, having lunches that looked similar to dinners (meat, veggies and fruit) and finding staple snack foods that my kids loved, like dried fruit and nut bars. I had changed cooking oils as part of my own transition; and legumes did not feature heavily in our diet before, so both of those check boxes were easy to mark off. Our last effort was dairy, although as you’ll read below I do wish we’d tackled it earlier. Neither my husband nor my girls liked any nut milk options, so eliminating dairy simply meant giving it up.
In a many ways, eliminating non-Paleo foods was the easy part. The harder part was finding nutrient-dense foods that my family enjoyed, especially for my older daughter, who had trouble chewing owing to her history with Sensory Processing Disorder. But, we got through the Paleo learning curve: I found new healthy staple foods, my Go To quick weeknight dinners, and my portable foods for school snacks and keeping in my purse. I found ways to hide liver in foods, and found a repertoire of veggies that everyone likes and slowly increased their portions sizes. I slowly phased out the Paleo baked goods and let real whole foods replace them. Now, my kids favorite meal is bunless 50/50/50 Burgers with sweet potato Paleo French Fries (AIP) and steamed broccoli. Yes, it was a slow road, and it required persistence, patience, compassion, and innovation. But knowing that my kids are eating a nutrient-dense diverse whole foods Paleo diet that will support their lifelong health is worth every ounce of effort it took to get here.
It wasn’t instant, but my girls and my husband all bought-in. My husband doesn’t remember being resistant to change and swears he was on board from the start (eh-hem, he wasn’t). My girls are both deeply interested in what I write about and look for ways that they can contribute to the educational resources I create so that they can “help other people get healthy too.”
My husband and my girls aren’t involved in this website, other than supporting me, which they do extremely well! These three people are a huge part of my health journey (and my life in general!), which is how they’ve earned sharing their stories here.
My Husband, David
There was very little incentive for my husband to “go Paleo”. He could see the dramatic improvements to my health; but that didn’t mean he wanted to eat like me. My husband has always been naturally lean, with excellent blood lipids and blood pressure; and while he didn’t exercise pre-Paleo, he was in good enough shape to enjoy a hike with our daughters riding on our shoulders most of the way. In the early weeks of my Paleo journey, he vacillated between commitment to adopting dietary priorities in line with the Paleo template and getting his feathers ruffled and adopting an indignant teenager attitude. Even in the first few months of transitioning to Paleo, he’d say things like “I agreed to cut back on my grains but not cut them out!”. He’s stubborn but I had the upper hand because my husband can’t cook and he’s frugal, so he never buys meals out. As the person who shopped for all the groceries and cooked all of our meals, I was in control of what was in our home and on our table.
It actually didn’t take long for my husband to realize that I could still make delicious meals and that the Paleo foods we were eating weren’t “weird”. Once grains weren’t an option in the house (I cleaned out the pantry after about six months), and there was a good collection of leftovers and Paleo non-perishables for my husband to pack for lunches, that was it. His whole resistance at the beginning really boiled down to fear of deprivation. Good thing there’s such a wealth of delicious health-promoting foods to choose from within the Paleo template!
At first, David didn’t worry about what he ate outside our home, although this was by no means a frequent occurrence for him and was basically limited to the occasional work function or business travel. Around a year after we went Paleo as a family though, six months went by when there just didn’t happen to be any outside-of-the-house meal opportunities. Then he ate Thai food (not gluten-free) at a business dinner and felt quite ill for several hours afterwards. Our best hypothesis was that this was a reaction to gluten consumption, and he decided then that he should stay gluten-free even when he was eating something non-Paleo.
David also quickly recognized the amazing difference that gluten-free, dairy-free diets were having in our girls’ health and was very supportive in maintaining those dietary priorities for them. Now, after 5 years following a Paleo diet, he seems committed to the framework. David took up CrossFit two years ago as well and works out with me three or four times per week. We’ve been married for 13 years and together for 21.
My Oldest Daughter, Adele
Adele was a couple of months shy of her fifth birthday when we started our transition to the Paleo template, and because she really hated eating, we had some unique challenges to overcome. Adele had acid reflux as a baby that lasted well into her toddler years and didn’t like most of the baby foods we tried (homemade and store-bought). Her weight percentile slowly dropped relative to her height over her first year until she reached 5th percentile for weight (but 75th percentile for height!) at her one year check-up. Nearly labelled as failure-to-thrive, we were on doctor’s orders to fatten her up fast! We were told to make instant pudding with heavy cream instead of milk and give it to her after every meal. Well, it worked, and she put on weight. But how do you go back from that??? When we went Paleo, Adele was still very skinny and disliked most foods. There were no good protein sources that she would eat reliably, except maybe cheese but she only ate this on top of club crackers! She didn’t eat vegetables and only ate three different kinds of fruit. And while most kids will eventually eat something they don’t really like if it’s the only thing offered, Adele would literally starve. With mild Sensory Processing Disorder, she had made a profession out of ignoring her body’s physical requirements (we used to joke that the three things she never did as a baby were eat, sleep or poop!). She was very texture-averse with foods and only ate bland, familiar, room-temperature, and mushy or very easy-to-chew foods.
Our biggest challenge with Adele was getting her to eat meat. She lacked the jaw strength and coordination to chew and swallow it, so we found ourselves seeking the guidance of an Occupational Therapist as we were transitioning to Paleo to help with this and other SPD challenges. But, when we finally did start getting some animal protein into her, things came together so quickly! She started kindergarten only a few months after we finished transitioning to Paleo and we never had to mention her SPD diagnosis to her teacher: nearly all of her sensory avoidance challenges and transition issues were already a thing of the past. See I Like Meat Now-An Interview with My 6-Year Old.
Within a month of going gluten-free, Adele was able to stop taking Miralax; she had been taking an entire cap-full (adult level dose!) daily for over two years for chronic constipation. And, she finally, finally, finally, at age FIVE, started sleeping through the night! She started to be more adventurous with foods, likely because they didn’t make her feel horrible anymore. My heart broke the day she told me “Mom, I like food now because I don’t have tummy aches every time I eat anymore.” No, I had had no idea that she was having intense stomach aches whenever she consumed gluten. But, neither did she: She didn’t realize that wasn’t normal until it stopped. And yes, this does make me feel like the worst mom ever. As Adele started eating meat more easily, I also worked on increasing her variety and portion sizes of vegetables. Once we found a few that she would begrudgingly eat, those became our staples. For years, I made sure to always have either steamed broccoli or steamed green beans available for dinner.
You wouldn’t believe this is the same kid with how she eats now. She loves meat, eats about 8 servings of vegetables a day, thinks liver is delicious, enjoys a huge variety of different foods, and confidently tries new things. And while she still prefers to use her fingers over cutlery, meals have become the quintessential family-bonding time instead of a stressful event. She’s also put on a ton of muscle in recent years and has become a kid who loves being active. She’s curious about nutrients and understanding how different foods can make people healthier. She’s also an avid reader, loves Swim Team, and plays piano.
My Youngest Daughter, Mira
Mira always liked food. I introduced foods to her in a very different way than her sister, made everything myself, introduced great variety, and focused on fruits, vegetables and proteins with grains as an afterthought. But shortly after wheat and dairy were introduced to her diet at 9-months old, she started suffering obstructive sleep apnea. It took a year and a half of tests to diagnose the cause (including three sleep studies, three laryngoscopies, two swallow studies, and an upper GI series). It turned out that she has a slight malformation in her larynx where her vocal cord bands are just a teeny bit too tight, putting a slight curl in her epiglottis (called a laryngomalacia). Combined with severe acid reflux (which shocked us because she almost never spat up as a baby) that caused a lot of swelling in her larynx, sleeping in certain positions, and while in REM sleep where we lose muscle tone, her epiglottis could flop over and block her trachea. Yeah, that wasn’t easy to piece together. Fortunately, we had an absolutely tremendous pediatric pulmonologist with great diagnositc prowess.
The acid reflux was caused by a sensitivity to gluten and dairy. As soon as both were out of Mira’s diet, her obstructive sleep apnea just disappeared. And for years, the characteristic breathing pattern that we would hear during the night would only return after accidental (and extremely minor) exposure to either gluten or dairy. And if she had a larger exposure, the acid reflux would be so bad that she’d be choking on acid if not outright vomiting, and I would end up sit up all night with her so that she could sleep upright against me. Taking the exaggerated acid reflux reaction out of the equation meant no swelling in he larynx and therefore her laryngomalacia was minor enough to cause no issues whatsoever.
Mira has hit her picky phases at atypical ages. I thought when she made it through her toddler years so adventurous with foods–her favorites in those days being sardines straight out of the can, avocados, kale chips and pomegranate seeds–that I would forever have a good eater on my hands. That hasn’t consistently been the case, and at 5 years old, Mira suddenly became resistant to trying new foods and was much more of a complainer at meals times. We seem to be on the tail end of this phase, thankfully, and she’s finally starting to enjoy more variety again. She loves fatty cuts of meat, sweet potatoes, kale chips, and always eats the vegetables on her plate first. In fact, I sometimes think she’s be perfectly happy with an entire head of steamed broccoli for dinner! Mira loves Pokemon, is a very talented young dancer, and also plays piano.