What do I Feed My Kids? Seriously, Help.
When I first tell most people about our paleo lifestyle I often get a LOT of questions. From moms, the most common question is “what do your kids EAT?” And they stare in almost shock when I say “well, eggs and homemade sauerkraut for breakfast…” And that’s usually about as far as I get before being interrupted by the second round of questioning. That’s okay with me though, I’m happy to share, because it’s been a long road to get here and I’m proud of how we eat and the nourishment that we work so hard to provide for our children. I’ve also had a few friends lately who are interested in going gluten free or paleo, or simply eating more whole foods, but are really concerned about how to do it with their children. I know this can be a big transition for some families, and a difficult one, and I hope that this post can help a little. Before I go any further, I do want to stipulate that we are not perfect either! We have a toddler and a preschooler, and along with it our fair share of battles over food. Our 3 year old will quickly tell you that her favorite foods are sushi and pizza, and when given the chance to eat bread on the very rare occasion, she jumps at it. But we try really hard to provide 1- and 3-year-old approved paleo food on a daily basis that does not often leave them wanting. In this post I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite tips and tricks to doing this, and that work for us!
1) Commit. If you’re intent on changing your lifestyle, which is what paleo is all about, you have to be committed. It can’t just be a paleo meal twice a week and then gluten and processed foods every other day. You can start small, yes, and we encourage that. But if you are truly committed, make a plan (or let us do that for you!) and stay the course. Your kids will see this and will learn how to persevere as well, and how to take food – and their bodies – seriously.
2) All For One. I have no intention of making this about how to parent during dinner time or any other time. Everyone has their own philosophy and ideas on how they want to encourage their children to eat and I completely respect that! That said, my first tip is that when deciding to change your way of eating, try to make it a family affair, with everyone on board. There are lots of reasons that people are inspired to change their diets: weight loss, behavioral dysregulation, health goals, doctor advisement, etc. Whatever the reason, it is easier, and more importantly, less isolating, if you all change together. Having that added support also makes it more likely to stick.
3) Clean House. If you’re serious about change, clean out your kitchen. Get rid of the things that don’t fit into your diet plan. Keeping them around just means you intend to go back to your old way of eating, and if that’s the case, why bother? It may also invite you to be more likely to give in to the toddler tantrum, defeating your hard work and commitment (see item 1).
4) Make Shopping a Learning Experience. I absolutely LOVE going to farmers markets, talking to farmers, and sampling different foods, even in grocery stores, with the kids. We talk about the shapes of fruits, the names and what letter the names begin with, where the farmers are from, where each food comes from, etc. It’s such a great experience for all of us, and I’m always surprised at the things that they remember, or the “snacks” that they choose to munch on.
5) Garden. I know, you hear it all the time, but I am telling you, there’s something about growing you’re own food that makes both adults and children appreciate it more and love it more. My kids will eat tomatoes and basil from my garden but won’t touch it if it’s on a plate in a restaurant! And of course, it’s another opportunity to have a conversation about real food, where it comes from, and why it’s good for you, as well as a sensory experience and discussion.
6) Ok. Now we get to the tricks of actually getting the kids to eat the food you want them to eat when it’s time for dinner. Here are a few tricks that we use and that seem to work, mostly. Use them, and generalize them, in any way that may work for you:
– honey on eggs (or anything)
– maple syrup on chicken (or anything)
– eggs made in bacon grease
– homemade paleo ranch dressing as a dip (kids love dips!)
– smoothies made with greens
– almond butter (ideally homemade) with milk
– applesauce mixed with hamburger meat
– use a variety of foods and colors that they can experiment with (“which do you like better, purple carrots or orange carrots?”)
– play around with recipes of foods they used to love: paleo pizza, pancakes, baked goods, etc
7) Eliminate Other Options. I am all about choices, and encouraging your child to feel empowered even when it comes to eating. That said, the choices should be within reason, right? “Would you like chicken or eggs for lunch?” “Sweet potatoes or carrots?” “Apple or blueberries?” One of the things I hear commonly on this issue is “They always want pizza (insert preferred food here) so I just end up giving in.” Well, yes, I hear that. I get it. But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. If pizza isn’t an option, they WILL eventually eat the foods that are. It may not be easy, it may not be quick, you may HATE me, but they are children, and your awesome parenting will win out.
Good luck, keep me posted, and happy eating!