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.
Want to learn more about how to transition your family to paleo? Read my eBook Paleo Made Easy. It contains practical advice for busy families, shopping tips, and answers to pretty much every paleo lifestyle question. Learn more here.
Would love to hear from you! How did you transition your kids? Or, if you’re not so sure about this paleo thing yet, what is holding you back?
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18 thoughts on “How to Get Your Kids to Eat Paleo (Toddler edition)”
Really well written and laid out. Thank you for this! I have celiac, gf 10 years, df 2 years, AIP 1 year. I also have a 4 year old who has hypotonia, some texture issues, and a lovely strong spirit. He is gluten and egg free and I would like him to be fully paleo (and egg free, as he reacts). I give in to gf treats now and then and the occasional dairy. My issue is that he has a very small list of vegetables he will eat: broccoli, sweet potato, carrots, cucumber, and orange cauliflower. He will eat spinach in his smoothies and some things blended in soups. That cramps my AIP vegetable options and I am getting bored even with making extra vegetables for myself that he doesn’t like. I need picky kid vegetable ideas!
Hi Silvie, I’ve just come across your blog from the Holistic Squid link, and it’s been a fantastic discovery! I’ve only been eating ‘primal’ for two months, but I’m thrilled with the changes in me (seeing big improvements with Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, etc). I hadn’t been brave enough to think of serving food for my family before, but I’m really encouraged by your writing. My kids are 5, and almost 11 and almost 13, so I’d be really keen to read more about how you went about things with your teenager.
My family sound very much like yours in that we eat very healthily by society’s standards, but there are certainly a lot of grains and legumes. I try to soak everything and use fermentation where possible, but as I face more and more behavioural challenges, I’m becoming more interested to see what role their diets could be playing in this!
Thanks for your encouragement and inspiration!
Kat (from Australia)
Thanks so much for your comment! I did an interview with my then 14 year old. https://hollywoodhomestead.com/paleo-from-a-teenagers-perspective/ I think I will update it soon as it’s been nearly 2 years. My best advice would be to not push too hard. Having primal dinners and breakfasts available if your kids are in school all day making less than desirable food choices is still more than half of their food intake so that’s awesome! I think also having better alternatives to things they love is also key. For example, baking these chocolate cupcakes when their friends come over etc. will score you lots of points! https://hollywoodhomestead.com/paleo-chocolate-cupcakes/ It’s not exactly what you’d like them to eat every single day but is it better than a dessert from McDonald’s they’ll get at the mall? Certainly. One step at a time. You’re doing great! Hope that helps…
Great post and thanks for recommending it on paleo parents. We sound very similar. Love what you have done.
Thanks so much Amalia! Glad it was helpful!
Hi Sylvie. I just stumbled upon your sight from a google search for paleo recipes with water chestnut flour. I am a single mother of two (wonderful) children; a 13 yo boy and 17yo girl. We are all into our 2nd year of being gluten free and I have been grain free for almost a year now. I was actually pretty close to eating paleo before I even knew what it was! I have been full on paleo with the autoimmune protocol for about two months now and really starting to feel the postitve effects (finally), though I still have a long way to go to heal my gut and hopefully reverse these autoimmune diseases.
Aaaaanyway… The kids have definitely come a long way with their gluten free life. It was tough at first and they do still get a feeling of being “deprived” and “not normal”. The elimination of gluten actually started with my son after searching for alternatives to ADHD medication. The change in him was so significant, his teachers asked me what I was doing! Upon more research and personal trial and error, I realized I needed to give it up too. Then my daughter. We all experienced unbelievable changes. Even though they saw and experienced these changes, they still really wanted to get officially tested. At the end of last year I had them tested for gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs (it came as a bundle test through enterolab). Of course, they both came up positive to gluten; my daughter eggs (total bummer) and my son soy and dairy.
OK so what is my question you ask? I really want to convert them to paleo, at least at my house. With my son not eating soy and dairy anyway, it won’t be too much of a stretch; I will just have to make his bread (which I have been saying I was going to do anyway!) My daughter on the other hand is much more independent and therefore poses more of a challenge. I don’t buy A LOT of dairy for her, but I stil do (and yep organic cheese is ridiculously expensive!). She loves making her own quesadillas with the shredded cheese and brown rice tortillas. It’s one of the few bread-like products she can have after having to give up eggs. Matter of fact, after she gave up eggs (which led to bread since there are no good tasting GF or paleo breads without eggs) she lost weight. This girl DID NOT need to lose weight (she was already quite thin, now she’s like supermodel thin!) I was worried at first, but the loss stopped so I am ok as long as she monitors it. One more key point; they do not live with me full time. However, I am really proud of them for sticking to their diet restrictions when they’re not with me. Their dad has been pretty good about it as well.
Ohhhhh I still didn’t ask any questions! Did you ever do a follow up post about teenagers that I missed? Do you have any tips for me?
Thank you in advance for any and all help!
First of all, it sounds like you’re doing great! Yes, I did do a post, an interview actually, with my teenager. She was 14 at the time. She’s almost 16 now so I’ll have to do an update at some point! 🙂
Here it is https://hollywoodhomestead.com/paleo-from-a-teenagers-perspective/
Hang in there and just know that it won’t be perfect all of the time. Just do your best when they are home like you said. Pretty soon they’ll start to notice certain patterns of what happens when they eat junk when they’re out and with time, perhaps will want to do it less and less. It’s their journey in my opinion and as much as we feel like hitting them over the head with a head of kale sometimes it might not be the best long term solution.
Hugs to you!
Yes! This is currently happening in my house right now, kids are transitioning to completely Paleo. I’ve noticed that when they do eat brown rice or whole wheat bread, they are so so gassy and cranky the next day. They started taking Paleo lunches to school instead of eating the crap that is served at school, and they come home and don’t need a meal or a nap! I love that! It’s taking a little time, but they’ll be 100% Paleo soon!
Yes! Its so interesting how “snacks” become less necessary when their tummies are full of the good stuff. Thanks for reading and commenting!
This is awesome. Tomorrow (when I’m off my fb detox) I’m sharing this all over the flipping place!
Thank you Briana!!
love this! I am so going to adopt your idea that we (as paleo parents) are LAZY… sometimes my friends act like I am weirdly superhuman that I get my kids to eat this way when it is truly just that it is EASIER if our whole family does it together! That’s not to say they never fuss about it, but it is definitely simpler to cook and plan for one menu instead of several individual ones. And I have also found that it is SO true – kids will eat whatever is offered if they are hungry and learn to like it! So anyways, all this to say I’m right there with ya 🙂 Good job and keep at it!
Thank you, Emily! Yes, as fun as it is to have people think we’re superwoman for a minute I love to show people that it really is possible to feed kids real food! Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll stick around and subscribe to receive future posts! Sylvie
Yikes girl! That sounds uber frustrating. Hopefully if there’s any bouncing off walls they do when they eat crap its going on over there. The most I can relate to that is when I leave kids with grandparents and the best I can do is leave as much food as possible to make it easy and beg they not give them gluten. My oldest did come home from a sleepover saying she missed real food. Score! That was a first. Maybe the older they get the more they’ll understand what foods do to their body and request certain things? Keep up the good work. Your kids will thank you and S in the long run.
Such a great post, definitely sharing this!!
Thank you Paul!
I love this post; thanks for sharing. I am actually working on a post now for my blog along the same lines about all the Paleo snacks we consume (adult and kid friendly). I love your honesty and truly agree with you that the success will come one meal at a time. We slowly alternated 1 day cereal and 1 day eggs in the morning and that halfed our grain consumption immeidately. For lunch we do hard boiled eggs or ham/ turkey and cheese (we let kids eat some dairy) roll ups. I also slather almond butter on all raw veggies (hey you have to start somewhere) and they have no problem, think celery, carrots, even cucumbers. Also as for parties now I feed them BEFORE the party and then when they are bombarded with “crap” they only eat a little of it. And I stuff lots of spinach and other green veggies (kale, etc) in smoothies. Works every time!
I have confidence in us; we will get there….
Hi Laura! Love your ideas and looking forward to your snack post! Feeding before parties is super helpful for sure. Keep it up!