I get a lot of emails from my readers and I absolutely love hearing from you all. I hear everything: easy questions, tough questions, success stories, how-to questions. Your questions press me to dig deeper, think harder, and do better. Your success stories inspire me and lift me up when I think I’d rather cave in and eat that Oreo.
One of the questions I hear the most is this:
“I recently started paleo and love it, but should I switch my kids to this lifestyle too?”
I would like to answer this question with a resounding “YES, yes, please yes!”
** Before I go any further, I would like to add a little disclaimer, an explanation on our parenting style. My husband and I give our children responsibilities. They have to clean up their own messes, fold their own clothes, do their own chores, and eat the food we give them. They do not get special meals if they don’t like what the grown ups are eating. To some that may sound harsh, to others it may sound normal. There is no right or wrong way to parent and I am not here to judge and I would hope you do not judge me. This is how we parent and it affects how we feed our children. While some of the information in this post might not appeal to (or even work for) you and your family situation, it works for us, and I am just sharing my opinions on the topic. **
WHY should my kids eat paleo?
Let’s start with why you switched your eating habits and are now consuming more plant- and animal-based foods and cutting out the grains, sugars, and processed items that pass as foods. I’m guessing you’re making this change for your health, for your mind, and probably a bit for your looks.
You realized that you started feeling better: slept more soundly, had more energy, clothes fit better, not sick as often. The list goes on, you get the point. You may have even tried to convince your significant other to join you in your new food venture (although the success rate on this varies).
So the natural next attempt is to get the kids on board. But should you?
Think back to how hard it was for you at the beginning of your paleo journey. You fought and struggled and failed and succeeded and tripped and got back up. It wasn’t easy. It’s probably still not easy. Now imagine that you started this paleo thing back when you were 4- or 5-years-old. Think about how easy this would all be for you right now. Think about how grateful you would be to your parents for teaching you healthy habits at a young age that shaped you into the balanced, healthy person you are today.
It’s a common misconception that so long as you’re active or going to the gym on a regular basis, you can slack a little on your diet. That is 100% not the case. You can’t outrun bad eating habits. Your diet is what will sustain your health, although you really should incorporate an active lifestyle as well for optimal results. As a husband and wife that do CrossFit, we feel that being active is just as important as following a healthy diet, but we have seen firsthand the difference between working out and eating junk vs. working out and eating healthy. Trust me on this one.
Honestly, that’s only part of the “why” in this equation as far as I’m concerned. It’s so important to give kids the resources they need to have healthy habits into adulthood. Now I’m going to speak on my own personal experience.
Kids are hyper. Have you noticed? They are insane little creatures that suck the life out of everything around them. Luckily, they are cute so they’re easy to forgive. Let’s take this kid for example. This is Russell, my middle child. My almost 7-year-old boy. My only boy. This kid has an insane amount of energy. He eats all day long. His first few months in Kindergarten were somewhat difficult for our family. He spent a good amount of time in the principal’s office for acting out. It’s not that he’s a bad kid, but he had a really hard time controlling his actions when he got too excited or upset. He would throw toys or pencils, grab classmates’ arms, throw the dodgeball too hard. You get the picture.
We decided to take him out of school and wait another year. During that time, I struggled with how to help this sweet boy control his busy body with his overactive mind. I didn’t want him thinking he was a bad kid, because I just knew he wasn’t. I had read about people cutting artificial colors out of their kids’ diets and the miracles it seemed to work. After lots of study and research, our family decided to take the paleo plunge. That was over 1-1/2 years ago. When Russell went back to school last year, all of the teachers and faculty told me he was like a different kid. He sat still, listened to (and followed) instructions, controlled his “sillies”, stayed on task, and kept his hands to himself.
What was our secret? What did we do? A simple change of diet was all it took to turn my boy around. No more Goldfish, PB&J’s, cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, milk, and spaghetti. Instead, he ate carrots, salad, real fruit, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, water, and grilled chicken thighs. And he loved all that food. Especially the Brussels sprouts.
This is just one kid’s story, but let me ask you this:
If paleo is good enough for you, shouldn’t it be good enough for your children?
I am not one to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong. It breaks my heart when I see parents being so cautious about the food that they put into their own bodies, all the while poisoning their children with processed foods just to “keep the peace”. Risking a child’s health is not worth a few moments of peace that a handful of Goldfish might achieve. A handful of grapes can have the same effect and is infinitely better for your child’s health in both the short and long run.
Okay, I understand why, HOW do I get my kids to eat paleo?
Ooh, now isn’t that the million dollar question. Most kids see green and run in fear, right? We’re all led to believe that we have to bribe our children to eat their veggies with the promise of a sweet treat after dinner. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
Children do not inherently hate vegetables.
I know, how can that be?! This is how: we (their parents) are the ones that train our children to avoid the veggies and crave the sweets. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but let me explain.
We’ve all seen that hilarious face of our little baby taking their first bite of pureed green peas. And then the subsequent splatter of peas on the wall. We think “wow, my kid must hate veggies” and we move on to bananas, sweet potatoes, or applesauce, sweeter foods that are sure to make our baby happy. Sure, they’ll eat the green foods every now and then, but we often have to mix them in with something sweet to trick them into actually eating it.
Then our babies turn 1. Oh the joy of the cake smash and the frosting all over everything. At the tender age of one, we shove a heaping pile of wheat, sugar, dairy, and artificial colors in their face and say “have at it, kid!”. And then we wonder why they reach for the jar of cookies instead of the plate of veggies.
If you’re one of the lucky ones that has yet to handle your child’s food intake in this manner, congratulations! Life just got a little easier for you. Just start them off on a grain-, sugar-, dairy-free diet void of all processed food with artificial flavors/colors/preservatives and you have already jumped a huge hurtle.
However, if you’re like me (yup, those are my 3 cake-covered kiddos in the picture above) and didn’t set healthy habits for you children in their younger years, the battle will be a little more difficult, but not impossible. The process will vary depending on the child: some will handle a cold-turkey switch with no problem while others may need a longer weening period. It’s something you have to test out and only you will know what’s best for your child.
It sounds good enough, now what?
I’d like to offer a challenge to get you started. It might sound scary, but if you think your child(ren) can handle it, I’d highly recommend you do this. Ready?
For ONE month: eliminate grains, sugars, dairy, artificial colors, preservatives, and processed foods.
Whoa. I know. But don’t worry, you can do this. I did this. Our family went cold turkey. All 5 of us. At the time, my kids were 7, 5, and 2. They handled it like champs. We ran out of bread and milk one day and I never bought them again. We started filling our grocery cart halfway in the produce department before we even got to the center aisles (which we rarely even walk down). The change has been phenomenal and eye-opening.
You can do this. You need to do this. Your children will thank you for this (although it might not be right away). And if you do this, I want to hear all about it. Email me, post on my Facebook page, Tweet me, leave a comment below. Let me know how things are going or share your tips on what works for your family.
Do this for your children, they deserve it.