Transitioning the Kids one Bite at a Time

At every workshop that Jason Seib and I present; we are faced with the inevitable question of how do you successfully transition the kids to paleo??  It’s a BIG question, loaded with fear, concern, hope, and sometimes dread.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  These are all real emotions that parents face when considering making a huge lifestyle change.  Thoughts run through your mind as you think of your little ones. Will they be traumatized? Revolt? Cry? Scream? Rebel? Move out?  STARVE??? Yes, these are all thoughts that crossed my mind too when I decided to take that big giant step into living a healthier lifestyle as I dragged my family right along with me. The result after 5 years of paleo living?  My kids still love me.  No one rebelled (well maybe a little bit), moved out or starved. In fact, my children are healthier, more active, and happier than I could have possibly imagined even after I tossed out their cereal and bread.  In fact there’s an entire list of benefits that I did not even ask for!  Just to mention a few: No more eczema for Jaden.  Better behavior for everyone. Healthier teeth. No more constant runny noses. Super strong bones (BIG crazy wild boy falls and no breaks). Great energy. Better sleepers. Less picky eaters. Meat lovers. Egg munchers. Sweet potato fanatics. Fresh veggie connoisseurs. Paleo aficionados.

Did all of this happen overnight?  No. Just like fat loss does not happen overnight, curing disease doesn’t happen overnight, and becoming healthy after years of abusing your body doesn’t happen overnight, the transition to paleo for YOUR kids does not need to happen in a blink of an eye.  REMEMBER, this is a journey, this is the rest of your life and it should be a JOY filled one.  If you have kids that are extraordinarily picky, have textural issues, who have severe behavioral, emotional or developmental issues; transitioning all at once might not be the best solution for your family.  You might want to start small.  Be inconspicuous and go unnoticed as you begin the transition with only breakfast.  Do no make a huge announcement that “TODAY IS DAY ONE AND I’M THROWING OUT YOUR (insert favorite non-paleo food item here).” Instead, say nothing.  Make breakfast. Make something you know your kids enjoy like crispy bacon and strawberries or scrambled eggs and sausage or it doesn’t even need to LOOK like breakfast! Maybe on day one it’s a grass fed all beef hot dog like the ones made by Applegate Farms or maybe it’s meatballs or burgers (without the bun of course).  Find a few paleo friendly foods that your kids love and rotate through those food items for breakfast.  For some kids, transitioning to healthier eating is not a time to be adventurous and remember that real food does not have to be really scary.  On day one of paleo breakfast for your kids, I would avoid plopping a pile of steamed spinach on their plates topped with poached eggs and homemade hollandaise (my favorite breakfast, yes, but maybe a bit too strange at first for the average kid!)

Stick to paleo breakfasts for a few days or maybe even a week or two BEFORE you change their familiar lunches or dinners. If your kids start to notice that breakfast is looking a bit different, STICK TO YOUR GUNS!  Keep your reply simple, especially for younger children.  You do not need to tell them that they are eating healthy because you don’t want them to grow up and end up with one or more of the major non-infectious diseases that are dropping us humans like flies. You can avoid spewing out how you’d rather they not to end up with fatty liver disease thanks to good ol’ straight from nature high fructose corn syrup.  You shouldn’t try frighten them into eating healthier with stories of doom and gloom about their impending ill health.  You should keep it light, fun, and breezy; at least for now. As your kids get older, or if you have kids who are older, you can be honest about your concern for their health but without using food as a scare tactic.  You are in fact responsible for teaching your children how to be responsible for their OWN health so that someday when they are grown, they are armed with information and ready to make the best choices for themselves, whatever those choices might someday be.

So, instead of fear tactics, lecturing, or fretting; when they ask for cereal or whatever it might be – just a one sentence reply is all that’s necessary – “we don’t have that anymore” is your best bet. If you are faced with moments of meltdowns, begging or pleading, do your very best to ignore the fuss and distract your child with something positive.  Suggest going outside, playing a board game or a game of tag or wrestling with you!  Keep your child focused on fun, being a kid, laughing, playing, enjoying what’s most important in life rather than what’s missing in the cupboards.

Once you move onto the next meal of the day, the plan should stay the same. Be consistent.  Be patient. But, no matter what, do not give in because if you do, your kids will know exactly what you’re made of and they will keep up the complaining until you are a loose heap of jelly on the floor and all the same old “foodcrap” (new word!!) is back in the house again.  Remember, YOU are in charge. YOU do the shopping, meal planning and prep. Feeding your kids healthy food is NOT torture.  Real food tastes really good and you are not asking your little ones to eat eyeballs and monkey brains right out of the gate.  Which reminds me to remind you; calf liver and bone marrow should probably not be your non-paleo child’s first paleo meal.  Start with what you KNOW is yummy to their sometimes sensitive taste buds.  Do you see them scarfing down steak pieces dipped in homemade ketchup, roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans?  Sold!  Stick to being repetitive at meal time for the time being if you need to.  Trust me, your child is still getting in a lot more variety than they used to when eating a “normal” kid diet filled with gut irritating grains and at least with a paleo based plan – your little ones are armed with good gut health and the ability to get all the  nutrients they need from REAL whole foods (the kind with zero labels)!

So, my message for you today: You might have kids who are open and willing to jump on board the paleo wagon right along with you on day 1, BUT, if you know you will be faced with a ginormous and catastrophic challenge if all “non-paleo” foods disappear overnight; take it step by step until you rid your house of the food that should be trashed and replaced with whole real unprocessed goodness that you and your family will not just survive on but thrive on. Life is just that – life.  A journey. Not a grand finale to jump into tomorrow.  Cherish your precious ones, hold them close, love them, nurture them, feed them well and in time the transition will happen, but be SURE you get there by staying strong and knowing that you are doing the absolute best for yourself and your family.

In both Everyday Paleo (my getting started guide)and the Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook (follow up book with all new recipes and loads of other helpful advice) I have tons of recipes and tips that are designed to help transition your family to a healthy paleo lifestyle. I have lunch box ideas, meal plans, shopping lists, and quick prep tips and the Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook takes it all a step even further with suggestions on how to live life to the fullest with the ones you love the most; suggestions on how to cut back on electronics and reconnect with your kids and much much more.  I hope this post helps folks who are thinking about taking the leap with their loved ones and always know that you have plenty of support right here at Everyday Paleo. Go to the search bar on the right hand side of this page and type in “kids” or “children” or “family” and you’ll find plenty of other posts on this topic as well.

As always, enjoy!

Comments

  1. Shannon Kennedy says

    Great advice. I started my journey almost a year ago, husband followed me 2 months in and now we keep a pretty Paleo kitchen. Our transition as a family happened gradually and I absolutely do not stress about my kids eating pizza and cupcakes at a friends house. In fact, I think food choices become more meaningful when they are made by your own accord. My 8 year old notices he gets a wicked stomach ache when he eats those things. I am positive at some point it will become more natural for him to refuse them all together. Occasionally the kids will ask for oatmeal or cereal and I will indulge them in a gluten free version, but those occasions are becoming less and less as they really do prefer that I make them something Paleo. My 5 year old asks before he accepts anything from anyone “does this have corn syrup in it?” if the answer is yes he refuses it. :) Hopefully these become life long habits!

  2. AB Smith says

    we have also struggled with this issue with my two boys on the autistic spectrum. My husband and I have been paleo two years now, but the boys 8 and 12 have not followed along with our example as we had hoped. We have been making lots of small changes over the last 2 years like trading out country crock for KerryGold, Mrs Buttersworth for real maple syrup etc

    As of Jan 1st of this year I stopped buying processed foods altogether. We are at all foods being gluten free and organic right now. They are eating some non paleo foods like rice cakes, rice, and peanut butter,…but we are so much better off than we were. The 12 year old who is more classically autistic has been much more open to trying new foods than my borderline aspergers 8 yr old. It can be so maddening that he wont try foods that I know he’ll love,…but I take a deep breath and keep moving forward :-)

  3. Lisa says

    Thanks for the advice…. it is good to read and just reinforce the positive changes we have made as a family. I also have a son with ASD and we are on the paleo diet for him. Like you suggested we started with one meal and within a month we had gone entirely paleo. As it turns out it has benefitted the whole family and I doubt we will go back. My son was in love with his bread and pasta but within a month he was trying new foods. We didn’t processed foods or sugar anyway and never HFCS so that wasn’t a hard change but losing the grains entirely has been tough. I miss morning porridge. We all do but if this diet recovers my son – and the indications are that he is doing so well and benefitting immensely – then I will happily sacrifice porridge for the rest of my days.

    • Liese says

      My ASD 5yr old, is so very, very picky. I can’t get him to even touch a Veg.. *sigh* i don’t know what to do next.

  4. Nate & Sarah Whitson says

    Today is our first day on transitioning to Paleo and we have 3 young girls (7, 5, and 2). We are super excited and can’t wait to learn more! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us newbies.

    • Cat C says

      Just came to write in a thank you for the great books you’ve written, especially coming from a mother’s perspective. I have floundered in my attempts over the past year to get my family on board. And like the person above, we have three girls, aged 7, 5 and 2 (!) and my middle child is the carb/gluten/grain fiend of all fiends. I have not figured out how to make her happy and eat well, or in any quantity, within paleo guidelines. She’s only eating one paleo meal a day at this point, but I appreciate your post today, a big boost of support for me (and I came on your site for this VERY reason).

    • Dawn Mabry says

      Sarah Whitson – how’s the transition going? I have girls almost the same ages and I really want to just bite the bulllet and go for it as I think it would improve their moods and so much more in their life. I’m wondering what your experience has been so far and did you start slow with one meal at a time or what was your plan of action? Thanks, Dawn

  5. Sharon Butler says

    Thank you Sarah! I have only just begun my journey with Paleo/Primal and am loving it! I am hooked on setting myself little challenges when it comes to my choices and am already feeling the benefits and last night was the first real “paleo” dinner that everyone ate without moans and groans! I guess it is little steps but my eldest is very cynical at the whole concept – especially when she sees me buying all these coconut products!! I think she lives in fee of everything tasting of it! Love your blogs too – thank you for making this journey a real one for all us parent’s out there! :D

  6. Darcie says

    I have read about both approaches – gradual and cold turkey – and I think gradual will be the ticket for us. I am starting with gluten-free, and then hope to move to grain free. Going to be very interesting, as my kids currently eat very little meat and vegetables if they can help it! Thanks for the tips :-)

  7. says

    Like the others, this is something I struggle with… heck I struggle with myself still… But I love this post & we CAN do small changes. We are on day 2 of paleo breakfasts and not a complaint or raised eye brow in sight. I shall revisit this post often for much needed encouragement!

  8. Jennie says

    What a great article. When we transitioned over, I basically followed your advice. Adding some new and keeping some good old standby’s for a little while. However, it didn’t take long and the kids were SOOOOOOO healthy. The extra time planning and cooking real food is minimal compared to the amount of time spent at the doctor’s office and hospital the year before paleo eating. BTW, I love your cookbook. If you have any advice about what to do/say to those family members who feel so bad for our mac &cheese and garlic bread deprived children I would love to hear it. In my opinion the results speak for themselves………

    • Sarah says

      I would just simply say, “we all feel better eating this way!” No one can argue with that! They can’t say “no you don’t feel better!” How would they know? LOL!! I just don’t even try to debate with someone who likes to tell me that my kids are deprived. My reply is always, “well, they seem happy to me!” and that’s it! Best of luck to you my dear!!

  9. Nicole says

    What a great article! I have 3 boys 5, 8,9. i have recently gone to paleo because of dealing with allergies for the 1st time in my life (at 39!). It has helped me tremendously. My middle boy deals with eczema and I think it will benefit him. I was just telling my husband that it would probably not cost us all that more budget wise to go totally to paleo for the family because I would be buying paleo stuff for me and non-paleo stuff for them?!

  10. Rebecca Kurowski says

    Great article! We found that by including the kids in gardening, they have taken much more ownership and their taste buds just LOVE the freshness. When the school serves green beans or carrots out of the can, my kids are just horrified at the mushy, salty yuckiness. It’s only February, but our kids are already talking about what new veggies we should research and add into our mix. We are pretty healthy and pretty happy.

  11. NJ Paleo says

    This is a great post! I handled it one meal at a time as well, but I started with dinner. I simply stopped making rice, pasta, etc., and just served meat and vegetables without mentioning anything. My kids were 10 and 12 at the time. When the 10-year-old noticed that we weren’t eating pasta anymore, I just stated that I wasn’t eating it anymore because it caused me gastrointestinal distress (I used another word), and he understood that. Then I moved on to breakfast and made coconut flour pancakes. The kids loved those better than the wheat pancakes they’d been eating before. Eventually we started talking about why mom is eating this way. With my 12-year-old daughter, I suggested that we experiment to see if it would help her eczema — having suffered from eczema for 11 years she would have done ANYTHING at that point to alleviate the rashes, itching, scratching, open sores, etc. After 4 weeks she was much better and can now field questions from friends and friends’ parents about paleo like a pro. But I made it her choice, not an edict. That isn’t to say that they don’t have pizza and other garbage sometimes when visiting friends, but they both acknowledge that they feel like garbage after those incidents.

  12. says

    Hahaha I can totally relate to this, but in my case it’s my 27-year-old HUSBAND who whines about the lack of ketchup, fat-free yogurt, cereal, and crackers in the kitchen – I should try these tricks on him! ;)

  13. Michelle says

    When I moved in with my husband and stepkids (then 5 and 6), we took a pretty strict approach (we are evil strict parents :)). The kids grew up eating pasta, cereal, cookies, waffles, hotdogs, poptarts, pizza, etc., and they still eat that way with their mom. I was shocked to learn that they couldn’t even identify simple fruits and vegetables, and that I had to explain what a tomato was or what a peach was, etc. Needless to say, our work was cut out for us. My husband had started feeding them healthier food before I moved in (think: steak, eggs, milk, and broccoli for every meal), but they had a ways to go in terms of consistency and variety. The big meal was dinner. We typically make a protein, a vegetable (usually green), and usually a starchy vegetable (e.g., sweet potatoes, cauliflower, spaghetti squash). The kids just had to eat their dinner – that was the rule – it wasn’t an option. Because my husband has always been very stern, they knew they couldn’t whine or argue their way out of it, so they usually ended up eating. That’s not to say it was necessarily easy. They complained a LOT, took forever to eat a lot of the time, and were generally miserable at dinner time… so it was a pretty exhausting experience. We started off easier, serving them very small amounts of salad (think: five pieces of spinach, one morsel of cucumber, and one cherry tomato) or green vegetables (think: one or two small stalks of asparagus) and they had to eat it. Keeping portion sizes small in general helped a lot. And Sarah’s approach of starting with familiar foods and slowly introducing weird stuff is a good one as well to minimize misery – we generally followed that approach. Of course, they weren’t allowed to have something different if they didn’t eat their dinner (which didn’t really happen because if they didn’t finish, they were supposed to eat it for breakfast, and that was really unappealing to them). And honestly, it got better really quickly. It only took a few months before they went from not even knowing what a vegetable was to loving multiple types of vegetables, and being prepared to choke down the ones they still weren’t quite fond of (just plug your nose and chase it with a glass of milk, right?). Occasionally one of them would proclaim how they’ve always loved ____ food (which of course they hated the week before). And, in a couple of years, they went from complaining about almost every meal to starting to display gratitude at almost every meal: “Thank you for cooking mom and dad.” They still don’t LOVE every meal we serve, but they like a good number of them, and I think that’s okay. Healthy eating is not always that exciting (I do try to make everything delicious for my own happiness, though the kids don’t always agree). I didn’t love everything I ate as a kid either (sometimes plain chicken breasts, boiled potatoes, and steamed broccoli got a little dull – we eat much tastier food now). But the rule was that we ate what was served, and it took a pretty good reason to get out of eating dinner. I still believe strongly that almost everyone can get used to almost every flavor, but that it takes multiple tries to start to like a new food (potentially greater than 10). And I believe the best approach with kids is to make them eat everything that is cooked for them, and just allowing them to eat a very small portion of the things they really dislike with the goal of them learning to like it after enough exposures.

    I’d imagine this approach would be harder with a teen, but for kids under say, 10, I think it’s a good one. Just takes a lot of discipline on the parents end to stick to their guns.

  14. Lisa says

    I wish I had read this before I transitioned my kids with the totally wrong “all gone today!” approach. It was a very, very miserable 2 weeks while they detoxed and generally hated me. All there and on board now but it could have been so much easier! Thanks for your great advice!

  15. Unikarm says

    This is very good adivce. i’m hoping to transition to paleo, i’m kinda researching now.
    i have no kids yet but i have a wonderful finace who loves his sweets and baked goods. (i blame the fact that he’s half birtish) but this adivce will even help with trying to transition him to paleo once i decide to go full force. take it slow and cook for him. and be queen of my kitchen.

  16. Amy says

    I just stumbled across Paleo about 4 weeks ago when I was desperately looking for something to help my 12-year old son who has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and has since he was about 8. His arthritis has progressively gotten worse even doubling his anti-inflammatory meds and dr wanted to add more medication and possibly injections if that didn’t work. He was so sad and depressed and had missed 15 days of school this year and right after the holidays, both hips (and knee) were so bad he couldn’t dress himself and he was on crutches for 2 weeks. I figured what could it hurt to try this after leaving the doctor’s office with the new prescription for more medication, which I did not want to do. So we did 100% Paleo and no medications! I can tell you it has been absolutely AMAZING to see him get better so quickly! As a mom this has been so exciting to see your child get better and have no pain! I know it is very soon however within four days on the diet I noticed him moving around so much easier and after four weeks he seems like any normal active 12 year old boy now. I think he has more healing but he hasn’t complained at all about eating this way (and he hated veggies) because he feels so much better. He said he wished I had found this diet years ago!!! Now to convert the entire family. I have 16 year old and 11 year old and they aren’t as excited so I may just slowly convert them one bite at a time. Haha!

  17. Tim says

    My son bought his mom your cookbook for Christmas not realizing that Paleo was more than just recipes. As I browsed her cookbook, I realized that this was something we could do so my wife and I decided to jump in with both feet. Motivated by your brief comment of transition your kids over time, I decided to Paleoize our house and got all the non Paleo stuff out. My son who is a bit on the quiet side didn’t say much until we couldn’t find the cookbook. When he confronted he returned the book sheepishly. We then realized that he had torn out all the introductory remarks and left just the recipes. This spawned a great conversation about what we were doing an why. He is still not completely on board but after some specific negations we are making progress. And my wife and I are down about 15 pounds and feeling better.

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