People frequently ask me, "how do you feed your kids?", "Do they eat paleo?", "Do you cook separate meals?", "Do they ask for bread?". Whether you're a "paleo" family or not, feeding kids can be challenging! When we decided to make an entire family shift to more of a grain-free, sugar-free, legume-free way of eating, I was overwhelmed with the reality of feeding my children this way. But, by taking it one meal/snack at a time and planning ahead, there really was no transition. Granted, my kids are YOUNG (3 1/2 and almost 2), and I know that works in my favor right now. They've had less exposure to standard "kid food" and "Fruit Loop" marketing and we ate very little processed food to begin with. But, the take away message should be, whatever the current status of your child's eating habits, progress can be made one step at a time.
Our children's current eating habits are:
• The majority of the time, they eat what we eat! We cook the same meal for the whole family and emphasize to them how fortunate we are to have such fresh, healthy and yummy food to eat. They are encouraged to try everything we are eating. For example, if arugula is part of our meal, they get at least a couple pieces on their plate to try. If my 21 month old doesn't touch it right now (although he usually at least puts it in his mouth to feel the texture), at least he sees it as part of a "normal" meal. And as my husband always says, "if they're hungry, and there aren't any other options, they'll eat it" and learn to appreciate it.
• I do allow my kids to have some quality yogurt, kefir, and cheese (although not everyday) and occasionally a "juice box" in their lunch.
• When we go out to eat as a family, our kids are free to order what they would like, but we try and steer them in a decent direction and discuss healthy options verses "special treats" and how we generally feel better eating certain foods over others.
So far, my older son has asked for bread at home twice now. Each time, I told him that we don't have any bread. When he logically asked, "why?" my husband and I explained that bread may not be the best thing for our bodies and then we found other, more flavorful, snack options that he was excited about.
Here are a few recommendations I would give to help your kids transition away from as many grains, sugars, processed foods (and maybe legumes and dairy as well):
• Be an example!
• Get them involved in the kitchen (have them help prepare snacks and meals - extra patience may be needed for this, but it's worth it in the long run). My kids love to help flip paleo pancakes and wash produce.
• Allow them to participate in choosing fresh produce at your local farmer's market or grocery store
• Plant a garden (even a small one) and let them have their own section to help take care of
• Choose foods with a variety of color and see how many colors of the rainbow can be eaten in one meal
• Find fun dipping options (salsa, legume-free "humus", mustard, pestos, etc.)
• Plan ahead!!!! Think about what their options can be for their next snack before they're hungry!
• Give them a couple healthy options to choose from so they feel some control
• Encourage your children to at least TRY one bite of everything. Sometimes, my boys have a food that they "don't like", but after multiple "tries" it moves to their yummy list.
• Don't bring processed, sugary, grain-filled items into the house!!! If you don't have it, you can't eat it at home.
• Keep food fun! Quality, fresh foods have so much flavor and there are endless combinations to experiment with.
I think it is critical to look at the big picture when it comes to your child's eating habits! What does their food intake look like over a full day? a few days? and even a week? Try not to get bogged down with each meal (that can be too stressful). But, ask yourself at the end of a few days, "did they get a good variety of veggies, fruits, quality meats, quality fats, etc.?" And make any adjustments from there.