By Kelly Elmore
There has been some talk on OEvolve about how to help kids transition to a paleo diet with their parents, and the suggestions have been really helpful. But, I thought it might be useful to hear about how paleo works when you do it from the beginning, or at least how it worked for us. As a disclaimer, we are not 100%. We eat tons of things in our family that are not good for us, but we try to minimize those things and we know what things are bad when we eat them. :)
Livy (who is six) started her paleo journey in the womb. While I was pregnant with Livy, I ate meat, veggies, raw dairy including loads of butter, bone broths, some raw liver in smoothies, and cod liver and butter oil. I also ate some crap, but I did pretty well over all. Livy was breastfed for the first 3 years and several months of her life, and she was exclusively breastfed for about 10 months. While nursing her, I kept up that same kind of fatty and nutrient-dense diet.
I waited until Livy was actually interested in solid foods (in eating them, not just playing) before offering her any. At about 10 months, she started to try to get things off of our plates, so I would give her a big chunk of steak or a large carrot to chew - basically, real food, but nothing chokeable. She would suck every bit of juice out of the steak until it was grey. Steak has been her favorite food for all 6 years of her life. She didn't really ingest much solid food until she was over a year old and finally had some teeth. At that time, I would chew up things on my plate and then give them to her to eat or cut food up into tiny pieces. We did delayed the big allergens, but most of them aren't healthy foods anyways. She never had baby food, and she ate (and still eats) a wide variety of foods. She loves egg drop soup, any Thai food, beef and pork, chicken wings, grape tomatoes, salad (as long as it is covered in balsamic vinegar), salmon, and anything heated up in a bowl of homemade stock. But, as she has gotten older, she also likes pizza, cake, candy, soda, and innumerable other kinds of junk. I did not give her unhealthy foods when she was too little to want them; no need to give ice cream to babies before they actually want it. :) We did not give her cereals. It's just awful how little babies start their lives out with crappy grains, when they could be eating meat and broth.
Our policies about food are these:
1. Eat whatever you want whenever you want. I usually do not buy crap and bring it home, so her choices are pretty good. Sometimes I do buy things like popsicles and marshmallows, but not very often. She goes to the fridge, gets snacks or meals, heats them up, and eats when she is hungry. I like that this policy keeps her in touch with her body's needs and gives her independence. If I feel that she is eating too much junk, I look to myself first. Am I buying too much junk? Am I not preparing healthy foods that she likes? Usually, if I clean up my shopping or cook more, the problem is solved. Once I had to mention to her that I noticed she was eating a lot of sugar, and we talked about ways to cut down and still be satisfied. She was willing to work with me.
2. I don't prevent her from enjoying cake at parties, having chocolate milk at a restaurant, or eating candy on Halloween. She eats a healthy diet most of the time, and the rest of the time I try not to worry. She is usually very good about self-monitoring (much better that I am) and rarely overeats candy or cake. I want her to enjoy herself and not feel resentful about our diet.
3. We eat out a pretty good amount, so I guide her into making better choices when we are out. If she really, really wants macaroni and cheese, I let her have it, but I try to explain why steak or chicken wings or a cup of soup would be a better choice. She almost always chooses meat or soup because this is what she is used to.
4. We do not do "kids' food." I hate children's menus, and I hate the idea that kids will only eat pizza, mac and cheese, and hamburgers. Livy has always eaten adult food, and we rarely order off the children's menu. Instead we find smaller portions of regular food, like soups, appetizers, and small portions of meats. I do not cook more than one thing. If you don't like what I cook, find something else in the fridge for yourself. I do not leave out spices (though I am sensitive to her palate, just as I am to Aaron's). My idea is that Livy is a human person, and she can eat like one from the beginning of solid foods. Often, she and I split an entree, and that way, she tries many different delicious foods.
5. Exercise is optional. I do not force her to join a sport or anything like that. But, I try to make exercise fun. We have a trampoline; we go to the park; we ride bikes or scooters. She chooses to play soccer. I think, as in the case of diet, modeling is the best way for kids to make good choices. She sees me and her dad (particularly her dad) being active, so it seems like the way people should be. She can do pistol squats on either leg (for you Crossfitters), so I guess she is doing okay!
6. I do not encourage a small child to fast (obvious, I hope), but I don't make a big deal out of missing or delaying a meal. I see so many parents encouraging, bribing, forcing, or guilting kids to eat at regular meal times. I think this is silly. They aren't stupid; when they get hungry, they will eat. Today, Livy chose to skip lunch. No big. The human race has faced times when kids missed more than one lunch, and we all survived.
7. I teach about nutrition more than I legislate. Those of you who know me and my parenting are probably not surprised that I do not force Livy to eat or not eat according to my wishes. Instead, I have been teaching her about healthy eating since she was a baby, and I encourage her to eat well by my example, by my use of my money for healthy stuff instead of crap, and by putting the work into making things that she likes that I like for her to eat. I am not willing to make food a battle (partly because I don't want her to rebel and eat 2 tons of candy later and partly because food battling leads to the kind of disordered relationship with food that I have struggled with my whole life).
Now that I have rambled on and on about my principles, let me give you some specifics about what Livy eats. These are the foods she eats most often (some of these are obviously used by me in the preparation) and the supplements she takes: beef, chicken, pork, turkey, bacon, sausage, shrimp, and fish (all kinds of cuts and all kinds of preparation), stock (bone broths made from all kinds of animals), chili, meat stews, meaty soups, oranges, berries, apples, raw milk, butter, lard, coconut oil, bacon grease, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for salad dressing, salad greens, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, potatoes, eggs, cod liver oil, vitamin D, and a multivitamin. I even went to the kitchen to see what else might be added to this list and couldn't find much. Sometimes she eats Campbell's Soup (cause she loves it), and sometimes she eats popsicles, but I think that is about it. She will eat ANYTHING that we grow in our own garden or get from our beloved farmer.
For breakfast (when she chooses to eat it), she usually has leftovers from the night before. Lunch is more of grazing kind of meal - milk, fruit, lunch meats, etc - unless I cook. For cooked lunch or for dinner, I make meat and a veggie or a stew. When we eat out, she eats pretty much the same kinds of things (meat, veggies, soups), but I know (and she knows) that the fats and broth and meat are not the healthy farm and homemade kind. We like to eat ethnic food, and sometimes we can find restaurants (Thai especially) that use healthy ingredients.
I'll be happy to discuss any of the above with folks who want to ask questions, make comments, or criticize to kingdom come. :) Pictures follow.
Fat, healthy, breastfed baby
Livy, Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and fan of chicken wings
Livy eating turkey leg
Inevitable build of paleo child :)
Livy's actual body type - long and lean and muscular. Amazing how wrong all the people were who told me that breastfeeding, meat, fat, etc would make her fat. Just so everyone knows, I don't think this is the only natural body type, just hers. I suspect she inherited it from her dad.