by Robin Strathdee, whose kids have been known to gnaw on cold turkey legs for a snack.
One of the biggest dilemmas faced by our successful Whole30 participants is how to take the incredible lessons they’ve learned and apply them to the rest of their family – specifically their kids. We believe that kids should eat the same foods that we adults eat (y’know, those foods that make you healthier) and avoid the same foods we tell adults to avoid. We’ve talked about how eating Good Food can improve your kids’ health and chatted with top-notch Paleo Mom Sarah Fragoso. But we haven’t talked much about how to begin to change your kids’ lives the way you’ve changed your own.
There are three basic approaches to transitioning your children over to a Paleo-type diet. Which one is the best option for your family? Let’s take a look.
All or Nothing
There are some folks who clear out the kitchen for a family Whole30 and never look back. To those folks, we offer a standing ovation. To flip the switch on your entire family’s dietary habits is no small undertaking – but for some, this is the only way to do it. Is there an initial attempt at revolution? Oh, yes. But after a short adjustment period – generally about a week to ten days – everyone has had a chance to work through the worst of it, and things start running smoothly. With consistency, the requests for off-plan foods slow to a trickle, you can stop saying no at the beginning of every sentence, and everyone generally eats what’s placed on the table in front of them.
Many families who take this approach have a compelling reason for doing so – someone in the family might have celiac disease or diabetes, there may be quality of life issues like allergies or asthma, or significant behavioral issues like temper tantrums or ADHD.
Those of us who take this approach also tend to be stricter with their kids’ food choices in general. For example, my kids are gluten and dairy free at school (with a doctor’s note and everything), we bring our own snacks and cupcakes to birthday parties, and my kids think to ask if something is gluten-free before they accept snacks from another parent. Some might consider this a bit neurotic, but in our house everyone understands that the benefits of maintaining control seriously outweigh the momentary happiness brought on by a piece of birthday cake…and the significant health and behavioral consequences that follow.
However, there may be some program “rules” that you choose to bend for your kids. For example, in our house, ketchup is okay, even though there’s a small amount of added sugar. (This may be a small price to pay for getting them to eat unfamiliar veggies.) However, we caution you not to fill your kids’ tummies up with Paleo-ified oatmeal, pancakes, and desserts – for the same reason that we discourage this for adults. Your kids will survive without muffins for 30 days.
This approach is best suited for:
- Families with small children, where the parents have full control over their diets. These kiddos are usually too young to question or fight the changes being made, which makes the transition a lot easier.
- Parents with enough patience to say “no” 347 times a day without losing their temper.
- Families with a significant enough health concern to make this change urgent (a suspected allergy or intolerance, asthma, etc.)
- Families in which at least one parent has successfully completed a Whole30 and understands the changes – physically and emotionally – the family will experience along the way. (They may not be able to verbalize what they’re feeling the way adults can, but kiddos will experience every bit of the Whole30 Timeline, too.)
This probably isn’t a great idea for:
- Divided households. This just ain’t gonna work if one caregiver is on board and the other isn’t. If you’re parenting together, you have to agree on this 100%, or take another approach.
- Those of you who don’t have the time or patience to deal with a few meltdowns and temper tantrums. (These will happen, and you’ll need to work through them.)
- Families with kids who are old enough (and opposed to these changes) to purchase their own off-plan foods when they’re on their own. Often, these fights cause more stress and ill-will than it’s worth.
“I’m Sorry, We’re Out”
For those of you who just can’t see yourself taking the whole hog approach with your kids, another option is to let yourself run out of less-healthy foods and then never replace them. For many families, this approach makes the most sense. Parents can rest assured that they’re making continuous improvements in the health of their family, and the kids don’t feel like the kitchen has been hijacked. You’re still going to fight some battles when their beloved pizza rolls don’t make it into the shopping cart, but the confrontation level is much lower with this approach.
You (probably) won’t see drastic and immediate results with this approach, but you will see them. Before your kids realize what’s happened, your kitchen cupboards will have shed their stores of foods-with-no-brakes and magically become full of options that make everyone healthier. As you eliminate the less-healthy foods and introduce more Good Food, you’ll start to see the changes happen.
This approach works really well if:
- Your kiddos are slower to adjust to changes in their life, or you’re concerned about how they’ll react to the removal of entire food groups.
- You’ve got enough food-with-no-brakes in your kitchen that you’d feel wasteful throwing it away (but don’t want to donate unhealthy food to a food shelter).
- You’re doing your first Whole30 now, and you need a bit of time to gain your own bearings before introducing your family to the changes.
- You suspect making just a few changes will help your older children feel so much better, it will get them on board with the big-picture plan.
Give this one a pass if:
- You aren’t willing to commit to keeping less healthy foods out of your shopping cart (or you’re afraid you’ll cave to temper tantrums in the grocery store).
- One party in your household isn’t at all on board – because your kids won’t understand why you’re out of ice cream for them, but not for Dad.
- You’re hoping to pinpoint a specific problem food, or see significant results, in a short period of time.
One Step at a Time
For some families, the idea of making this drastic shift is incredibly overwhelming, or downright impossible. For whatever reason – only one parent on board, older kids who make their own food choices, or certain medical issues – the only approach for these families is to eliminate a small amount of problematic foods at a time. This approach allows them to ease into a Good Food lifestyle while still making slow but continuous strides toward better health.
The primary appeal of this tactic is that it’s non-confrontational and low-stress. While there will still be some struggle when favorite foods are removed (read: Goldfish crackers), the impact is usually lessened because a majority of the family’s diet remains the same. As food groups are removed, the family adjusts to life without them. Often, things get a little easier with every food removed.
This plan of action won’t get you the same results as the first or second approaches – in fact, you may not see any results until you’re six months to a year into the transition. It’s slow-going, and with this approach, your family’s tastes and habits are the least likely to change long term.
Consider trying this method if:
- Your family is truly committed to making positive changes, and you’re willing to have faith in the process for the long haul.
- There’s significant resistance to dietary change in your home from the other grown-ups or teenage children, and this is the best you can do.
- A medical condition (like type 1 diabetes) requires that you be extremely cautious in changing your child’s diet.
- Your kids are old enough to make their own food choices outside of them home, and will seriously rebel if changes are imposed too strictly at home.
Don’t take this approach if:
- You’re looking for quick or stunning changes.
- Your kids have major Sugar Dragons, as this approach isn’t likely to change their tastes or wean them off the sweets and treats.
- The other grown-ups in the house aren’t going to be convinced of the diet’s merits because nothing significant happens to your child’s condition or behavior.
- Your family isn’t very good about sticking to new initiatives for much longer than a week or two.
No matter what approach you choose to take, we want you to know this: We’re proud of you for even thinking about this stuff. We’re happy that you’ve decided to change your life, and the lives of your kids, by changing the food you put on their plates. We want you to succeed with whatever approach you take, and we’re here to help you through our Whole30 forums, our Facebook page, It Starts With Food, and the many free resources available on our website.
Have you made the Good Food shift with your kids? If so, what strategy did you use? If you haven’t (but you want to), what’s giving you pause?
Robin Strathdee is Whole30’s Director of Communications, and the proud mom of two rambunctious Good Food Girls. It was a combination of factors that prompted Robin’s family to make the all-or-nothing switch to a Whole9-style diet. Robin says, “Changing our kids’ diet in this way eliminated my youngest daughter’s asthma (which required multiple daily nebulizer treatments) within 24 hours, and quieted my oldest’s blossoming ADHD within just three days.” Robin is one of the moderators of the Whole30 Forum titled Whole30 for Kids.