Raising a paleo tot… so far, so good.

I have been wanting to blog about our own experience with feeding a kiddo “real” food for so long now.  It has been a really fun experience for me to have my own little tot to feed.  I love to watch her grow and eat new foods.  I’ve recently become friends with a whole group of other mamas who share the same passion, thus my motivation to blog has actually decreased because rather than write about it, I now have buddies to discuss it with on a daily basis.  But, I know that some of my friends and readers like to know what we are doing and trying over here, so here goes!

We began eating paleo in March of 2011, so it’s now been three years – hooray!  We have certainly evolved and learned a LOT since then.  We go through stages where we are very strict, and then weeks where we are not.  When we had Poppyseed (who turns 2 this month) we knew that raising her to eat healthy foods was a big priority.  But, we weren’t sure how it would go.  But, here are some rules that we try to live by, and so far so good.

Mantra #1:  Eat good food.  Real food.  From the best source possible.

Eating paleo or real food can seem like such a complicated thing.  I think it’s because when we go to the grocery store or poke around online, there are so many foods that are marketed as healthy.  But we really have felt so great by eating paleo, or primal, depending on what terminology you like to use.  Here is the short list of foods that we eat a lot of.

  • Meat – we eat pretty much cut of beef, pork, and chicken.  We’ve dabbled in lamb.
  • Seafood – Central Texas isn’t exactly a mecca of wild caught seafood, but we do the best we can here.  Our favorite is salmon, but we also eat tilapia, shrimp, and others.
  • Eggs – We probably go through 2-3 dozen a week, and that’s just between me and Poppyseed because Oatmeal can’t eat eggs.
  • Veggies – The vegetables we eat on a weekly basis are avocados, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, and different varieties of greens such as kale, spinach, and collards.  Additionally, we like to eat cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, okra, rutabagas, and turnips.
  • Fruit – Bananas and berries are eaten daily.  We also like cantaloupe, pineapple, apples, and oranges.
  • Nuts and Seeds – we eat cashews, almonds and almond butter, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, and pistachios.
  • Dairy – Poppyseed has a bottle of full fat raw milk from a local farm each morning.  A few times a week she has yogurt from the same farm for breakfast.  Oatmeal uses any leftover milk to make kefir and enjoys that as a dessert on occasion.  We also started buying Kerrygold butter (which is from grassfed cows) to cook with, and Kerrygold cheddar cheese as a snack.
  • Snacks – we are big fans of Larabars, and I watch the grocery store for the buy 4 get 1 free specials so that I can stock up on our favorite flavors.  We love Blueberry, Cherry Pie, Pecan Pie, and Lemon.

What we generally avoid:

  • Grains – we avoid wheat like the plague.  Anything that contains wheat or gluten is pretty much not going to be seen in our home, with very very rare exceptions.  We probably eat other grains such as corn or rice less than one time a month.  When we do, it is usually when we are at a Mexican restaurant and there are corn chips and salsa on the table.  And maybe twice a year we go for sushi and eat white rice.  With regard to Poppyseed, I will go out of my way to make sure we don’t feed her any type of wheat or anything that may contain wheat.  This really goes back to our wanting to avoid anything that may trigger any inflammation within her system.  (I could do a whole blog post on this, but gluten is said to be a big trigger of autoimmune diseases.  Since we have autoimmune issues running amuck on both sides of our family tree, we think that the longer we can keep gluten out of her food supply, the lower her chances might be of having any of these health issues as an adult.  Plus, plain and simple, there isn’t any nutrient in bread or muffins that can’t be found in spades in things like veggies.)
  • Any weird chemicals or additives – I check every single label before buying or eating.  If it contains high fructose corn syrup, any artificial sweeteners such as aspartame/sucralose, or anything that contains the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, I will never, ever buy those products for my family.  I am also on the lookout for MSG (monosodium glutamate, also called autolyzed yeast) and avoid those products as well.

Where we buy our food:

  • 90% of our meat comes from local farms.  We LOVE to support local farmers who are treating their animals well and letting them live the way nature intended.  I think it is so important for Poppyseed to see that food comes from the earth and real live animals and not just a generic package in the store.
  • Of course we still go to the grocery store all the time for things like veggies, fish, and fruit.  We do dabble with vegetable stands and CSAs, but you just can’t beat the convenience of running into the grocery store.
A standard breakfast - eggs, avocado, and fruit.

A standard breakfast – eggs, avocado, and fruit.

Sometimes I feel like all I do is cook ground meat.

Sometimes I feel like all I do is cook ground meat.

It's a lot more fun to be in the kitchen when you have company.

It’s a lot more fun to be in the kitchen when you have company.

Mantra #2:  Avoid “unreal food” for as long as possible.

I think that the best decision that we ever made was to avoid giving Poppyseed processed food for as long as possible. I can only speak from my own experience with our own little kid, but I have found that avoiding these things 100% is the easiest way to go.  Because Poppyseed has never tasted bread or a cupcake, she doesn’t even really know what it is. Therefore, it doesn’t make her feel left out to see others eating it.   So if we go somewhere and she sees another little kid eating crackers, for example, she will usually just walk up and say, “Mama, snack!  Snack please!”  As long as I have something to give her (usually a ziploc of nuts and raisins) she is happy.

A great go-to snack is freeze dried fruit.  I will buy pretty much anything that doesn't have added sugar.  Dried mango is a favorite!

A great go-to snack is freeze dried fruit. I will buy pretty much anything that doesn’t have added sugar. Dried mango is a favorite!

Something that I hear all the time is, “You know, one kids meal from a fast food restaurant never hurt anyone.”  And I want to say that I totally agree.  I do not think that if I were to take her to Chikfila and feed her some nuggets that she would instantly become ill or unhealthy.  I ate my fair share of fast food as a kid, and I am a perfectly healthy adult.   Most of my friends and family eat fast food on occasion, and I am not under the impression that my child is healthier than theirs.   But, the fact that she has no earthly idea what a chicken nugget is has made my life as her mother supremely easier.  She only knows the taste of real meat. I can give her a piece of chicken straight off the grill at home, with no marinades or sauces to dip, and she gobbles it right up if she is hungry.   (Okay, okay, I will admit that she likes it a lot better if it’s smothered with guacamole!)

I once made paleo chicken nuggets.  Don't get me wrong, they weren't bad, but they don't hold a candle to the nuggets you can get at fast food joints. I guess that's because I used 5 ingredients as opposed to 75, and I don't have a jar of MSG in my kitchen cabinet.

I once made paleo chicken nuggets. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t bad, but they don’t hold a candle to the nuggets you can get at fast food joints. I guess that’s because I used 5 ingredients as opposed to 75, and I don’t have a jar of MSG in my kitchen cabinet.

The way I look at fast food and kids is this… kids do not understand that most fast food chains (and even nicer restaurants) use additives and flavor enhancers such as MSG to make their food taste much much better than normal.  There is a reason that a 3 year old will eat a 12 pack of nuggets at McDonalds but won’t eat a half of a grilled chicken breast at home.  It’s because Mom and Dad probably don’t marinate their meat in anything containing MSG and then batter it in bread crumbs that also contain MSG.  I could not possibly explain to my 2 year old why Chikfila nuggets taste way, way better than my own cooking at home.   And as I stated before, I would really like to keep these foods out of her mouth for as long as possible.  So, why would I give her a kids meal at the age of 2, when she is still perfectly content to eat real, healthy food and isn’t feeling left out that other kids are eating something different?  In my opinion, it’s a win-win for us to just continue avoiding those foods for now.

"Mommy, I'm not so sure about my tilapia, can I try yours?"  We don't have a lot of strict rules at the table, but one of them is that she is served EXACTLY what the adults are served!

“Mommy, I’m not so sure about my paleo chicken strips, can I try yours?”

An example of our “learning the hard way” is with chips.  For the first 12-14 months of her life, she had no idea what a chip was.  But eventually I thought, “Hey, there’s really nothing wrong with a potato chip.  It just has three ingredients – potatoes, oil, and salt, so why not give her to them as a snack?”  Well now, of course, she LOVES chips!  And so if she sees them she automatically wants them.  If she had never had them, she’d have never missed them.  (Now really, I don’t care if she has a plain potato chip every now and then, but this is just one way I learned that it is a good idea to just totally avoid unhealthy foods for as long as we can.)

By avoiding the introduction of more processed foods for as long as possible, we feel as if we have given her the best nutrition possible for 2 entire years of her life.  Imagine if you could go 2 entire years of your life without eating a single piece of candy or processed junk food.  Doesn’t that sound impossible?  Just from a willpower standpoint alone, I know that I could never do it!  But Poppyseed would tell you that she loves all of her food, and she thinks of blueberries as the most delicious thing on the planet.  I’m actually kind of jealous.  🙂

A pretty standard lunch around here... meatballs, kerrygold cheese, avocado, and gluten free crackers.  (The crackers are rarely eaten, and actually Poppyseed usually skips them.)

A pretty standard lunch around here… meatballs, kerrygold cheese, avocado, and gluten free crackers. (The crackers are rarely eaten, and actually Poppyseed usually skips them.)

Breakfasts on the weekends are normally more fun - paleo waffles are a favorite!

Breakfasts on the weekends are normally more fun – paleo waffles are a favorite!

My personal favorite - plantain pancakes from The Paleo Mom's blog.

My personal favorite – plantain pancakes from The Paleo Mom’s blog.

Mantra #3: Supplement as needed.

We aren’t huge vitamin takers over here, but I do have a shelf in my fridge stocked with some things that we take occasionally.  First and foremost, I’m a huge believer in probiotics.  Oatmeal and I take them daily, and I give them to Poppyseed anywhere from several times a week to several times a month.  I also add zinc drops and vitamin A to our water anytime someone seems to be coming down with something (runny nose, cough, congestion).  I also am a big believer in fermented cod liver oil and aim to give it to everyone in our family daily, though that doesn’t always happen.

Smoothies are a great way to get her a dose of probiotics.  And she has only had green smoothies, so she thinks that they are supposed to be green!

Smoothies are a great way to get her a dose of probiotics.  A general rule of thumb I follow when making smoothies is that they must be made with half veggies and include a form of fat so that it is actually satisfying.  In this case it was avocado!

Mantra #4:  Accept that things will change.  Take it a day at a time.

People llllllooooovvvveeeee to ask me what I’ll do when she is older.  “What about when she is on the soccer team and the snack mom brings Capri Sun and goldfish?”  “What about when she is in school and they have donut or pizza day?”  Guys, I don’t know!  I have a two year old!  She doesn’t have soccer practice yet.   What I will do is always try to set a good example.  When I’m “snack mom” the snack will be a healthy, real-food option.  When I host the birthday parties, the food served will be real food.  When she goes to daycare now, I send her lunch with her, and I’ll likely continue this when she goes to real school.  Believe it or not, you do not have to keep your kids under your thumb all the time in order to feed them healthy foods.  Before I enrolled her in either of her daycares, I sat down and explained our beliefs on nutrition to each of the providers.  I was really honest with them about what we were comfortable with and what we were not.  In turn, I asked them to be honest with me about how realistic it was for them to take care of a child who isn’t supposed to eat things that most kids eat.  In both cases, it has worked out so beautifully.  I try to make their life easier by sending Poppyseed with a good meal and snacks that she will eat and enjoy.  At this stage in her young life, these are generally finger foods that are not messy.   If I pick her up and hear that all she has really eaten all day are bananas, I don’t sweat it, because sometimes she just isn’t a good eater when she is with a lot of other kids. I know that she will eat her weight in meat and veggies at supper that night.

This little Lunchbots container makes daycare lunches a breeze!

This little Lunchbots container makes daycare lunches a breeze!

Daycare or school lunch idea:  Roasted carrots, roasted sweet potatoes, grapes, and Applegate ham.

Daycare or school lunch idea: Roasted carrots, roasted sweet potatoes, grapes, and Applegate ham.

Another idea:  Roasted sweet potato, blueberries, homemade plantain chips, and grilled chicken.

Another idea: Roasted sweet potato, blueberries, homemade plantain chips, and grilled chicken.

I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised on more than one occasion.  I was sort of nervous at Halloween this year because I knew that the other moms would probably send lots of baked goods and candy to daycare with their kids.  I asked her caretaker to give me an honest report at the end of the day.  When I drove off, I have to admit that I asked myself if it was really fair of me to leave her in KK’s care on a major holiday and expect her to keep candy and sweets out of Poppyseed’s little hands.  But I was so pleasantly surprised!  When I went back at the end of the day, KK sort of laughed as she told me, “Well she does have treat in her backpack, and it has candy in it, but she has no idea what it is and hasn’t even asked for it!”  I thought that was just so funny!

Believe it or not, a "treat" does not have to be candy!

Believe it or not, a “treat” does not have to be candy!

Of course I always make an effort to send our own little treats.  On Valentine’s day I made paleo brownie bombs and sent those to daycare with her.  All of the kids loved them.  So I just want to point out that we are not total sticks in the mud!  We do give our little one treats – they are just usually homemade with only a few simple ingredients.

Her Valentine's day gifts to her friends at daycare included a fruit cup (in a cupcake wrapper), card, and stickers.  I didn't hear any complaints.

Her Valentine’s day gifts to her friends at daycare included a fruit cup (in a cupcake wrapper), card, and stickers. I didn’t hear any complaints.

It also cracks me up that she recently came home with a little art project made of cereal.  It’s a sheet of paper with an octopus drawn on it, and the octopus is decorated with fruit loops cereal.  We’ve had several kids come over to our house and try to nibble on Poppyseed’s artwork (ha) but because she has not ever eaten cereal, she has no clue that her octopus could be edible. 😉

As she gets older, I hope to teach her more and more about food and where it comes from.  Of course she is way too young to understand why a cupcake made from a box mix isn’t healthy, but I’ve seen my friends with older kids explain to their kids why those things can make their bodies feel bad, give them a rash, lead to allergies, etc.  It’s amazing to see older kids make the connection between what they eat and how they feel.  I was in my upper 20’s before I really pinpointed that!  As she gets older, I want to teach her age appropriate things about food and health.  What I really don’t want to do is give her a bunch of vague statements such as “Everything in moderation.”  I used to say those four little words all the time, but in reality, it was setting myself up for failure, frustration, and guilt.  You can’t eat foods that are loaded with chemicals in moderation.  The reason food companies put MSG in so many foods is because it is a flavor enhancer, and it’s addictiveWhy would I tell her to eat something in moderation if I already knew that it contained chemicals that are going to challenge her little brain and willpower?  I remember being the kid who could not stop eating at parties.  I seemed to eat twice the amount of chips, cake, or pizza than my friends.  I now wonder if I was just really sensitive to all of the additives in foods.  I was a “food with no brakes” type of person.  I don’t know how old my tyke will be before she understands that, but I know she will be a lot younger than I was.  I certainly don’t intend to use shame or guilt to coerce her into making certain food choices as she gets older and more independent – I do expect and understand that she will want to eat some more traditional treats once in a while – but I really do believe that by setting an example at home, and teaching her all about food and ingredients, will help her so much as she grows up.

What do we eat when we go out to a restaurant?  Pretty much the same template we follow at home: meat, veggies, and fruit!

What do we eat when we go out to a restaurant? Pretty much the same template we follow at home: meat, veggies, and fruit!  Our favorite restaurant is Grub, where we usually order a bunless hamburger, sweet potato fries, and guacamole.

It helps a lot that we began making our nutrition a huge priority several years ago.  That has given our friends and family time to sort of come around to this.  Oatmeal’s parents keep Poppyseed at their house all the time.  While I do send food with her when she goes to visit them, I also trust that they cook her great food on their own, too.  That wouldn’t have been possible three years ago, because they just wouldn’t have known what we were comfortable with or understood why, for example, we don’t feed her pasta.  (I mean don’t most grandparents stock their cabinets with mac-n-cheese when they know their grandkids are headed over for the weekend?)  I mean, all of this “real food” and “paleo” stuff can be confusing in the beginning.  And we can’t expect everyone to share our passion of reading all about nutrition and putting it into action.  However, after three years of watching us cook and share recipes, my inlaws actually felt comfortable keeping my sister-in-law’s two granddaughters for an entire week while they were on a Whole30!  (That is a really strict, paleo based elimination diet.)  They were cooking with ghee and making popsicles out of fresh berries and coconut milk.   I was just so impressed with that!

Snack time with Gommy!  Mmmm this apple sure is good.  :)

Snack time with Gommy! Mmmm this apple sure is good. 🙂

So, as you can tell, our families (this includes my parents and siblings, too) have really been helpful, supportive, and respectful over the years.  That helps tremendously when you’re trying to raise a healthy kid, but it certainly does not happen overnight.

Enjoying a summer treat with her cousin - homemade banana ice cream topped with almond butter.

Enjoying a summer treat with her cousin – homemade banana ice cream topped with almond butter.

And, as I mentioned above, it also helps so much that I’ve fallen into a group of friends who believes the same things that we do.   We’ve probably either hosted or attended 5-6 meals with friends in the past couple of months.  At every single event, the food served was the exact food that we would eat at home.  We used to feel like we were the only people within a 100 mile radius who followed a paleo or primal diet, but we’ve since found all of the other crazies and become friends.  😉

This was the spread at a birthday party we were invited to recently.  Watermelon, oranges, apple slices, and "Monkey Macaroons" made of coconut oil!  Everything served was gluten free, grain free, dairy free, and totally natural!

This was the spread at a birthday party we were invited to recently. Watermelon, oranges, apple slices, paleo cupcakes, and “Monkey Macaroons” made of coconut oil! Everything served was gluten free, grain free, dairy free, and totally natural!  This was a 1 year old’s birthday party, and all of the kids LOVED the food!

So all in all, I have loved being the mama in charge of this real food household.  I can’t claim perfection, and I’m certainly not sitting her and vowing that my kid will never eat a donut, but I do think we are off to a great start.  My ultimate hope is that we will teach Poppyseed all about food so that she grows up to be a healthy and knowledgeable adult.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this post! I am a friend of Jessica Nelson’s and she helped me start our paleo lifestyle almost a year ago this summer. It’s awesome to read about another parents experience. Definitely makes me feel like I’m not crazy in this fast food world. Our son is almost 22 months and eats what we eat. So far, so good! Glad to see there are like minded parents out there. It’s hard when not evenyone (especially family) agrees with your food choices.

    • Hey Angie! Good for you for also raising a healthy little kiddo. It’s a lot of fun and so worth it, right?! 🙂 Don’t worry about family being unsupportive… we learned the hard way that we can’t expect people to change all of their holiday and traditional recipes for us, but the longer we’ve eaten this way the more our families have adapted (and even enjoyed some things). It was subtle and slow at first but after a few years it started to really take off.

  2. I still have a LONG way to go, but you have helped me more than you know. Every time I make our menu up for the following week, I try to stay on track and stick with meats, veggies and fruits. Sometimes I fail miserably. When I feed my family real food, it feels great! AB has made me so proud with her willingness to try “new” foods that she once would absolutely refuse. Marcus and I have been better about eating more variety of vegetables especially and I believe that her watching us eat them has peaked her interest in them. With K though, my lesson has been learned! Now that she is experimenting with food, she eats right off of my plate! I try to choose better for not only my health, but her’s. I am always referring back to your blog for menu ides. Thank you!

  3. This was a really great article! Your daughter is seriously adorable and she looks like she really enjoys her food! I have been eating Primal for about a year now and have recently begun to transition into full paleo (i’ve been trying to cut down on dairy as it makes me phlegmy and gives me a stuffy nose). Plus, I still have about 20 pounds to lose. My husband is not paleo as he likes bread too much to quit eating it and I’m not going to fight with him as it’s his choice, but he is fully supportive of the Paleo lifestyle (He is the one who first suggested paleo to me) and is super keen to feed our future children paleo (we are planning to try getting pregnant in the next year or so). He actually ate very low carb mostly paleo back in the 70s and 80s before it was even a thing but transitioned back to grains and carbs in preparation for a long trip in Africa, where fresh meat is much more difficult to obtain and carbs are more commonly the main source of calories. Now he is just attached to his bread! I know some people get snotty about children not getting enough carbs on paleo but I think we all know that paleo is not necessarily low carb. Sweet potatoes, yams, and fruit are certainly adequate for a growing child’s needs. Thank you for writing this!

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