The Primal Parent

Persuading Kids to Go Primal – A Dash of Discipline, A Sprinkle of Love


In our culture, and in fact all over the world these days, to eschew starchy foods is downright dissident behavior. It goes against the norms of society, the wisdom of the ages, and the advice of our doctors.

From childhood we learn that whole grains are healthy, that breads and rice are life-giving. Our government disseminates this information like bees spread pollen. Our friends support it with every sandwich, pizza, and doughnut they savor.

Most of the western world these days recognizes that sugars are indulgent to say the least but the sinister nature of grains, particularly gluten grains, is only beginning to surface.

So where does this leave us – we who have read the literature and are convinced of the diet’s power,  we who have experienced rapid recovery from high cholesterol or joint pain, who no longer get colds and allergies, and whose energy levels remind us of the good ol’ days?

Well, it leaves us outcasts in a food-centered society, and we have to figure out how to get our kids to stick with us.

Because grains produce feel good chemicals in the brain primal diet followers must learn to rely on other sources of pleasure and learn to disconnect food with joy. It’s not to say that paleo recipes aren’t delicious and satisfying in their own way but they can’t replace “comfort food.” The link in our brains between food and fun or food and sadness must be severed if we are to succeed at the paleo diet long-term.

This is one of the hardest things to grasp about the transition – how to feel satisfied in situations where food is no longer at its center. To be successful we have to retrain our brains to disassociate food with pain and fun. We no longer go out to ice cream to cheer up, or to the bakery to start the day off right. We learn to find other reasons to laugh, other sources to comfort us in pain, and another focus for gatherings with friends. All our lives food has been the topic of discussion, our psychologist, and our door to new cultures. Not only must we seek alternatives but it is our added responsibility to offer these alternatives to our children.

We  want our kids to experience just as much fun as other kids and we don’t want to give kids the impression that the whole world is off limits (I mean it sort of is but let’s try to disguise the fact for a while). Successful primal parents can’t just give their kids a piece of food to cheer them up or to quiet them down, they actually have to think a bit and put some effort into it.

How to Take the Focus Off Food

  • When kids get sad, go to the bookstore to pick out a favorite book. Remember that we build neural connections and create associations. Later on in life, their brains will go for a book rather than a scoop of ice cream when the going gets tough.
  • Instead of going out to dinner to “cheat” at a restaurant every Saturday evening, consider making Saturday nights board game night. If you haven’t done this yet, it may seem boring but it’s just a matter of retraining the food-addicted brain.
  • Make games and art projects the main attraction at birthdays. Offer some lunch and a birthday fruit arrangement and then move on to presents and more games. If you don’t make a big deal of it, neither will they. The only ones who will really care are the adults who have made lasting associations with birthdays and sugar.
  • Do things differently. Get in to trouble sometimes, jump over a fence, get rid of your tv (since that is almost certainly associated with packaged foods), go to the park barefoot, make art out of things you find laying around, walk to the store or ride your kid to school in a trailer. Make odd the norm in the family. If everything you do is a little off kilter, then eating different foods will almost seem normal.

How to Convince Kids That the Primal Life is Best

In order for our kids to follow this idea on their own while they are bombarded with pressures from friends and teachers they must believe in it. So our second job is to convince our kids that the benefits of living the primal life and eating the primal diet is worth giving up junk food. With children this can be tricky. They don’t really know about pain and suffering yet.

On the other hand, if I want to convince adults, I might show them examples of primitive peoples who’s teeth are large and straight, who don’t have or use braces, who have never seen acne or heart disease, who’s bones are strong and rarely break, who’s temperament is calm. I would tell them of my own story of recovery. I would juxtapose the nutrient profile of canned vegetables to that of fresh, organic vegetables. I would tell them how sugars alter our hormonal balance and paralyze the immune system. Oh, there is so much I would say!

But all of this is Greek to children.

What do they care about crooked teeth when dentists can straighten them? What does it matter if your bones break when doctors can fix them? And heart disease, what is that anyway?

We can’t fill little heads with technical details but we can show them real-world examples of the difference between primal and modern choices.

  • Take children to a free range farm to play. They can milk a healthy cow and gather a few eggs. Now drive by a feed lot for contrast. Even from the car it will be obvious to children that something is amiss. Get outside and look around. It will smell and there won’t be much color. It’s not a place kids will want to play or stay for more than a minute.
  • At home, crack two eggs – one golden egg from the free range farm you just visited and one pale yellow egg from the grocery store (where hopefully you don’t shop). Talk about the sun and pretty golden things. The bright egg is more cheerful and kids will recognize that.
  • Make connections to the way their bodies feel with the food they’ve eaten. When kids eat healthy, turning back to junk food will cause some noticeable discomfort. Point this out every time they cheat and they will start to understand the connection.
  • I don’t want to make your kids judgemental or turn them into haters but it’s important for them to recognize that while sugar makes kids upset and sometimes wild, a low insulin diet is calming.
  • Pack lunches every day with some of their favorites. Even if these lunches are a little less than ideal, don’t worry about it. Sending them with foods that they don’t enjoy will only intensify cravings and bring attention to the difference between their lunch and the yummy junk food lunches at school. But if they are satisfied with their lunches then they can keep focused on their friends at lunch time and not on their friend’s lunches.
  • Discuss the purity of the foods they eat in contrast to packaged foods and their lists of unpronounceable ingredients. Note that those ingredients don’t come from the earth but are chemicals made in a factory.
  • Use herbs to heal sickness and injury. There are all kinds of activity books and board games you can use but our favorite is A Kids Herb Book.

How to Gain Love and Respect From Your Kids So They Choose to Follow You As Adults

  • Be active together. Start doing some kind of activity together like riding bikes, going hiking, or taking a class. Sharing activities together builds strong bonds.
  • Be interesting! If they think you do cool stuff, then they will have more interest in your opinions and beliefs.
  • Engage them in your life; engage with them in theirs. This will build respect and adoration and they will strive to emulate you in every way.
  • Prove to them that you live by this diet. You don’t just talk about it or want to do it. Kids won’t want to join you if you constantly fall off the wagon. Be consistent. If one week you’re a healthy family and the next week you’re too busy for it or too bored to keep it up, your kids won’t take it any more seriously than you do.They will simply learn cheat and quit too.
  • Be honest about your faults and limitations. None of us are perfect and kids certainly can’t handle that pressure. Don’t expect 100% compliance from yourself or your kids, but do make smart choices when you do deviate.
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  1. I found your site on

    This is a beautiful post. Very thoughtful words. I particularly liked this, “The link in our brains between food and fun or food and sadness must be severed if we are to succeed at the paleo diet long-term.” It just makes you think that we really do put too much focus on foods and not enough on the things that really matter in life.

  2. Thank you. This has been my experience over the years both with myself, with my daughter, and with others that I have helped go Paleo. Food cravings must be controlled and food accepted as a means to health and survival. Once this is accomplished a whole new world opens up.

    I became so much more motivated, attentive, and ambitious when I changed my diet because my attention was finally off food!

  3. This is such a fantastic post, with some really great ideas for taking away that junk food=fun connection.

    I’ve been on the path towards primal for a while – I started out following a WAPF diet, then went completely sugar free, and am now cutting out grains and milk. It’s amazing the difference just getting rid of sugar made to my life – suddenly I wasn’t ruled by my food cravings!

    I must admit I’ve been a bit slack about extending my food choices to my three-year-old. He eats fairly primal at home, because that’s all we have in the house, but I’m too lax about allowing him to eat grains and sugars while out. This has definitely given me something to think about!

  4. Hi, I just found your site. I have uterine polyps that are not going away as quickly as my Dr would like, so she suggested I start eating the paleo way. I am very excited to start, but I have 2 boys at home (2 and 4) who are the pickiest eaters ever. They pretty much only eat mac n cheese, chicken nuggets, and pasta. Not what I want them to be eating. When I offer them paleo food, they just dont eat it. They would rather not eat anything then to eat something that isnt one of their “staples”. Do you have any advice on how I can get them to eat the paleo foods that I cook? I am sure they would eat once they were totally starved, but I am hoping I dont have to let it get to that point. Thanks in advance!!

  5. Thank you for this post! I went Primal about two months ago and my wife a month later. The change in both of us has been life altering. Our two boys, 7 and 9, are not on the band wagon yet. This post has provided a few tips that I think will help tilt the balance.

    Keep up the great writing and inspiration!

  6. Hi Danielle ~ I’m obviously not Peggy and here’s my other disclaimer: I’m not completely Primal (yet, getting there in baby steps though!). But I have had experience in dealing with a drastic change in my kids’ diets. When they were about the same age as yours we found out they have celiac and are also intolerant of casein (milk protein). What a big shift that was for us — almost everything, except the fresh fruits & veggies, had to go. This included almost ALL of their favorites. At the time they loved pasta, bread, milk, and cheese — a very limited, carb-heavy diet which I’ve since heard repeated by dozens of other parents about their kids and it’s like a little warning bell goes off in my head when I hear of kids that want to eat these foods almost exclusively. It was a challenge but their health was at stake so we decided to go for it 100%. We took a weekend and completely cleaned out the pantry & fridge, removing all the offending foods. We didn’t keep any gluten or milk products in the house those first few weeks — we ate the same diet they did (and should have stuck with it then, too, but we didn’t know what we know now). So, just like that, one night they went to bed on a dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, and milk… and the next morning they were given a gluten and dairy free breakfast. I’m not going to sugar coat it — the doing part was easy, just remove the bad foods and cook healthier meals… but the emotional part was hard. They pitched fits and we saw perhaps some of the worst behaviors, including some really spectacular tantrums, that we’d ever (and still have ever) seen from our kids. They cried, whined, begged, stomped, pouted, and actually threw sippy cups and plates of food because we refused to give in. I can honestly say it was hell for the first couple days and we had many emotional moments ourselves. But we knew we were doing the right thing and that kept us going through it. Then on the third day it was a like a switch flipped — things were much calmer, the kids were pleasant, there were no tantrums and they actually took an interest in the new dishes we offered them. About ten days into it we noticed huge differences in both their physical health (my son went off all 6 of his allergy & asthma meds and my daughter stopped complaining of what had been almost daily stomach pains) and their mental/emotional well-being. They were not as irritable and tired, their focus and attention spans improved, and their moods were much more upbeat than before the diet change. Now it’s eight years later and their diet is totally normal to them. A small part of it might be because they know there’s a documented medical reason they must eat this way, but the bigger part is that it’s just how they’ve grown up eating and they know what makes them feel good and what doesn’t (we’ve had some accidental learning experiences with contamination). I think it really helps to undertake such big changes when they’re young and can more easily rewire or develop good habits and eating patterns as they grow, but I also believe it’s possible to go healthier at any age.

  7. My problem is the wife insists on McDonald’s all the time. I have to rush to make lunch or dinner for the family or she is ordering fast food! The kids love my steaks and grilled foods. They do eat some vegetables but they will eat cookies and junk with my wife. It is very stressful not to have a partner willing to try to eat right or give the kids an alternative to hot dogs and chicken nuggets. I often feel like it is a up hill battle. I have no problem with junk every now and then as a treat. But it is just crazy with this. My wife says the carbs make her feel better but the cost on health and pocket book to eat this crap all the time is a let down. I strive for 85-90% Paleo for myself and understand some cheating is ok. Does anyone else suffer from a uncooperative spouse?

    • That sounds so frustrating Keith! I think we all experience a little of that from time to time, though. Hopefully you can teach your wife a little more about why what she’s eating is so horrible.

      This week I am going to be posting an article about endorphins. If she claims that eating carbs makes her feel better, maybe she’s got some mood deficiencies. If so, she should start looking towards a real solution and not a band-aid.

      We just got a forum started here on the blog so I made you a new category for uncooperative spouses. Try leaving a post in there and see if you get some responses!

    • Ugh, I hear you. Luckily, my husband doesn’t do fast food everyday, but he might as well. He has tried to go paleo before, but complained the entire time and threw in the towel after 5 days saying he just can’t live without carbs (as in pizza, bread, pasta, pastry carbs). I don’t pressure him to eat the way I do, but I get tired of him telling me how I’m going to kill myself of heart disease because I eat eggs or fat. He’s read so much material that I’ve passed along, even believed it, but he magically forgets he read it the next day or something!
      Unfortunately, now he thinks I am hurting our toddler because I feed her this way. Sometimes I work in the evenings and when I do, he always feeds her fast food or other garbage. He tells me that I will ruin her chances of making friends when she is older by restricting her diet. What’s funny is that I grew up with a severe allergy to milk and could never eat pizza or cake and ice cream at friend’s birthday parties, but somehow I made friends. Ah, it is so frustrating, isn’t it?!

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  9. This is wonderful information, thank you! I have recently started Paleo with wonderful results. I am celiac and my teenage son is gluten intolerant. His gluten allergy is very severe, so he is good about avoiding it altogether. He is seeing my results and starting to work his way to Paleo himself.

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