If You Think Kids Can’t Make Big Diet Changes, Think Again!


A comment was posted this morning on an article I wrote back in April, Persuading Kids to Go Primal. The commenter’s experience with implementing a drastically different diet in her home is invaluable so I just had to make it more visible!

Here’s what Susan had to say:

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 kid’s 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. 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.

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  1. Holy Crap! What an amazing and inspiring post! Thank you so much for sharing this!!!

  2. I put my family through a huge diet change a few years ago and can attest that if you hold your boundaries firm, they will accept. Mine didn’t pitch quite the tantrums as described in the post but they were master moaners.

    Then last year, I decided to go slowly with moving to primal and just started with removing grains and starches from their evening meal. Narry a peep. I’m now onto primalizing their school lunches and then we’ll tackle breakfast.

  3. I might as well put in my two cents here. While my daughter was raised paleo since pregnancy, we have had a few hurdles. For example, my parents are ill and last year we moved in with them to help out for three months. The reason they are so ill is because they eat an atrociously bad diet. It was challenging for Evelyn to turn her head at all the cookies, cereals, ice creams and pantry full of packaged foods. We were literally surrounded by it for three months, but I continued to buy our paleo food and I stood my ground against their diet. She actually learned a lot in those months and disease and she didn’t fight much at all because she understood the consequences of eating poorly. She was four years old then.

    Another time was after I had my big bike accident and brain injury, coupled with a death in the family. For a few months I ate sugar and rice flour and other things that were bad. We all ate them here at home. When I finally snapped out of the trauma, she had to snap out of it to. One day we just quit with the treats and went back to our regular Paleo diet. That was that. We all did it in the name of health and happiness. It was hard at first but we were all going through it together and we just tried to take our minds off it, like bike, rides and playing at the park, and reading…

  4. Any advice for a parent who wants to feed their kids paleo (me). the ex who feeds them whatever crap he feels like (everyweekend)? Frustrated.

    • While I am not in an ex situation my husband and I do live seperately. I calculated it out and if they eat that way one day a week it is 14% of their diet. So while two days isn’t ideal and could mean withdrawl symptoms for a couple of days after they get home it isn’t going to ruin them.

      Plus I have found that my DD (1 yr) eats the healthier foods whenever my DH and his family give her the option. The only thing I have figured out to do in regards to the kid(s) HAVING to be on a specific diet is to have a doctor okay it and then go full force with that angle. Otherwise trust your kids to choose the healthier option that is given to them. Even if it still isn’t great it’s only the weekends.

    • I’m in a unique situation because my ex-husband has custody of the kids and I get them 10 days out of the month. But I do feed them Paleo because we all support each other’s needs and that included dietary. My 10 year old often complains about how he has to eat whatever is given to him at his Dad’s and how he doesn’t like how unhealthy it is. He believes healthy food = my parents care about me. I’ve found that teaching them about healthy foods, not just that “meat is good” but a little of the science behind it helps (even for the 5 year old). That and constant reiteration. I also deal alot with behavioral problems when they come to me because their Dad is a terrible parent (long story). I just tell myself that I have to be that light in the storm for them. That and I have found a good support system for when it gets hard. :)

  5. When we first really started doing paleo with our kids, the most helpful thing was to make sure that there was no toxic food in the house. Then, I decided that the kids could eat whatever they wanted that we had. I cook dinner and serve them meat and veggies, and they can take it or leave it, as long as they try it. Then, they can fill up on fruit, meat, veggies, or nuts. That is it. A three year old can’t eat what you don’t buy.

    We had a lot of whining about milk, cereal, and bread for a week or so, but then it faded away, almost like they forgot about those foods. I used to think that the “they’ll eat when they’re hungry” explanation for not giving into whining kids demands was BS, but it really does work. When they asked why we didn’t have their former favorite foods, I repeated the same things. “Milk(bread, cheese puffs, cookies, etc) makes our tummies hurt, veggies and meat make us strong and healthy.”

    I realized this was really working last week when we had pork chops (kids’ favorite), asparagus, and plums (another favorite) for dinner. One of my three year olds looked at me and said “I only want to eat my sparagus” and proceeded to eat all of his and my asparagus. Tonight we had a freak out when one twin thought his brother got more zucchini than he did. When their choice is healthy food or nothing, they learn to love the healthy food.

  6. I’m doing baby steps like Alison, but moving from an organic whole foods, semi-traditional diet, and not really a SAD. I’m finding that breakfast is pretty important for us. The breakfasts aren’t totally primal but as I’ve moved away from the cereal addiction and included more meat, I’ve noticed better behavior from my older daughter, and less begging for sweets (although I do still hear a decent amount of that!). My younger daughter (16 months) is still eating yogurt and a little bit of raw cheese, but she’s also still nursing, too, so I’m rationalizing that she’s still got all those good enzymes to digest it.

    Anyway, bacon is my lifesaver because my 6 year old adores it. Bacon-and-strawberries is her favorite breakfast.

  7. Hey All, I wish I could add a primal kid story to this discussion but I don’t have any kids! However, I have a new nieces and nephews.

    My nephew’s diet consists of ramen noodles and soda. My sister has no control over what he eats and never has. He is 13 now and has ADHD all his life. My niece had leukemia this past year and although we don’t know why she got it, I always have the food -disease link on the top of my mind. But her mom doesn’t really want to go there.

    This inspires me to push a little harder for a change in their diets. They are actually both old enough now that I can teach both the parents and the kids.

    • I hope you have some luck. It’s so hard to watch children suffer when the solution is so obvious. It’s hard to watch in anyone, really, not just kids.

  8. Great inspiration Susan. Sometimes it’s hard to do what needs to be done, and we drag ourselves down with excuses, and reasons why it’s just too hard or nigh impossible. But you did exactly what had to be done, and it sounds like you didn’t really think about it. You just did it. That’s amazing.

    I think that no matter what stage you are in making the switch to paleo, it’s an amazing thing we are doing, for ourselves and for our family. Some of us have it hard, some of us have it easier. Sometimes there are other influences and relationships in our kids lives that we don’t have any control over. That is tough. But I think that if you can acknowledge that you don’t have that control, and acknowledge what you DO have control of, and focus on that, it maybe wont be so tough. I think that every one of you primal parents out there are doing amazing things, and I am so happy to be a part of this amazing movement.

  9. My kids are 12 and 15 and the 12 year old girl had been much more receptive to going primal (still have a little cheese and still cooking with ghee from grass-fed cows) than has my 15 year old son. We’ve given up all grains and milk, but when he decides that he wants something, I let him have it. It was fascinating to learn that milk/ice cream triggers a huge acne flare up in him. As for my daughter, the four months of eating primals have transformed her body and her self-esteem has soared as she no longer views herself as chubby…her skin glows, her hair shines, and her hormonal shifts seem better (she is still 12, you know?). In my opinion, the key to overhauling my children’s diet has been sharing the science with them as well as letting them see the transformation of my own health.

  10. Thanks for the inspiring story! My son just turned 2, and I’ve been taking baby steps to ditch the grains in his diet. But he knows where I keep all the foods that he wants to eat (his cereal, his pasta), so if it’s actually in the pantry, I can’t lie to him and tell him it’s not there – he can see right through me. I’m cleaning out my pantry this weekend! No more excuses. I also have the luxury of packing his lunches when my mom watches him, so that’s a non-issue. My mother-in-law only watches him one day a week, just for a few hours, so I won’t even stress over that (for now).

    My next obstacle will be the husband, who’s not really on board with the whole primal thing. Although he’ll sit and eat a steak any day, so I guess that’s a start! He won’t complain about any meals I make, but he’ll either skip a dinner that he doesn’t like, or he’ll eat something else (tuna sandwich or something – he doesn’t cook). I already stopped buying bread for him, so if he wants his sandwiches, he’ll have to go buy some.

    • That’s the way to do it. Get rid of all the junk and let life begin anew.

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