A little over a month ago, I switched my eating habits to a Paleo diet for the long term. I’m viewing my decision as a major shift in the way that I plan on eating for the rest of my life, not a quick-fix way to lose a few pounds. Although — good news — I have already lost a few inches off of my waist and hips and my jeans are sliding off without having to be unbuttoned. And more good news: the food is delicious. I’m rarely hungry.
But Paleo with kids? I wasn’t so sure how that would go.
As you’d expect, my kids weren’t all-in on giving up donuts and string cheese, and I’m not sure that I want them to give up their glasses of milk at dinner yet. So I’m eating Paleo and they’re not, which is actually working out easier than I expected. Here are some BTDT tips on making meals that work for omnivore kids from a mom of four who’s made the shift to Paleo. Because Cheerios are still on their menu.
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But first, what is Paleo exactly?
The short-and-sweet answer is that eating Paleo requires you to say no to grains (bread, pasta, rice, and everything else I once held dear), sugar (kill me now), and dairy (seriously, no more cheese). You can find a complete list here of what’s allowed on the Paleo diet, but the upshot is that you eat mostly meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, and healthy fats. I’m finding it simpler to follow than diets that pair different types of foods together — like Keto or the Zone — which means I’m having more success. Plus, I’m allowing myself a couple of cheats, including creamer in my coffee and the occasional glass of wine.
But when we had our first taco night without chips and queso, my kids looked at me like I had completely lost it. So, here’s how we made some tweaks to keep them happy without adding too much temptation for me and my husband, who’s gone Paleo too!
3-Ingredient Energy Bars | The Kitchn
1. Have easy breakfasts on hand — for yourself.
I am decidedly not a morning person, which means that I’m always hurrying everyone out the door at the last minute. By the time I get the kids dressed, fed, and their lunches packed, I used to grab a granola bar or frozen waffle for my breakfast on the way out, but those don’t work on the Paleo plan. Since I can’t wait until lunch to eat, I’ve had to figure out some quick and easy breakfasts to keep on hand. My go-to options have been a handful of almonds, hardboiled eggs, and homemade energy bars.
The energy bars we found at The Kitchn while rounding up creative school lunch ideas (above) have been a massive hit with the kids, so we make a huge batch each weekend. You can store them on the counter top, but I put mine in the fridge or freezer. But warning: They don’t last long. I usually triple the recipe to get enough for the week.
2. Cook familiar meals, with a twist.
When we first decided to make the switch to Paleo, I dreaded months of baked chicken with vegetables for dinner. But we’ve found some incredibly delicious Paleo meals, and are actually eating much more exciting food than we did before we made the switch. Wonton Meatballs at Nom Nom Paleo and Fiesta Chicken Burgers at Kayla Chandler are two examples of dinner that I’d keep in our regular rotation, Paleo or not. The kids gobbled them up!
Start by browsing some of the really good Paleo blogs like Michelle Tam and Henry Fong’s Nom Nom Paleo and Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain, or just search for Paleo recipes on Pinterest. And let the kids pick a few meals for the week to get them excited about what’s going to be on the table.
Also, choose meals that look like something you’d make anyway, and avoid recipes in the first few weeks that have tons of Paleo hacks like arrowroot powder or coconut aminos. Restocking your pantry all at once can be expensive, and I’ve found it leads to burnout. Wait until you’ve really gotten in the Paleo diet groove before you start experimenting with cauliflower rice, paleo pita bread, or paleo pizza crust recipes.
3. Focus on flexible meals with non-Paleo ingredients just for the kids.
When we do taco night now, it’s taco salads for me and my husband (hold the cheese), but my kids have the option to use tortillas and cheese for theirs. We still skip the chips and queso, because that’s healthier for everyone. Another example: When I made meatballs and a grilled romaine salad for myself, I also boiled some pasta and warmed tomato sauce so that the kids could have a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier for me to give up some of my favorite vices when I’m not having to convince my kids to give them up too.
4. Replace soda and chips with healthier options.
Although we’re letting our kids have some cheats, we’ve all cut back completely on some things, including soda and chips, which haven’t made their way into our kitchen since my husband and I have gone Paleo. Instead, we’ve loaded up on Skinny Pop popcorn — which gives me the crunch I’m really craving without any of the bad carbs — and pretty much every flavor of La Croix ever, since it’s a 0 sugar, 0 carb alternative to soda. Our 7-year-old has embraced the La Croix trend along with us, but my older two are sticking to milk and water.
5. Find a few restaurants that you can eat at in a pinch.
There are some nights when it’s nearly impossible for me to get dinner on the table before 8:30 pm, which doesn’t work when you have a three-year-old. So, we’ve found a couple restaurants that have meals that will satisfy our whole family. Our local Mexican place has an amazing fajita plate (hold the cheese and rice) and chicken soup that work for my Paleo diet, while the kids binge on all the chips and salsa they want. I just stand a menu up in front of the basket so that I don’t get too tempted to steal a chip (yes, really).
We’ve also found a couple of fast food joints with Paleo-friendly salads that we actually like, so we can pick up drive-through on the absolute busiest of our nights.
That said, allowing myself the occasional cheat meal — once every couple weeks — has provided me enough reassurance that I will someday get a chance to eat a slice of pizza or french fry again while being able to stick to a healthy diet the other 99% of the time. And hopefully it gives my kids a lesson in balance, too, because sometimes we all just need a cookie. And not just a Paleo-friendly one.