Are you wanting to change to healthier foods for your family but scared of the revolt that might take place in your house? Well, you’re not alone! Many parents feel isolated when trying to change the food culture in their home.  Honestly, it can be an uphill battle, especially with older children. Since most of our food habits and many of our emotional connections with food are established by the time we are 5 years old, changing food for children and adults can be difficult.

However, I never hear parents, after going through some transition (some more difficult than others) that they wish their child was still eating white bread, chicken nuggets, french fries, and Mac & Cheese everyday.

Some of the brave parents in the Paleo world are a great support system and resource from which to draw since these parents gradually worked towards a family diet of primarily meat, vegetables, fruits and quality fats. This way of eating will give the most “bang for your buck” nutritionally. I call this way of eating “nutrient dense.”  No calorie is wasted. This means most food doesn’t have a label and when it does, the ingredient list is short. This means very little additives, chemicals, dye, or other icky things that are harming our kids and contributing to chronic illness in adults.

In my family, the transition to a (mostly) Paleo way of eating didn’t happen all at once. It was literally a 2-year transition that started with going gluten free and continued from there. There wasn’t a day that “we made it” – where we’re 100% Paleo now (or GF/CF or SCD or GAPS diet, etc…) It’s a constantly evolving process with wins and losses along they way. There are times I give in at the grocery store to gluten free processed foods that we usually don’t eat and there are times I use powdered sugar (gasp!) to make real icing instead of a healthier version that I know tastes great and is just as easy to make. There are fabulous food days and there is making life work.  Sometimes they are the same, sometimes they are not. But, over time, there are more days of great eating and fewer days of processed convenience foods that cause us to feel worse and not thrive.

Perfection is not the goal for any way of eating. That is a prison. But, changing our view of food to something that is a way to be good to ourselves can go a long way in the daily battles (internal and external) around food.

In any family and with any way of eating, perfection is not the goal and comparison is a curse.

The point is not to make all the changes you know you’d like to make in your family’s diet in “X” amount of time and then load yourself with guilt when it’s not what you expect. Transitioning to healthier eating should be an empowering process for your family filled with curiosity, and new experiences and disaster recipes you learn to laugh about. There is an abundance of color, health, and connection to the generations before us in the foods God created, eaten in the closest form to how they were created. I believe we can train ourselves and our children to stay aware of all the amazing, healthy, life-giving foods (green light foods) at our disposal and try to take the power out of the red light, sometimes foods that don’t help us feel better or thrive.

You know your children and you know how much change they can handle at one time. If a change is a disaster, then you nurture, connect, and slow down the changes (but try not to undo the change). Sometimes you’ll only know how much change your child’s food world can handle by a little trial and error.

At the end of the day, it is worth it! It is worth it to have kids who feel good, learn well, play hard, sleep soundly and can engage with the world around them. What your child eats day in and day out will significantly affect all aspects of life. Make the most of the formative years of your family and start by taking just one step towards health.

Here are some tips I have for making changes to your family’s foods: (this isn’t a protocol, a plan, or the only way… it’s my ideas for you to adapt to your family)

1. Start one meal at a time. For example, if breakfast is usually cereal and milk, you could start doing eggs, sausage/bacon, and fruit one time a week. Or find a grain free pancake recipe to try on the weekend and just be patient. Kids won’t be too bent out of shape if one breakfast changes a couple of times a week. Then keep doing that same type of change until they get used to it. Refrain from making something else if they don’t eat it. Just keep it upbeat and give their taste buds time to change.

2. Keep some of their favorite foods in place for awhile and make changes to healthier foods in other areas that are less noticeable. Be patient when introducing new foods and repeat new foods.

3. Make small changes so that mealtimes stay fun and there are still foods everyone likes.

4. Educate, explain, include, and discuss with older children some of the changes you’re making.

5. Use simple phrases like “we don’t have that anymore” or “we don’t feel good when we eat that, “when they ask for foods from which you’ve moved away. When answering questions/inquiries from others, simple answers usually work best. If they want to know more, they will ask. Simple phrases like “none of us feel good when we eat that” usually work just fine when someone is confused or curious about your changes. You don’t have to defend how you choose to feed your family

6. Talk to extended family (especially grandparents) about the changes you’re planning. Ask them to be on your team to help your child be as healthy as possible.

7. Stop adding new changes or slow down when attitudes about food are turning negative or family meals are a battle. This doesn’t mean it’s not working, you’re failing, or your family can’t eat healthier. It just means the family may need a little space or a break from big or rapidfire changes. This sometimes happens when there’s been success in food changes and mom speeds up the process, or when there have been extra, unrelated stressors on the family or the child.

8. Don’t declare “this is the day we go gluten free.”

9. Don’t compare your child’s eating to other children’s eating. This is comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides. You have no idea how long it took that family to get there and what they went through. Maybe you do, and it doesn’t even compare to the torture happening at your house, but the point still stands. Don’t compare. It’s totally wasted energy and will not add anything to your family’s change process.

10. Ask parents of healthy eating kids for tips or recipes. This takes humility and courage since it will require you to not compare yourself and admit you could use help. Be open to what they say and try to resist assuming that it won’t work for your family. Maybe it won’t, but likely some version of it might.   Think of tips from another parent as a tool in your toolbelt. It may not be needed for this project, but you’ve got it if you need it.

Here are some other stories, tips, resources for making changes to what kids eat:

Raising Good Food Kids

A is for Awareness

Week of Paleo School Lunches

Month of Real Food School Lunches

If you or your family need help making changes to your diet to feel better and thrive in your daily life, contact me at bpage@marianhopecenter.org to make an appointment.  Remember that the Marian Hope Center’s Nutritional Management Support Group meets every month and is open to anyone.

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