My wife and I have been into Paleo for several years after I discovered the inflammation it was causing in my joints. Initially we would allow my son a gluten-free pizza here, a gluten-free pancake there.... He started getting smart. He's 4 now. He holds out for the stuff that he truly enjoys without even trying paleo type foods. Bacon, pancakes, pizza or anything bread, of course, at least gluten free. We have tried everything. Having him cook with us. Praising him repeatedly when we can get him to eat a chicken finger with almond breading. He has gone to bed early for not eating. We have tried bribing him with coconut ice cream to eat his meal. I have finally stopped even having the other stuff in the house. He is essentially starving himself. Tell me this gets easier?
I'd be careful pushing the gluten free stuff - read the ingredients AND research preparation methods. In some cases a white bread ingredient is actually better than some GF chemical soup.
As @Bukowski points out, children have different nutritional needs than adults. The Paleo dogma has always been geared towards healing the broken bodies of grown ups after a SAD life.
Make sure your kid is getting whole, real foods and healthy oils like butter, olive, and coconut. A wide variety of fruits and veggies (whichever ones they like as long as it's varied) along with adequate macros. Meat thrown in here and there as he wishes...
Keep in mind that his natural food instincts haven't been quite as deranged as yours in his short life. Not everything he likes is good for him, but a lot of it is. If he's into something that isn't clearly toxic let him enjoy it. Try treats like fried bananas or a coconut milk smoothie. Give him enough meat to ensure adequate protein. Keep a close watch to the non-evil foods he likes and keep them around. He doesn't need to worry about his weight or excessively avoid carbs. Given the chance to eat right at such a young age, he'll adjust and learn to love what's right without even trying.
My answer will be a bit different since I am a former teacher:
1. Don't encourage your child and don't praise him for eating healthy foods. When kids know they are praised, they feel cheated. For them it feels they are doing something their parents want them to do, which cannot be good. Just treat his eating matter-of-factly. He dwells on the fact that he becomes the center of your attention every time he does not eat something. So take this pleasure away from him and replace it with something else. He does not eat it - fine. No biggie.
2. Have family meals. Set the table, eat together and chat with your spouse about things. Put a plate in front of him with the same food you eat. Do not talk to your child about food, just discuss something irrelevant. When he sees nobody is paying attention to what he eats, he will start nibbling on things. You can also make a "forbidden" dish - put some Paleo item on your and your spouse's plate, but not on his. He will notice and ask for it. When he does, don't reward him for doing so and tell him, "great!" You can even say, "No, there is only enough for mommy and daddy, not for you. We'll make some for you next time, okay?" The next time you have the same, he will definitely eat it.
3. No snacks. Yes, no snacks.
4. No forbidden items in the house, even gluten free. I guarantee it, that if you just follow "what he eats is not a big deal" rule, sooner or later he will be eating anything you want him to eat. Just make sure not to praise him about eating it.
I serve dinner to my kids 3 and 4 years of age. If they dont like it, they simply will not get to eat. Their problem. NO one will starve themselves. I serve cooked broccoli and meat of some kind with almost every dinner, they are totally used to this now. Butter is allowed on anything. Starch, when present, is highly prized by my older boy. This is normally going to be a small amount of potato or rice. Dessert is an apple or maybe if they are lucky, dates. Once a week, they can have some kind of bread with dinner. Every two weeks they might have pizza. They eat like crazy, so I was not at all worried about changing up the balance of macronutrients on them.
We made this switch about 4 months ago. Switching off of sugar was actually easy (when the substitute was fruit). Bread was the one thing that has been the hardest for my older boy to get over. However, he still gets it at his preschool, so I don't even feel the least bit bad about not serving it in the evening. Its been fun watching a 4 year old learn about nutrition, and he always wants to know how much sugar everything has in it.
Set a reasonable standard that meets your goals and takes care of your sons nutritional needs, while probably making room for some fun exceptions. Your "success" will be a direct result of your level of consistency with the model. There is NO WAY he will starve himself in protest, lol. He is getting the calories he needs somewhere - extra milk?
I think it all comes down to being willing to be the parent in the house. As an older parent, I'm surprised by the parents of my kids' friends, who often let their children dictate what goes on in the house. A parent needs to be in charge. That will give kids a sense of safety and confidence.
You buy the food and plan the menus. You decide what to serve based on what is good for him. He can choose to eat it or not, but he cannot demand food you aren't serving and he can't be allowed to make everyone else miserable if he doesn't like what's served. . Some kids--usually those kids with sensory issues on the autism spectrum--WILL go without food the to point where it's a detriment to their health (my nephew, for example) but most normal healthy kids will eventually eat when they are hungry. Don't be afraid to let him be hungry for a little while--unless he has a real problem he will not starve.
The trick is to NOT make your dinner table a battle ground or a power struggle. Serve good, healthy food, but try in the variety to have some things he will eat along with things you know he will refuse. Then it should be matter of fact. "This is what's for dinner". If he doesn't want to eat something, that's OK, but he may not disparage the food or whine at the table. He should be told to leave the table if he's not going to eat what's served, and he should not be supplemented until the next meal. It doesn't have to be angry or mean. "I'm sorry you're not hungry enough to eat what's for dinner tonight, if you're done eating you may leave the table." Don't bargain or argue. Just be firm that only what you have served is available for him to eat at that meal, if he doesn't eat it he's out of luck until the next meal.
Soon enough he will get that he can't bamboozle you into feeding him kid friendly junk.
Kids have a high requirement for carbohydrates and sugars. If given foods with varying sugar-content, children will choose sweeter foods than adults. If you only offer low-carb paleo foods, I'm not surprised he won't like them.
Also, they're very sensitive to thyroid-inhibiting substances, especially from the brassica family (broccolli etc.) but also other many vegetables and legumes. Many children don't like them because they taste more bitter to them than to adults (bitter = a sign to avoid food consumption). Don't force your child to eat them, they may create more harm than benefit.
Generally, I don't think it's a good idea to force young children to follow any dietary dogma. Especially when it comes to potentially dangerous dietary concepts like the paleo diet. Let them eat what they like as long as it is more or less natural and not overly processed.
I grew up eating only what was presented. If I didn't want it I didn't eat If mom wasn't happy she'd likely dump it on your head. 4 year olds have no say in the process. I have older kids now but I will give them treats like this one which I completely leave out the sugar & stevia crap this person is pitching. The chocolate is more than enough sweetness for the bars. My wife isn't as strict, but I do most of the cooking so I win mostly.
I am aware of the pitfalls of GF food. I do feel that it is better than the alternative. I would be the happiest father in the world if he ate a wide variety of fruits and veggies with the occasional meat. Tried smoothies. Every which way possible. All catering to his sweet tooth. He refuses to try any, even if he helps make it. He might put his mouth to it and then exclaim that it is yucky. Even if everyone in the house loves it. I am not worried about his weight or his carb count. I am worried that the only things he will eat are GF grilled cheese, GF pizza, Sweet potatoes fries, Bacon and almond milk.
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