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Advice for switching up a pre-schooler's diet?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created August 27, 2012 at 5:48 PM

I have a 3 y/o who is a very picky eater and essentially a carboholic. Looking to get advice from parents who have transitioned young children to paleo. How long did it take? How did you approach it? Sudden or gradual transition?

Please, I really want to hear from those parents who have been successful, not from arm chair QB types about what they would do if they were parents...lol. Thanks!

722695c3d45512f8aa3ca63e66da2db2

on August 31, 2012
at 02:08 PM

Thanks, everyone, for providing such great advice! I really appreciate it!

C0c839648b31512515daaffe8e4e9ad1

(468)

on August 27, 2012
at 11:47 PM

+1 on be gentle, don't force.

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9 Answers

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A3a4696c919e916ec971691559e9c942

(2043)

on August 27, 2012
at 06:12 PM

Not a parent...but I have a sister with 2 kids and this is what worked for her:

-Give them choices but make them all good choices...ie; tons of veggies- the point is they get to make the choice of what kind of veggie they are having but veggies at snack time are the only option. -Let them know that some foods are "all the time" foods and some foods are "sometimes" foods. For example, fruits and veggies are all the time foods and less healthy options like pizza or ice cream are "sometimes" foods. You don't want to take away all the fun foods from kids but letting them know you can't eat some foods everyday or every week is a good idea. -let them help in the kitchen, kids are much more likely to eat what they helped prepare. -talk about why you are changing their diet. my sister told her kids "I want you to pay attention to how you feel and see if you feel differently when you eat all the time foods vs. sometimes foods" Both kids notice they feel very differently after thet eat ice cream or pizza.
-let them be kids but provide them with a very solid idea of what good nutrition is. -they still eat carbs but now the carbs are sweet potatoes or winter squash rather than bread and bagels.

good luck!

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3
Ffff513ac686cd18c840ee12c79357ed

(1183)

on August 27, 2012
at 06:33 PM

Yep. Pick up Eat Like a Dinosaur. Read their blog. http://paleoparents.com/ We used some sub foods, like rice pastas and home made french fries to transition to a paleo diet for my 4 year old. We had extreme success in the "This is what's being offered. If would like you to try at least a bite." Slowly after 2-3 times of something being offered, foods started to become favorites.

Also, including him in the decision making process helped a lot. usually around proteins, "Would you like chicken, sausage or fish for dinner?" (all 3 being OK) and then "We also have apples and berries, which would you like?" and have them help prepare or at least watch. Allow them a taste here and there. Kids learn by doing. I find engaging them makes this transition SO MUCH easier.

My son is also very visual. So on the weekends we created a food wish list. We printed out pictures of our favorite things (this took us nearly 2 hours to find photos of everything! it was a great project) He has a basket of these cards by the fridge and each morning when he gets up on Saturday he picks 3 things from the basket. We make those for breakfast.

When we first started, it used to be pancakes (which I'd make with almond flour) and berries and milk, and now it's usually bacon, sausage and kale :)

To give you a time frame it took him about 6 months to get fully adjusted palate wise, but I'm still discovering that some veggies just don't agree with his texture likes. So we experiment. And it changes form day to day sometimes. The boy could INHALE a bowl of kale chips and then decide he "didn't like them" the very next time we made them.

MEH. Kids. I've been Paleo for just over a year and my son about 10 months.

My biggest piece of advice is follow your kid ques. Ask them questions, "Why do you like that fruit? What is it you like about hot dogs?" I find that finding out what it is about a food (sometimes it's just that it's familiar) that will allow you to find a suitable sub. Be gentle, don't force.

Offer a food again at the next meal if they don't eat it. After about 2-3 weeks I stopped making 2 meals and just cooked for everyone. I used the "This is what's being offered." phrase again (now he was familiar with it) but instead it was followed with "If you don't want to eat it now, you can try again at snack/dinner/whatever the next meal was". Kids wont die if they don't eat 1 or 2 meals. Offer water. Offer hugs, be strong and compassionate. They'll eventually come to figure out this is good stuff!

C0c839648b31512515daaffe8e4e9ad1

(468)

on August 27, 2012
at 11:47 PM

+1 on be gentle, don't force.

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2
6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on August 27, 2012
at 08:03 PM

No need to withhold carbs, just switch them up. There are a number of plausible theories out there about kids needing a higher carb load because of their rapid rate of growth. If all they want is sweet potato or homemade french fries with fermented or organic ketchup, or nitrate free hotdogs, let them have that for a while. Kids are also growing bone so rapidly I'm in no hurry to get them off dairy, especially before age 3-4 (the age where weaning historically took place for our species). Unless you are getting vegetables, seafood, and/or fresh vegetable juices in them for calcium, milk (raw appears to be preferable, but I'm not a purist on this), kefir, yogurt, cheese, some cream on berries, custard, butter, etc. make pretty darn good dietary additions for small children in my book.

There is also a natural narrowing of tastes to things encountered and found to be safe before age 2 1/2, and avoidance of vegetables in particular among children sometime between 2 and 5 that drives parents absolutely batty, but it may have an evolutionary protective reason. There are a lot of bitter poisonous greens in nature and if your 3-year-old stuffed every leaf they encountered when hungry into their mouth you wouldn't have that child for long. So we can try to get our 4-year-old to try kale for the first time, but it can be an uphill battle with evolution working against us. After age 5 the palate does seem to become more adventurous again, so time or conditioning your child that this is indeed good food by serving it at every meal until they develop a taste for it is your best bet on this one.

It seems that never making "baby food", and relying on jar purees only for travel may have helped us through that tricky age so far. We just chewed up or mushed whatever we were eating for the most part. But maybe I just got lucky, I know others who did the same thing, and now have kids that don't like much of anything beyond bland starchy foods.

If I just lay out a little spread of fresh and pickled veggies, some fruit, and some meat with yummy dipping sauce on the side and don't say anything he'll usually start grazing on his own. This does not stop him from asking for chocolate most mornings, but if I just set food out, and don't make a big deal about it, once he starts eating I rarely hear another peep about it. Some things he doesn't even touch, but I just eat those later, and don't say anything unless he skipped them hoping for a treat.

And, never overlook the power of propaganda for kids this age. As parents I think there can be too much emotional pressure trying to get them to eat better, it backfires and we all end up crying. I sometimes catch him singing the cookie monster healthy food song from Sesame Street while munching on raspberries, strawberries, parsley, and snap peas straight from the garden. So, I've been trying to seek out more children's programing with that sort of thing.

Our friends have also claimed that their daughter won't eat grocery store veggies much, but she'll eat anything she picks herself, so we invite them over to pick kale, chard, potatoes, peas, berries, whatever we have in season, and she gobbles those right down. So even if you don't have room to grow anything, visiting a u-pick place or going berry picking together can add a needed connection to food to get them excited.

3
449e19bbd371a87b653b9b8b56736005

(1567)

on August 27, 2012
at 06:03 PM

I got a lot of my suggestions and info from http://paleoparents.com/ . I'm working on my 4 1/2 year old right now. One of the biggest things that made a difference was simply getting rid of all the junk in the house. If he asked for ramen, I told him we didn't have any and offered him some turkey or chicken instead. I switched his candy for raisins and other dried fruits. He LOVES cashews now so those are a treat! It is a very slow process. I've been working on him for most of the year and he still asks for the occasional cheese roll up or fast food hamburger. One thing that really got him interested in his food was helping him cook. He won't eat eggs unless he gets to "stir them" himself, so I try to let him do as much in the kitchen as he is able.

edited to add My son loves the Eat Like a Dinosaur book, so I use that too. We read the story and I let him pick out a couple of things he wants to try to make.

3
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on August 27, 2012
at 05:59 PM

First, it is a SLOW process.

Second, I let my kids be kids. We don't do dessert every night, but if they are at a party or when we went on vacation, the occasional cake/ ice cream cone is fine. They eat much less sugar than most kids.

Third, those cheats should be treats, not rewards. Never reward your child with sweets. Reward them in other ways (i.e. getting to go to the park, choosing where to go out to dinner, etc)

Fourth, make them part of meal preparation. My kids do everything but knife work. They add the veggies to the pot, stir the pot, add spices, garden, shop, whatever. When they help prepare the meal, they are more likely to eat the meal. Side note: When mom tells them how delicious their meal is, they are even more likely to eat it.

Fifth, Insulin is part of childhood development. There is not need to make children 100% paleo or even 80/20. Focus on good foods and let them learn. My kids are probably in the 40%-50% range for their carb macronutrients. But fat is good too. I don't limit my kids fat intake.

2
C0c839648b31512515daaffe8e4e9ad1

on August 27, 2012
at 11:53 PM

Also if you have a friend who has kids who love fruits and vegetables, invite them over! My daughter loves some of her favorite veggies because she saw other kids eating them.

Give them what they want, as long as it's healthy.

Kids often like bland and sweet things, and there are plenty of those in Paleo foods. We are switching slowly and she is getting to like grass-fed uncured hot dogs quite a bit now. Before she would only eat 1 kind of meat.

By the way, that Nick Jr kids tv show Yo Gabba Gabba has an AMAZING song about trying new foods that repeats "Try it, you'll like it. Try it, you'll like it." My daughter is 5 and she still loves that. ...So do I.

2
Ef7214374ddcf81d9ef03c8863bbd7c2

on August 27, 2012
at 07:09 PM

I have a 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son and third one on the way. When we went Paleo, we just went ahead and got rid of all non-Paleo foods in the home. It really was perfect timing for us because it was right after my husband's birthday which had plenty of sugar and soda - ugh. The kids saw us throw some stuff away and there were some tears, but I explained that it was "yucky" and had to be trashed. After that, whenever they asked for something that was on the forbidden list, first, they could never get their hands on it in the home and second, I reminded them that it was gone. They still bring up milk even though neither one of them liked it very much to begin with - it was just part of the bedtime ritual. They still say, "Milk is gone?" and I have to reaffirm, "Yes. Milk is gone." And that's that.

Besides that, they moved very easily, much to my surprise, from a non-Paleo heavy carb diet to a diet rich with fruit, vegetables, meat and fat. Ah yes, the fat. They love bacon and eggs for breakfast and some fruit. Fruit might be the one thing that had helped tide them over quite a bit. Oh, pick up Sarah Fragoso's book "Everyday Paleo" - she includes a bunch of recipes that are kid-friendly. Her dried fruit and nut bars are great! I won't lie - since going Paleo, I have had to do a lot more cooking for my kids. I keep Paleo-friendly snacks at all times in the home, mainly fruit-nut bars, gluten-free muffins and lots of fresh fruit. Oh, and my husband makes sweet potato pudding, which they cannot get enough of. But their general behavior has improved and they willingly eat vegetables at dinner. Green leafies still take some coaxing, but I'm just amazed at how much better they're behaving and how healthy they eat. That said, if they're out of the home - visiting a friend or at church or something and get some sugar/gluten, I don't worry too much about it. If they ever have an allergic reaction or something, I'll worry then.

Oh, one more thing. We have been Paleo about two months now and I feel like I may just be getting a handle on the amount of food I have to buy every week during the grocery shopping. Since there is nothing processed and no "fillers" the amount of food eaten by the family seems huge! The kids, especially, it seems eat more than I do and I'm supposedly eating for two, haha! Good luck! It's not as overwhelming as it first seems - I have had friends with kids switch from high carb to Paleo and their experiences have been pretty similar to mine.

1
A3a4696c919e916ec971691559e9c942

(2043)

on August 28, 2012
at 02:51 PM

This might help if you need to pack lunches for your wee ones...

http://paleononpaleo.com/paleo-school-lunches/

1
6bce08b072e3cea49b292658b9d5d197

on August 27, 2012
at 07:48 PM

Dr. Peter Attia actually just wrote an article about this sort of thing today.

http://eatingacademy.com/personal/hey-peter-what-does-your-daughter-eat?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hey-peter-what-does-your-daughter-eat

I just read it and it makes sense. I'm trying to move my 3 year old to a Paleo diet as well. "May I have a sandwich?"

"No, how about some eggs?"

"OK, daddy."

Works everytime so far.

http://www.jbprimal.com

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