When I was first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2008, my son was 17 months old and my daughter was 5 months. My 3rd baby had not yet been born. At the time I REALLY wanted to avoid going on meds for life (in 2009 I ended up on natural desiccated thyroid) and so I researched where this might have started. When I read about the correlation between gluten and autoimmune disease I gave it up. I also tested positive for the antibodies to gluten and when I saw that evidence, I also had my son tested who had always been colicky, irritable, cried at the drop of a hat even after a year old, and never had much of an appetite. He also came back positive. I pulled him off gluten. Tested my daughter who also came back positive and yanked her off gluten too. They still both ingested dairy at this time. When they were 2 and 3 years old I got pregnant with my 3rd and by the time the baby turned 2 they were all off gluten and now also off dairy. If you haven’t read the recoveries my daughters made, read HERE.
So basically from a young age they were pulled off of gluten, dairy, and most refined sugar which is easier than pulling a 12 year old off. HOWEVER, it still comes with its set of challenges. My girls LOVE cheese, my son loves sweets, and they still have to go to birthday parties where the foods of choice are inevitably pizza, cake, and ice cream aka gluten, dairy, and sugar.
How do I keep them eating this way? How do I implement rules when they are away from me at school? What about when they play with friends, how can I keep them committed? I have a few tactics and while we are not perfectionists, I feel good about their overall nutrition and their immune function especially during winter months when infections run rampant.
1. HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
If your kiddos have been accustomed to a Standard American Diet for years, giving up their favorite foods cold turkey is really tricky for some. Not to say that it can’t work, but as hard as it is for adults to make massive change, this can be even harder for kids, especially if they aren’t super young. If they are going to a party with pizza, ice cream, and cake or other off limit foods, for example, make sure they have what they need to 1. have their cravings covered 2. feel like they are part of the crowd. In the beginning feeling different can be difficult so you’ll want to make sure they feel special not isolated. I try to always carry snacks on me when we run errands too so that instead of a free cookie at the grocery store, I’ve got a snack readily available for when I’ve had to say no (which luckily doesn’t happen much anymore).
2. DON’T CAVE
As hard as it is, your kids need you to be the rock. Even when they are picky and fussy and make faces and refuse to eat, don’t cave! I offer 1 meal in my home for dinner. That’s it. I refuse to spend time making custom meals. Is it hard sometimes? Yes. Does everyone like everything all the time? No. Do they have a choice? No. They do not have to clean their plates, but they have to try everything on it and if they want a small treat (sometimes just a teaspoon of soy/dairy free chocolate chips), they are required to eat what I provide. I can assure you that my son, the eldest, is a very particular eater and always has been. He would forego all solids to just drink cow’s milk and eating real food was always a struggle. So it’s not always easy. It’s a commitment and it takes time. If textures are an issue try pureeing, chopping, sauteeing or being more accommodating in the preparation but not in the sense that you trade out nutrients for snack foods.
3. RECREATE FAVORITES
Even after my kids were gluten free, they were still dependent on gfree mac n cheese, gfree pizza, and so on. Stocking rice noodles may have helped them avoid gluten but it certainly didn’t add in more greens! So when I secretly started Predominantly Paleo, I needed to figure out how to make foods that were delicious enough that ANYONE would eat them! So I made things like my EMPANADAS, TACO SHELLS, MAC N CHEESE, and LASAGNA so they’d feel like they were getting their old favorites and I WOULD TOO!
4. PACK LUNCHES FOR SCHOOL
If you send a child to public school, there are MANY choices which can be less than ideal in the cafeteria lines (at least in many schools). Our elementary school offers fresh veggies and fruits but they also have lots of gluten/dairy laden options packed with less than desirable ingredients. So I have packed my kids’ lunches from day one. They do not get cookies in their lunches. I do shoot to get at least one colorful veggie in there a day.
Unfortunately my kids have witnessed my illness at its very worst. Naturally we want to protect our children from the evils of the world but I use my decline as a teaching tool. We often talk about how treating our bodies right and feeding them health foods can help prevent disease or help provide support to a body that is having a hard time. They know that if they ate fast food and other garbage that they could end up sick and that this is the reason we want to eat well – to live long and healthy lives!!
6. GET THEM INVOLVED
Kids who are involved can experience a lot more enthusiasm about eating healthy. Let them help meal plan for the week, by letting them tell you what recipes they’ve really liked in the past. Buy a set of kid-friendly knives like THESE and let them help cook! Kids typically love to feel useful and also love spending time with us (until they hit their tweens!) so take advantage of the extra hands even when it means exercising a little extra patience. Also keep gfcf/paleo approved snacks available to pack their lunches – I keep mine where they can reach so that they can help fill their own lunchboxes in the morning. I believe autonomy and good decision making (backed with positive reinforcement and praise) helps encourage more of the same. Additionally, when we get a new cookbook, I give them each a specific color of adhesive page tabs to pick the recipes they’d like to try. They LOVE flipping through pretty pictures and finding delicious eats, and even the little kiddos can do this! Oh, and take them to a farmer’s market – let them pick out a new item of produce they’ve never tried before. It can be a fun activity that also turns into an opportunity to introduce new foods!
7. MAKE IT FUN
If your kids are really young you can have fun with food! We used to call broccoli “little trees” and pretend to be giants or dinos eating them. Meal time shouldn’t have to be parents screaming at kids to eat their healthy foods. This never ends well as many of you may know. Making mealtime more lighthearted and fun can encourage kids to eat and try new foods without it being a chore or a punishment. You can also take it outside and make it a picnic or eat at the park. Sometimes a change of venue can be uplifting and allow for more exploration.
8. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Celebrate your child’s good choices. They seek our approval and want us to be proud of them. Sometimes positive reinforcement of eating their baby spinach can be a lot more encouraging than punishing them for not doing so.
I hope these tips help you! Please leave a comment below with any specific questions you might have! For those interested, my children are Predominantly Paleo, my home is completely GFCF, and dinners are always more strict Paleo.