When You Eat Paleo... But Your Kids Don't

I know. I've wondered many times if I'm a bad parent. 


Here it comes *deep breath*.

Although I eat paleo, to try and ease my psoriasis and IBS, my kids don't. 

Don't get me wrong, I try. 

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

90% of the time, they eat a pretty much nutrient dense, gluten free diet. They eat the same evening meal as me - basically meat, fish and veg, which is good. They might fancy a gluten-free Spaghetti Carbonara, in which case I make it for them. They have gluten free toast, oats and eat lots of vegetables. Snacks in the house are gluten free and I try to keep them low in sugar. But then, occasionally, they'll go round their friends' houses for a movie and eat a gluten-filled, oozy-cheese deep crust pizza. They'll share a bag of chocolates bought specially for telly on a Saturday night. On Pancake Day this year they ate regular pancakes, bought from the shop, smeared with a teaspoonful of dulce de leche. Because they're half Argentinean, and dulce de leche is a big thing in our house. They even have their own YouTube Channel where they do the Jelly Bean challenge or try American sweets for the first time. This might all sound a bit like they're junk food junkies, but remember that this is all in the 10%. (They do talk about other things on their channel as well, although the sweets are exciting to them because they don't get them very often). 

90% of the time, as I mentioned, they eat pretty well.

I know that gluten is bad - everyone says the same. I'm reading a book about genes and how eating gluten can compromise how your genes work. Serious. I know it can take months to recover from a single exposure of gluten. I know. 

But I'm torn between keeping them as healthy as they can be, with a gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, refined sugar free and omega-3 rich diet - and allowing them a relaxed, stress-free childhood. Because the idea of eating paleo 100% totally stresses us all the frick out. 

When I saw the changes that paleo made for me - increased energy, youthful skin (I'm 40 and I still sometimes get asked for ID when I buy alcohol - all the yays to that), a calmer attitude, IBS gone, healing psoriasis - I decided we would all eat this way and that would be the end of it.

The girls took veg and meat snacks to school, fruit and carrot sticks. But after a few weeks they felt isolated, and one of the schools has a no nut rule so we had to say goodbye to regular home-made paleo muffins and energy bars. The school doesn't allow hot soups in a flask, unless they sit and drink it in a room away from their friends, alone, for health and safety reasons. I found out my children were accepting cookies and chocolate bars from well-meaning friends, passed under the lunch table. Not because they told me, but because I found the crumpled up wrappers in the lunchbox and they came clean about it.

It got to the point that their friends were laughing at them for being different, and they were begging me to let them take sandwiches like everyone else. So I settled for gluten free, explaining to them that they were still going to look after their bodies because, for all we know, they might have my passed-down autoimmunity gene lurking somewhere and this was an investment in their health in the long run. I wish someone had had that discussion with me at their age. They were good with that. 

I don't give them personalised snack bags to eat at parties. I don't give the hosting parent of a sleepover a long list of foods to avoid for midnight snacks. For all I know, they're binning the bag anyway and tucking into handfuls of Haribos under the duvet. So my husband and I decided that we would let them choose, because that's what happens in the real world and they might as well practice now. 

If they want to have pizza at a friend's house, they do. If they feel rubbish and bloated in the evening when I pick them up, they know why. And by giving them some 'grown up' power, we found, quite to our surprise, that they usually make healthier decisions than we expected them to. We teach them about health (and that they have a potentially higher risk of autoimmunity, especially as they get older). We then trust them to look after their bodies and they learn the consequences of their own actions. I really do salute you parents who do pack a bag for sleepovers with healthy food, We just aren't that family. All children and families are different, and we all do what we feel is the right thing for our own kids. This is just what we think is the right thing for ours. And so far, it works. 

What we do have are two kids who love cabbage with their roasts, eat yoghurt for breakfast with berries, nuts and honey, eat lots of different coloured veggies and have a low sugar diet. They snack on pistachios, not crisps - and they eat roasted bone marrow from the spoon. They love liver and mash. And they're hardly ever ill. We rarely get struck down by bugs and viruses, and they tend to heal and recover quickly if they do succumb to a sniffle. That tells me their immune system is working and we're doing something right. 

But there's another reason we open the door to a little indulgence when they feel like it. 
And it's to do with addiction. 

Let me tell you what happened to me. 

When I was growing up - my early teens - I was allowed alcohol at Christmas, with my Christmas dinner. A little half-glass of white wine, once a year. Then, in my teens, alcohol suddenly became a no-go area. Alcohol was never, ever allowed. I was told never to drink it or it would make me suddenly pass out. The look of fear must have been obvious, as, aged 18, I took my first sip of a Malibu and Coke in my local pub celebrating the end of sixth form college and expecting to drop like a rock at any moment. And obviously, I didn't. 

Later that year came university, and a free for all. Mum was no longer watching. I was 200 miles from home and had all the cheap pints of cider my maintenance grant could buy. And, as you'd expect, I overdid it. I got a little too used to the party life and drank way too much, peaking in my early 20s when I drank a bottle of wine every night, after work, 'to relax'. I don't think I ever got to the stage where I was dependent on alcohol (luckily), it was just no longer at arms length and I decided I would make up for lost time. And so I did. Those arguments a year ago when my eldest wanted sweets and I would say no - those times she shouted back with 'when I'm older I'll eat whatever I like all the time' sent me into a bit of a shudder, I can tell you.

I apply the same thinking to anything addictive - smoking, drinking, sugar, junk food. By teaching my children how to handle sweets, sugar and junk foods in tight moderation, I hope that I'm giving them a confidence to make their own decisions, and to make the right ones for them. That's the idea, anyway. 

As I said, their current 'treats' (not that I would call them that) only make up about 90% of their diet, so I reckon they're doing ok. Junk food isn't at arms length for them, they just know how we eat at home and a treat is exactly that. A treat. And then it stops and they go back to eating salmon and greens again. 

I don't know if it's going to work. Everything about parenting feels like an experiment as you go along - and every child is different, as I mentioned. This just feels right for us. Maybe it would have been easier to implement full paleo if we'd started when they were younger, but hey. Proper fist bumps to all you paleo parents who stick at it and give their children a full paleo diet. I honestly take my hat off to you. As I said, we're just not there ourselves. 

In the meantime, I'll keep eating my salads and watching them eat their gluten-free fish finger sandwiches. And hope they're learning something along the way. 

Do your children follow a paleo way of life? How do you manage it? What do you think about treats? Let me know in the comments below...


  1. Two of my many grandchildren eat close to a SAD diet so it doesn't bother their Mom that the rewards in my granddaughter's grade II class (she is 7) are candies. What would a parent do with a diabetic child or a child who has an autoimmune disease??

    1. It's insane, really - my eldest eats gluten free but still eats sugary things sometimes but she does make an effort to look after herself, which is good. My youngest just chooses anything she can - and her teachers do give out sweets and chocolate for paying attention in class. Her school is nut-free so no one can take anything with nuts in, but what if you're gluten intolerant? I've told them both that at the first sign of something wrong they're going to eat like me though! There are parents who feed their kids a paleo or AIP diet and I take my hat off to them, I really do. It's like we're round pegs in a square world at the moment. Maybe one day that will change.


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