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Mom, Can I Eat It? The Slippery Slope of Food Choices for Paleo Kids

By Stephanie Vuolo, B.A.
April 23, 2015
Mom, Can I Eat It? The Slippery Slope of Food Choices for Paleo Kids image

“Can I try the bread,” my four year old asks me, when our server automatically delivers it to our table. It was the first time she asked to eat a grain, when I didn’t have a Paleo-friendly alternative, such as an almond flour cupcake at a celebration, and I felt ill-prepared to answer. I had a split second to make a decision: if I said no what message would that send, and if I said yes what implications would that have on future choices? How do you discern when your Paleo child will eat grains?

Hunter-gatherers didn’t have to navigate this complex issue. They followed a simpler rule: catch it or find it, and you can eat it. It’s a slippery slope for families with Paleo kids today as they are surrounded by a world of wheat-based processed foods – frozen pizza and mile high frosted cupcake birthday parties, all you can eat waffle fundraiser breakfasts, bags of cheesy fish shaped crackers, and cinnamon bunnies at the playground. I think we can all agree, Paleo or not, that the nutritional standards for American children can be improved with an increase in vegetables,1,2 more Omega-3 rich fats,3 and less sugar.4

For most families, the Paleo Diet is not about keeping their children thin, but rather providing the most nutrient-dense foods to fuel physical growth and brain development.5 Foods that our DNA demands for overall health and to help our Paleo kids thrive.6 Children understand the connection between what they eat and how they feel.7 For example, too much fruit might lead to a stomachache, and too much sugar has them practically bouncing off the walls while riding an emotional roller coaster.8 However, we want to teach them about the benefits of following the Paleo Diet without developing a paranoia about eating the “right” food, called orthorexia nervosa9,10,11 so that they continue to make Paleo choices more often than not when they are living independently.

Identifying food choices for your family and children is a very personal decision based on numerous individual factors. Although, The Paleo Diet permits the 85:15 rule, allowing up to three non-Paleo meals per week, may be more generous than you choose to be with your own child.

When determining whether your Paleo kids should eat grains, legumes, or dairy, consider the following:

  • How does your child act and feel after eating the non-Paleo food? Food sensitivities can manifest with runny noses, stomach upset, and itchy skin up to one week after exposure.12
  • What ways do you model a healthy relationship with your own choices around the Paleo Diet lifestyle?
  • How would your child react or would they comprehend the idea of eating three non-Paleo meals a week? For some Paleo kids this is more easily understood than others.
  • Does your child feel left out or restricted13 when she sees her peers’ choices during school lunch, play dates, and parties? For many offering Paleo-friendly foods that mimic what other children eat can be useful, such as pizza made with a cauliflower crust and raw cookies made with dates, cocoa, and nuts.

So, how did I answer my daughter, when she asked to try bread for the first time? I said yes. I want to support her curiosity to try new things, especially pertaining to vegetables and different spices and flavors. Most importantly, I don’t want her to be afraid of certain foods without first experiencing them for herself. Even at her young age, she’s aware of how they make her feel, such as when she eats dairy products they lead to terrible stomach pains.

Whatever balance you find between Paleo and non-Paleo foods for your own Paleo kids, communicate your philosophy to them so they can understand how to best make their own dietary choices when the time arises.


[1] Hendy, Helen M., et al. "Overweight and average-weight children equally responsive to “Kids Choice Program” to increase fruit and vegetable consumption." Appetite 49.3 (2007): 683-686.

[2] Dennison, Barbara A., Helen L. Rockwell, and Sharon L. Baker. "Fruit and vegetable intake in young children." Journal of the American College of Nutrition17.4 (1998): 371-378.

[3] Dearden, Claire, Pat Harman, and David Morley. "Eating more fats and oils as a step towards overcoming malnutrition." Tropical doctor 10.3 (1980): 137-142.

[4] Lustig, Robert H., Laura A. Schmidt, and Claire D. Brindis. "Public health: The toxic truth about sugar." Nature 482.7383 (2012): 27-29.

[5] Jew, Stephanie, Suhad S. AbuMweis, and Peter JH Jones. "Evolution of the human diet: linking our ancestral diet to modern functional foods as a means of chronic disease prevention." Journal of medicinal food 12.5 (2009): 925-934.

[6] Cordain, Loren, et al. "Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century." The American journal of clinical nutrition 81.2 (2005): 341-354.

[7] Canetti, Laura, Eytan Bachar, and Elliot M. Berry. "Food and emotion."Behavioural processes 60.2 (2002): 157-164.

[8] Goldman, Jane A., et al. "Behavioral effects of sucrose on preschool children."Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 14.4 (1986): 565-577.

[9] Donini, L. M., et al. "Orthorexia nervosa: a preliminary study with a proposal for diagnosis and an attempt to measure the dimension of the phenomenon."Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity 9.2 (2004): 151-157.

[10] Fidan, Tulin, et al. "Prevalence of orthorexia among medical students in Erzurum, Turkey." Comprehensive psychiatry 51.1 (2010): 49-54.

[11] Bartrina, Javier Aranceta. "[Orthorexia or when a healthy diet becomes an obsession]." Archivos latinoamericanos de nutricion 57.4 (2007): 313-315.

[12] "Food Allergy and Food Intolerance." (EUFIC). N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

[13] Urbszat, Dax, C. Peter Herman, and Janet Polivy. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we diet: effects of anticipated deprivation on food intake in restrained and unrestrained eaters." Journal of Abnormal Psychology 111.2 (2002): 396.

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