Over the past 2 months we've learned a lot about nutrition and customizing our diet to work for us.
Here are the biggest learnings from our first paleo summer:
Kids like relatively bland food.
No big surprise for moms here. God forbid I put a speck of pepper, much less chili powder in our food! This coming from a mom that put wasabi and curry in her home made baby food to expose her kids to exotic flavors early on… Keep it simple - salt, pepper, and lemon are our best friends right now. (My kids are 6 and 7. Hopefully this will change someday, but not this summer!)
Kids have a remarkable ability to self-regulate when they are fed whole foods.
They are hungry a lot because they burn it off so quickly. One of the most important things I learned from my weekend spent with nutritionists and professional chefs is that by age 7 it is really important that kids start to choose what they eat and how much they want. By asking them to have 2 more bites or dishing up their plates for them, I am denying them the opportunity to listen to what their bodies are trying to tell them. This is the last thing I want to do! Nina Planck in Real Food: What to Eat and Why describes an interesting research project done in the 1930s by Clara Davis that tested this. (Babies and toddlers were given access to whatever whole food they wanted whenever they wanted it - choices included beef, bone marrow, sweetbreads, cod liver oil, fish, pineapple, bananas, spinach, peas, milk and yogurt, rye crackers, oatmeal, corn meal, and sea salt. And while they sometimes made really strange choices (only oranges one day, handfuls of salt, one glass of milk the next, then 2000 calories in one day), over the course of the experiment the kids choice a balanced diet, surpassing the nutritional recommendations of the day.) I did get permission to require a no-thank-you bite of everything I serve. Otherwise I'm convinced my kids wouldn't try anything new!
Listen to your body and adjust what you eat.
This seems basic but when you really start paying attention you begin to notice things! Turns out going paleo caused problems for our digestion, while at the same time it solved a lot of other problems for us. That will be the subject of another post, but half of us need to follow the FODMAP diet or suffer severe digestive distress. My husband is also following an auto-immune protocol of the paleo diet that avoids eggs, nuts, and nightshades. This summer we've learned that one kid is dealing with fructose malabsorption and the other is often dehydrated. Both are sensitive to wheat and dairy and legumes, but going completely grain and legume free hasn't made a huge difference to what we were doing before. It turns out that starchy veggies and white rice in moderation actually make us feel better! We've also begun to add some raw dairy on occasion with good results. After a few months of eating what feels like a super restrictive diet, it feels good to start adding things in.
After an initial time of being strict (3-4 weeks is enough), it is ok to let things slide a little and experiment. Food is not the enemy and as long as I continue to make healthy choices, it is OK to chose to eat things that aren't the most nutrient dense every time I put something in my mouth (I'm thinking of nuts, honey, quinoa, rice, organic corn, etc.). It is OK if my kids are eating whole foods but aren't stricly paleo. I still have some work to go to fully heal my gut, but taking it one step at a time and getting the rest of my family stable and healthy will help me focus on myself. I don't have to be perfect…in fact, I am never going to be perfect! And this journey is so individual that it is not worth getting critical or judgmental. I think a lot of people in this community see things only in black and white, but not everyone has the same experience or will power, and THAT IS OK.