Today we hear from Autumn Michaelis, a Whole30 Certified Coach and mom of 5 boys. She transitioned her whole family to a Whole30-inspired diet in July 2017 (read more on her website). Today she’s answering some commonly asked questions about how she transitioned her kids from the standard American diet.
What snacks do you feed your kids?
We don’t do a lot of snacks. There is power in coming to meals hungry – food tastes better! For my school-aged kiddos that means one after-school snack and then the kitchen is closed from 3:30-6pm (dinner). No snacks after dinner either! For kids under 4, I would be open to a morning snack as well. Snacks at home are simple. I told one person this list the other day and she said, “Oh…I already do that!”
Yup, it’s not rocket science, just whole foods:
- Fresh fruit with nut butter
- Raw veggies
- Leftover Paleo pancakes/waffles/French toast re-toasted (they are good in the fridge for a week or toss them into the freezer in a single layer to create your own Eggos). See my paleo waffle recipe here.
- Easy protein (pepperoni, lunch meat)
- Homemade granola (I have recipes here and here)
Every once in a while we will do:
- Hummus and plantain chips
- A quesadilla with cassava flour tortillas and So Delicious dairy-free cheese
- Coconut yogurt
I save prepackaged products for school lunches, when convenience foods come in handy. They’re too expensive for us to eat for snacks at home, but for packed lunches, we use items like go-go squeezes, fruit leathers, homemade Paleo muffins, 100% fruit juice fruit cups, jerky, etc. See my complete lunchbox guide here.
The key is being consistent. If this is consistently all you are offering, things will change over time. They don’t want any of it? Fine, dinner is not far off, so you know they won’t starve. Stick to your guns—you can change your family’s eating habits!
Has the diet change changed your children’s behavior?
ABSOLUTELY. That has been the driving force to keep all this work up (because it does take work, planning and effort). The changes make it 110% worth it. This is the part where I start sounding like a bad infomercial, but I interviewed my children after a month and these are straight from their mouths:
I’m a lot less hungry all the time
I get less stomachaches
Graham screams less*
I can control myself (from Graham, the one referenced above)
I’m happier and my brothers are kinder
I sleep better
I like all the cool, new foods
My skin looks so good (13 year old’s face cleared up entirely)
**My 7 year old was a challenging kiddo who was very loud with lots of over the top emotions fits, and screams. It was exhausting and humbling to be his parent, as he was always very “spirited” and difficult to parent, not to mention how his behavior affected our family dynamic. This lifestyle has pretty much eliminated all that. I was shocked at how CALM he became and found it fascinating that he appreciated the ability to be more in control and calm when I asked him about it. Now any time he has something outside of the norm for our family, I can absolutely tell the difference. There is no question in my mind that food is making the difference for him. THAT result alone is worth every minute of work!
How does your family deal with food outside the home?
I personally have kept my main focus on how we eat INSIDE our home. As the adult with the car and the wallet, that is within my realm to control. I have NOT tried to control the outside social situations—meaning, at school if someone brings cupcakes for a birthday, it’s my kids’ choice whether or not they partake. These don’t happen often enough for me to be concerned or feel it is significantly detrimental to my kids’ progress.
I DO keep a supply of paleo treat options at home. If they choose to pass on a treat somewhere out of the home, they know they can have one of those when they get home. I have been shocked that, for the most part, all but one of my kids will routinely pass on a treat in the moment because it has gluten/dairy/refined sugar in it and wait for the replacement at home. They have had enough personal experiences with how these make them feel to intrinsically not want to eat them. I couldn’t give that to them—they had to learn for themselves.
Could I control those situations? Sure…or at least I could try. But I don’t want to restrict to the point that they are driven to binging or have a constant power struggle. Plus, there is no way I can control every situation, since they are not with me 24/7. I believe in teaching them principles and letting them govern themselves in that regard. My oldest (14) stays 100% compliant to the Paleo lifestyle. One of my others would eat a candy bar if you handed it to him. My goal is to empower them with education, tools, and the reality of how normal and delicious this type of eating can be.
I’m thankful that I don’t have a situation of local family members constantly trying to give my kids treats. If your extended family members aren’t supportive, that can be hard! I highly*encourage you to revisit Chapter 11 in Food Freedom Forever, which focuses on how to talk to others. I love that it starts out with a reminder that “Food isn’t just food. In our relationships, food is love, acceptance, bonding and comfort.”
I recommend, at minimum, making sure you know WHY this is important to you and your family to be able to communicate that to those around your kids. It’s one thing to say “How we eat is better,” and an entirely different thing to say, “Since eating this way, Graham’s regular fits have become almost non-existent. You know how hard that was for us, and I hope you will support us in not giving him the sugar that triggers those fits. It’s really making a difference.”
How do you handle holidays?
I LOVE holidays. Like, I am THAT mom who milks a holiday for all its memory-making, life-distracting worth. I get SO very into them. But they are so incredibly sugar laden. Why is that? Why do we celebrate holidays with so many sweets? I’m not against the idea of special foods (especially cultural) for holidays. I’m talking the sugar OVERLOAD. We all know it’s coming with Halloween, Christmas, and Valentines. I’m a mother of five boys—it’s so easy to want to show our love and to celebrate with treats. I did so, like most of America, for many years.
The more I have acknowledged and dealt with my own sugar addiction, the more I look at what I’m scripting for my kids. I’ve spent SO MUCH EFFORT painfully trying to correct decades of MY sugar habits and I want my kids to not have to go through that. It’s not a comfortable thought and it can happen in steps, but I challenge you to look at what habits you are scripting for your children within holidays.
For the past two years my kids were that ones bringing non-candy valentines to class. It can be more time-involved and sometimes more expensive than grabbing a box of candy Valentines from any store, but this past year, I was THRILLED to see some non-candy valentines in the $1 section at Target. I *might* have done a happy dance in the aisle.
For Easter, they didn’t get candy in their baskets or plastic eggs. Instead, they hunted for eggs with quarters and homemade family video game tokens they can turn in for 5 minutes of gaming. For younger kids, you can do fruit chews or small dried fruit, mini lara bars, stickers, playdough, puzzle pieces, tattoos, small stamps, blueberries, hair clips, etc. For baskets, think books, art supplies, hand sanitizer, bubbles, legos, sidewalk chalk, card games, or water bottles.
How do you celebrate birthdays/do birthday parties?
We used to always have a the typical food at our parties—Little Caesar’s pizzas, chips, soda, and cake. But since going Paleo, we have done several variations. For our Halloween party, we made mini corndogs and funnel cakes from the Paleo Kids Cookbook as well as fruit, Chunky Monkey Muffins, and Paleo-compliant chips and corn tortilla chips (we are ok with some corn for our kids). It was successful and all the kids enjoyed it…but it was a lot of work and not the cheapest to make for 12-15 kids.
Since then, we have just stuck to party snacks and birthday cake, as there is no written party RULE that you must serve a meal at a party, especially a kids’ party. The snacks are usually fruit (my kids love forming it into the kabobs!), often with the fruit dip from the Paleo Kids Cookbook, chips, Izze, and cake. If you haven’t heard of Izze, it’s been a huge help in celebrating with my kiddos! It’s basically just juice plus sparkling water (*note—the Izze fusions contain other ingredients, and we don’t use those). We have Izze at parties and on trips, not on the daily.
Let’s talk cake— we often do a Simple Mills cake mix with Simple Mills frosting. Just as easy to buy and make as regular cake mixes and canned frosting, but with SUCH better ingredients. We love the chocolate cake mix, but don’t recommend the vanilla. This is a case where we let good enough be good enough. Yes, there is some sugar in the frosting. But I can pronounce all 10 ingredients, it’s gluten-free and dairy-free, AND I didn’t have to make it from scratch! This has been a happy middle ground for us on special occasions. My kids’ friends have never made any negative comments about it.
How often do you give your kids dessert?
Every Monday night for family night and we do a cookie once per week in their lunch box. Recently we did homemade paleo chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches with SoDelicious coconut milk ice cream and a made chocolate shell from Enjoy Life chocolate chips. It was amazing!
I could eliminate all treats, but I’m not convinced that would improve their relationship with food. I’d rather show them how delicious paleo options can be, and that treats don’t have to be a source of guilt or overindulgence.
I have worked hard, however to not overuse treats on holidays (as previously mentioned), traveling, or to soothe. Traveling is more about memories than car treats and restaurant treats, and my kids didn’t notice the lack of junk on our road trips. And if they get hurt or have a bad day, we don’t throw candy at that either like we used to.
I know this can all seem overwhelming. But, carefully decide the right path for your family and move forward. It won’t be perfect, but slow progress is the goal. You can do this!
Autumn Michaelis is a Certified Whole30 Coach, and an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist, with a B.S. in Exercise Science. She has facilitated wellness programs at the university and local levels. Though exercise was her first love in the health world, nutrition has become her passion. She is a mom to 5 boys (yes 5!) as well as a recovering sugar addict. Whole30 was the catalyst for Autumn to finally reach a healthy relationship with food and her sugar addiction, and she is thrilled to share that with others.
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