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I Fed My Daughter a Strict Paleo Diet for 2 Years and This Is What Happened

MINA BAIE

When I was pregnant nearly four years ago, my husband and I watched Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. We were inspired to try a juice fast- though because I was pregnant, I did the Whole 30, so I did sort of a juicing/ Whole 30 combo. I felt great! But dang, I ate a lot of croissants the minute day 30 was over. As in, I waited for midnight, and then had 3 chocolate croissants. I can't say I recommend drastic diet changes while pregnant... Anyway, my husband did 30 days of only juicing, and the effects were staggering. He had suffered from constant headaches, joint swelling, fatigue, etc. The headaches and swelling were completely gone within a week of juicing, and the fatiguelifted after about 3 weeks. He began the Paleo diet after the cleanse, and after another month, he felt healthier than he had been in years.


We decided to stick with the Paleo diet when our daughter arrived. We thought if we exposed her to only healthy foods, she would develop a taste for only those foods and she'd grow up to be the healthiest and happiest person ever because bad nutrition is the root of all that is bad, right?!


We waited until she was 8 months old to introduce egg yolk, then jello that I made from my own expressed breast milk, then grass fed steak and organic avocados. No juice, no fruit snacks, no goldfish crackers or pb & j's. Oh, how smug I was...
People would always ask me: isn't that exhausting? Hell yes. I had to prep and box up foods that she could eat to bring to every family event. I had to police friends and family at gatherings who would try to give her cookies and chips (this happened a lot). I had to police myself so that I never ate non-Paleo foods in front of her. I had to check out restaurant menus online before going, just to be sure they had something Willa could eat. Mostly though, I cooked all our food myself. The vast majority of convenient foods and restaurant offerings are decidedly not Paleo, and if you are cooking for a family this means you do a *lot* of meal prep. It was very tough, but I was committed...


A few months ago, we were out to dinner with family. We were all talking and laughing when Willa ducked under the table. It didn't even really register, because we are a big family and she is a wild girl who doesn't sit still in restaurants. I've learned to carry on a conversation as she climbs up my seatback to jump onto my head- so her being under the table was nothing to bat an eyelid at.  What *was* out of the ordinary was that she suddenly became very, very quiet. After a minute I realized she must be up to no good, and I popped my head down to catch her. And what was she doing? Eating a piece of bread. She had snatched a slice of bread off the table and was going to town on it like Gollum had caught a fat, juicy fish and crept away into a dark tunnel to devour it whole.
Defeat washed over me. I had tried so hard to do everything right for two and a half years and it was totally backfiring. Not only was she eating a sugar-laden slice of white bread, but she was doing it in secret. It suddenly dawned on me that I could try like hell to make her to eat the healthiest diet on earth and still fail her by fostering an unhealthy relationship with food. What was I doing all this for? And at what cost?


In that moment, as she looked up at me with those big, guilty, Gollumy eyes, I took a deep breath, and released us both from my need for perfection. I smiled and said, "would you like to come eat that up here, where you can see?" She nodded and scurried up onto my lap, then delightedly nibbled away at her piece of bread. When she was done with that, she tentatively reached for an onion ring and looked at me with those big, pleading eyes and a mischievous half smile.


"Go ahead," I said. I wondered if I had just opened the flood gates. Would she ever eat braised kale or shredded daikon salad again, or was it gonna be chicken nuggets and french fries from here on out?


Well a few months later, I'm glad to report that she still happily eats a mostly Paleo diet. She is not obsessed with treats and junk food. Tonight she ate a big plate of smoked salmon, sauerkraut, and field greens for dinner, and then she had a kombucha Popsicle for dessert. And last night she had two slices of cheese pizza. I'm (slowly, painfully) realizing that it's not all or nothing- we can expose our children to a wide variety of colorful and nutrient dense foods, and we can teach them the joy and ease that moderation brings about. Gee, what a concept!


Have you struggled to find a healthy nutritional balance for your children? How has your perspective on food changed as a parent? We'd love to hear your words of advice and tales of woe over on our Instagram page @minabaie.