Transitioning Your Family to Paleo

Don’t Do It Like I Did It!

Family having meal togetherI created a mess that took a very long time to clean up and two years later, I’m still picking up a few scattered pieces of nutritional wreckage.   To this day, my family refuses to eat cauliflower, which became the symbol of Paleo rebellion in my house, but that’s the only vegetable still off the table and over time I managed to get everyone onto the Paleo bandwagon, albeit with a few caveats. Let me insert here that I have two teenagers and a husband whom at the time of transition, were completely uninterested in changing their eating habits.

My transition to Paleo had been so easy and positive that I very naively assumed my family would happily follow suit. Wouldn’t they want to feel as good as I did even if it meant drastically changing a lifetime of nutritional habits? Surely they could see that this was the way to health and happiness and they would be willing to sacrifice sugar, dairy, grains and legumes to get there. Well, not so fast. Neither my husband nor my kids wanted to go anywhere with me if it didn’t include sugar, dairy and grains (nobody cared about the legumes) and they resented my unyielding dictatorial style. If I had been a little less autocratic and a bit more patient and compassionate, I’m certain things would have gone differently. That’s not to say that for some families, an abrupt transition can’t work. In this post, I discuss three transition methods: the speedy transition, the slow transition and the super slow transition.

The Speedy Transition

For families where there’s parental consensus for drastic dietary change and the children are young and have no idea what’s going on, an overnight transition can work. The pantry is purged of conventional foods and it’s all Paleo moving forward, no looking back.

The Slow Transition

In this transition, which occurs stepwise over a period of time, spouses and children are reasonably agreeable to nutritional change as long as it’s not too sudden and disruptive. This family might decide go gluten-free for a couple of months before taking the plunge to grain free. Perhaps milk is removed but other forms of dairy remain in the diet for a time and legumes are taken off the menu but favorites such as hummus make occasional appearances until phased out.

Instead of an all-out purge, conventional pantry items are replaced with Paleo counterparts one at a time as they run out. For example, peanut butter is replaced with SunButter or almond butter. Refined seed oils are replaced with coconut oil, olive oil and other healthy fats and low quality protein is replaced with higher quality choices. The family works together to find acceptable replacements for much loved conventional staples and builds a stockpile of new favorite Paleo recipes

Illustration of a Family Stocking Their Shelves with GoodsThe Super Slow Transition

If you don’t have top-down support, i.e., your spouse is not on board and you have children who are old enough to know what’s going on, who are able to feed themselves and who are not interested in changing their eating habits, do not attempt to transition your family overnight. In this situation, a slow transition may eventually get you to where you want to go however, a super slow transition, aka, a take it so slowly nobody realizes what’s happening transition may be your best bet.

In this scenario, conventional foods continue to play a major role in the family’s diet and Paleo meals and snacks are slowly, or if necessary, clandestinely introduced into the meal rotation. Nobody needs to know that your delicious grass-fed steak and sautéed veggie dinner is Paleo. They just need to think dinner tastes great and makes them feel good so they’ll look forward to more dinners just like it! In this transition, there’s no timetable for your Paleo destination, just a journey towards healthier eating and living. Progress may be painfully slow but even one successful Paleo meal a week is better than none!

It’s important to remember that transitioning to Paleo is a different journey for every family and every step you take no matter how small is a step in the right direction.  

With regards to my own family, after experiencing a tidal wave of resistance to my inappropriate attempt at an abrupt, speedy transition, I realized I had to take a big step back and be a leader, not an enforcer. I committed to leading by example and having patience with my loved ones who although traveling along side me in this life, are on their own journeys.

roasted-chicken-drumstick-smI prepared meals and snacks that were delicious first, and just happened to be Paleo second. As I found recipes that everyone liked, I added them into our meal rotation and eventually, dinner became a Paleo event. For breakfast, I would prepare casseroles or a couple dozen egg muffins and serve them first thing in the morning before my kids could pour themselves a bowl of grain based cereal that I was still keeping around as part of our truce. I made loaves of Paleo bread and all kinds of Paleo desserts to help develop everyone’s affinity for Paleo and ease their transition.

My family appreciated all the really good food I was cooking for them and they gobbled up everything I served but they wanted their old favorites too. I played both sides of the fence for a long time, serving new Paleo meals, foods and snacks and keeping old comfort foods in the house. I made sure to set a good example personally and I waited. I waited for everyone to start choosing to eat Paleo on their own accord. About a year into our transition my husband had to admit that he felt much better when following a Paleo lifestyle and he came on board.  With a Paleo partner by my side, it became a lot easier to nudge the kids closer to the lifestyle. We’re not 100% there but nowadays, my family is mostly Paleo at home with the caveats that cauliflower is a banned food (don’t worry, I haven’t given up on getting this excellent veggie back to the table!) and my kids aren’t Paleo at school or with their friends. I encourage them to make healthy food choices when they’re on their own and I trust that more sally-familyoften than not, they give it their best shot. I’m very proud of how far my family has come in our ongoing transition to Paleo.  We’ll just keep on keepin’ on.

Have you transitioned your family to Paleo or is this something you’re currently working on? What method worked or is working for you?  I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

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