Concerned Grandmother Believes Paleo Is Hurting Her Grandson

I recently received this comment below from a reader on my blog post called “Is Paleo Safe for Kids?” I think this question is a perfect representation of how so many grandmothers, aunts, uncles, teachers, friends, etc. feel about the paleo diet for kids.

To be honest, her comment irks me a little with the whole “I don’t care what she says – I’m feeding my grandson what I want to feed him,” and the “fad diet” bit. But her concerns are very real, and her grandson’s mom is probably making some mistakes if this woman’s observations are correct. So let’s dive in. Here’s her comment.

My grandson is 5 almost 6 yrs old. His mother is on the Paleo diet & looks the healthiest I’ve ever seen her look. My grandson on the other hand is pale, very small for his age, tires easily, gets nauseous easily. The mother is constantly eliminating foods that he loves; oatmeal, cheese, brown rice, beans. It appears to me that the diet is good for her but not for him. The Paleo diet is a fad & parents shouldn’t be starving their kids for the latest. The mother isn’t open to any discussion about the diet. As a grandma when he visits, I don’t follow the diet in the foods I give him & he loves it but he feels guilty at the same time & that’s sad too for him. Kids are not the same as adults nor are they mini adults. Any suggestions?

Ok, a few things.

First of all, I’m happy to hear that your grandson’s mother is doing well on the diet, and secondly, I understand your concern. That’s why I wrote this post, “Is Paleo Safe for Kids”, and I strongly recommend that you send it to her. Adults – especially overweight adults – have VERY different needs than normally sized children, and she needs to make sure she’s giving him plenty of fruits, veggies, sweet potatoes, and other carb sources, plus plenty of Paleo fats, so that he has all the energy he needs to be a kid and continue to grow.

Here’s what I said in that post about that, and I’m sticking to it now. I think some parents royally F this whole Paleo thing up with their kids, and it’s dangerous.


Now, people do make mistakes when they put their kids on a Paleo diet, especially if those kids are active. Namely, parents put their little skinny kids on the same weight-loss Paleo menu that they’re on. That is, low carb.  GIVE YOUR KIDS ENOUGH CARBS! If they’re hungry all the time, not growing properly, fatigued, nauseous, or not able to concentrate, you’re A) probably not feeding them enough food in general and B) not feeding them enough carbs and fat. Meat and veggies are great, but just like an endurance athlete needs more carbs, so do your active, growing kids.

Sweet potatoes, squash, banana tapioca crepes, potatoes (yes, potatoes), and plenty of fruit will be your kids’ friends. How much of all of those things really depends on your kid, but I’d shoot for a couple pieces of fruit a day and a small serving of sweet potatoes or one of the other starchy veggies I mentioned above with at least one meal per day. And don’t skimp on those fatty, grass-fed cuts of meat. Kids need more fat than what comes on boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Give them the pork, the good cuts of beef, and some bacon. Coconut milk, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados will also do the trick. The fat will give them energy.

Having said all that, my advice to you is to respect your daughter-in-law/daughter’s wishes and feed him how she wants to feed him, just as you would’ve wanted with your own child (I’m guessing). If you don’t, it will only cause friction between the two of you (trust me – I’ve seen it all too often). It’s also maybe not the greatest idea to put your grandson in the position of feeling “naughty” and possibly feeling really sick because of your desire to give him non-Paleo foods. You said yourself that he feels guilty about taking the food you give him, and no kid needs to be torn between their mom and their grandma.

If your assertions are correct, and he does, in fact, seem sickly since the diet change, then I’d let his mom know that you’ve noticed that your grandson is not looking healthy and strong like he used to look. Tell her you’ve been doing some reading, and while her version of Paleo seems great for her, there may be a different version of it for her son.

I strongly urge you not to use the words “fad diet” with her, as it will probably make her shut down and stop listening to you (as it almost did to me). It’s not a fad diet to her, so there’s no use in name-calling something she loves. Know what I mean?

The other thing to consider is this: what if he seems sickly when you’re around him because you’re feeding him things that make him sick? It’s just a thought, and it may be worth talking to his mom about. Ask her if he always acts and looks the way he does when you’re around. And know that when someone goes Paleo and then they eat grains, dairy, sugar, beans – any of that stuff – some of the most common symptoms are fatigue and nausea…

Thanks for writing in. I understand you’re concerned for your grandson, and thank goodness he has so many people around him who care about him! It’s really hard to talk to parents about the way they parent, so I see why you’d reach out for help about this. I hope this post helps, and I do hope you talk to your daughter or daughter-in-law and send her that post I wrote on kids and Paleo.

Anyone else have any suggestions?


  1. Sorry, folks…

    Do you know a human being’s daily requirement for carbohydrate, irrespective of age? Zero. Yes. That’s right. Zero. So Granny is just antagonistic to her daughter-in-law. If the kid is acting lethargic, maybe Grams should cut out the high-sugar, starchy diet she feeds him (out of “sympathy”, probably) when he visits. No one can handle the infusion of carbs and then switch back to Paleo.. There’s the harmful part… HIs diet and his body are attuned to Paleo and Grams refuses to allow his body to stay clean…

    BTW, for anyone not fused to the NIH/USDA food pyramid, all it takes is to look at serious nutritionists to find the research backing the zero carb statement.

  2. Maybe the child is suffering from a mild food allergy. There may be something in his paleo diet that is regularly fed that is just not agreeing with him. I too follow the paleo diet but have to stay away from pineapple, melons and hazelnuts as they have this affect on me. Hopefully the mother can solve this issue soon! Best of Luck!!

  3. I’m going through this issue with my mother-in-law. It hurts as a parent that they would think we aren’t putting our children’s needs first. Me & my husband have done so much research on it for our children’s sake & we really believe this is the best possible thing we can ever do for them. We changed because myself & two of our children struggle with food intolerances & concentration/ behaviour problems so paleo seemed the best solution for all of us.
    We seem to be spending most of our days planning & cooking good nutritious meals for them only to have them sneak our little ones non-paleo foods whilst we’re in work. I’m finding it very difficult & stressful battling against them & as I don’t know any other paleo parents to talk to for support, its hard.
    We only started paleo a few weeks ago & my eldest daughter already seems to be behaving better & doesn’t complain of stomach aches any more. My husband’s asthma has gone already & we as parents feel so much better & have so much more energy to play with our children. How can what we’re doing be wrong?x

  4. So my wife has the whole family on Paleo. Honestly it’s takes getting used to, I’m not a huge fan of pumpkin, nuts or fatty meats. She started this while she was pregnant with our second child. Immediately from the moment he was born, he had problems. Can’t say it’s the Paleo…but my first child was born with no problems what’s so ever and she was raise on a traditional diet. So it has drawn me to question if it’s safe for infants, toddlers or children. So first off, my son when my son was born he had sucked down maconium (number 2) while in the birth canal, so the NICU spent two days removing it from his stomach. I thought because of that, it resulted with complication with keeping breast milk down, then we switched to soy milk, but still through up after every meal. This went on for 6 months. But after talking to DRs, they told me by mom going dairy free while pregnant could have resulted with my son building a intolerance to dairy. By the way, neither my wife or first child have any allergies…to anything, my side of the family has no food allergies, my wife’s side has food allergies to gluten. My son is now the first. So months later we realize he’s slow in developing…speech, teeth, weight…much slower than his sibling and peers. He walked at 9-10 months, same as sibling and myself. But I worked with him using the water bath walking practice test since he was born. He’s now 18mo barely has five teeth. The teething causes significant fevers and has now cause seizures from fever spikes. Currently at the ER and just found out he maybe diabetic. Now I questioned is my wife feeding him the right paleo foods. He takes in his eggs, red meat, white meats and loves his fruits and veggies. Still has a thing against dairy, not a takes in coconut milk sometimes. My wife loves the sweet potatoes and pumpkin too, and we all get those. Doesn’t like the sweet stuff too much. So I believe she’s doing everything right. I’m just confused at why this could be happening with the diet “lifestyle” like paleo, and my oldest again was raised on all the wrong stuff…and she’s is literally perfect…I mean she is in the top 100 percentile for height, top of her class in academics, natural athlete. I honestly feel that the paleo lifestyle contributed to my son being slightly weaker than normal…but other than my kinesiology degree, I have now solid professional input. What are your thoughts?

    1. Concerned Dad – That’s really unfortunate and I totally understand your concern. I really don’t have an answer for you to be honest. It’d take some digging to see if maybe your son wasn’t getting the right nutrients or enough food in the womb and after and even now. I don’t know what your wife eats or how much, so it’s hard to say. A lot of times when people just start Paleo they make some mistakes – they don’t eat enough, they eat too few carbs, etc. When I work with pregnant or nursing moms I suggest that they take Paleo VERY slowly so they don’t make any abrupt changes and mess with any delicate balances. Some moms lose their milk supply if they go Paleo while nursing – it’s really finnicky – so I wonder if her body (and his) just wasn’t into the change at that time in her life when she was pregnant? Or, it could be the meconium? I really am not versed in that, though, so I don’t know. It could’ve done something weird to his gut flora. Is he on a probiotic? Also, the soy milk may have messed with him. That stuff can be pretty gnarly for people who have a sensitivity to it. I’d take him to a naturopathic doctor in your area (or far away) who specializes in pediatrics and Paleo (check on to find one) and see if they can’t figure it out. I’ve had great success with my own naturopath.. Who knows – maybe he has some genetic issue or physiological problem that can be treated or even fixed? I really wish you the best. I hope you find some answers and that your son starts to get the nourishment and care that he thrives on.

  5. My Family started living on Paleo/Primal basis since Jan2014, so it makes 7 months of new style now. The concerns are: 1) My teen son who is almost 15 was not really looking fat, used to eat lots of fast food, had acne and loved so much Coke that he was already an addict, with new Coke drinking records every week. We started on Paleo and he never ever had those junks anymore, on his own account. We as parentes never had any problems to keep him on Paleo, which he enjoys and really loves all the food. But the problem is, he is now 20kg lighter (from 84 to 64) in a short period of time, and he is ok, but too light. And there is another thing, he is getting taller and taller (almost every week his height rises fast). He is still not done with the weight loss and I am getting worried because he doesnt feel like eating more than he already does. 2) My daughter is 10 and used to be a sugar lover, so much that in three weeks of Paleo (not that strict!!!) she fainted due to hypoglycemia – but that was just once and she is pretty recovered. Well, yesterday she caught a fever just after PE class, didnt feel like eating her delicious tapioca at school and came home so White and feeling really sleepy and nauseous.Well, she had no apetite at all and the fever went away at night, when she was asleep, no drugs needed…nothing, just water and rest. And I usually give my kids própolis in any situation like this, and that was all. So that was the chance for me to look at how thin she is getting, her school uniform is really loose now (bought it 2013!!) and she is not really fond of Paleo comfort carbs (like dark chocolate, honey, Paleo brownies and other goods) and she is getting really tal as well. So, in short, I am concerned and willing to learn with you what can I think of so they can put on some weight…..thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Patricia,
      Many parents have difficulty transitioning their children to a paleo/primal diet but it seems that you’ve had no problem with this. Active kids and teens need a lot of calories. An active 14 year old boy needs close to 3000 calories a day and an active 10 year old girl needs close to 2000 calories a day. Very active kids and teens such as those in athletic programs need even more calories than this. It sounds like your kids are getting adequate calories to fuel their linear growth spurts but not enough to maintain desirable weights.
      To start with, make sure your kids are eating three meals a day plus enough snacks to fuel their activity levels. Meals should be packed with protein, healthy fats and plenty of starchy as well as non-starchy vegetables. Are your kids eating white potatoes, rice and/or legumes? Whether or not these items are paleo/primal is debatable but if your kids tolerate them, you may want to consider adding these very palatable, high carb, calorie dense foods into their diets. To further increase the calorie load of meals, cook protein, starches and non-starchy vegetables in plenty of coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, lard and other rendered animal fats, butter or ghee or simply add these fats to uncooked food. Adding grass-fed cheese to meals can also increase calories significantly.
      Snacks can be mini-meals or simpler. High calorie options include trail mixes that contain nuts, seeds, dried fruit, dried coconut, dark chocolate (maybe your daughter will like it in the mix) and even jerky.
      More options include nut butter dips for fruit and vegetables, grass-fed cheese and fruit, or grass-fed yogurt topped with trail mix ingredients.
      Kids love smoothies and shakes and they are a great way to increase caloric intake. Try different recipes that use coconut milk, nut butters, fruit and vegetables. Throw in some avocado for creaminess and calories.
      And lets not forget paleo breads, muffins, cookies and the like which can add significant palatability and calories to the diet.
      Finally, as we say in the paleo world, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. If your kids need to relax the strictness of their diets a bit in order to perk up their appetites so they have the desire to eat enough to meet their needs, then that’s what needs to be done.
      Best of luck to you and your family on your paleo/primal journey!

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