About peacelovepaleo

A mom of an autistic child trying to help other families adopt the Paleo diet and lifestyle

My New and Improved “To-Do List”

I’m a big list-maker and the To-Do list has always served two purposes in my mind: write an important task down so that I don’t forget to do it and have the things I’ve done that day written down as visual confirmation of tasks accomplished. I love the feeling of getting things done, and I have even been known to finish something and then write it down on my list just to have the satisfaction of crossing it off.

This task-oriented machine that lives inside of me is both a blessing and a curse. I manage to accomplish quite a few things in a given period of time, but it’s difficult to keep myself in check. When I get going on my list, I get so overwhelmed with everything that has to be done, that I sometimes skip meals, stay up too late, or miss out on moments to relax and do something for myself. Oftentimes the blinders that I wear when it comes to accomplishing things keep me from really listening to what my body needs.

I spent years letting my To-Do list run my life. I was sending constant stress signals to my body to get things done and keep things perfect. I didn’t realize how dangerous these messages were until my body and mind had enough. Charlotte was born, and I got so sick with adrenal fatigue and depression that I had to embrace a different mindset about getting things done. The blinders had to come off so I could listen to the needs of my body and re-learn my limits.

The Have-To-Do List

My To-Do list today looks very different than it did in back in my perfectionist, plate-spinning days.  Instead of a list of tasks that I feel that I must accomplish or the world will end tomorrow, I chose a few things that really need to get done to keep my household running smoothly. Typically, I keep a list of groceries that I need for meals for the week, any items or tasks for the girls’ school/therapy/activities, and another list for finances and making sure the bills are paid. My general attitude is that if I’ve covered these things, everything else kind of takes care of itself.

The Want-To-Do List

My old To-Do list was a combination of household items that MUST be done mixed in with personal challenges or activities that were intended to be fun and healthy, but turned stressful with the wrong mindset. Exercise is the perfect example. I used to tell myself that  I HAD to exercise everyday, and I would wrap myself in guilt if I didn’t get to the gym. Now I reward myself with exercise if I’ve finished what I need to from my have-to-do list. I also switched to doing a variety of exercises that I really enjoy so it really feels like something I WANT to do.

I wrote last week about my near meltdown and learned that when I filled my day with too many have-to-do items, negativity and crankiness spill over into my time with the kids or Chad. Whatever I may have accomplished will never outweigh the feelings of impatience around the kids or a pending personal implosion.

So for me, things like blogging, reading, calling a friend, or taking a nap all fall into the want-to-do list. I’m learning to organize my day so that these important tasks get done and have the same importance as the things that I HAVE to do. When a pocket of time opens up, I fill it with something that I WANT to do. It’s a win-win when I take time for myself and get a feeling of accomplishment.

Paleo

Changing my mindset about which tasks in my life are things I have-to-do and which are things I want-to-do has been very powerful, especially when it comes to the Paleo Lifestyle. I remind myself often that we are choosing to live this way. Keeping Paleo a want-to-do item helps keep the demands of this lifestyle in perspective. Whether it’s trying one new Paleo recipe this week or tracking down some hard to find pasture-raised meats, it’s a personal challenge that I WANT to achieve.

It’s a constant work-in-progress to balance the things we want-to-do with the things we have-to-do, but thinking consciously about the choices I’m making for myself and my family are guiding me toward a healthier mindset while being kinder to myself.

photo: courtesy of Google images

The Mommy Meltdown

I can safely say that I avoided a dreaded Mommy Meltdown this morning. Hopefully, you are familiar with this term, and I am not alone and vulnerable in sharing how it feels when life gets so overwhelming and frustrating that I just lose all patience and any sense of calm and get….well, not a lot of fun to be around. I’ll spare you the details and just hope you understand how trying to exist in an exhausted/stressed/overworked state takes only a pouty-faced look from your 7-year-old send you into a full-blown “I cannot do this for one more second” kind of state.

This morning I won the battle with myself. I avoided screaming at the children. I didn’t even have to call and vent to my husband or best friend. I just dealt with it and moved on. I was so proud of this feat that I decided to do an entire post on what I consider the tremendous act of self-sacrifice that it takes to stifle a Mommy Meltdown.

After getting both girls to their destinations (school and therapy), I took a walk and began thinking about all of the things that led up to my anxious and fragile state this morning. There were certainly plenty of things, just as there always are. Your list may look similar, but in the last 24 hours, I’ve dealt with: a surprise insurance bill for supposedly paid therapy, seasonal allergies and crankiness from both children, my husband traveling AGAIN, slicing my right thumb on a mandolin and the annoying bandage that comes with the tender wound, not to mention dogs, meals, laundry, homework, and activities.

What I reminded myself on my walk isn’t necessarily “Paleo”, but just a life lesson that I’ve learned about managing my stress level and my personal health over the last few years. Dealing with all of the above junk isn’t really fun. It’s a pain in the butt….but it doesn’t have to make me feel miserable. I determine what makes me feel miserable and what makes me feel like I’m doing the best for my family. Simply, I am in control of my thoughts, and this is an especially powerful message that I say to myself when I’m having to deal with lots of the pain-in-the-ass stuff.

This is exactly what I practiced this morning when the pouty-faced look was just about to send me over the edge. I went upstairs (where my children were NOT) and realized that all of the negativity from yesterday’s events had flowed over into my mood this morning. When I had that ONE more thing to DEAL with, I felt like I was losing control of everything. It took tremendous self-control and self-discipline to walk away from a situation that was clearly getting under my skin, but I did it and it worked. I got control of my thoughts. I also made my bed and took a few deep breaths. When I felt better, I went back downstairs and dealt with what else needed to be done before getting out the door.

When I had a moment to myself, I took my walk, listened to Paleo Solution #125 on my ipod, and felt a little lighter knowing I only had to deal with the meltdowns of others, instead of my own, for the remainder of my day.

illustration: courtesy of Google images

Our Secret to a Delicious Liver Burger

Last night we grilled our homemade Paleo burgers and when I sliced into mine and saw juicy deliciousness running onto my plate, I knew we had a recipe that I was ready to share.

You may remember that Chad and I began a quest to incorporate organ meat into our diet after I realized that my hair loss may be caused by nutrient deficiencies as a result of my adrenal issues. Organ meats, especially liver, contain loads of Vitamin A, which was the main ingredient in the vitamins that were helping my hair grow again. See this post for more details.

We have consistently been eating beef liver for about 4 weeks, adding it to our weekly burgers. Each week Chad tweeks the recipe a bit working toward the right blend of flavorful juicy-ness that hides any metallic taste of the liver. As we enjoyed this nutrient dense meal last night, we discussed what we believe to be the secret ingredient to creating a moist and flavorful burger that contains both grass fed beef and beef liver.

Yes, it’s the candy of meats. A Paleo staple and my favorite food. BACON! Well, actually we used bacon’s snobbier Italian cousin–Pancetta. Pancetta is pork belly meat that is salt cured, seasoned with such spices as nutmeg, fennel, peppercorns, dried ground hot peppers and garlic, then dried for at least three months (source: Wikipedia). We love pancetta’s delicious richness and flavor, and we find that it pairs well with many meats and vegetables. It is more expensive than bacon and harder to find, but well worth the search, in our opinion. We buy ours at our local meat market where we pick up all of our grass fed meats, beef liver, and fresh fish.

After many attempts at getting this recipe just right, we can safely say that incorpoarting fattier meats like sausage and bacon/pancetta adds the juicy-ness that is difficult to get in a typical grass fed burger, and the rest is in the cooking:

Recipe

This recipe made 2 larger adult and 2 medium sized burgers for our kids. It was the perfect amount for our family, as our appetities tend to run on the higher end.

1 1/4 pound grass fed ground beef

1/4 pound beef liver (grass fed preferrably)

1/3 pound pancetta or bacon

4 large Italian sausage links (without casings)

1 whole egg (we use pastured eggs)

1/2 TBSP fresh basil (when chopped)

1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce

1/2 TBSP spicy or regular mustard

1/4 tsp olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Combine meats–we used the grinder attachment from our Kitchen Aid mixer to grind ground beef, panchetta, sausage, and liver. If you get the liver in a frozen piece (1 pound or 1/2 pound pieces are easiest to work with), thaw it slightly and slice off about a 1/4 pound. If you don’t have a grinder, chop up the liver and pancetta/bacon as small as possible and mix with other meats.

To the meat mixture, add the whole egg, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, olive oil, and spices and mix vigorously with a large fork and form into a large ball. Place the ball of meat into a large bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of 20 minutes. Form into patties appropriately sized for your family and grill over a hot fire for 4-6 minutes on each side, according to how you like your burgers cooked. Chad’s grilling tip: do not touch or press the patties while they are grilling to keep the juices in tact.

Serve on a bed of lettuce and top with avocado and/or your favorite burger condiments.

Health Update

I have always felt that Charlotte and my health issues stemmed from a lack of nutrients. As soon as we began the Paleo diet and consistently ate nutrient dense foods, we immediately felt better–I had more energy and Charlotte’s eye contact and sensory issues improved.  

As we have made a conscious effort to eat nutrient dense organ meats, our overall energy level has continued to improve. I have seen an improvement in recovery after exercise as well as a decrease in PMS symptoms. Charlotte’s sensory and social issues continue to lessen. While we are still working on sleep issues with her, we are confident that she is becoming stronger and more nutritionally sound every day.

Just this week Mark Sisson did this post on nutrient deficiencies and listed Autism Spectrum Disorder as a symptom of Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products, and we have seen a tremendous decrease in Charlotte’s Autism-like symptoms as we have incorporated more B12 into her diet through grass fed and pastured rasied meats. See this post for more information.

If you decide to try the recipe, please give us your feedback in the comments below.

Courage: Paying It Forward

A few weeks back when I did this post on food addictions, I mentioned that I would share my tips with you how to embrace being the crazy mom who doesn’t feed your kids Goldfish crackers like everybody else does. I’ve had many thoughts stirring in my head since then trying to figure out a way to write about how hard is it to be different from other parents, but how important it is to be true to yourself and the desire you may have to move forward on your Paleo journey.

I hadn’t put any words to paper on this particular post, mostly due to a lack of time, but also because I wasn’t really inspired to do it. Yesterday I became inspired by the post below from fellow Paleo bloggers, Stacy and Matt of Paleo Parents. They have a successful blog and cookbook and have been on a crusade to help other families achieve the success they have had. Since beginning their Paleo journey, Stacy and Matt have lost 200 pounds between them and their kids have seen tremendous benefits in their overall health and behavior.

 http://paleoparents.com/featured/the-fattest-people-in-paleo/

What I love about their blog is how courageous and truthful they are about their journey. They bravely share their before and after photos, as well as areas of their mental and physical health where they still struggle.

With courageous and truthful actions comes the risk of vulnerability. For Stacy and Matt, their honesty left them open to harsh comments and criticism on their weight and health status. Matt writes openly about this in the above post and shares how he and Stacy accept the risks of hurtful words with the sharing of their story.

I can certainly agree that it takes big acts of courage to be a Paleo blogger. Sharing personal information and photos about your children and yourself is hard to do, even when you believe in a cause with all of your heart. Like Stacy and Matt, I am willing to share our family’s story because I want others to feel the results that we have. The warm comments that come through this blog give me more courage to continue to share our journey and embrace any risk of criticism or negativity, so please keep the comments and questions coming.

I honestly feel like the reasons that parents like Stacy and Matt and myself share our stories openly is because we have learned to practice small acts of courage everyday by living Paleo. The world would be a better place if we all accepted each other as parents and didn’t pay so much attention to what we’re feeding our kids, but that’s just not the case. Just bringing an apple and some coconut chips to swimming lessons opens the door for other parents to ask what your child is eating and why. Bringing a gluten-free treat to a birthday party can bring questions and some looks of concern.

So today I’m paying it forward and asking you to embrace those times where you may be at risk for criticism or questioned for your food choices and push through it. I can speak from experience when I tell you that it gets easier to answer the questions about why your kid has a different snack at a playdate or school function. It gets easier to talk to your pediatrician about the changes you’ve made to your child’s diet. It gets easier to explain to another mom why your child doesn’t eat gluten or even whole grains.

When you begin to own your journey and speak your truths, your passion becomes contagious and the information you provide becomes powerful. These days when I’m asked how we knew Charlotte had a gluten intolerance or why we cut out grains, my straight up answer is “It improved her Autism.” These words are hard to say out loud in a casual conversation at ballet lessons or a waiting room, but they are making a lasting impact on the person I’m speaking to, and they give me the courage to continue to embrace our journey and speak our truths.

So, wherever you are in your Paleo journey, please continue to be courageous like Stacy and Matt, let go of the expectations of others, and own what works for you and your family.

 

photo: courtesy of Google images

What’s for Dinner?

I used to try to do everything right. I was a perfectionist in many ways, always trying to do things just right so that I would not be judged too harshly or fail at anything. Then I had kids and that didn’t work so well anymore. Trying to keep a clean house and have well-behaved kids while being a perfect wife was an unreachable goal that only led to anxious and negative thoughts.

Today I manage my household much differently and have realized the value of our family’s priorities. I learned to say No more often and lower the unreachable expectations for my kids and myself. I still struggle with micromanaging all of it on some days, but for the most part I’m better about enjoying my kids and being a mom.

When we adopted the Paleo diet, we fell into a simpler rhythm and a lower stress lifestyle. It may be difficult to believe that giving up convenience foods can make life easier, but it does. Living Paleo can actually complement a low-stress lifestyle and free you from many other demands. When life is focused on food and family time, there isn’t a lot of time for hectic over scheduling. If you must be home to prepare and clean up dinner, feeding the family takes priority, and you find a way to get it done. Everything else seems not as important.

When I get overwhelmed with being a mom and wonder if I’m doing enough to raise happy and healthy kids, I step back and know that if I get a Paleo dinner prepared and on the table each night, then I know I’ve done a lot of things right.

We focus on our Health. Grass-fed meats, salads, and quality vegetables fuel our bodies after a long day of school, play, or work. Our girls don’t eat food that comes from a package or box. We’re providing them valuable nutrients that are improving their current health and laying a foundation for a healthier future.

We express gratitude. We have recently begun a nightly prayer in Thanks to God before we eat. It gives us a moment each day to be grateful for the journey that we are on toward better health and success in meeting Charlotte’s needs. It’s very sweet to hear the girls thank God for each other, their friends, and their school.

We enjoy the meal. Each Paleo meal is full of nourishing vegetables and proteins that taste delicious. It’s safe to say that Dana is becoming quite the Foodie, understanding and appreciating the flavors and textures of foods while cleaning her plate every night. In addition, the girls are learning to value the time it takes to prepare a meal in consideration of everybody’s needs and tastes.

We feel great. If you are currently eating Paleo, then you understand how great it feels. An increase in energy is generally the first positive response most people feel when they begin the Paleo diet. The girls have energy to carry them through their day, have fewer meltdowns before dinner, and generally have better behavior.

We treasure the time together. In the busy-ness of school, homework, activities, and travel, we have one opportunity each day to connect and talk together. Even though our kids are young, they are busy with their own interests. So when they ask me 500 times throughout the day, “What’s for dinner?”  I like to think they are looking forward to the meal and time together as much as I am.

When I advocate eating Paleo, it’s a simpler and healthier lifestyle change. With a focus on family and healthy eating, everything else falls to being less important. We plan to all be home in the dinner hour to come together and finish our day as a family. When we worry less about doing everything for everybody and concentrate on healthy meals and time together, we know we’re doing something right.

Pictured above: The Bacon Chicken recipe from Paleo Parents

Autism Awareness Day

I took Dana to Home Depot this weekend to buy our blue lightbulbs in support of the Light it up Blue Autism Awareness Campaign for Autism Speaks. She knows enough about Autism to know that her sister has been affected, but she wasn’t really clear about the term awareness.  I explained Awareness as people talking about and listening to those who have been touched by Autism as a way to bring about change and help the families that need it–just like we try to do with our website.

She nodded and said she understood. I initially felt good about our conversation and educating her about this grown up topic, but later I struggled with the term awareness and what April 2nd was supposed to accomplish. Does Autism really need more awareness?

People are aware. Just last week the CDC reported that Autism effects 1 in 88. That’s staggering. With those numbers, Autism will hit close to home, for many people. If it’s not your brother’s son or cousin’s daughter, it will soon be your child’s classmate, a coworker’s child, a neighbor down the street, or a child at the park.

People are aware. They are seeing it in their homes, schools, and community, and parents of children with other special needs wish their child’s issues were as widely known and accepted as those with Autism.

People are aware. So now what? What can I do about it? How can I make Awareness the way I described it to Dana–listening to those families who have been affected to bring about change.

The day is here. And with a small platform and a big voice, I have so much to tell you. What can I say on a day when everyone is listening that will make a difference?

It may not be life-changing or ground-breaking, but I feel like I’ve done my part today if I share the following things with you:

Toxins

The cause of Autism is unknown, but no one can ignore the daunting words like environmental toxins that swirl around the comments and chat rooms posted by moms and dads of Autistic kids. Toxins are everywhere and scary and they affect each child differently. It has been said that Autistic kids are canaries in the coal mine, letting us know that something in our environment is making the most sensitive very sick. Our experience tells us that toxins in foods contributed to Charlotte’s delays. Gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy were harmful to her system and caused neurological issues.

Removing these toxins improved her symptoms.

I can’t speak much for toxins in vaccines, but I will share this with you. The vaccine and Autism connection scared the crap out of us even before we had kids. Seven years ago when Dana was an infant the numbers were 1 in 166. That was enough for us to take alternative action. We were overly cautious and set up an alternative schedule for vaccinations for both girls (only 1 or 2 at a time/1 week apart). But despite our best efforts to avoid Autism, it was still handed to us.

That being said, Charlotte’s symptoms have always been very mild. She’s had only minor social delays with some repetitive language and sensory processing issues. She had no delays in receptive or expressive language and no significant motor delays.

It is our belief that if we had adhered to the standard vaccination schedule, her issues would be much more severe.

Support and Services

When Charlotte received a medical diagnosis of Autism in 2010, we were told that we would receive adequate support to get her what she needed, based on the information collected during the 5 hour testing process. This was not the case. While she had enough “deficits” to qualify for the label of Autism, she did not have enough “delays” to receive ANY treatment or services. We were referred to our local school district, whose tests indicated that her medical diagnosis did not match her scores for an educational diagnosis. In other words, she had the ability to learn and excel academically but she wouldn’t be able to sit still in her chair, do her work without interrupting other students, and would probably have trouble making friends on the playground.

We had to fight tooth-and-nail for her services based on the testing done at the time of her diagnosis. After four months of fighting with our insurance provider, we did get a contract in place for Occupational Therapy that helps tremendously with Charlotte’s mild motor delays, impulsivity, and sensory issues. The OT helps regulate her system so she can try out her new social skills, learn how to get along with her sister, and communicate with her peers.

Day to Day Life

We feel very fortunate to be where we are in this journey with Charlotte. We have overcome tremendous obstacles and taken control of her health issues while bringing the child trapped in sensory dysregulation and social anxiety out of her shell. We work hard to make sure she is feeling and acting her best every single day. We cannot let a day go by without checking to make sure we’re doing everything we can for her. Our meals, schedule, and life must be documented and planned to ensure that it works for Charlotte. Even small changes to her routine or environment can dysregulate her and turn our lives upside down.

With all of this in mind, please consider the following…

Autism is caused by environmental factors and affects the most sensitive of children.

Environmental factors like wheat, mercury, and milk may be harming our kids, but nothing will be done about it if it means loss of income for Big Food or Big Pharma.

No one can make money on a “cure” for Autism. Each child responds differently to his or her environment and each child must be treated and cared for based on their individual needs…there’s no pill for that.

Insurance companies are quick to diagnose kids on the spectrum, but turn the families over to school districts, who do not have funds or services to handle the increased numbers of children with needs.

Each parent who cares for an Autistic child must work diligently against the clock to protect their child from these environmental factors, while fighting for the services and therapies to help them.

I’ve done my part if you are now AWARE of what Autism really is…for our family, at least.

Food for Thought

I frequently have conversations with other parents about our diet and how it has benefited our family. Now that we are fully mainstreamed and Charlotte participates in preschool, ballet, and swimming lessons, other parents are genuinely surprised and interested in the issues we’ve overcome. Most people want to hear about our successes and seem comforted and encouraged by the fact that food based intervention can help some Autism symptoms.

These encounters are wonderful, and I swell with pride at what Charlotte has accomplished and everything we’ve learned as a family. It would be lovely if the conversation ended there, but usually I get many more questions about what we eat, specifically what foods we avoid. And telling people that we avoid grains and most dairy is like telling people that we are from another planet.  [But this post is not about that–when I’m feeling more reflective, I’ll give advice on how to embrace this lifestyle and how to enjoy being the crazy lady that doesn’t give her kids Goldfish crackers]

If you’ve had one of these discussions with me, then you know I try not to push too hard. I respect each family’s current needs and situation. This has been a long process for us with lots of learning along the way. I typically don’t nerd-out in those conversations and say what I really want to say, but last night I got brave and talked about food addictions with some new friends. It was fairly well received, so here goes.

You would probably agree with me that sugar is addictive. Well, what we came to realize the hard way as a family is that everyday foods that contain gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein) are addictive as well. The proteins bind to opiate receptors in your brain giving you signals of pleasure and telling you to eat more. That’s how foods like grilled cheese, pizza, and macaroni-and-cheese (all containing gluten and casein) taste so good and have come to be known as Comfort Foods.

Each of our opiate receptors respond differently to different foods which is why some people crave salty potato chips while others seek out the chemicals in a diet soda. Will Power doesn’t stand a chance when you’re trying to eat just one piece of pizza or quit your nightly visit to the freezer for ice cream–which is why eliminating these foods is so difficult and brings on awful withdrawl symptoms like crankiness, brain fog, and more cravings.

This explains why our kids love junk food and sugar so much. They get an immediate response that they recognize as pleasure. The foods taste good and they seek out more. Foods like vegetables and meat may not give the same pleasure signals. The cravings for processed foods are real and strong, and it plays out very simply in a child’s mind–I like this and I do not like that.

So hopefully it’s beginning to make sense why I advocate removing as much sugar and processed foods from your child’s diet as possible. It is a difficult but necessary task to getting them to open up to new foods and try different flavors and textures. We have seen incredible success by taking a slow approach to removing the addictive foods that were preventing essentital nourishment for Charlotte and Dana. When we were feeding them bread, pasta, and milk they would have never touched foods like Brussel sprouts, avocado, broccoli, kale chips, beets, and the loads of fruit that are now part of their regular diet.  It is so satisfying to enjoy these foods with them without bribery or punishment.

If you are considering the Paleo diet for your child, observe his or her food choices for a couple of days. Get information and see what needs to be addressed. Which foods is your child asking for consistently? What type of habits has he or she developed? What seems manageable to cut back on? Can you make any subsititutions for less addictive foods?

For more tips on cutting back on processed foods and incorporating different textures and flavors, see recommendations & advice. Also, please feel free to share any helpful tips that have worked for your kids in the comments.

Sources: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/your-brain-on-junk-food/#axzz1qcxWhE00

http://robbwolf.com/2012/02/15/carb-addiction-cake-is-the-new-crack/

 

Paleo School Lunches

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12 noon, I pick up Charlotte from her preschool classroom for the day. I walk by a table of 10-12 adorable preschoolers who are eating their individual lunches brought from home. Yesterday I counted 3 plates with macaroni-and-cheese, and typically there are at least 2 plates of leftover pasta and endless sandwiches with various flavors of bread. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not judging these food choices–I just take a quick glance to see where the rest of the world is with feeding their kids, and while I do see some fruit and meat, most of it is non-Paleo and processed.

It occurred to me yesterday as I watched Charlotte walk around the table and glance at her friends’ meals, many of which were unrecognizable to her, that parents have many obstacles to face when packing the morning lunch box–busy mornings, budget constraints, picky eaters, multiple children, etc.

While I certainly don’t have all of the answers, here are some things that work for us when it comes to packing the mid-day meal.

The Lunchbox

After reading about these on Everyday Paleo, we broke down and bought a Planet Box lunchbox for Dana for this school year (1st grade). While we successfully packed Paleo friendly lunches last school year, I got really tired of washing and packing plastic containers and lids, and dealing with plastic baggies. We splurged (they are a bit pricey) on the box, the cover with pockets for ice packs, and the containers.

We love it! The quality is great. It’s easy to clean and use, and it’s a good size–it fits right in the backpack. We have used the box for various meals and snacks when we’re on the go, and people always comment initally on how cool the lunchbox is and secondly how healthy the lunch is. At the beginning of the school year, Dana was telling me that yard duties and teachers were coming over to check out what was packed each day. I keep her very involved in the choices for her lunch and at the end of her school day, she proudly tells me when she finished everything or lets me know when something didn’t work or hold up well.

The Goods

Truthfully, it’s very simple. I always have a couple of kinds of quality lunch meats on hand. We use a 1/2 pound to 1 pound of turkey, ham, and salami per week from the deli of our grocery store. I ask for ingredients from the deli clerk to check for any gluten fillers or MSG. If you are interested in nitrate-free meats, Applegate Farms has a good selection at Trader Joe’s.

Dana likes to roll her meat with some cultured cream cheese (not 100% Paleo), some grass fed Kerrygold cheddar cheese, or avocado. Because Charlotte is more sensitive to dairy, I use only avocado in her lunch meat.

If we have any leftover meat from dinner the night before, I use that first. This isn’t always an easy choice since the meat needs to be enjoyed cold and can change the texture and flavor of the meat. Nevertheless, Dana loves leftover pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce and leftover grilled chicken in her lunches.

For the rest of her meal, Dana picks from an assortment of fruits (dried or fresh) that we always have in the house. I try to stick with locally grown (or at least domestically grown) seasonal fruits.Typically she chooses whatever is on-hand and fills the smaller compartments of the lunch box. She likes sunflower seed butter or almond butter on celery stalks (this is great in the long skinny compartment). We have recently been packing sunflower seed butter in the small container (buy separately) for dipping bananas and apples. In the picture above, we hollowed out some strawberries and filled them with the cultured cream cheese for a special treat.

I also keep a shelf in the pantry with dried Paleo-friendly foods that the kids can grab for a snack for school, home, or activity. This includes raisins, squeezable applesauces, fruit leathers, Lara bars, coconut chips, almonds, and pecans.

Charlotte and I typically eat lunch at home, but the times I have left Charlotte at school for lunch, she has gobbled up the turkey-avocado rolls and fruit.

Good Fat

I have found that the trick to making a lunch that keeps the kids satisfied with good energy for the remainder of their school day is including the fat. Using the avocado, coconut chips,  and sunflower seed butter ensures that they won’t run out of gas and be starving at pick up time. I would also include nuts and Lara Bars if they are allowed at your child’s school. Typically, Dana comes home, changes her clothes, and does her homework before asking for a snack. That’s how I know she eaten a breakfast and lunch that keeps up with her appetite and energy level.

Please share in the comments what your kids love to eat in their lunch.

A Gift to Myself

Finding an old writing entry is a little bit like finding a lost treasure. Coming across my own words and hearing my own voice can often pull me out of an unwanted emotion or the depths of anxious thoughts like nothing else can. I came across this today…it’s an old entry for the Las Madres newsletter (my local Mom’s group) on the topic of Time for Myself. Reading it today really helped me put things in perspective and again recognize the importance of taking care of my own needs. While the Paleo Lifestyle has clearly been my base for better health, it’s important for me to remember other experiences and components that have guided my journey.

Here’s a little background–this was in August of 2009. Charlotte was a year old and while she was struggling with Sensory Dysregulation, we were not aware of it and had not begun the Paleo diet or any other intervention (you’ll notice this in the chicken nugget reference).  

Time for myself….

Today I got a pedicure.  This one was different than any pedicure that I have ever received. After my polish was applied and I was left alone on the tan leather bench to dry, I cried.  Well, maybe more than cried…silently sobbed into the blue single-layer tissue from a box next to me.  I went into Lavender Day Spa with the intention of switching my toe nail polish to a more autumn-like hue and became captivated by the solitude and the voice of Ray Charles on the speaker. 

On July 12th of this year, I learned that my dad passed away.  Many of my closest Las Madres friends know that this has been a difficult summer for me. I have been dealing with the death of my father while my mother stayed in my home for 6 weeks, recovering from her ankle surgery (my parents divorced 6 years ago).   It was during this difficult period of time that I began to put my children in daycare 1 day per week and take the time to get through my personal challenges.  It was on one of my sacred Tuesdays that my need to sob became real and public.

I would love to say that PMS or hormones played a part in my emotional overflow, but sadly not.  It was in this quiet and safe place that I opened a hand-written, unfinished letter from my father to me.  Just a few days before the pedicure, my sister, my husband and I traveled to Texas where my dad resided, to retrieve his ashes and become the legal guardians of his estate in a Texas courtroom.  As a shocking gift, the letter given to me was found by one of dad’s closest friends.  In the letter, my dad granted me permission to let go of any angry feelings I still held toward him and to use his mistakes to grow as a person and be the best I could for my girls.

One of my friends suggested that I read the letter once and then place it in the drawer with other important documents in file called “Dad”.  While the burying of this letter and my feelings has been tempting, I know that the healthiest action for myself and my family is to come to terms with his death and the fountain of emotions that have followed. 

Is this feat possible with a 19-month-old who climbs like Spiderman or a 4 ½-year-old that asks “Why?” to just about everything? Where in my day between nuking chicken nuggets and folding endless baskets of clean laundry is there time to properly acknowledge my feelings and grieve my parent?  Yes, his death was messy and so is my grief.  Do I save my outbursts and pouring over his letter for my children’s naptimes and bedtimes? Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop so I can grow and learn and be a better parent than my father was to me.

In order for me to answer to my father’s dying wishes and heal from this pain, I need some time away from my children.  Most of us may think of time for ourselves as a luxury.  Grocery shopping without screaming, a massage at Splendid Foot, or the irresistible monthly Mom’s Night Out are any mom’s necessary vices.  However, my experience today at Lavender Day Spa taught me that time for myself is crucial.  Without it, I cannot rest, recover and grow as a human being. Leaving my time to myself to the schedule of my children will only allow me to be as good to myself as the length of my daughter’s nap. 

I encourage us to find deep, meaningful time for ourselves on a regular basis to refuel our souls, feel fulfilled, and find ourselves. Just as we learn from our children, we want our children to learn from us.  We want to be great models of love and respect, and portray the values most important to you and your family. I think most of us would agree that beyond all of these lessons and values, we want to give them our truest and best selves.  Taking time away from our children helps us to reconnect to the values, interests, and new and old experiences that make us who we are while we continue to recreate ourselves.  For if we lose touch with ourselves, we may be writing letters to our children asking them to be better than we were.

~Joy

Living Outside Your Paleo Bubble–kids birthday parties

We recently had a birthday party for Dana and Charlotte. It was a relatively small gathering for a few friends and family members at our home. We served lunch, sang happy birthday, and enjoyed cake. No one would ever know that our family, and specifically, our kids ate a diet that was different from any other child at the party.

The lunch spread included deli trays of ham, turkey, roast beef, salami, cheeses, and other antipasto treats like olives and sun-dried tomatoes. We did provide some dinner rolls for those who chose to make sandwiches. The crowd favorite was an enormous bowl of freshly made guacamole. We provided corn chips (gluten-free) and veggies for dipping. There was also lots and lots of fresh fruit. We received many comments on how fresh and delicious the food was. It was not limited to a Paleo diet, as most of our friends and family members eat grains and dairy, but we were still able to provide the birthday girls with a delicious lunch of their favorite Paleo foods.

I can assume that the positive comments that we received from our friends and family were based on the fact that our fare was considerably different from a typical meal served at a  kids’ birthday party. Foods of convenience like pizza or frozen hot dogs or hamburgers are the mainstay at kids’ birthday parties these days, and if you are trying to raise a Paleo family, you recognize what a challenge this is.

In the defense of other parents who choose throw a *traditional* party for their child with pizza delivery and store-bought cake, it was a lot of work and a significant expense to provide the spread we did. We woke early to prepare food, made a trip to pick up the deli trays, budgeted the expenses, and planned ahead to find a gluten-free cake that would be okay for the girls to eat. Our situation and lifestyle demands this type of planning and preparation.

We take that same mindset into modern-day parties and social events outside of our home when we know that there are going to be limited options for our kids to eat. Being prepared to attend a birthday party or social event with your children is the same as being prepared to go anywhere. You pack your child’s homework and anything they need for the day when they go to school. You pack a suitcase for going on a trip. Before a birthday party, you even buy and wrap a gift. Thinking about the food that you and/or your child will eat at that party is an often missed but crucially important next step.

Here’s some things to think about when you RSVP for your next kids’ party:

Meal or Entrée

*Email or call the parent and ask what they are planning to serve at the party before you attend. Explain that you are making some changes to your child’s diet and you want to be prepared. You may get lucky and have grilled sausages or barbecued chicken with fresh fruit and veggies.

*Feed your kids a big breakfast or lunch before attending a party where the entrée is not Paleo approved. If they feel full and don’t have a strong desire to eat, allow them to nibble on a few pieces of protein and spend their time playing and enjoying the party.

*Bring your own food. Pack a large snack or a lunch box for your child just as you would if they were going to school. If you feel the need, reach out and explain your child’s special diet. In my experience, this typically does not offend a party host or hostess, especially if you’ve taken care of the meal yourself.

Cake or Dessert

Oftentimes, the cake is the most sought-after part of the party for kids. After they have just consumed pizza or other convenience food, they can’t wait to wolf down a store-bought cupcake loaded with unrecognizable dyes and flavors, not to mention gluten and sugar.

My trick for the cake part of any party is providing a substitute treat that my kids love to eat.

Our family favorites include Curious George Bars and Tootsie Pops. These products including are sugar-laden, but typically gluten-free. (They may not be labeled as such as they may be produced in a processing plant that also processes wheat–please check with the product manufacturer if your child is particularly sensitive) Other options include homemade Rice Krispy treats or a homemade grain free dessert. Our favorite cookbook and website for delicious homemade grain free treats is from Bill & Hayley at the Food Lover’s Primal Palate. We all love the Coconut Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting in cupcake form.

Preparation–for the kids

This post wouldn’t be complete without a note about the uniqueness of your kids. After living Paleo for 2 years and attending numerous birthday parties with a 4-year-old and 7-year-old, I can safely what works for us, but I can obviously not predict what will work for your family.

Some kids are more sensitive to eating something different from the other kids. Other issues may be around giving up favorite foods and sacrificing party foods may just be too much, too soon. If you are leading your family on this Paleo journey, only you know what your kids can handle.

That being said, talking to your kids before any non-Paleo outing and setting expectations is a good rule of thumb. Understanding the needs and listening to the concerns of your kids before you are stuck in a no-win situation at party mealtime goes a long way. With Charlotte, we often show her pictures of where we are going, show her the food we have packed for her to eat, and let her know she has her own treat instead of cake or a cupcake that will “give her a tummy ache.” Dana can tolerate more non-Paleo treats than Charlotte can, so we often compromise with her. She’s a smart and sassy 7-year-old and has learned what we can live with as parents and when we put our foot down. She recognizes that this is our lifestyle, but we also try to be sensitive to how she feels eating something different from other kids. If she really wants a cupcake or piece of pizza, we try to discuss it before we arrive so we are all on the same page.

All of this may seem overwhelming and intimidating at first, but it does get better. Try to be as consistent as you can with your kids while still understanding that they are just kids, after all. As you progress with eating more Paleo foods, they realize that eating birthday party foods makes them feel yucky and cranky. Consistency with your food choices also helps your friends and family members understand that you are making conscious health choices for the sake of your child. Over time, they may become more sensitive and accommodating to your dietary needs. Until then, preparation and practice are the keys to success.