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.

A Fondness for Facebook

I love the internet, but more specifically, I love Facebook. I used to be annoyed by the hype of it all, but recently I’ve owned it and made it work for me. Each day my News Feed brings me photos of my friends’ cute kids, exciting news about a pregnancy or promotion, and lots of articles that friends share and bloggers write. I dig into each and every one and read and enjoy everything from stories of Modern Motherhood to the ins-and-outs of Insulin Resistance. The shift from Annoy to Love for this social media occurred when I was tired of feeling guilty about my Facebook ritual, and I asked myself what I really wanted to spend this time doing. My answer was a customized space that transformed the infamous Time Suck to a message of permission to myself–Get Inspired to Write.

Thankfully, it’s done just that. This week I’ve been compelled to write this post based on the following stories I found on Facebook:

7 Things You Don’t Know About A Special Needs Parent


Tips for Food Allergies: A Child’s Perspective

The topics are varied, but both of interest to me. Clearly, an article that outlines the honest thoughts of a special needs parent is right up my alley. Additionally, a mom’s article from a child’s perspective on the effects of food allergies definitely grabs my attention.

I still very much operate in my teacher brain most days. So hopefully, it’s not completely shocking to you that I would like to create a Venn Diagram (overlapping circles that show how 2 or more things are alike and different) on these articles and find several powerful messages that lie in both of these stories. I loved both of these articles and could not resist the urge to compare and contrast, so here are the similarities that stood out to me:

Both moms take a big personal message and write in a clear and concise way. It’s as if they are saying, “I don’t want to overwhelm you with how important it is for me, so I’m going to break it down into just a few points to help you understand”, i.e. 7 things and 10 tips.

Both moms write from a place of isolation. Maria Lin’s third point is how alone she feels raising a special needs child. Referring to her son, Jacob, Maria shares, “With this honor of caring for him comes the solitude of the role.” Gina uses her child’s voice to drive home the isolation, “Having another friend with food allergies in my classroom or to eat with me at lunch would help me too”.

Both moms are owning their vulnerability. One of my favorite Likes on Facebook is Brene Brown and her amazing work on vulnerability. I see these women sharing and owning vulnerable, but universal thoughts, like jealousy and embarrassment.

So after finding these similarities and displaying this diagram, I would take it a step further with my students…what can we learn from these articles? What can we take with us in our lives?

And maybe it’s because I see so much of myself in both of these writers, the answers are crystal clear to me.

They come from a place of love for their children and a desire to get their truths out.

They are owning it and sharing it and feel brave and empowered enough to educate you.

They don’t want to live in it alone anymore.

They are modern mothers, using the power of social media to bring about changes in opinion and changes in how others see them and/or their children.

They are brave and smart and inspiring for writing their truths. And so are my friends who shared it with me.

Did I mention that I love the internet?

Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.

There’s a lot of talk in the Paleo world these days about customizing Paleo to fit our individual needs. There’s the 80/20 rule, where an individual can be living strict Paleo only 80% of the time and have sensible non-Paleo foods and treats the other 20%. There’s the cold-turkey 30 Day approach to going Paleo. There’s an allowance for more carbs for a more active lifestyle.  And then there’s dairy–lots of talk about dairy–cheese, raw milk, kefir and other sources leave a pick-and-choose kind of approach for each individual.

I whole-heartedly agree with a variety of approaches to meet a variety of needs, and I think the Paleo Community is doing an excellent job of forward thinking to support the needs of different bodies, personalities, and learning styles. There’s so much support in this community and what I hear most often is the consistent message–Find Clean Food that works for Your Body.

After two years of living a Paleo Lifestyle, we can safely say that there is no such thing as Perfect Paleo. We think that living Paleo can best be described as an individual’s journey toward better health through educated food and lifestyle choices. To find the consistencies within the inconsistencies is the job of the individual and giving this power to an enabled, educated, and willing individual is a recipe for success.

We also have come to believe that there is a very important message that must be delivered as a tag line within the variety of approaches. It goes like this: In addition to changing the way you eat, you must change your lifestyle to Prepare this healthy food that nourishes your body. Planning meals, shopping, and making time to prepare them is crucial for cleaning eating and success with any kind of Paleo plan.

I know this is hard. Our world is full of fast-paced activities and commitments that take us right up to the dinner hour. McDonald’s and Taco Bell become quick options for dinner when the family is starving and there’s nothing ready at home. I get it, and we used to live that way. We definitely miss the convenience of our old SAD (Standard American Diet). I was just talking about this very topic with my friend Rachel (a fellow Paleo mom) a couple of weeks ago. We were fantasizing about the old days and how easy and freeing it was to order a pizza for dinner.

If you are serious about eating Paleo, picking up dinner is not an option. It’s a plain and simple lifestyle change to cook and prepare food like our grandparents used to do it.

Plan Ahead.

On Saturday morning, we look at the schedule for the upcoming week and write down which evenings look crazier than others. Our family juggles school, therapies, swimming lessons, workouts for Mom & Dad, and lots of dance lessons for the girls. I know it’s the start of the weekend and I really don’t want to think about the next week either, but the list for the grocery store needs to be made and the meals for the week must be made from those groceries.

Here’s what works for us. We keep our freezer stocked with meats that we pick up from a variety of places. We shop at Costco, our local grocer, and our local meat market. We typically shop for these meats once or twice per month, depending on budget and schedule. (Note: I would love to tell you that they are all pasture-raised and grass-fed, but that’s not our reality. We are certainly working toward that goal while being patient with ourselves at the same time.)

So, we look at the meats that are in the freezer and fill in the protein for each dinner. We consider which nights need an easy-to-prepare-protein and which nights will take more prep and time. Typically, on Mondays we have skirt steak. Tuesdays we make chicken thighs. On Wednesdays Chad picks up fresh fish. Thursdays we have pork, and Fridays we usually have ground beef. Saturdays we start the rotation over again but we don’t plan the weekends ahead, as there’s always last-minute company for dinner or a change of plans. We don’t plan to eat leftovers for dinner. They are gobbled up for lunch by myself and the kids, and there’s rarely any wasted food.

Next, we fill in the veggies to go with each protein. Sometimes, the veggies and the sides make a meal, and other times the veggies just exist separate from the protein. This is where the Paleo websites and cookbooks come in handy (see our family favorites at the end of this post). From here we make our grocery list that typically lists all produce section items on one side and all other items on the other side.









Be Prepared.

Now that the meals are planned and the groceries are bought, it’s time for teamwork.

Communication is essential to making this work. It takes a strong team to put dinner on the table every night. Split the jobs and be clear about timing and expectations. The parent that picks up kids is in charge of making sure they have healthy snacks after school, practice, or therapy to prevent a meltdown. We love beef jerky, almonds, squeezable applesauces, and even smoothies.

The parent that arrives home first knows the plan and starts some kind of dinner prep…washing veggies, putting meat in the oven, or starting the barbecue.

If one parent plans the meals, shops for the food, cooks the dinners, and cleans it all up, it’s a recipe for burnout and you’re back to ordering pizzas. It needs to be a team effort. If you are the parent that does not cook or doesn’t even know where to start in the kitchen (that used to be me), offer to do the weekly grocery shopping and nightly clean up. Have your partner teach you some basic cooking skills to share some of the easier duties.

Have a back-up plan in case someone gets home late, the meat is still frozen or the kids have melted, regardless of your best efforts. Our back-up plan is always eggs. You’d be amazed how fast you can whip up a omlette or scrambled eggs for an easy and nutritious dinner.

It may seem labor intensive and very different at first, but making time to plan and prepare meals is the way many generations before us have eaten. We need to go back to our roots and stay away from food that comes from a package or a drive thru window. Give your family the gift of health in the form of a family dinner that you’ve prepared.

Here’s links to some of our favorite recipes.

Skirt Steak–Beef with Broccoli 

Chicken thighs–Better Butter ChickenSun Dried Tomato Chicken BakePecan Crusted Chicken. Smoked Paprika Chicken.  Whole chicken–The Bacon Chicken

Ground Beef–Meatloaf. Chili (in Sarah’s cookbook). Stuffed Bell Peppers

I recently found the website PaleoPot which offers Paleo friendly meals for your Crock Pot or slow cooker. We have yet to try any recipes, but we will be checking them out soon and using any ideas for those extra busy weeknights.

Please use the comments section to share any of your tips for preparing Paleo foods or making Paleo work with a busy family.

My favorite things…

I was never a huge fan of Oprah, but I do remember that she had an episode every now and then where she shared her favorite material possessions with her viewers. I hate to sound like a Bitter Betty, but really? What is the point of this?  Except making extreme amounts of money for some company that manufactures T-shirt bed sheets and making the rest of us feel envious for her over-the-top lifestyle, it seems a little shallow and self-absorbed to me.

So, here I go with my list of favorite things, which are quite a bit different from Oprah’s. These really have become things that we couldn’t live without. Chances are you won’t be jealous of my lifestyle after reading these and hopefully you’ll actually find some valuable down-to-earth products that will help you make it through a difficult day.

1. Microwavable bacon–okay, I know that hard-core Paleos may squirm at his staple in our household, but school day mornings are hectic and I am solo getting my kids dressed, fed, and out the door. I’ve written about how some mornings with a dysregulated 3-year-old can be disaster, so here’s to something easy and yummy. We get ours at Costco for about 12 bucks.

2. Applegate Farms Hot Dogs….since we’re talking about meat….Applegate Farms  grass-fed beef hot dogs are another quick and easy meal option. They’re not cheap (Trader Joe’s sells them for about $5/package and I’ve seen them at Whole Foods for $7-$8) but you pay for grass-fed meat without nitratres or preservatives.

3. Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil…hands-down one of the most valuable products we use. I firmly believe that coconut oil has healed Charlotte’s gut in a way that few other foods could. We buy the gallon size every 4-6 months and use this to cook everything from sweet potatoes to eggs to reheating leftovers. It also makes a great skin mositurizer and deodorant.

4. Trampoline–I recently asked Charlotte’s Occupational Therapist for one thing I could do to keep her regulated over the holidays. I was surprised to hear her say bounce-and-crash. We have always encouraged her to jump on the trampoline to gain proprioceptive input, but I recently added crash pillows for her to get the added compression sensation she is craving.

5. Benik Compression Vest–When Charlotte attended a center-based program last year, one of her teachers suggested a compression vest to help her sit still during circle time. It has become so useful and frequently-used over the past year, that I can easily tell when she needs it.

6. Sleep Sheep–My sister recently had her first baby, and I sound like a broken record when she calls to talk about the baby’s sleeping, “Do you have the sheep by her head? Is it turned up really loud?” We laugh about it now, but having soothing noise for babies or dysregulated sleepers of any age is priceless. We also use it at rest/naptime, setting the timer for 45 minutes, Charlotte knows she must rest in her room until the sheep turns off.

7. The vegetable box, as it’s affectionately referred to in our house, is our weekly CSA allotment. It often has fruit or non-vegetable items, but the all items are delicious and fresh, and it also keeps our meals unique and our fridge stocked with healthy fruits and veggies.

8. Eggs. A few months ago, I began to seek out fresh local eggs after the Costco Organic Free Range Eggs were looking pale in color and small. I was able to track some down from a friend who raises chickens. The color and size of real eggs is unbelievable, and I feel really good giving my kids such a visually nutrient-dense food.

9. My iPod–okay, so this one probably sounds materialistic and non-Paleo, but it wasn’t until I recently lost my iPod that I realized how much I loved mine and needed it. During Charlotte’s twice weekly therapy sessions, I take a brisk walk and listen to podcasts from my favorite Paleo people. They help keep me up to speed on my Paleo knowledge, in addition to making me laugh, and giving me motivation to keep on truckin’ on our Paleo journey. (Oh, and yes, I do get much teasing from my friends and family about what a nerd I am for using my ipod for Paleo podcasts versus listening to music like most people do)

10. Seat cushions (sorry I couldn’t think of a fancier name) I recently ordered them from Therappy Shoppe, and I could do an entire blog post about how when kids are comfortable in their chair during meal time, they eat better! Mealtime is much more pleasant without the wiggling and finding any excuse to get up from their seats.

This worked especially well for Charlotte because she is considered a “sensory seeker” and needs to feel the seat under her to be comfortable.

Stayed tuned for more of my favorite things because as I wrote this, I thought of about 10 more things I could’ve added……hmmm….maybe I’m more materialistic than I thought.