Dear Mark: Raising Healthy Children

As we all know, our Primal lifestyles don’t exist in a vacuum or (more than likely) even a very compatible environment. That goes double for our kids. However committed and exacting we might choose to be at home when it comes to their diets, the minute they walk out the door they encounter a whole world of competing interests and influences: grandparents and other family members, friends’ houses, school lunches, social outings, even sports team trips (ah, the big yellow buses pulling up to McDonalds…). While some of us might keep our Primal commitments more personal, all of us want to see our kids eat and be healthy. That’s easier said than done unfortunately. Sometimes the challenges hit closer to home, as in this reader’s email.


I have what I feel is an interesting question that I don’t see addressed anywhere on the site. I’m pretty sold on the notion of the Primal Blueprint and I’m ready to jump in full force to change my lifestyle. I’m about to get married to a wonderful lady with 2 kids and she’s on board for herself as well. The question has come up though about the kids. While we both agree that eating healthier is a wonderful thing for them (and the Primal Blueprint way seems to be the best thing I’ve found in years of reading and searching), the problem arises with the differences between households. The kids basically split time with her and their father, and their father is pretty much a couch sitter who doesn’t adhere to a very healthy lifestyle at all. His diet is pretty typically American, although not even typically “healthy” American (whole grains, etc.) The kids would have weeks of low blood glucose followed by weeks of bombardment with high GI type foods. A week with us with controlled insulin production and a week at their dad’s without control of insulin production. This seems like it could cause more harm than good. My question is this…. Will switching over to a completely primal diet in our house and then sending them off to their dad’s house – to relapse back into a carb-centric eating pattern every other week – do them more harm than good?

Thanks to reader Jason for this one. The basic principle here applies to a whole heap of scenarios, but let me respond directly to the particulars of this situation first. It’s great that you and your future wife have found a common appreciation for Primal living, and kudos for sharing those benefits with the kids. Let me say this first: don’t sweat the diet back and forth too much. You’re not talking about a meal to meal shift. A full week of good eating at a time is nothing to shake a stick at. Sure, one half of their food intake should change, but it isn’t the half you and your fiancée offer them. I know what you’re getting at with the swinging and spiking glucose, but I firmly believe that the “break” those kids’ bodies are getting with the Primal eating strategy does them good. Although a week doesn’t allow time for a full metabolic resetting, so to speak, it does give the body a good stretch with stable hormonal balance. It gives the pancreas a rest from producing as much insulin, the liver a rest from (I’m imagining) filtering assorted junk foods, and the adrenal system a rest from coping with, well, the biochemical circus of carb overload. Rest assured, it’s better to be half Primal than not at all.

That said, I still think it’s worth trying to soften the blow of the alternating weeks. I don’t know what kinds of conversations your fiancée has had with her ex about the issue, but it’s a discussion worth having and even revisiting if there’s any chance for understanding or accommodation on his part. Obviously, these conversations can be emotional minefields, and I don’t pretend to know the particulars of your fiancée’s rapport with her ex. If it’s possible for her to have the conversation with him, keep it 100% focused on the kids and their health. After all, their well-being is a mutual concern. If he feels his role as caretaker is respected, he’s more likely to listen and engage. Just start by letting him know about the changes you’re both making for yourselves and the kids. Give him a chance to offer to make an accommodation or to at least show interest. If your fiancé thinks he’ll take the sharing as a personal affront to his own habits and intelligence, she can focus on the (basically true) “kids are still growing and need solid nutrition more than adults” angle. Even if he thinks the kids deserve some “treats,” it’s important to point out that the more unhealthy food they eat, the less healthy food they have room for. That said, it’s good to limit any negotiation/requests to a few carefully chosen foods/practices. It’s probably safe to say that the kids won’t ever eat Primally at his house. Pick your battles, as the saying goes.

And, again, the kids’ benefit isn’t dependent on the ex’s compliance. You and your fiancée are offering them Primal foods to fuel their physical and cognitive development. You’re boosting their immune function and promoting the healthy functioning of literally every bodily system they have. Another important point: you’re also increasing their insulin sensitivity as well as (I’d venture) their threshold for carb satiety. Although you probably don’t have the chance to observe it (and the kids the ability to realize it), they’ll probably choose to self-limit their sweet/carb intake more than they would if it were standard, full-time fare.

Ultimately, you and your fiancée have the opportunity to strongly and positively influence the children’s long-term choices as well as their understanding of overall health. No Primal parent can control every meal or outside influence. To some degree, we’re all in the same boat. I think the key isn’t to sweat the kids’ detours or derivations on Primal eating but to focus on the big picture. My son is a long-time vegetarian. It’s not the choice I would’ve made for him, but I respect his commitment. Over the years I’ve shared my perspective with him, and we’ve come to a middle ground that is considerate of his values and accommodating of my biggest concerns for his nutritional needs. I feel good knowing that he has the right knowledge about nutrition and a thoughtful approach to his diet.

At the end of the day, the best influence we can have over our kids’ diet (and overall health) is the model we present. They see us respect our bodies and make the time and effort to eat well. They see us make good nutrition a personal and financial priority. Although our particular choices might not always transfer at a given time, it’s the basic principles that definitely do set in over the long haul. It’s not about forcing Primal foods or manipulating them emotionally with warnings or judgments that will inevitably backfire (e.g. “You’ll get fat if you eat that.”). If they see us consistently value our physical health, they’ll learn to place value on theirs. With time and maturity, they’ll put those health values into practice on their own.

In the meantime, we can maximize their healthy choices in the here and now by stocking the house with only good Primal stuff and by engaging them in ways that make the “lessons” fun. We all know about the positive influences of eating together as a family, but consider taking it a couple steps further. Let your children cook with you and even shop with you. I know this can be an undertaking, but it can have big payoffs. Even better, grow a family garden or at least some window sill herbs and greens. Make the endeavor a family affair. Let the kids choose what to grow, and put them in charge of their own crops. Sure, all this lets them see how you make Primal choices from start to finish – seed packet/shopping list to dinner table, but it also gives you a chance to bond over food selection and preparation. They learn to enjoy food and see it as something to invest time, thought and enjoyment in. They gain pride in their efforts and accomplishments in the garden/kitchen. They have fun, and they get to spend quality time with you. In this way, you’re not just imposing your choices on them: you’re inviting them to participate in feeding and caring for the family. You’re sharing an experience with them. Put in this context, the “lessons” will teach themselves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on going Primal with dual households as well as going Primal with kids in general. As always, thanks for the great questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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93 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Raising Healthy Children”

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  1. Unfortunately, sometimes reality is a little more difficult to deal with when stepchildren are involved.

    In our situation, mom lives nearby, and the two kids (9 and 12 years old) don’t have long schedules with either parent. Sometimes they spend 1/2 the day with us, 1/2 with her. Or weekends are split. It isn’t a strict schedule and it works to keep the peace.

    Unfortunately, only having whole, healthy foods around translates into “dad, I HATE coming over here–you have NOTHING to eat!!!!” tirades. They are used to free access to a pantry full of junk from their mom. They are also involved in so many activities where they sometimes have just a few minutes to eat before coming home right before bedtime (not to mention homework).

    When there is already a desire to be at mom’s more than dad’s, this is not a fight I can do. Especially since I’m just the stepmom.

    What I worry about is my own 8 month old. He’s doing great with his start at solids–LOVES his meat. I don’t know how I am going to handle when his sisters come over and eat junk, when I want him to eat primally.

  2. My biggest concern is lunch for school. When I make it, although not perfect, it’s usually rolled coldcuts and fruit. Otherwise it’s sanwiches, pretzels etc. In-laws are the worst. So fustrating.

  3. My family is completely primal in our eating and activity. Up front we spent a huge amount of time really educating our daughters on the advantages of this lifestyle. Result is they now can’t stand to eat any other way out of fear of damaging their bodies. When they go to a friends house or party they use smart strategies like eating the meat out of the noodles, etc. They are never really hungry so they can even skip the food until later.
    This may work in some shared custody situations. If the children go to dad’s house and demand primal foods he’ll probably comply.
    For us educating and indoctrinating them was the best weapon of all.

  4. my kids’ school literally rewards children with candy daily. it is sad to me but not my hill to die on.

    our 3 boys are from ‘split’ homes too, in an almost indetical situation to the reader’s letter. my kids do make comments about wishing we could have more sugar, more fast food like they do at their other parents home. we just dont, and wont! we all deal, its ot perfect but is what it is.

  5. This is exactly the question I am wrestling with right now! I recently moved to a primal lifestyle, and have three young boys at home. I’m a single mom, so what I cook/create is what my little family eats.

    My boys love our traditional high-carb Hispanic foods, from tortillas to posole to pan dulce. I want my boys to be as healthy as they can be, I want them to grow to be strong, vital men. I am limiting their carbs, but making sure they have plenty of fresh veggies, root veggies, and some fruits like berries.

    Does knocking out the grains cause trouble for young boys? I wish I knew for certain. My guess is that they will be healthier and happier without the grains, but a reader on my little blog suggested I keep their carbs up.


    1. grains offer nothing nutritionally (and even act as a negative, sapping nutrients) and knocking them out will not cause trouble for anything.

      as long as you’re not limiting their veggies (which are full of vitamins, unlike grains) I wouldn’t worry about their carb intake. Like you don’t need to “count carbs” for them. Just let them eat veggies and meat and fats and fruit… until they’re full. And they’ll be healthy and vital. 🙂

      1. Thanks so much for your reply, FlyNavyWife. My husband was in the service, too, but I lost him in Afghanistan. He was really into eating meat, he would have loved this new lifestyle.

        My boys are resisting the “No more white flour” mantra, but I think they will come along just fine. 🙂

        1. best wishes to you, Lupe, and welcome to the primal community. i have a feeling you are going to raise three outstanding men!

  6. I don’t have any kids yet, but me and my fiancee do plan to hopefully have 3 or so in the near-ish future! 🙂 We definitly plan to raise them eating primal, and I REALLY hope this will help them avoid all the health problems that my fiancee and I have had to deal with growing up (glasses, braces, migraines, autoimmune disease, hypoglyceima etc). I think its really important for kids to know WHY they are eating the way they are–one of my HUGEST pet peeves while I was growing up was when my parents made me do something that wasn’t “normal” per what the rest of my friends were doing, but didn’t give me any reason for doing it besides “becuase I said so” LOL!! I’m so excited to teach my kids all about nutrition and health and all the things I’ve been learning about!

  7. When I was in elementary school, the school cafeteria used to offer a discount of 75 cents on lunch when you got milk. That isn’t to say the milk was cheap, it means that it cost more to buy lunch without milk than with it.

    While the jury is certainly out on milk, the point remains that schools are teeming with illogical policies that do not have childrens’ best interests in mind.

    I staged my first protest over that milk policy (and won – not bad for 3rd grade). But saving 75 cents just meant I could buy a candy bar. Oh unintended consequences.

    1. And that was a bad policy why, exactly? Milk may not be the best thing to consume, but it’s certainly better than everything else that’s on the average school lunch menu. If you’re going to eat carb load (spaghetti, pizza, 90/10 bun/meat sandwiches, potatoes and cookies on the side), why not at least have some protein and fat on top of it? And save money too!

  8. Eating a “carb-centric” diet does not magically = overworking the pancreas or high insulin levels.

    Kids do best on an unrestricted diet with as much nourishing food as you can get them to choke down. You’ll never keep your kids from eating junk food if they want it. Only maximizing the little ankle-biters nutritional reserves can you get them to truly lose interest in junk – assuming you don’t turn sweets into “forbidden foods.”

    1. Well, if the carbs you’re centering on are all fiber, you might have a point.

      If they’re something other than fiber, enlighten us as to the mysterious process wherein we consume carbs without engaging the pancreas at all.

      I can keep my daughter from eating junk food. It’s called not having it in the house. She’s five and not exactly old enough to be visiting other kids by herself. When she gets older, obviously that will become more difficult, so I’m controlling her access while I still can. A head-start is better than nothing.

      1. very true about just not having junk i the house. i think its amusing when moms complain about thier kids eating crap at home… um hello, its YOUR pocketbook mama.

        1. Oh that drives me crazy too! It’s enough that we have to deal with all the ‘snacks’ our kids eat after sports practices. I refuse to have junk food at home.

  9. I remember “back in the day” when the school lunchroom meant a mean old lunch lady with a hairnet and a full kitchen with pots of bubbling stuff being cooked on site. Now a school lunchroom is nothing more than a giant vending machine. All the food is in wrappers and stuck in a microwave. It’s not cooked anymore, it’s just reheated.
    Somewhere I read of a school that went totally organic with on site cooked stuff. It was an alternative school with kids that had behavioral problems. After they improved their food, the kids calmed down and their behavior was better. Does anyone remember where that took place? Oh, and they did it with the same budget as the garbage food.

    1. That was in Supersize Me. I just watched that for the first time last week (you can see if for free on Hulu!)

      1. Supersize me is a bunch of bull put forth by a guy who is a vegan…See the movie Fathead if you want the real truth. It was made in response to supersize me and it exposes the lies put forth by vegans…

        1. Have you seen Supersize Me? The guy isn’t a vegan, his girlfriend (now wife) is. He ate vegan dinners that she cooked to please her and after the experiment, he ate totally vegan for a few weeks on a diet she planned (and wrote a book about) to “detox” but he went back to eating meat. A quote: “I like bacon. I love pork chops.” His girlfriend compares ham to heroin. He disagrees.

          His scientific method might not be the best, but the movie is more of an indictment of sugar and junk/processed food (and fat–though PBers know that it’s just the wrong kind of fat) than of meat. In the end you still might not agree with his message, but it’s unfair to characterize the film as vegan propoganda. Vegans might use it that way, but I don’t think that’s the film’s intent.

        2. Shebeeste: Still, Fat Head is a better movie to buy/watch, since the guy began by disproving Supersize Me’s main premise, but then he also gets into Gary Taubes, carb/insulin metabolism (in a very well-done, funny and easy to understand manner; some excerpts can be seen on youtube), LC paleo eating with interviews from people like Drs. Michael Eades, Mary Enig, etc.
          The problem I find with Supersize Me is it basically tells you stuff you already knew… (fast food evil, processed+junk food bad… exercise good) – also as Fat Head demonstrates, the Supersize Me guy lied about his daily fast food caloric intake

    2. Dave RN, I think you might be referring to a show the english guy did… what’s his name.. Jamie Oliver. Maybe you don’t mean that one, but it runs on the same lines you’re talking about. Such an amazing transformation. If my toddler eats bread/grain junk at a party (the only time he gets away with it) he has a total ADD schitzoid tantrum with mindless screaming, seriously out-of-control psychosis. It lasts about half an hour then he’s back to his happy, energetic and normal sweet self.

      1. Meant to mention it happens about 24-48hrs after ingestion of grains.

  10. I’d just lay down the law. You are the one who will have to pay for dental visits and doctor visits and orthodontist visits that result from the SAD. So while they’re in the house, there will be no sugars or grains. Other than that you can only explain to them why their diet is important to their health, fill them up with nutrient dense food and hope they’ll be too full to have a bunch of ice cream when they go over to their friend’s house!

  11. A friend of mine was asking a question similar to the e-mail. He has four children and was wondering how he could implement a primal diet to his family. He tells me constantly that he and his wife just don’t have the time to cook real food. I have given him many ideas of healthy primal meals and he just won’t budge. It saddens me to see so many people who are brain washed into thinking that eating healthy is an inconvenience! The primal life, in my opinion is a very rewarding way to live.

  12. I have 2 kids – 11 and 13. My wife and I eat about 95% primal with a ‘zonish’ tone. ‘A Week in the Zone’ was how I got my wife to stop the grains/starches. Her nightly (19 out of 20 nights) indigestion went away completely in a couple of days.

    My kids do pretty well also. The problem is that sugar tastes so darn good! Especially to kids (and me – that’s a tough one sometimes)

    I think that explaining to kids why you don’t want them to eat shredded wheat or Cheerios (I grew up on Cheerios and Rice Chex) for breakfast every morning goes a long way. Once or twice a week – I’m not going to fight that. I think that you need to guide the kids to make good decisions and not force them. Slowly, they will make the choices on their own. Also, a lot of the choices they make, they honestly believe they are healthy choices – it’s what they have been and continue to be taught in school and television.

    I do wish I could find some fun videos that would explain the basics of insulin spiking and the results, the way that simple carbs vs fruits and vegetables are handled in the body, etc. Like anything else – if I tell them something, I can’t be right. If someone else tells them something, then they sometimes listen.

    1. Ha ha ha Steve, “if I tell them something, I can’t be right”. What’s with this and kids, huh?

      Well, my oldest is in college, and she regularly expresses wishes for my food now that she lives with a host family who is slowly learning to prepare foods she needs. She is so tiny, like under 100 lbs and she just lost 5 more lbs because she’d rather not eat than eat junk.

      When I sent her back to school after the holiday break, her goodies were not cookies, candies and other typical comfort foods moms send to college kids, but two full boxes of fresh produce, oil and coffee!

      I still have three sons at home who know everything and love junk food, but I have a lot of confidence now that they will be on board as adults, too.

      I cook, cook, cook, chop chop chop, and go to the food markets a few times/week to keep the fresh foods for them to choose easily. When it’s easy they will grab it, especially when other snack foods are not around.

      I do give them the junk they love, too, and I confess, as a reward or for appreciation of hard work, but it is rare and makes it special.

      I don’t even try to control their eating when they are eating out with friends or other families.

      It’s a process, and eventually, when you are consistent, it clicks.

      We need a living in the college dorms article, sometime, too! I am so glad my daughter lives in a home with a family that at least cooks foods and tries to get her what she will enjoy. I shudder to think of my son who will be a college freshman next year, in a dorm situation!


    2. Search Youtube for: Fat Head Why We Get Fat (and “Big Fat Lies”) … you’ll find a really good, relatively easy to understand explanation of blood sugar, fat storage and insulin spikes

    3. Oh like Schoolhouse Rock – fantastic idea! It’s time to update the idea that a healthy kid’s snack is orange juice popsicles. (Anyone old like me and remember that one? 🙂

  13. Mark’s primal omelet muffins have been very helpful at converting my 12-year-old son to the lifestyle. I fix a batch of a dozen or so for the week, throw in some uncured bacon or natural sausage, and he’s fine for the week. Helps him by having a non-cereal-based breakfast and he’s noticing the difference when he doesn’t eat as well at lunch. Small victory. I just wish I had more interesting ideas for his lunches that wouldn’t cause him to have to spend his whole lunchtime having to explain to other kids why he’s eating what he is. He’s certainly not ashamed, but the convenience of a sandwich (which I daresay almost all of us were accustomed to prior to going primal) is difficult to match.

    What sorts of lunches do you all pack your kids? Do you give them containers that they bring back every day and reuse? That’s a hard discipline for a kid to learn and then the residual food would invariably be forgotten, rot, etc.

    1. My husband takes basic tupperware-style (ziploc bins, really) to work in a comic-book-style metal lunchbox. 🙂 Our son enjoys taking food, but usually does so on trips away from the school, and such things must be ‘brown bagged’ and to be thrown away before they get back on the bus. :/
      It makes it hard to send anything that needs to stay cool, like meat; but I try to make sure he’s always got an extra snack, that WE know is healthy for him when he wants it.

      I do know that many of the grade/middle schools around here are open to a line of students after every lunch period, waiting in the office to use the room there for toothbrushing – they keep them in the nurse’s offices!! I thought this was a wonderful idea, and I doubt the school would object to a quick rinsing of ‘dishes’ after the meal.
      Wouldn’t hurt to ask. 🙂

    2. My boys (6, 8 and 9) have always taken reusable containers in their lunchboxes, and we only lose maybe a couple a year.

      The first thing they do when they come home from school is hang up their backpacks and empty out their lunchboxes – their first after-school snack is anything they didn’t finish at school.

      It’s not hard, you just have to be a tyrant like me 🙂

  14. I am dealing with this exact situation right now. My wife and I have shared custody of my two daughters. We have a 7 day on 7 day off arrangement with my ex. I have been primal since the first of January and my wife is starting to pick up on it as well. The problem is the kids. When with us, they eat very well. Not perfect but pretty good. They also get a good load of vitamins (multi, DHA, acidopholous, etc). When at their Mom’s they go out to eat, have constant candy and no vitamins. We have thought about improving their diet more when they are with us but we considered if it would do any good since its only for 1 week before going back to the old way.

    This post really helped me make up my mind about getting them more involved. Thanks!

  15. Have you ever seen those “deceptive dinners” and “sneaky chef” type books they’ve got out now? I’ve checked them out from the library and they’re amazing. A lot of the meals (if not all) aren’t Primal or low-carb, so I’m wishing like crazy that the Primal, WAPF, and low-carb folks would get together and put out a similar book for those types of families. I am not that great at making up recipes yet, but if no one ever does this, I may try. It would really help for a family trying to switch over mid-stream with kids who are old enough to protest what they’re eating.

    1. I’ve been working on creating recipes that my kids (3 and 2) will eat. The older is really big on the carbs but I got the younger in time and she likes the protein and fat. It’s gonna take some time but I’ll get them transitioned over eventually.

    1. Is there a way to reverse the myopia with a primal diet? Please?

      That just sucks…now I’ll never know if my eyesight could have been better if I hadn’t eaten all that cereal and sugar as a kid. My cavities sure would have. Sigh.

      1. My husband lost his eye glasses one day late last year and never replaced them. His eyesight hasn’t gotten worse, but since then I’ve been plying him with fermented cod liver oil which IMO helps enormously. He’s been 95% primal since early this year.

  16. The kids are the hardest part of any family eating plan, whether they are part of dual households or not. I have them from college sophomore down to preschooler and there are days I just want to quit. I have one with mild autism and a host of food allergies which is enough to make your head spin.

    For my part, I try to make a hot breakfast every morning and pack their school lunches so that I have the most influence I can postively had.

    That said, I take comfort in the comments that the big picture is the most important. Even if they eat the cake at birthday parties, and all the junk that seems to creep into school, they still have that message that it isn’t desirable food that comes from home. That will stick with them… we may not get to see it until they are 35 and raising their own, but if we keep sending the message, they will hear it.

    I know… she who ate Hostess fruit pies with her lunch money in high school is feeding her kids swiss chard!

  17. Great post, I have been working with my kids on going primal and its tough. There are so many factors against us as parents, teachers handing out candy, kids having parties at pizza places or fast food restaraunts. Its tough. I have come to learn that when they do go to those places every once in a while will not hurt them. Show them that a balance in life is healthy. They usually won’t eat most of it anyway. One thing that we have told other parents and the school is that our children are alergic to juices and soda, that helps cut out the worst part of any of the fast foods. Our kids thrive off of water.
    A good recipe for popsicles kids love it, Bannanna, strawberry, blueberry, and kiwi in a blender. Pour into ice cube trays and stick posicle sticks in it and freeze. Good for desserts after dinner. Thanks for the post mark.

  18. when it comes to my kids I go with education. They know what has Protein in it what has lots of vitamins etc.. They also know what is junk food, and though we have little to none in our house its not forbidden. My six year old has never tasted any kind of soda in his life as a matter of fact the only two fluids he has ever consumed are breast milk, and water. I watched him at a friends B-day party the other day turn down Pop, and juice and when the parent asked him why he said ” Sorry I don’t drink sugar water!”

    He even turned down pizza and cake. Some of the other parents asked me if we where vegans when he pulled out his bag of raw veggies. I said no, and changed the subject….

    I was so proud!

    1. Brad that is incredible! That story just put a big smile on my face, thanks! I really like hearing that there is a hope for our future generations.

    2. We are doing the same with our 2 year old son and we hope that he will also make us proud at parties one day :). But we do have problems here in Australia because the pediatricians expect all toddlers need to be fat to be healthy. Then they complain when the teenagers are obese. Unfortunately, like Michelle above, I also have a daughter who spends most of her time out of my household with her father. There she eats loads of grains, sugar and dairy. She hates coming to see her mother because she hates the food we eat and we don’t give her lollies, soda and ice cream. We are trying to educate her the same as our toddler but she is definitely not thanking us for it. But I still have hope because she is only going on 7 years old. I will continue to try what Mark suggests and hope that with time she will realize that we are trying to set her up with a healthy lifestyle.

  19. Great post, Mark, and very good advice considering all of the players involved who are interested in the proper upbringing of children. I think one of the simplest things is just not to have the sweets and severe non-paleo items in the house. Perhaps, there are compromises with rice cakes, or whatever, but HFCS-laden sweets and grain products are simply not to be found during the week that they are at the “primal house.” I liked your comment on the most important thing is to offer up a good model. Eat what you talk. If they don’t like it, they see you eating it. Perhaps, it’s put on their plate in a small portion even if they don’t eat it. That’s what I do for my children for vegetables (they always eat the meat dish, mostly at least). Then, if they don’t eat the small vegetable portions, I eat them when cleaning up. There has been progress with them slowly trying new stuff… soda, juice, cookies, etc., are just not expected to be in the house, period. It’s not even an option at the store, they gave up asking for it long ago. I don’t expect that to stay constant… but for now, progress.

  20. I thought I’d chime in for all you parents as a kid from a whole food home. My entire family has always been very conscious of the types and quality of foods we eat and have never relied heavily on prepared foods. Certainly we made exceptions when necessary or socially required (birthday parties) but I always knew that those were “treats” or special occasions. Even though many of my friends growing up had all of the junk food available daily, I knew it was not a good choice because I was educated on the importance of “real food” from a young age.

    I will fully admit that upon leaving home and going to university living in a dorm situation (freedom!) my diet went to hell as I was finally able to indulge in everything I wanted whenever I wanted it. And I suffered. I also learned that there were a great many “foods” that I enjoyed eating but really did not enjoy the after effects on my body. So it did not take long before I was eating well and even better when I discovered primal last year.

    So take heart, ye parents, your kids may yet grow up and learn for themselves that you are right! But be patient, it can take some time!

  21. How can we raise our parents to eat healthy? (Not to be disrespectful) I am in college and far away from them, but I practically grew up on fast-food, pizza, and mystery meat-loaf (grind ten corn-fed cows together, mix in 2 cups of flour, oats, and sugar, and top it off with high-fructose corn syrup/ketchup). They need to change their lifestyle for their health.

    1. I face the very same problem, and frankly I don’t know how much time my parents have left before committing dietary suicide (as did their parents before them, to my everlasting regret).

      The best I have been able to think of is 1) set the best possible example to really inspire them and 2) prevail upon their desire to spend quality years with their grandchild(ren).

      Ultimately, the decision to contemplate the Primal Blueprint and decide to give it a try can only come from within.

      Good luck.

      1. My concern is also going up the generations rather than down! My two children, one brought up with his father and one with me are now flown the nest and their nutrition completely outwith my control.

        I’ve switched to Primal since last December and the benefits have been massive. As I posted elsewhere on the site I came to it from reading Diet Delusions. The number of health issues it threw up rang many bells with me relating to close family members, my mother in particular and I duly went about spreading the good word!

        My brother was hugely overweight and had just begun asking me about how to lose weight. He has now lost a kg a week since December and has completely embraced the PB lifestyle and is like a different person.

        However, trying to explain and show my mother how the system works and how it would help her borderline diatetes, hypertension (she’s on medication), my father’s excess weight and inflammatory related knee problems (bad enough to entitle him to replacements when he decides to) has been another matter.

        She sees it as an attack on her doctor’s advice in whom she has complete confidence and hands the responsiblity for her health to. Also an attack on how she brought us up which was, by CW, healthy, we didn’t have unlimited access to sweets etc, but we did have a grain-based diet. She keeps saying, well you three kids were fine until you were young adults, what went wrong? After a number of fraught exchanges I’ve had to leave it be. Hopefully when my brother sheds another 3 stone, looks incredible well, rested and no longer like a bear with a sore head she may begin to see there might be something in this.

        What I’ve learned over the last three months or so is that you can lead a horse to water, but you sure can’t make it drink, until it’s good and ready.

        Meantime I just have to make sure I enjoy my time with them whilst there here I guess.

        I have a number of friends who are trying PB and they are amazed at the results, yet to tempt my husband over from the dark side though!

        1. Kelda,

          I’ve had the exact same experience with my parents and in-laws. All I can say is after 8 months of my wife and I living primal, my in-laws have seen that light and are on the primal path. Still working on my parents but I think they are coming around. When people see you sticking to something for longer than 6 months and they realize this is a permanent lifestyle for you they will give it a shot.

          I think the parents out there will come around just give them a great example to look up to.

        2. Thanks Jacob, I shall just have to be patient, not a trait I’m well endowed with!

    2. Excellent question… I am in somewhat of the same boat as you.

      I am a college student (taking time off right now while living at home) as well. My parents are interested in health and as far as a western diet goes, we ate very healthy.

      My interest in overall health has dramatically increased over the past few months due to the fact that I started an acne blog. I have read, read, and read but everytime I bring up something to my parents they almost completely shut it down; my mother especially.

      We eat a western diet but eat far healthier then most western dieters. However, I have recently started purchasing my own groceries as I am considering going primal in a few months (will definitely try when I move out in about 4 months!).

      My mom just always shuts down what I try to tell her. She always says something like this… “I have lived on this earth for 59 years, I know what’s healthy. Look at me, I have had no health problems… blah blah blah…”

      I love my parents more than anything, but it just cracks me up sometimes… I like to think everything is easy because it is if you believe so… but, going primal in this household would be quite a challenge if I don’t want to engage in arguments all the time.

      Any thoughts?

      1. You could try turning it around the other way. Give her a copy of Primal Blueprint, and say “You are my mother, so I respect your opinions. This is what I’m (thinking of/am) trying… can you explain to me what you think would be wrong with it? I’m trying to fully understand and it seems compelling and is working for (me/other people), but I want to hear what you think”.

        That turns it into a pro-active part for her where she feels her opinion is valuable (and not threatened because that’s what it feels like for people at that age especially)… but you get the chance to plant the seed.

        1. This is in general a great “trick” and works from little kids to adults. We all have a need to be valued and love to give opinions. Used for “good ends”, you can really change people by letting them have the idea or make the decision themselves. A bit manipulative, I know. It was how I got my Dad to buy a second car but also why he’s eating saturated fat again.

        2. I have never tried this before but I am going to!

          I actually don’t have a copy of the book yet. This is simply due to the fact that I have about 12 books waiting to be read and 40 more in my favorites waiting to be purchased.

          But, the primal blueprint will be purchased this month no doubt. When I finish reading it and am ready to go “Primal” I will try your advice.


      2. I love “I have lived this way for X number of years” argument because I actually have a grandmother who is 85 and obese and can’t walk. She doesn’t have diabetes, dimentia, or heart disease if you can believe it. She has lived most her whole later life in a state of paranoia and concern for her weight, but she won’t listen to any advice on health.
        My mother is the same way. The are pretty stubborn.
        I strongly believe in maximizing one’s health and not relying on genes.
        I, like you, am going through a lot of changes to be more Primal. Good luck to you!

  22. I have three boys ages 12, 10 and 8. They all play hockey and for some reason the parents like to bring donuts and other junk after practices and games. I felt like they were ruining all their hard work on the ice by eating junk afterwards! So my husband started bringing cut up oranges instead and everyone loved it!

    1. I’ve also got 3 boys, and the junk food after practice drives me crazy. I don’t understand why people think kids need a ‘special treat’ (girl scout cookies, donuts…) after doing something they love (soccer, baseball…) and would do to the exclusion of all else if given the chance. The treat is the game/practice itself! (don’t get me started)

  23. The strategy that has helped me the most is simply not having non-Primal stuff in the house. That way, when my 4-year old asks me for a cookie I just say we don’t have any and would you like this nice cheese stick or some almonds instead? She protested at first but we’re making progress 🙂 Now if I could only get her preschool to stop serving juice and cookies at snack time!

  24. It was nice to read about so many other people who deal with sharing children between two different eating philosophies. When I started eating more primal/low carb my children 13 and 15 thought I was a little whacked. I gave them the movie “Fat Head” for Christmas and now they are the ones telling their dad what is good and bad for them to eat. When I read a particularly interesting article on MDA I will forward it to my ex. Kind of stealthy without “telling” him how to feed the kids when they are with him. He hasn’t complained yet about any of my “hints”.

  25. I don’t have kids myself but for the parents whose kids crave conventional sweets, how about keeping some cut up fruit in the fridge and a bowl of whipped cream. It’s so quick to put together and tastes amazing: in a small bowl, put some cut up fruit, top with whipped cream and you can sprinkle it with crushed toasted hazelnuts or shaved dark chocolate.

    I know my CW friends love it so it might work on kids too.

  26. Todd, I wouldn’t press the issue of primal with your mom. I’d offer to cook dinner and clean up a couple nights a week. I’m 55, and after decades of preparing dinner, I’ll eat ANYTHING that someone else prepares. She’ll see there’s nothing “wrong” with the food you’re preparing. If she “needs” starch, serve bread on the side.

    1. Thanks for the input. However, I help cook dinner every night! I love to cook and help out in the kitchen. I do the dishes daily, help clean up after dinner and always make the entire salad when we have one (large and FULL of veggies!). I also help with cooking the food too.

      I have offered many times to cook the dinners for everyone myself, but she has never wanted me to do that. She wants to be in control herself. It is completely understandable as we are really hurting financially since my father lost his job 1 year ago as a pharmeceutical sales rep.

      We are doing fine and it has been better lately. I will try to offer her the opportunity to take a full break from dinner allowing myself to prepare it. I just haven’t made enough of an effort yet.

      Thanks for the input!

  27. I got kids 😉
    15,13,11 and 9.

    Here’s my advice FWIW,
    Stop stressing about it and at home give them real food. Next, introduce them to FLAVOR. The more you/they develop their taste buds, the more they will over time make the right choices in regards to food. Make sure they learn to love garlic and onion.
    And last, get them involved in the kitchen. Peeling cucumber and cutting it up on a big cutting board is fun for young kids. Let them play with knives


  28. I just saw this..

    news story on yahoo and thought curse words.

    I saw an Aditorial that basically put a fake front page over the real front page of the newspaper promoting the food pyramid and some brand of milk(powdered and “formulated for each stage in life” paraphrase). It included 3 mother/dietitians and stars approval/anecdotes. I almost cussed out loud.

  29. I am a teacher, and I don’t bribe my students with food, period. Even before finding primal, I never did. Before I was worried about possible food allergies. I even talk to them about healthy choices (rarely and shortly, but I do). They know not to get me candy for holidays, for example, and I see less of them eating junk when I go to the cafeteria.
    It probably won’t do any good in the long run if their parents aren’t involved, but I do try, and any parents who are getting it right have my support even though I don’t know about them!

  30. It may sound selfish, but one of the reasons I’m so excited to have kids is that I can’t wait to introduce them into the world of healthy eating, healthy living, fitness, and activity. In a way, it’s a blank slate, and I am responsible for molding them – making healthy meals instead of fast food, outdoor activities instead of video games, etc.

  31. Can anyone offer any advice or experiences regarding infant formula?

    It seems that the only choices are cow-milk-based and soy-based, neither of which is very primal, to say nothing of the straight-up corn syrup and whatever else. My four-month-old doesn’t deal with any of it very well. Perhaps there is a very good reason infant formula is made with just milk or soy, and not with (for example) egg protein, but is there really no more primal option? After all, not every baby in primal times had the opportunity to survive exclusively on breast milk.

    1. Hi Timothy. I had the same problem with my youngest son. He appears to be allergic to almost everything. I eventually ended up seeing a pediatrician who wrote a prescription for the pharmacy to make a special formula for him (which was still not very optimal but sufficed for that time). Now that he is 2 years old I have him drinking organic whole rice milk with pea protein isolate mixed into it (he loves it). It is probably not very primal but it is about all that he can tolerate without getting gastric diarrhea. He cannot even drink watered down fruit juice as it does the same thing to him (perhaps due to the high natural sugar content and acidity). He is also allergic to eggs, corn etc etc. I am working towards getting him to drink straight water now that he eats his meat and veges. He is tall and lean but has the most amazing muscles (he is very active).

    2. When I was 4 months old my mom’s milk dried up, and I had a horrible intolerance of cow milk. I tolerated goat milk extremely well and I thrived on it.

      Some friends of mine fed their adopted daughter raw goat milk from day one, and I’ve fostered orphaned kittens successfully on it as well.

      Dr. Mercola recommends goat milk for infants (who cannot breast feed) with a few supplemental nutrients added.

  32. I hate to say this but a baby in primal times wouldn’t have survived without breast milk given there wouldn’t have been any alternatives (at least I don’t think there would – maybe coconut milk I suppose – not sure that would be suitable though).

    In the small communal groups that I imagine Grok living I think it would have been very likely that babies unable to be fed by their mothers were fed by other lactating mothers; like the nurse-maids we had during earlier centuries for wealthy mothers.

    I seem to recall that once lactating (like goats apparently) humans continue to do so until suckling ceases, so in theory I guess some women in the tribe may well feed a number of babies over a period of time other than her own.

    None of this helps you of course, sorry. But maybe this is an instance where you need to be glad we are modern humans and use that best products on offer?

    1. Thanks for the insight, I suppose that’s basically the truth. Coconut oil is already a component of many formulas, and maybe you could add kefir or something for lactose-free protein, but I wouldn’t want my baby to be the guinea pig! Maybe a Maasai-style blood-based formula would work. I will have to ask my pediatrician. 😉

      1. I think that there are goat milk based formulas. I nursed for 9 months and then switched to an organic cow formula for my youngest. Unfortunately, my older two drank soy. I didn’t know better at the time. The forum has a lot of knowledeable moms on there that may know of other alternatives.

  33. I’m glad to see this question asked. My older 2 daughters spend 1/2 the week with their dad. He is vegetarian and they are, too. We agreed to raise them that way when we had kids. I am no longer veg. He doesn’t let them eat much junk, but they eat way more soy than I would like. Luckily, we have a good relationship. But, he is still a die-hard vegetarian, so I have to back up my battles very carefully with evidence. I’m going to talk to him about finding alternative protein choices. I’m very worried that my daughters are being setup for an unhealthy future. So far, they seem very healthy. They have very few illnesses. They didn’t even get the h1n1 when I got it. They are very picky, but I’m going to keep trying to find primal foods that they will eat.

  34. I think it all starts with a healthy circumcision, and then good role modeling to encourage your kids to eat right.

    Oh, wait. Wrong post.

  35. Interesting discussion. I’ve recently made the switch, though I effectively cut out grains a couple of years ago. I have not, however, “brought over” DH or The Boy (age 8).

    One of the issues, aside from DH’s lack of interest, is that I’m worried about restricting or witholding foods that, frankly, my kid likes to eat. Now, a lot of people have argued that kids’ tastes will change, and they will make good choices when they leave the nest. Problem is, this doesn’t match my experience.

    I was raised on what was essentially a primal diet. My family hunted our own meat, in the form of moose, caribou, duck, and ptarmigan (which is, BTW, not very tasty, even without buckshot). We kept chickens and geese. We had a substantial garden; what the marauding moose didn’t eat was usually enough to last through the winter. We fished the fall silver salmon run. We didn’t have soda or sweets in the house, except traditional cookies at x-mas. We didn’t eat a lot of grains or dairy, because neither were feasible to grow or produce locally.

    College came around. All that crap in the SAD suddenly became available to me. Even to my “primalized” taste buds, it tasted good, and it was the norm at a time when I was desperately seeking to fit in. Enter massive weight gain, followed by an eating disorder. Took me about 10 years to get my body into equilibrium again.

    I wouldn’t wish that on The Boy for anything. So, long post, short question: given that we don’t live in a vacuum, how does one raise “primal” kids without setting them up for a eating “backlash” later?

    1. Follow the 80/20 rule; give them a day of the week where they can eat all the processed carby crap they want (and throw away any leftovers at the end of the day)

  36. It’s definitely worth taking huge amounts of time to make sure your children are raised with good health. You can give them habits that will last a lifetime for good or for bad.

  37. Richard and Hugh

    Yes, bringing up children with healthy attitudes and good templates for living is all part of good parenting, sure.

    However, I would like to add a cautionary message here – this topic has come at a time when I’m only just coming to terms with what I perceive as a ‘failure’ as a parent on my part with regards to my children.

    I set out to be a full time homemaker because I thought that was important, I also went about setting what I considered to be a proper and important set of values. However, what I’ve had to learn, and learn the very, very hard way is that nurture doesn’t happen in isolation, they are independent beings, with their own unique genome ready to express itself, with their own personalities and it simply isn’t possible to do more than set and example.

    Just be prepared for them to have very different attitudes. Part of my theory was to bring them up questionning and taking decisions for themselves, developing a sense of independence, ironically these were just the skills my daughter used to head off in a quite different direction than one we thought sensible!

    The watch word – flexibility in all things. If I hadn’t started out with unrealistic goals I would not now be dealing with what I perceive as a failure! Maintaining communication is the ultimate key.

  38. I am new to the Primal Lifestyle and loving it, my wife and daughters 15 and 13 are starting to follow along as they see the change I am making. Probably the biggest is eliminating grains for the last 6 weeks from my diet which has greatly reduced, almost eliminated the inflammation I have lived with in my left ankle for 13 years after breaking my Talus. I cook 95% of the meals my family eats and I have simply begun cooking and serving Primal meals for them and allowing them to add whatever they see fit. My kids still eat cereal for breakfast some mornings when they don’t want eggs or breakfast meats, but my thought is at least I am providing them with healthy meals and snacks. I have also been keeping fresh and frozen berries available with heavy cream in the fridge, it amazes me to see them grabbing some berries and cream and skipping the cookies and chips on there own. I believe that I am watching their natural instinct kick in, I am getting fewer and fewer request for junk food and more and more “Daddy that was a really good dinner” comments from them. I know they are still going to eat pizza or cake at a party, but I think just by preparing the healthy meals they are really nearing 80% primal overall.

  39. I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 7 month old. The older one had no idea what a lollipop was until this summer when my husbands co-worker offerred her one. She didn’t know what to do with it and I was nearly in tears I was so pleased! It’s so much easier because all of our friends with young children eat well, so the peer pressure is non-existent. I know it is a whole new ball game in school though.
    I feel good about our food choices, and I wonder about first foods for babies. We do baby led weaning so my 7 month old nibbles on what we are having, but I do get some flak for not doing the cereals, then purees… what is everyone else doing with new eaters?

  40. I have a related but tangential issue. I have recently converted to this eating style and have no doubt it is the healthiest way to eat. My wife however is not so convinced(she is a former life long vegetarian). We have a two year old son and have had recent disagreements on his eating. In the interest of not getting divorced I decided that her compromise to cut out gluten was better than nothing.

    Since she won’t agree to cut out his bread/cracker consumption completely we have been purchasing gluten free (mostly rice based) breads, pastas, crackers. This has had the effect of worsening my sons constipation problems. The only way we have been able to fight this is by increasing his fruit consumption to levels I’m not entirely comfortable with either.

    I think the true culprit may actually be the whole milk. He consumes quite a bit and I am not sure either my wife or I are ready to restrict that as that is where he is getting alot of essential fat as it is pretty tough to get him to eat enough meat/fat.

    Is there another way to deal with his constipation? If not then what is the worse of the two evils gluten or increased fructose from extra fruit?

    1. Dairy is very constipating, as are bananas. My daughter is a cheese-addict, so we have these issues, too. One thing I’ve found is that my daughter loves greek style yogurt with fruit (try Chobani with pineapple). The yogurt, being cultured, has less of a constipating effect, plus the healthy bacterial cultures in the yogurt promote digestive health. You can use it to make a smoothie that your kid will love – just add frozen berries and blend. Milled flax seed can be blended in for extra fiber, which is helpful.

      Corn is a natural stool softener. Popcorn works, too. I make a brownie with milled flax seed and almond flour and my daughter loves it. All the fiber really gets things moving.

  41. Thank you so, so much for your post! Is there anything you don’t cover on this website? I am in a very similar situation, except we are a fully primal household, regardless of what he gets fed at his other house. I, too, had worried about the negative effects that this could have. This just confirmed that we are doing the right thing. I totally agree that leading by example and educating them to make their own decisions someday is the only thing we can do. And that isn’t nothing.

  42. My boys are 4 and 2. They eat primal 100% of the time. Both have terrible digestive issues and if my older son eats anything sweet (even fruit) or starchy, his stomach blows up like a balloon, he cries at night, and sometimes gets gushing nosebleeds. It is not worth it to me to just let him have an occasional treat when it will cause a week or more of physical and behavioral issues.
    At preschool, he gets deviled eggs made with guac, HB eggs, or kale chips for his snacks. If we go to a birthday party, he brings a thermos of homemade meatball and veggie soup and an egg or two for when the other kids are eating cake. He is perfectly happy with it, because he knows he feels so much better and can sleep so much better when he eats this way. I talked to the prechool about how crucial it is for strictly following his diet before I enrolled him, otherwise I would have kept him at home. I care so much about it that I am considering homeschooling to get a few more years of healing food and healthy indoctrination under my belt.

  43. We have lots of fun things that run in our family genes that my 2 young sons inherited: autism, ADHD, sensory integration disorder, and food sensitivites, allergies, etc. I am slowly guiding them to a modified version of the Paleo diet, and I notice on mornings they eat low carb/ high fat/protein the days seem to go better. It’s alot of work to cut out the packaged food, but I notice many of the stomach issues and tantrums they have are now going away or more manageable.
    Anyone out there feeding their kids Paleo also doing dairy free? We are gluten and dairy free due to food allergies and I am concerned with them getting an adequate fat/vitamin A intake.