Whether we’re parents or not, we all identify on some level with the problematic influence other people can have on our lifestyle choices. Whether it’s an inflexible partner, “concerned” friends and family members, or iron-willed children, they all prove that none of us lives in a vacuum. Taking on the Primal Blueprint, particularly the diet, in these cases isn’t just revamping one’s own eating. It involves a whole negotiation with the set patterns and expectations within one’s entire household. (Deep, cleansing breath…) With the Primal Challenge this month, many readers, particularly parents, are finding that aspect the hardest element of their commitment – particularly when it comes to the food. I’ve covered some seedling suggestions in the past, but I thought I’d offer a special, Challenge-focused triage post for the well-intentioned but struggling parents out there. I hope you’ll join me in offering up your best tips, strategies, recipes, and serenity mantras.
First off, let me offer kudos to the parents taking up the Challenge this month. It’s true that all of us here, parents or not, could offer a hundred excuses for not doing it. Nonetheless, here we are. We’re on the path. We’re recommitting each day. We’re all showing up, and that’s 90% of it. For parents, the overall lifestyle negotiation takes on it’s own set of obstacles though. Home life and everything it entails ends up largely influenced if not dictated by the needs (and sometimes whims) of the kiddos. It’s easy to fall into what initially feels like a middle ground deal but gradually devolves into a wholly unreasonable and unhealthy arrangement – for everybody. We surrender our standards in the name of convenience or cost savings. We postpone healthy changes because they don’t mesh with family demands at the time. Let’s stop the car for a moment.
Secure your diet before helping others. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating letting your children gorge in a pool of Cocoa Krispies while you prepare that Thai steak salad for dinner. Nonetheless, many a a mother and father have undoubtedly driven themselves to the edge of sanity trying to wholly transition little Sally and Joey just as they initiate their own Primal challenge. It’s a perfectly honorable, understandable inclination, but it’s often (not always) doomed to failure. Let me explain.
There’s the good intention of wanting to improve your children’s diet as you improve your own. I love this one. By all means, go for it. You couldn’t give your kids a better gift (besides your love of course). Some folks can do it all in one sweep, and more power to them. If you have any doubts, however, work on yourself first. I know that “indulging” in healthier food while you leave your children behind in what suddenly seems a culinary wasteland can impose a tremendous amount of guilt. (Reader letters confirm as much.)
Let me say this. Improving your kids’ diet is an infinitely worthy goal, but it’s a different project. It’s a separate intention. Give each goal its individual due, and you’ll be more likely to be successful on both fronts. Remember the oxygen mask metaphor? If you secure your own source of oxygen, you’re in better shape to help the person next to you. Likewise, if you’re established in a healthy Primal Blueprint diet – meaning, you’ve created a genuine routine and you have a respectful repertoire of recipes – you will be in a better position to stay the course with your kids.
Anyone who’s transitioned children to a different diet can tell you it’s not the easiest thing in the world. They will likely resist. They will complain. The older ones will hold out waiting for you to change your mind and go back to the old ways. Will you? If you’re a newbie just charting the course, the prospect is much more likely than if you’ve had the time and practice to make the Blueprint your own. You’ll have developed a creativity and flexibility conducive to creating a workable version of the PB for your family – without compromising the basic premise or your personal commitment.
As you forge your own Primal path, set an important but more manageable goal for the kids. Cut out the gluten in their diet or those last processed foods you’ve been meaning to dump. Get rid of the sugar or work on increasing their veggie intake. Choose whatever feels reasonable, but opt for a change that isn’t going to undermine your own efforts now. If that means doing the same old, same old for a couple of weeks, than so be it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Then there’s the practical aspects of juggling different menus. For one, parents new to the PB imagine the prospect of making multiple meals and decide the extra time, effort, and expense will be a deal breaker. It’s gotta be everybody or nobody if this is gonna work, they think. I understand this perspective. I sympathize with it. As a parent, I remember what it’s like to be on a budget, to have no time for yourself, to throw dinner together as quickly as humanly possible because you know a hunger meltdown is exactly nine minutes away and counting.
Nonetheless, the fact remains. When you allow your success to depend on the cooperation of others, you’ve surrendered control of – and full responsibility for – your intention. It’s a hard truth when you’re already stressed and sleepless. Let me offer a few suggestions along these lines. I know, too, there will be a whole host of fellow Grokkers who will offer the benefit of their own experience in these matters. That’s one of the greatest parts about this community. Don’t be afraid to lean on it.
Eat separate meals at separate times. Yes, making different meals does take longer. There’s no way around it. You can, however, get the kids fed on time and still work in a Primal dinner for yourself if you’re not married to the idea that it has to be the exact way and time that it was before. Spare yourself the meltdowns and eye rolls about having to get to soccer practice and establish your own mealtime. Break it up. Eat half your dinner with the family and half later. Bring it to go on certain days if need be. Embrace the strategically scheduled IF when necessary. Throw out your old schedule entirely and start from scratch. As disorienting as setting a new schedule sounds, it can be easier for some people than trying to force new priorities into the old one.
Plan, plan, plan. With a little time, things will fall into place and become more automatic, but these transitions take some effort in the beginning. Be patient with the process, and see the possibilities. Create a list of your favorite Primal recipes and snacks. List a meal plan for your kids. Figure out what can be integrated into a week’s cooking and shopping budget. Both you and the little ones might have to forgo or switch off getting one or more of your favorite foods. You might trade some expenses by leaning a little more on frozen veggies or shopping a road side farm stand this week. Nonetheless, if you plan it out, you can be sure that you’ve covered everyone’s needs for the week.
Coordinate meals to use the same basic ingredients. Instead of buying all separate ingredients for your food and theirs, make the respective meals as complementary as you can. A pound of ground beef, some chicken tenders, or some scrambled eggs can easily become the cornerstone for a tasty kid dinner and a fully Primal one for you. I have no doubt good readers will have tips here.
Integrate family meals one at a time. Do a Primal dinner once a week – something everyone can agree upon. Add a Primal breakfast or snack the week after. Let go of expectations about the food itself and make it an event. Get the kids involved in planning or cooking. Make it a fancy meal with printed menus and fine china or eat it outside together on the ground with your hands. Make a family event out of it. Let it simply be a good time – one meal at a time.
Always have a contingency plan. You expend massive amounts of time and brain energy packing the diaper back or day pack taking into account every kids’ conceivable need. How about your needs? Take the time to make some Primal energy bars each week, or bring along some protein shake mix when you’re on a family outing. Life with kids is less than neat, less than predictable. Always come prepared, Primal style.
Thanks for reading today, everybody. Have kids? How have you meshed (or not) your Primal choices with the family picture? What are your fallback recipes for busy times or the Primal meals that no kid can refuse? I hope you’ll add your suggestions and advice for all the Primal parents out there. Happy hump day!
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.