Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to Change What You & Your Family Eat

Last night I was reading Dr. Payne's book, Simplicity Parenting and I came upon a chapter regarding rhythm and diet. Much of what he had to say applies to anyone considering embarking on the quest of removing common allergens or unhealthy food from their own and/or their family's diet. I've had a few people email me now saying that they'd like to eliminate grains, but the idea of doing so is daunting. Our family unknowingly followed three of Dr. Payne's principles when transitioning to a grain-free, dairy-free diet, and so I'd like to share them here with you:
  • The magic of rhythms is in the process, not in the particulars
  • Food is meant to nourish, not entertain or excite
  • Consistency reinforces values that are larger than personal preferences

The Process is More Important than the Particulars

When we started removing grains from William's diet, I worried about how we would go about replacing many of his favorite foods, like pasta, pizza and burgers. However, substitutes and new recipes turned out to be largely a non-issue for William. The real challenge was for me, in having to come up with the new recipes and in learning to prepare things and shop in a different way.

When William was born, we resonated with attachment style parenting. We kept William in a sling or wrap when he was young so as to involve him and expose him to the rhythm of our life. As soon as William could stand, we had him at the kitchen counter helping to crack eggs, mix ingredients or simply to provide quality control and taste testing. He loves to be in the middle of the action and we try to involve him in the meal preparation process as much as possible. The result is this: children who have a hand in preparing their own food are less likely to throw it or refuse it.

My son sampling the raw ingredients for supper.

When removing or introducing new food items into your child's diet, try to get them involved as much as possible. Let them help 'bath' the vegetables, mix or dump ingredients once measured, tear up lettuce for a salad or help set the table. As Dr. Payne states, giving your child a stake in the meal encourages "pride of authorship". A family dinner doesn't have to be about just the meal itself, but also about what comes before and after: the process is more important than the particulars.

Food is Meant to Nourish

Food is meant to nourish - not to entertain or stimulate. It is easy to forget that important fact when we're out grocery shopping. Today's food comes in an array of shapes and sizes, with fun, vibrant or entertaining packaging. Almost invariably though, this same food is also full of sugar, salt and additives designed to hide a lack of flavor and nutritional value.

Grocery stores are overwhelming places to be. I've always felt that there were too many products, too many choices, all competing for my attention with claims for this health benefit or that. It led me to start sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store and the result was that our food choices became simpler and healthier. Dr. Payne suggests asking yourself the following question when deciding on what food to purchase: is it designed to nourish, to entertain or to stimulate?

Simple food - food that doesn't come from a package - is generally also the food that nourishes. If you're making a dietary change because of allergies or for health reasons, simple food from the perimeter of the supermarket (or better yet, your local farmer's market or garden) is what you will likely be eating most of. I know that a new diet can take some getting used to by you and your family. If you are giving up food with grains or dairy or other allergens, you may also be giving up many food items that contain a lot of added flavouring which affects how food tastes to you. I've read over and over again that taste preferences develop early, and that what we expose our children to early on in life will influence their likes and dislikes growing up enormously. That being said, tastes can change. Although it might take an average of eight attempts to get a new food to be accepted by your kids (or even spouse), don't give up! You will find a new world of flavour once your taste buds adjust. When we took away the bread from William's burger, there was resistance at first, but eventually he accepted and forgot all about it once his tastes adjusted.


Consistency is a big ally in making dietary changes. The key in our household was not to 'give up' certain food, but rather to find new ways of eating the same food without feeling deprived. Every day for lunch, William gets a burger, 'fries', a vegetable and soup - every day. I used to feel guilty about the lack of variety, but he loves it because he always knows what to expect. In actuality, there is quite a lot of variety in this simple meal: the burger can be beef or chicken or fish, the fries can be anything - potato, yam or squash - baked in the shape of a wedge or stick, and the vegetable happens to be whatever is in season or that we have on hand. Eliminating the bun or breadcrumbs from his burger or the pasta from his soup didn't change his meal overall and so, it was an easier adjustment.

Consistency makes it a lot less stressful for me too. I can make up double and triple batches of burgers to freeze, and the same goes for soup. When freezing vegetables from the garden, I make sure that plenty are diced and blanched for ease of cooking during the upcoming winter. I don't have to agonize over what to feed him every lunch because my guidelines are in place.

The same idea can be applied to special meal nights: roast chicken Saturday, pasta Monday, stir-fry Tuesday, beef Wednesday, fish Friday - that sort of idea. Consistency helps protect against the uncertainty of change, and to shift the focus away from personal preferences. The ingredients in the meal might vary from what your family is used to, but the underlying ritual doesn't have to. We still have our pasta nights, but now it comes in the form of noodles made from sliced zucchini. We still have our roast chicken with gravy, but it isn't thickened with flour anymore.

The overriding principle here is to avoid putting the focus on the ingredients being given up. These are the principles that we (unknowingly) used, and they worked for us. I hope they help you too.


Rikia said...

Thank you! This is fantastic advice. Now that our boys are getting older, there are so many more forces at play– snacks after ball games, pizza day at school, hot dog day at school, etc. It's easy to slide that way, but this is a great reminder to put the ritual back in to how we want to eat.

Crystal Rassi said...

This a great! I'm having a hard time getting my 3 year boy to eat much of anything else that's not bread. I think it's partially difficult because Both parents are at work and he's accustomed to "daycare food". Although, the food at daycare seems like healthy choices, it still demolishes my son's idea that mom food is good too.
Hopefully, a I can keep up with a consistant plan....

Shanon Hilton said...

The hard part is the 'other food' that you can't always prevent your family from eating. With younger children, these foods can affect their food preferences, so it does add a layer of complication. The key in the end, I think, is to make it less about the food - but, it definitely helps when the 'substitutes' are yummy too. :)

Marla said...

Great Post! Loving your blog, sounds like we have a lot in common!!


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Dr. Charles L. Foster
Chiropractor, Rutland VT