Guest Post, The Domestic Man: Making Your Kid a Real-Food Foodie

Wednesdays used to be our Guest Blogger Series day; but, there’s just so many new and wonderful Paleo and real-food bloggers out there that we’ve expanded our series. We hope you enjoy the new view points and unique content; if so, we encourage you to show these guest bloggers your support by visiting their blog and social media links at the end of this post!

Today we are visited by our friend Russ, The Domestic Man. We’ve known Russ and his family for nearly a year now and they now attend our meat-ups fairly regularly – even though we’re an hour drive apart! We also had the fortune to dine with Russ while in Baltimore visiting the National Aquarium, and his son Oliver joined us for the Gather Halloween photo shoot.

If you are not already a fan of The Domestic Man, you are in for a treat! I highly suggest you follow his blog for fantastic recipes, tailored to The Perfect Health Diet. His yuca fries inspired our own recipe in Beyond Bacon and I’ve heard amazing things about his now famous cast iron grain-free pizza. On his blog he posts a new and unique recipe every Tuesday that is gorgeously photographed and seriously good eats!

Not only is he a fantastic paleo-friendly food blogger, but he has a tremendous story featuring a stroke at age 24, dying on purpose for a surgery, and an extremely rare autoimmune disease diagnosis. And of course, because we like to befriend top-talent, his incredibly adorable and nice family has become personal friends of ours. This week he writes about how his son, who I dare you not love at first sight, has taken to real foods.

Meet Oliver. He turned four years old last month, and has been eating the Perfect Health Diet version of Paleo (includes white rice and some dairy) since he before he was two. He loves Star Wars, Legos, and anything Disney. He has his ups and downs, but for the most part he’s a pretty adventurous eater, and I thought it would be fun to share what we’ve done to encourage healthy eating behaviors.

First, let me give you a glimpse into how we eat at home. This is a typical meal setup at our house – one vegetable, one starch, and one meat – with equal portions of each. My wife and I also complement our meals with a small salad and/or fermented veggie side dishes, but this is basically what you can expect on our dinner table most nights. Breakfast for him is typically eggs, some meat, and berries or another fruit. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. He drinks a small cup of whole milk with breakfast and dinner, and drinks water at all other times. Every once in a while I’ll give him some kefir or sips of my homemade kombucha (which he calls “the sour juice”).

Before I get into specifics of what I do to encourage his eating habits, let’s look at some basics. There are a few suggestions that Matt and Stacy make in Eat Like a Dinosaur that ring especially true in our house, which I’d like to share:

Don’t force-feed. The standing rule in our house is that he has to take a bite of everything on his plate before being excused or having more of something he likes. This will help condition him to accept the fact that he can’t flat-out refuse to try foods, and hopefully will train his taste buds to be more accepting of new tastes.

They won’t starve. We rarely allow him to have snacks unless we’re having to stretch out his mealtimes because we’re out and about (the pictures above were from our recent trip to Disney World, where we supplemented some underwhelming meals with snacks). Since he sits down to eat three square meals a day, if he overeats at one meal (some mornings he will eat three eggs, several ounces of bacon, berries, and two bananas without blinking an eye), it’s natural for him to only pick at his lunch. If he doesn’t like a meal, we don’t make something else for him; he chooses to either eat what’s in front of him or wait for the next meal. This step has helped to keep his hunger and mood swings very manageable.

Be prepared to make concessions. As Oliver ages, it’s been hard for us to balance healthy eating with the idea that we’re depriving him of certain food memories that we had growing up – for better or for worse. We like to have treats now and then, so it’s only natural to allow Oliver to have treats as well. When my parents sent him some Pop Rocks a few months back, I couldn’t resist letting him have a taste, knowing full well that there isn’t one ingredient worth eating in the little package (see the video above).

Desserts that include chocolate or ice cream are rare, maybe once or twice a month, but we do let him have a piece of fruit after dinner when he asks for something (usually only once a week).

Okay, so now let’s talk about my rules for helping turn him into a little foodie.

1. He eats what we eat. I don’t dumb down his meals, with the exception of spiciness. I think this is the most important thing parents can do for their kids. In France and Japan, children are served full-spectrum meals at schools and at home, and we try to model our habits after that idea. Not only does it help develop a more sophisticated palate, I feel it makes him more apt to eat what’s on his plate since we’re all eating the same thing. I also encourage him to try my random fermented veggie creations, but I don’t force them on him, since they’re an acquired taste.

2. Moderate carb intake. Breast milk is naturally higher in carbs than in recorded Paleolithic-style diets (39% vs 13-20%), and a child’s brain uses a higher proportion of calorie consumption than in adults. Since brains are fed by glucose (carbs) as well as ketones, it makes sense that children have higher carbohydrate needs than adults. So we feed Oliver a moderate carb diet (30% of calories) using rice, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. I like to think that balancing Oliver’s macronutrients helps to keep him nourished and satisfied, which makes meal times less stressful for everyone. Bear in mind that ketogenic diets (very low carb) have been found to help with some behaviors in children, especially neurologic issues, so individual results will vary.

3. Use healthy umami preparations to encourage eating. I’m a big proponent of using high-reward (“tasty”) preparations of healthy foods that may otherwise be bland. For example, we almost always cook our rice in chicken stock to increase its tastiness, and we sprinkle on furikake (Urashima makes a natural version that contains only seaweed, shaved bonito, and seaweed) to make it even tastier. I think furikake is an important addition to Oliver’s meals because it’s a very strong and “fishy” taste, which he grew to love, and it probably makes him more likely to try new seafoods in the future. Mushrooms and fish sauce are also great sources of umami.

So really, that’s about it. Oliver eats what we eat, with an emphasis on making bland foods tasty, and I use a hint of science when figuring out his macronutrient ratios. The rest is just tenacity and consistency.

IMG_3832Russ is a Paleo-friendly home chef and blogger who writes under the name The Domestic Man. After suffering a number of medical hardships, he regained his health through changes in his diet in 2010. He offers a unique culinary approach in the Paleo world: The Domestic Man is less a place for new kitchen experiments and more a site dedicated to re-popularizing traditional heritage foods that are either already healthy or easily modified to meet his dietary parameters.
Blog – http://thedomesticman.com/
Facebook – http://facebook.com/thedomesticman
Twitter – https://twitter.com/onionsaregross
Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/thedomesticman/

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  • Jan’s Sushi Bar

    Oliver is *adorable*, Russ.

    It’s been one of my greatest regrets as a parent that I came to this way of eating so late in life; the only one of my kids who’s benefited from the change in our diet has been The Young One (and what a benefit it’s been!). I’m glad to say, though, that Oldest Son is now doing an 80/20 paleo diet on his own and loves it – woo-hoo! Now, if I could just get Darling Daughter on board – her fiance, Mr. Fixit, is perhaps pickier than The Young One, though, and is being obstinate.

    • Thanks, Jan! Now I just need to get my parents on board; old habits are hard to break 🙁

  • I like your balanced approach. Your love of food and the fun you have as a family really comes through. Eating a healthy diet with a wide variety of foods is setting your child up for a lifetime of good habits without beating him over the head with it (which might inspire rebellion). Great post!

    • Thanks Amelia! Sometimes it doesn’t end up as easy as we’d like, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job of making food fun for him so far 🙂

  • My daughter isn’t quite as on-board as your son, and it doesn’t help that she spent some time with an idolized cousin who is vegetarian, which has made our job more difficult. But she eats better than the majority of kids out there. That said, had I known what I know now from day one, the only reason I would worry about keeping carbohydrates at a certain level in her diet would be in case some well-meaning adult gave her something with sugar in it, particularly around the holidays. I’ve observed that the less digestible carb people eat, the less tolerant they are of it. Probably where the idea came from that eating low-carb gives you diabetes–some people still think the glucose tolerance test is the gold standard of diabetes diagnosis. (It’s not.)

    That’s the only reason, though. Yes, breast milk is higher in carb, but *kids wean.* Even in traditional cultures they are done with nursing by age four or five at the latest (and much earlier in some cultures). We haven’t discovered any transitional diets for little kids among traditional peoples, have we? I didn’t think we had. So they wean, and then they’re eating the lower-carb content that the adults of their cultural groups are eating. I don’t see where there is such a big deal. The most brain growth they get is between birth and age three, and then again during the adolescent years, though I don’t see Paleo people wanting to carb up teenagers either. The early brain growth is covered by the breastfeeding period.

    I can think of one other time that extra carbs might be “needed” and that may be for some nursing moms. Given that most people are scared of ketosis, I don’t think enough research has been done in this area. We know that moms in famine conditions can still lactate. But a lot of us coming from a culture that eats an industrial high-carb junk diet may not be able to get keto-adapted enough. I know I started going dry when I cut carbs back far enough. So that’d be another time to up the carbs, if that applies to you. Though I’d still get the bulk of them from tubers (as you need the glucose from starch, not the fructose from fruit, to make the lactose in milk), not necessarily from rice, which is not only less nutritious than tubers but also tends to be “enriched” with synthetic vitamins. That’s just me, of course, and your mileage may vary.

    • Hi Dana, your points make sense. We’ve found that a 1/3 carb ratio encourages the best behavior in him, so we figured that was a pretty good indicator. We’ll definitely have to make adjustments as he ages, and the looming influence of public school is probably going to throw a wrench in our little system. Glad to hear that you guys have found what works for you.

  • Thank you for sharing the information about the carbohydrate needs of growing little ones! LOVED this post and shared it!!!!

  • Keep up the great work, we had very similar rules in our house with our children. They are now grown and are very open to all different types of foods. They have also carried on the same rules in their house with their children. I love seeing this type of parenting. As a nurse, I sadly see way to many parents begging their children to do something with the promise of icecream or McDonalds or some other form of bribery. I have them tell me they won’t eat this or this so I cook them mac and cheese and hot dogs every night. Very sad.

  • Jessica

    I have a question about how you make him try one bite of everything. When we have tried that with our son, it’s this huge power battle, and we always lose. I’m unsure how to do it without physically forcing him. When people say I have to make him do it, I often jokingly reply “How? Do I insert a feeding tube, or should I just plug his nose until he opens his mouth to breathe, and jam it in there, Temple of Doom style?”, but its only half a joke, I can’t think of any other way to force him.
    Also, the “they won’t starve” thing. Are you sure? How many days is it safe to let your kid go without eating because they won’t touch anything you serve? I’ve let my son go four days a few times, but a toddler who hasn’t eaten in four days is pretty unbearable. Do I just need to power through a few more days?

    • From what I hear from your question the issue is probably in the “it’s a power struggle and we lose.” Your force of will as adults, caretakers and parents of a child is to help them succeed. They are not more powerful than you. You decide what they can and cannot eat, they decide in what proportions. I’ve read a LOT of parenting books – not even food books – that say it’s of utmost importance for parents to provide the healthy food options and children to choose their foods from those choices – then the power is in their hands and you’ve got a win-win situation.

      I think the word “make” should probably be replaced with encourage. We outline this in ELaD but there are rules at our table and they NEVER change. The options are only what’s on the table. If someone choose not to eat anything they must still sit with us at the table and may be excused with nothing more to eat ALL night (except their dinner plate reheated) if they get hungry. If at the table there are two sides and they refuse one, they may not have 8 helpings of the other until they’ve tried one bite. It needs to be casual and encouraging, not “you must do this or else” – try, “I would be happy to get you more applesauce as soon as you try 1 bite of kale. You never know if you like it until you try it.” If they say they tried it last time and didn’t like it, talk about how human tastebuds change like lizard and snake skin – peeling off and changing every so often so they never know if they’ve changed since last time they tried. This is surprisingly effective.

      If there is a tantrum, screaming, or what have you, like any tantrum – ignore it and stick to your decision. They need to know you’re the boss. They also need to fairly be told the rules and given choices that offer at least something they like so it’s not entirely negative for them.

      Our podcasts on transitioning kids should help – good luck 🙂

      • I read something recently, too, about getting kids to try new things…if you tell them they’re allowed to spit out that one bite if they don’t like it, they’re also more likely to at least put it in their mouth. Sounds gross, but might be worth a try if the kid(s) have anxiety-type issues around trying new foods?
        I, too, often use the “but your taste-buds change as you grow up” line, and it IS true. My 10-yr-old consistently gagged on lettuce in salads for YEARS, and then at about age 8, was lured in by creamy Caesar dressing and has been eating salad ever since–as in, asking for salad if she’s not thrilled by the rest of dinner. My 4-yr-old also gags on lettuce, interestingly enough, even though she eats plenty of other vegetables and fruits. Something about the texture that their immature throat/tongue doesn’t like, maybe.

        • Kat

          I agree Jennifer.

          We have a “rule” in our house. The rule is that “You must try a bite of this and if you don’t like it, you can spit it out”. No worries!. It has been this way for a few years now. If he doesn’t like it we do NOT make him feel bad for not liking it instead, we congratulate him for trying it and thank him.

          It takes the pressure off of thinking he HAS to eat something he doesn’t like. Sometimes he spits it out, sometimes he doesn’t then says it’s “alright” (which means it isn’t horrible but he doesn’t want anymore than that bite) and then, other times he takes a bite and wants more but doesn’t want to act like he does because that would be proving us correct about it tasting good…lol.

          I have also told him that he will like it when he is older (brussel sprouts is a good example). He is 8 and got hooked on salad through making our own salad dressing. He may drench it but he eats it. He also got hooked on lettuce in leaf form when we started a garden and could go out and pick lettuce and eat it right outside. We would use the leaves for “tacos” and now he wants Sunday to be “taco night” using lettuce as the shell.

          Recently he started to like tomatoes but we must remove the seeds first….lol. I will take what I can get. 🙂 Like Jennifer, I also think that textures can be issues for some children and that we should understand that it may not be the flavor but the way it feels in their mouth. Ask questions about how it feels or looks or smells..it may not be the flavor as much as it is something else that bothers them about the food. My son does not like ground meat in his spaghetti sauce but will eat the exact same meat in ball form in the sauce. It may be a matter of finding the reason behind the refusal to eat it and then work with the child to make it work for them. Involve them in the making of it so they choose the way it looks or feels.Try to make the same meal in different ways, for example…making meatloaf in loaf form, patty form, ball form and crumbled and see which one the child prefers.

          I think it is all a matter of thinking about how you would feel if someone were trying to get you to try something new and foreign. Children are just like adults in that they like their autonomy and want to be able to choose for themselves. If you think about it, children really do not have much control over their own lives and are always having others do things for them. As parents, we can help them be independent as well as guide them by allowing them to make their own choices…just give them lots of good choices to choose from. Giving the child the choice and allowing them some control in their little world will go a long way in making it easier to help them grow and learn healthy eating habits.

          I am still in the process of transitioning into a healthier way of eating for the entire family. As others have said…I wish we had learned to eat this way when he was a toddler so it wouldn’t be so difficult to transition.

      • Cari

        This comment was really helpful for me! Thanks very much!

    • Hi Jessica, I guess for us our son has just realized that he won’t get away with not taking one bite, so we’ve lucked out there. If something is truly awful to him (fermented veggies, vinegar, etc are really tough on a young child’s palate) we’ll let him spit it out.

      As far as the “they won’t starve” thing, Oliver will sometimes skip a meal (rarely two), and then make up for it later. Hunger usually wins over pretty quickly for us, so four days without eating is drastic, and a little scary. Sounds like your son has an iron will!

    • Just another thought- we don’t get into the power struggle with my toddler either. She is stubborn, and the principle of just eating one bite would never work for her. However, reverse psychology works very well with her. The moment she knows something if off limits, it’s instantly appealing. So if I am making something I know she’ll be iffy about, I make myself and the husband big plates of it, set up the table and don’t set her out a plate. We sit down to eat and just completely ignore her. That lasts for all of 5 seconds, during which she’s convinced we must be eating the best food imaginable if we aren’t offering her any. Then we produce a plate for her, and magically, it’s her favorite. 😉

    • Cari

      I think some kids have stronger wills and some kids actually have anxiety about trying new things and that anxiety comes across as stubbornness. We’re in the same boat with our daughter. I like Stacy & Matt’s approach described below.

  • NJ Paleo

    I loved your post! I wish my kids had been younger when I found paleo. Mine were 10 and 12, and while I discouraged the processed “foods”, they still got their fair share of pizza, cake, etc., outside home. However, with kids as old as mine, I can have good conversations with them about making healthful choices. I’ve even heard my kids telling their friends why we’re having apples and almond butter instead of the pizza rolls that they have at the friend’s house.

  • Such a great post! My husband and I are still working to understand our own meal timing, portions, and macro-nutrient needs, so it has been somewhat difficult to know what is the best approach to our 16 month olds diet. Since my husband and I both suffered from childhood weight issues this is a somewhat stressful area of parenting for us.

  • hlloyd

    Hello, I understand the Paleo food concept as a way to eat like “cavemen” used to eat. I could maybe suggest another concept known under the name of (in French) “Alimentation vive” from Pol Gregoire. Sadly, not in English, but you can always have a look there : http://www.polgregoire.org/LAlimentation_Vive/Accueil.html

    And for more information about diet, just check my site http://www.slimmingzone.co.uk

  • Thank you for sharing this Russ! I will be forwarding this on to several friends who, like me, are struggling to get their kiddos to become “cave-babies”. 😀

  • Love the Domestic Man and Oliver is adorable!! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Shelley Howard

    I could not agree more! My kids are now teenagers but I always put on their plates whatever it was I was making for dinner and they always ate it. Of course, there are foods they just don’t care for but in general they eat anything. Last year I went Paleo and my family has really switched a lot of their habits as well. They still eat some grain but they do not eat anymore processed foods and sugar intake is very low. When my son came back from his Washington DC trip last year he begged me to make him “real food” as all they ate was “fast crap food” for the entire trip. It is just amazing how food effects our lives so much. Good or bad – it’s all in our choices.

  • Julieane Hernandez

    He is soooo adorable! Thank you for sharing your tips on how to raise kid foodies! I have a 3 year old and I’ve been having a hard time making her eat food other than pasta!