Usually when I sit and think about what I want for my kids, what I want to teach them, and what important experiences they should have, it’s mostly the basics. Things like; being kind to people, using good manners, being respectful, making sure they’re safely secured in cars and watched around water, etc. You know what I mean, right?
But recently, I started thinking more and more about it and I realized I was missing something. I was missing making THEIR relationship with food just as important as my own relationship with food. I’ve done so much work on my relationship with food and attaining food freedom, that I was selfishly allowing Owen’s relationship with food to tank and go spiraling down the rabbit hole. I get that he’s 3.5 (well 3 years and 9 months) and “should be allowed to be a kid” But, what I was doing, was allowing his relationship with food to suffer at the cost of convenience. He’s always been a picky eater, but do kids really just come that way or are they molded into that by us as parents letting their fear of trying new things and the throwing of tantrums to decide the menu? I’m going to be very honest here, we never made him eat what we were eating when he was younger. Especially once he was old enough to have an opinion. We tried, sometimes, and we never succeeded. We’d tell ourselves that we would make one meal for all of us and a few minutes into the battle of trying to get him to eat what we were eating, we’d throw our hands in the air, give up, and make him what he wanted. Looking back, that’s really where we took a wrong turn.
One thing I always did however, was make sure that the food he was eating, was high quality, organic, as few ingredients as I could find food. But that didn’t change the fact that it was chicken, French fries, Mac and Cheese, ravioli, you name it. If it was a typical processed toddler food, the kid was all over it. Healthy version of that or not, we weren’t setting him up to be successful.
This went on for a long time, every few months, I’d say “Ok, he’s going to start eating what we eat,” and then he’d throw a tantrum, gag on food when we made him take bites (he even once threw up all over the table when we made him take a bite of a hamburger), and we would give up and give in. He refused almost all types of vegetables, wouldn’t even take ONE bite to try them.
A few months ago, we started to notice a shift in his behavior. He’s a toddler boy, so I know that they are all kinds of crazy, wild, and energized, but his shift was more than that. He started crying EVERY NIGHT at bedtime, He’d get up and come out of his room 2, 3, 4 times a night before finally falling asleep sometimes 2 hours after we originally put him to bed. He developed a rash/eczema around his mouth that didn’t go away no matter what lotion, cream, or magic elixir I put on it. He’d show up in our bedroom at 5 am after only sleeping 7 hours sometimes. His eyes looked sunken in from being under-slept. When he had tantrums, we went WAYYYYYY off the deep-end and his bowel movements, they were all over the place and all types. Some people might have automatically thought there was something medically and terribly wrong if their child started displaying these behaviors. But I knew it was related to his diet. Because I know what a poor diet can do to my mental health, sleep habits, digestion, etc. Why would I expect it to be any different for him?
In late December, my husband told me he wanted to do a Whole30 starting at the end of January when we returned from my Sister’s wedding. Of course, I was all over it! But as it got closer and closer I started thinking more about adding Owen to the mix. (Charlotte too, but she’s still exclusively breastfeeding, so she just comes along for the ride with me….Weeeee!) A week before we were to start, I made the decision. Owen was going to do it with us. If it meant I went into our pantry and threw out every typical snack option, and processed convenient crap food in there, I would. And I pretty much did. We started on January 24th as an entire family, and let me tell you I was happy as I could be that first day, because I truly wanted for him to develop a better relationship with food, and for him to feel/look/behave better.
I knew it was going to HARD work, but I knew that together, my husband and I could and would make it work. We knew it meant that he would eat a full well-balanced breakfast every morning before going to daycare (He goes to 5 hours of daycare 5 days a week). I ordered him a fun new lunch box and we would start packing his lunch every day. We talked to those who care for him at school and explained how important it was that he only ate the food we brought for him, and only drank water. And MOST IMPORTANTLY, we talked to him. I sat him down and explained that we were doing the Whole30 as a family and I told him what that meant for him. I wanted to be honest with him. I explained why it was important, and why it meant he couldn’t have his “normal” food anymore. He was confused, and upset at first, but agreed. Could I have lied to him and said, “we don’t have that right now” when he asked for his typical yogurt/waffles for breakfast/crackers for snack? YES. Did I think that would truly do anything to change his relationship with food? NO.
The first week was tough. Just like it is for anyone completing a Whole30, he was a rollercoaster of emotions. He whined, and whined, and whined. He straight up refused dinner a few nights and when we gave him the option to eat the dinner we provided him or go to bed, he chose to go to bed a few times. My Momma heart broke. I thought “What if I’m making his relationship with food even worse?!” But at the same time, I also thought “If I don’t find strength and I just allow him to refuse food to the point where I give in and give him the Mac and cheese he wants, what am I really teaching him?” So, we pushed on, we worked through every tantrum, and I continued to lay in bed those first few nights wondering if this was the right choice.
On day 6 we happened to be at the pediatrician for Charlotte’s 6 month well child check. Owen was at school. We saw the pediatrician and told her that we were doing a family Whole30, which included Owen. I explained how far off track I felt he had gotten with food and how I felt it was affecting his behavior and overall health. She knows the program and was happy to hear what we were doing. When I expressed my concern for his choice to go to bed without dinner a few times she said “He WILL eat when he is hungry. You’re doing a good thing here” I felt better. It renewed my Momma willpower! That day when I picked him up from daycare, I noticed that the rash/eczema that had been around his mouth for months was nearly gone! Our first NSV! And how perfectly timed!
On day 7 He said, “Mom, how long do I need to eat healthy for?” Which made me laugh, but also made me realize that he was paying attention and listening, another step in the right direction. So, we talked about it- how him eating this way was going to happen all the time, and that after the 30 days we would talk about what other things we would incorporate back in.
Day 9 was the first night he stopped coming out of his room at night after we put him to bed. He started falling asleep so quickly, and staying asleep. He also started going to bed with minimal whining or crying. He started asking for carrot sticks as a snack instead of whining that he wanted crackers. Dinners started getting easier and he would get excited when I told him to go wash his hands for dinner. He started eating more at breakfast. 2 scrambled eggs, 3-4 bacon slices, and sweet potatoes became the new normal. Lunches were usually a couple of hot dogs or deli turkey rolls, carrot sticks, mandarin oranges/or raisins. He started eating almonds. He inhaled meat sauce over spaghetti squash and declared it “his favorite!”
From there we kept rolling forward. He’d ask if something was Whole30 and I would ask him what he thought. Sometimes he would get the answer right and other times I would have to explain why something was or why it was not Whole30 and then we would talk about it. He would listen and ask questions. I vowed in the beginning I wouldn’t say the words “because I said so” when he asked why he couldn’t have something. 3.5 years old or not, I felt it was only fair that I explain it to him.
From Days 20-28, I went to WI with Charlotte to visit some family and my husband kept him going strong while I was away. By the time I returned, he had started eating cauliflower, broccoli, and green beans. #HUSBANDOFTHEYEAR. And his behavior was steady, his mood was good, and he looked well rested.
On Day 29, We went to the grocery store and as we were passing a shelf that had some cookies on it he said “Mom, cookies are not Whole30. Because they have A LOT of sugar and other bad stuff in them, and that’s not good for us. But eggs are Whole30, because they have protein, and that’s a good thing” In that moment, I knew that what we had endured in the beginning was totally worth it. I LITERALLY almost cried.
On Day 30, He knew it was his last day, I was honest with him about it. He asked if he could have cereal the next day, I told him we would talk about it in the morning, and see what sounded good to him. He agreed. At bedtime there were no tears, no coming out of his room, and he was asleep within minutes.
This morning, on Day 31, he didn’t even ask for cereal for breakfast. But, I did offer him some gluten free apple cinnamon oats along with some sweet potato and ancient grains breakfast sausage. He politely accepted and ate everything without complaint.
This experience has been so incredibly valuable to us as a family. We all learned, we all grew, we all changed. I don’t yet have an exact idea of what Owen’s diet will be moving forward as there will be some very specific reintroductions done (gluten free grains today), and some things left completely off the table (Almost all dairy), but I do know what we won’t be doing. We won’t be going back down a path of convenience, or giving in to tantrums over food. We’ll be talking to him and involving him in his decisions around food and teaching him why it’s important to feed his body whole, clean, nourishing, anti-inflammatory foods. He’s smart, I know he will listen and we’ll continue on this journey together. What I also want to express, is that my feelings and choices on his diet and how we will continue are in no way to say that other parent’s choices around food are the wrong ones. I don’t mom shame. I never will. What we decided to do here was based on what we felt was best for him given the changes in his behavior and my concern for the type of relationship he was forming with food, the amount of emotion he had tied into it, and the amount of time he spent snacking when I knew he probably wasn’t truly hungry.