How My Family Is Paleo (in Our Own Way)

We are a Paleo family. Paleo is such a trendy diet that admitting it makes me cringe a bit inside. It sounds as if I'm also the type who has a teacup pig as a pet that I carry in my LV backpack. But the truth is that I have been Paleo (or a version of it, which I will explain) since my son was born six years ago. And I have learned a lot from trying to feed a family of four healthfully when the whole world is tempting me (begging me?) not to. I've had to bend some of the rules of Paleo, which if you follow the hard-core definition includes no dairy, no legumes, no grains, no alcohol, all-free range meats, pro-organic and anti-GMO everything, and no processed foods whatsoever (cereal, bread, pasta, condiments, etc). I'm sure that the Paleo Police will put me in jail (what would they serve if not bread? nuts?) if they read this, but it's how I manage it. (btw: we never went this far; yikes!) And honestly, it's not that difficult after you get in the hang of it.

If you are looking for a way for your family to be healthier without going all whole 30, give my Paleo Light rules a try:

1. Only control what the kids eat in your own house. Outside of a few key things that I note below, we try to be strict within the walls of our own home. We eat homemade meals made from as little processed foods as possible (i.e., store-bought ketchup is allowed in the meatloaf, but no noodles in the lasagna). But I can't control the outside world and I've stopped trying. Paleo is not like an allergy. It's not going to kill my kids to eat "regular" food. So when they go to other kids' houses, birthday parties, soccer games, Girl Scouts, and pretty much every other child-focused activity or event known to man they can eat the cookies, crackers, pop-tarts, cereal or whatever other crap is on tap. (I use to hold out hope that they'd resist, but let's face it: What kid can say no to Oreos?!) When other kids come to our house? They get apples, clementines, dates ... and if they are really lucky homemade almond crackers. (please don't roll your eyes!)

2. Value your own sanity. Like any parent, I struggle to pack a healthy lunch every day. So much so that about two years ago, I passed the job off to my husband, who was the Paleo pioneer in our house. ("You want them to eat Paleo? You pack their lunch!") And even he struggled to make a lunch without sliced bread. So now wheat bread is in the house for lunches. And peanut butter, too. But I check the product labels so sugar isn't in the ingredients or is as far down the list as possible (quite a challenge!). I also cook from regular cookbooks -- How to Cook Everything is still my bible -- and adjust where necessary (skip the sugar in the pasta sauce, sub almond flour for bread crumbs, pureed cauliflower for mashed potatoes, etc). Having to use only Paleo-specific recipes can be exhausting. And no, I don't use coconut sap. But I do try to use maple syrup, agave or honey instead of white sugar when I have to use sweetener.

3. Don't buy all organic. My son alone will eat 2 dozen apples in a week if I put them all out at once after a Cosco run (which I've learned not to do). And the trouble with apples? They are always on the EWG Dirty Dozen list, so I suck it up and buy them organic. But there are a lot of fruits and veggies you can skip the organic markup (pretty much anything with a tough skin like watermelon, bananas, pineapple, etc.) And while I try to buy free-range eggs and meat and line-caught seafood, I can't do it at the Farmer's Market or even at Whole Foods even though I wish I could. Instead, I stock up when I can find these foods at Cosco and Trader Joe's. (TJ's is a Paleo Mom's best friend; the cheap bags of almond flour alone is reason to go.)

4. Bake in Exceptions. Every Tuesday is Pizza Day at my kids' school and they get to forgo their Paleo Light packed lunch and partake just like everyone else. (And Dad gets a day off packing it). Every Thursday is Pancake Day with maple syrup and yogurt (even though they are made with almond flour!). And on the rare occasion we go to Smash Burger the kids eat burgers and hot dogs with the buns (I do insist on subbing in sweet potato fries). All birthdays get a cake with real flour and (horrors!) white sugar. Except for my husband who prefers a flourless chocolate cake (you should try it; it's amazing).

My own concession? I may skip the pasta, the bread basket, and the rice (and oh do I miss it all), but I will never rule out wine or my favorite cocktail. I mean, there have to be limits to everything. Seriously.

Here are three things to avoid when reading nutrition labels.

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