When my family did the Whole30 earlier this year, I jumped in with two feet…
- I compiled tons of tips for doing the Whole30 on a budget
- I made a budget-friendly Whole30 meal plan
- I and even kept track of what we actually spent on the Whole30 (lessons learned for next time!)
… and I also jumped in with two kids!
So many people asked me so many questions about doing the Whole30 with kids, that it warrants a public answer and a how-to/warning guide of sorts if you choose to do the Whole30 with kids as well.
It wasn’t easy, but it was so, so good for all of us. Here’s how it all started:
Telling the Kids About the Whole30
Mr. Crumbs and I went back and forth on how we were going to tell the kids that Friday night pizza, ice cream and PBJ’s were going to be off limits for awhile, but you never really know how it’s going to happen until it actually happens, ya know?
However, we agreed to NOT refer to the Whole30 as a “diet” when talking to the kids.
You know how kids are… they talk and share and unknowingly embarrass the family by telling the whole class grandma’s underwear can fit over their heads…
We didn’t want our kids to share that they were on a “diet.” Partially because we didn’t want anyone to jump to conclusions and call Child Protective Services on us, but also because the word “diet” carries a huge negative connotation for a lot of people.
*I* know and *you* know that the word “diet” means “the sum of the food consumed by an organism or group” (thank you Wikipedia) and a “healthy diet” means “the process of helping maintain or improve overall health,” but people have a sneaky way of hearing what they want to hear so we just didn’t use the word “diet” at all.
Instead, we called it a “meal plan.”
That worked out well because the kids know what a meal plan is. They’ve been listening to me FOR YEARS asking them what they’d like to see on the meal plan, or to check the meal plan when they want to know what’s for dinner tonight (and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…).
So using the word “meal plan” automatically put whatever we did on the Whole30 in partially recognizable territory.
Explaining the Whole30 Rules
The Whole30 rules are pretty short and simple:
- No grains, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, alcohol, legumes or specific additives
- 3-4 meals a day
- No snacking
I wish I could say that explaining this to the kids was quick, easy and painless, but it wasn’t. It’s not like I’m expecting them to know what all these things are. They’re 8 and 10 and pretty smart, but even some adults have never heard of the word legume, don’t know that vanilla extract is 99.9% alcohol, that corn is a grain (not a vegetable) and that something doesn’t have to be labeled gluten-free to actually be gluten-free (hello fruits and vegetables!).
Still, we used examples to explain what these things were, and most of them were self-explanatory:
- No dairy means no regular milk or cheese or butter… but we can have almond milk and ghee! (Expect the “what’s ghee” question to pop-up here.)
- No soy means no soy sauce, but you don’t have to worry about that. Mommy will make sure I cook using the right ingredients. (Substitute coconut aminos for soy sauce!)
- (We skipped the alcohol and additives – they ARE only 8 and 10.)
- No sugar means no sweeteners at all – not even honey or maple syrup. (What are we going to put on our waffles?)
- No grains means we can’t have waffles… or pancakes or tortillas. But there are SO many other things we can have for breakfast that you won’t even miss them! (That’s stretching the truth, because we couldn’t wait to have waffles again!)
- No gluten means no bread, but we haven’t had much bread lately anyway so this really isn’t a big deal. (Be positive here! And don’t ask them for confirmation – it ISN’T a big deal!)
We took our time explaining this – still over dinner – and answered all the questions they sent our way.
Their little wheels started turning and they started connecting the dots and it was as if their world came to a screeching halt and crumbled right before their eyes:
NO BREAD AND NO CHEESE MEANS NO PIZZA?!?!
Changing Family Traditions (Temporarily?)
My daughter’s face turned bright red as she unsuccessfully fought back the tears. She knows that not having pizza for dinner isn’t worth crying over, but it took Mr. Crumbs and I a minute or two to realize that she wasn’t upset of pizza.
Well, she was upset over pizza, yes, but that wasn’t the ONLY reason she was upset.
She was crying because homemade pizza has been our Friday night family tradition FOR HER WHOLE LIFE.
It’s something Mr. Crumbs and I started when we first got married. Apparently Texas’ version of “New York Style Pizza” didn’t taste anything like real New York pizza. So we started making our own!
To her, the news was devastating. What do you mean NO PIZZA for dinner on Friday? What else could we possibly eat?!
Once she was calm and started breathing again (not joking), I asked if we could do hamburgers on Fridays instead.
THE GIRL: So, hamburgers without the buns, right?
THE GIRL: Can we do potato wedges too?
My lesson to you: have a plan to replace any family traditions you might have going on, and make sure it’s a plan that they’ll love just as much.
Snack Time on the Whole30 with Kids
I mentioned that the Whole30 has rules about snacking. Meaning, you can’t. Part of the Whole30 is changing how your body and brain views food and for 98% of the population, snacking throws it all off in an unhealthy way.
For the kids though, we knew they wouldn’t make it from one meal to the next. Their little bodies process food SO FAST! That’s why they’re asking for snacks when you’ve just finished cleaning up after breakfast!
So we made a rule that the kids could have a snack at 10am and 3pm with our standard disclaimer of “as long as you finish your breakfast/lunch” (whichever applies).
Snack time though, had to follow the same structure as our meals: protein + fruit/veg + fat.
What did the kids eat on the Whole30?
I’ve received questions like,
- What did the kids eat for breakfast on the Whole30?
- You mean they didn’t have cereal or oatmeal for breakfast?
- How could you let your kids starve at breakfast?
- What kind of parent forces their kids to eat leftover dinner for breakfast?
To which I answered,
- Protein, fruits, vegetables and fat.
- They ate PLENTY of food; I promise they didn’t starve.
- Apparently, ME!
Because here’s the thing – when we hear the word “breakfast,” 9 times out of 10 we associate grains and sweet foods… pancakes, waffles, muffins, oatmeal, cereal, granola. The mere fact that we write “breakfast for dinner” on our meal plan proves my point.
But this is one of the reasons why we loved doing the Whole30 with kids – no one food was ever assigned to a particular meal and it taught ALL OF US what types of food to put on our plates.
Plus we branched out into new foods like homemade breakfast sausage and carrot sweet potato fritters and sweet potato apple breakfast bake and no-bake blueberry coconut pie and dairy-free ranch dressing and our favorite ground beef taco meat and my go-to dinner salad recipe and creamy mashed cauliflower and avocado chocolate mousse and sheet pan Hawaiian Shrimp and quick cauliflower rice and egg roll in a bowl and almond crusted baked chicken and 5 minute guacamole and oven-roasted hash browns.
That’s FIFTEEN new recipes in roughly 45 days. In terms of trying new foods, this was a HUGE success!
Special Occasions on the Whole30 with Kids
The kids’ school allows birthday parties and rewards the kids with candy and ice cream for achieving classroom goals. I’m all for rewards and celebrating, but these in the midst of the Whole30 meant coming up with an alternate plan.
We bought 100% fruit bars from Costco and made a rule: if there’s a birthday party at school, they could take one with them and have it instead of cake. This was the ONLY time they were allowed to have these fruit bars, so the novelty of them never wore off.
It was really important to us that we stuck to the true meaning of the Whole30 as best as we possibly could as a family, so we didn’t waver on birthday pizza parties (the kids still packed their own lunch) or any candy they received (it was to come home and be thrown away, period).
I might sound like a mean mom…. and these rules might sound harsh… and you might think that “just one piece won’t hurt them”… or “everything in moderation”…
But to be frank with you, those last two statements are a lie. Government studies have shown that sugar is more addictive that cocaine (source) and bringing home candy EVERY SINGLE DAY is not moderation.
Plus the Whole30 doesn’t allow sugar anyway!! If one of my goals as a parent is to get the sugar out of our house, how does letting candy in help the cause?
So we didn’t keep any of the candy.
Positive Changes from the Whole30 with Kids
Just one week into the Whole30 with kids and we were already seeing MASSIVE, positive changes.
- My daughter stopped having massive emotional meltdowns (she’s 8).
- My son stopped giving us attitude and talking back (he’s 10).
- They became better listeners (and obey-ers).
- There was less arguing when asked to do something.
- My son didn’t throw fits when he had to do homework (or re-do an assignment).
- They paid more attention to their work in school, and performed better on assignments.
- In turn, their grades went up the next quarter!
- They ate all of the food on their plates within a reasonable amount of time.
- They started ASKING and REQUESTING specific VEGETABLES for dinner!
- They had less issues sleeping.
- They were super regular in the bathroom.
- They drank more water.
- They understood what a “healthy” plate of food looks like.
The shift was HUGE, and we knew we wanted this trend to continue. Our kids are one of the reasons why we’ve kept much of the Whole30 lifestyle now several months after officially completing the program!
My Tips for Doing the Whole30 with Kids
- Being open and honest with the kids is paramount. No matter how young they are, you can be honest and share with them in language that they’ll understand.
- Tell them why. Don’t just say yes or no. Explain the reasons behind your decisions, why you’re doing the Whole30 meal plan in the first place and why they’re doing it too.
- Include the kids in the process. Ask them what they’d like for dinner. Ask them what vegetables they’d like from the store. Ask them what fruit they’d like for breakfast. Ask them if they want regular potatoes or sweet potatoes. Ask them if they want almond butter or ranch dressing to dip their snack in. The more you ask, they more they’ll feel included and the more they’ll be okay with doing the meal plan (not diet!).
- Stick to the plan. Kids are great negotiators and can weasel in and out of any situation, but you stick to your guns!
- Mark off the days on a calendar. Let them be in charge of that. They have very little control over the whole thing, but this empowers them a bit.
- Don’t commit to ending on a certain date. The time frame for reintroducing foods is almost two weeks, so if you tell the kids “we’ll be done on this date,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. Keep it vague, but be honest in that “we’ll see how everyone is feeling after the 30 days, and after we bring back some food groups.”
And there you have it! A fairly comprehensive summary of our Whole30 with kids experience. I’d like to know this though… have YOU done the Whole30 with kids before? How did it go? And do you have any tips to share with us?