“I like your stomach Mommy,” said my daughter Vivi. It’s all squishy.”
Like many, I had Pandemic Body.™ But that wasn’t why I started the Whole30 Diet with a toddler in the house. Sure I was squishy but I was also slow, irritable and had regular rosacea breakouts that I couldn’t curb. My energy levels were at all time lows and I found it challenging to keep up with my work and my daughter. I relied on 7am coffee, 2pm chocolate and 5 pm wine to get me through each day. Meals were designed to maximize comfort (i.e Mac and Cheese), not overall well being (plus isn’t that spinach smoothie just too much work?).
I needed to jumpstart my energy levels and seize 2021 before it ran out. So after some bedtime reading on brain function diets, I decided to do Whole30 Diet with a Toddler at home. Here’s how it went and what I did:
I Ignored the American “Kid’s Food” Paradigm
“It turns out that French parents don’t start their babies off on bland, colorless grains. …The first foods that French babies typically eat are steamed and pureed green beans, spinach, carrots, peeled zucchini, and the white part of leeks. American babies eat vegetables, too, of course… But we Anglophones tend to regard vegetables as obligatory vitamin-delivery devices and mentally group them in a dull category called “vegetables.” Although we’re desperate for our kids to eat vegetables, we don’t always expect them to.”
Look at any “kid’s meal” at an American restaurant: Hot dogs, chicken tenders, and mac and cheese. All are loaded with grease and carbs and deficient in vegetables and whole foods. Sure, I’ve ordered it to save money, but not because I think Vivi will like the “kids menu” food any better than the tasty “adult food” I make at home. I found most Whole30 compliant foods to be things that Vivi already enjoyed. Broccoli, sweet potatoes, roast chicken, blueberries, eggs, avocados, etc. We went to the Farmer’s Market together every weekend so she could pick out her own whole foods. (a few recipes that Vivi enjoyed at bottom). A fresh picked strawberry can give any silly boxed food a run for its money.
I Didn’t Cook Two Meals, But I Did Occasionally Add to Hers
My cousin Maggie has three kids. She’s not a short order cook that bounces around based on their unique whims and tastes, “Heidi i make one dinner. We all eat it, like it or not. If they don’t like what I serve, then they don’t eat.”
Vivi ate mostly what I ate. There were a few times I did add non Whole30 foods to her diet. For example she still got a glass of milk each morning (dairy is a no no on Whole30) an occasional yogurt, a few sandwiches in her lunchbox, and each Friday I still made her Mac and Cheese per our Girls Friday night plan. (Meat, vegetable and Mac and cheese…with the rule being she had to eat a few bites of meat and vegetables before she got the cheesy noodles).
This time I didn’t eat Mac and Cheese along with her. In the past this had always consisted of me eating my portion, and then finishing her leftovers. No wonder I was squishy.
Perhaps doing the Whole30 diet with a Toddler was much better than doing it alone.
I Became an Avid Label Reader
NEWSFLASH: Sugar is in EVERYTHING. Even the bacon I normally bought had sugar added. Staying compliant to the Whole30 taught me to read labels in detail. Sugar isn’t good for Vivi as just as much as it isn’t good for me. Her brain is developing and of course, how can I expect her to nap when I just unwittingly dumped 100 grams of glucose in her?
Stopping to eat a few hours before bedtime really does help sleep. Before the Whole30 I usually popped <insert carby junk food here> into my mouth while watching Netflix right after I put Vivi down. After all this was MY time, wasn’t it? I was going to enjoy it, darnit. During the Whole30 I didn’t abstain from Netflix, but only made myself tea to accompany it. It felt rather sad at first. Then I got over it. “My time” was now focused on relaxation and good programming, not seeing how many Oreos I can cram in my mouth.
I Got More Energy, More Confidence and Felt a Ton Better
I was a classic “Tiger Blood” case. After two weeks of eliminating grains, dairy, and sugar, I was infused with energy. I started waking up at 5am without an alarm. I had time to do exercises AND write in the morning. (Usually I barely have time for one of these). I slept much deeper and didn’t stare at the ceiling lamenting all my life choices with 2am insomnia. My stomach was still squishy but a “harder squishy”. (According to Vivi). My rosacea totally cleared up. I didn’t go out much, but when I did I didn’t feel like I had to put on cover up. I felt great. It wasn’t hard outside of my first week mourning cheese, wine, and cream in my coffee.
“It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
I learned in reintroduction that dairy and red wine were the culprits of my rosacea. As a cheese eater, this was a major blow. But at least now I can be mindful and intentional when I choose to indulge. (i.e. is this cheese worth a red nose…..in the case of aged Gouda, sometimes it is!)
What Food DID I Cook on the Whole30 with a Toddler?
Here are a few very easy recipes that worked for me and Vivi. Doing the Whole30 with a toddler became a new way of eating. The diet may be done, but many recipes are not. The biggest lesson is that eating whole healthy food is easy AND enjoyable. Even for an opinionated 3.5 year old. : )
Crispy Baked Chicken Thighs
- 5-6 Organic/ Free range bone in skin on chicken thighs
- Paprika (smoked works great)
- Salt +pepper
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Herbes De Provence or Italian seasoning.
Preheat oven to 400. Line baking skeet with Foil. Mix all dry ingredients together in a shallow bowl or plate. Wipe chicken dry with paper towel. Rub each thigh in mixture until evenly coated. Place on sheet. Bake for 35-40 mins.
Vivi has been eating these since she turned two and loves to eat them off the bone. She’s also a fan of the crispy chicken skin.
- Head of organic broccoli, trimmed and chopped into bite size pieces
- Olive oil
Heat up olive oil in large pan or shallow pot. Toss in broccoli. Toss in salt. Stir 2-3 mins. Then add a few tablespoons of water, cover and steam for about 10 mins.
Vivi eats these 1-2 times a week, regardless of which diet her mom is on.
Sweet Potato Rounds
- 1-2 sweet potatoes
- Olive oil
- Salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut up sweet potato into 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch rounds. Put in glass pyrex baking dish. Cover with olive oil, sprinkle with salt. Bake for 35-35 minutes.
Vivi has been eating these since she started solids.
Turkey Sausage + Cherry Tomatoes
- 1 -2 cloves garlic (minced)
- ½ yellow onion (diced)
- 1 package organic ground turkey
- Herbes De Provence
- Olive oil
- Cherry tomatoes cut in half
Turn on broiler. Line a cookie sheet with foil and place cherry tomato halves on it. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Broil for a few minutes, then stir and broil again until the tomatoes start to blacken. Remove and set aside.
Heat up olive oil in pan on medium heat. Sautee garlic and onion until soft and golden. Then move to one side of pan. Turn up heat. Add ground turkey to the other , hotter side of pan, breaking apart with wooden spoon. Allow turkey to brown a bit. Then turn heat back down to medium and stir turkey meat into onion and garlic. Add salt and herbes de Provence to taste. Remove from heat and toss in cherry tomatoes.
We used to make this as a weeknight pasta dish, but then realized we liked the goods just as much without the noodles too.
Go Get ‘Em Smoothie
- ⅔ cup organic blueberries
- 1 cup ice cubes
- 1 banana
- Sprinkle of chia seeds
- Splash of coconut water
- 1 -2 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon almond butter (make sure no sugar is added)
Add all ingredients, blend and enjoy! This is a great yummy way to get spinach in a little one’s diet!
*top photo in Unsplash by Joshua Coleman. Bottom photo is Vivi eating a farmer's market strawberry.