Sunday, March 18, 2012

EAT LIKE A DINOSAUR by The Paleo Parents

The Paleo Parents. Eat Like a Dinosaur. Illus. Amanda Gates. Las Vegas: Victory Belt
Publishing, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-936608-87-4. $29.95.

The SDSU Center for the Study of Children’s Literature doesn’t often review cookbooks, but when I saw the pre-release notice of this one, I simply couldn’t wait to review it. “Paleo” (ironically) is a fairly new movement, and while there are excellent primer-like books for adults such as Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint, Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution, and Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet, and excellent adult cookbooks such as Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed, Haley Mason & Bill Staley’s Make It Paleo, and Julie & Charles Mayfield’s Paleo Comfort Foods, nothing yet written speaks to the specific needs of children. Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo addresses the challenges of raising a Paleo family, but in a literary manner aimed exclusively at adults.

Finally, the need is met; Paleo kids have a book written with them in mind!

Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry (“The Paleo Parents”) aim their work at “neither a culinary savant nor a mega-athlete,” but rather at ordinary families trying to eat unprocessed, real food. The subtitle “Recipe & guidebook for gluten-free kids” broadens their audience beyond the Paleosphere to the growing gluten-free world. But make no bones about it, the book follows a strict Paleo regimen: none of the recipes contains any grains, dairy, hydrogenated oils, or legumes - only meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and tubers.

The first thirty pages, “The Boring Chapter for Parents,” give an easy-to-understand explanation of the Paleo diet, but the authors intentionally do not delve into the science. They make very clear that this is not a book about diet. It’s just about “having fun with your kids in the kitchen” while simultaneously eating a healthier diet consistent with our human evolution.

Their explanation stays above the fray of heated Paleo debates with recipes representing their own version of Paleo, but it’s not presented as dogma nor does the reader feel “judged” for his or her own variations on the lifestyle.

The introductory chapter also addresses the challenge of kids who feel “different” because of their family’s food choices, or who are reluctant to change their eating habits at all. The authors’ strategy is to convert kids into wanting this diet for themselves. Toth and McCarry include specific ideas to help with the transition, such as replacing lost favorites with NEW treats and traditions (Pizza Friday becomes “International Food Night” or “Breakfast for Dinner Night”), or giving kids greater ownership of their food by having them help with grocery shopping, preparation, and meal planning. Throughout the book, in fact, small green hand icons indicate steps that children can help with.

I appreciated that the introductory materials established the link between diet and behavior, especially in children. This under-discussed issue strikes a particular chord with me, as I myself struggled with behavior and focus issues in school until the elimination of all cane sugar byproducts gave me a new lease on life and a new shot at school and friendships. Like the authors’ sons, who struggled with ADHD, asthma, eczema, and allergies before switching their diet, the positive changes in my life made me want to never go back to the way I ate before. As a fifth grader, I said with complete honesty that I no longer wanted the treats my friends ate because I never wanted to go back to my life “on sugar.”

After the introduction chapter comes the meat of the book (pun intended), including an illustrated children’s story. Told in the voice of their oldest son Cole, it is a touching retelling of the family’s journey to health and their transition process, both the challenges as well as the fun. They ate like dinosaurs (some ate meat, some ate plants, but none ate pasta or drank juice boxes), visited farms, concocted new foods, and tried foods no one else has heard of! The story puts a positive spin on the process, aided by playful illustrations depicting cartoonish people and dinosaurs reminiscent of 1990s television…the golden era of Barney and animated series like Blue’s Clues, Hey Arnold!, Rugrats, and Rocko’s Modern Life.

Reading through their recipes, I wanted to grocery shop and cook immediately. The instructions are straightforward, and, with the exception of some of the baking recipes, the meals consistently include a reasonable-length ingredient list. The dishes are unique, yet without too many bizarre or “foodie” ingredients. I like their use of spices, such as putting nutmeg on carrots or cumin on asparagus. The text accompanying each recipe is enjoyable, often explaining the dish’s name (such as “Rat on a Stick” or “Roast Beast”) and/or how they came up with the recipe. In addition to creative takes on staple dishes, the recipes include key basics such as bone broth, mayonnaise, applesauce, ketchup, and bbq sauce - all of which are difficult to find in stores without chemicals or unnecessary sugar.

A frank discussion of cost would have been useful: eating a Paleo diet without fillers such as bread, pasta, and rice can be much more expensive than eating the standard American diet, particularly if one tries to replicate “gluten-free alternatives” to baked foods. The authors briefly mention the cost of alternative flours, and the back matter discusses farmers markets and u-pick farms, but the book could use a short section about budgeting.

Despite that, I call this book a triumph. Although I’m not yet a parent myself and can’t speak to its usefulness first-hand, I was a kid who ate “differently.” And I hope to raise my own family with an evolutionarily healthy diet. Kudos to Victory Belt Publishing for fulfilling the need for just such a book. I hope the book sees tremendous success, not only within the Paleo community, but with any family trying to eat more healthfully.

Reviewed by Marisa Behan


  1. Wonderful review about an interesting and important subject. I could definitely stand to eat a few less carbs, and I'm sure many kids could too. It would definitely help bring down the country's rising obesity levels. Great job.

  2. Wow, thanks so much for the thoughtful and thorough review. We totally agree we should have called budgeting out a little more... since it is something we write about on the blog - we'll do our best to cover it in our upcoming seminars!