Healthy Eating With Mandy Sacher From Wholesome Child


One look at Mandy Sacher’s pantry and you can tell how passionate she is about health and nutrition. There'’s every variety of flour imaginable on display: coconut, almond spelt, cacao, buckwheat. There’s also a colourful basket of fruit and vegetables in the kitchen and freshly made ‘Protein and Veggie Date Balls’ (they'’re delicious and you can’t even taste the beetroot. See the recipe below).

For the Sydney-based founder of Wholesome Child, healthy eating began as a child. “We grew up in South Africa in a really healthy household. We always had fresh vegetables in the house and there were always home cooked meals,” she recalls. It'’s an approach to eating that she’s carried through her life and now instills in her own children: Aaron, four, and Summer, 22 months. She was, by her own admission, “crazy about vegetables” back then and still is. “My mother always took great care of herself. She believed you are what you eat,” she says.

Sacher began her career as a personal trainer before moving into nutrition. It was while she living in the UK that she began working on the MEND program, one of the world’s largest evidence-based healthy lifestyle programs that empowers 2-4 year olds and 7-13 year olds, with the support of their families, to reach and maintain a healthy weight. After her son Aaron was born, Sacher became a paediatric nutritionist and a Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) consultant. “I had Aaron and I was appalled at the products that were aimed at first time mums. Yoghurt with water, skim milk and then sugar – sugar for a six month old baby!”. Wholesome Child was born shortly after the arrival of he son. “I call my business my second baby. I remember Aaron had just started solids.” Wholesome Child now consults to daycares on implementing more nutritional whole food menu plans and privately to parents of children of all ages. Her engaging nutritional workshops (Introducing Solids, Veggie Tricks, Lunchbox Solutions and a Virtual Shopping Tour) are held at preschools, mother’s groups, non-profit organisations, medical practices and in different locations each month open to any parents, grandparents or caregivers who wish to attend.

Sacher wants to empower mothers to make the right nutrition choices. “Sleeping and eating are two of the biggest challenges mothers face. I am so passionate about empowering mums and teaching them to feed their children right from the start. Babies taste buds can be up to 200 times more sensitive than ours. Many studies have shown that the food we give our children in those critical time periods actually shape their food preferences,” she says.

Sacher’s approach to nutrition is a gentle one. “We are all mothers and we feel guilty so easily. When I started out, I was very gun hoe. I would go into someone’s home and empty out their cupboard. But the reality is, you need to go slowly – we are all on different journeys. You need to make small changes when it concerns children and I don’t ever want a mother to feel guilty.” Sacher has never looked back and firmly believes that how you go about food in those early days is so important. From introducing solids to lunchbox solutions, we caught up with Sacher to tell us simple ways people can change the way they eat for the better.

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Remove the packaging…
“One of the first things I say to packaged food mums is this: if you always give your children food that comes in a package, that is what they are going to expect. Children have all these sensory systems. Eating is not just about putting food in your mouth. It’s about the visuals, it’s about touch, the feeling of the crinkly paper. As mothers, how are we going to compete with Dora The Explorer packaging? If you’re going to buy packaged food, remove the packaging. For example, when we’re trying to get mums off cheese sticks, I recommend buying a block of good quality cheese and and creating fun shapes with a cookie cutter to put in your child’s lunch box.

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Fussy eating is one of the biggest problems mothers face…
50% of children will go through a period of fussy eating. There are different levels of fussing eating. The problem feeders have a very limited diet – less than 20 foods. Problem feeders will not sit at the table if there are carrots there and they don’t like carrots. It might be to do with sensory issues – they don’t like the way carrots look or feel. Then you have fussy eaters who are very particular about the types of foods they want, but they will eat more than 30 foods and after encouraging them, you can get them to eat with the family. Children with serious sensory issues don’t know when they are hungry. If they have reflux, they switch it off, as it’s too sore to eat. My feeding therapy sessions incorporate food play to desensitise children to disliked foods. I then give parents steps to do at home. I really understand fussy. It’s about changing children’s staples. I give mum’s shopping lists and I work within the framework of what they are already doing. If their child is addicted to a peanut butter sandwich, I’d recommend changing the bread to a sourdough and a salt and sugar-free peanut butter. We take baby steps.

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Let your baby make a mess…
There’s so much information out there when it comes to introducing solids and it’s a bit overwhelming, especially for busy mums. One of my biggest tips is to let your baby make a mess. If you are spoon feeding – take the spoon away and let them explore food with their hands - or give them an extra spoon so they can join in and try and feed themselves. We practice something called messy play – letting your children explore food with their hands. Get messy and play with it. It’s a sensorial experience. If you think about food, it’s very sensory. If you keep wiping a child’s hands, you don’t ever let them get used to it. We’re focusing on the mess, rather than the enjoyment. So it’s very important to let children mess with food and experience it in a way that feels comfortable to them instead of trying to control the experience for them. Sometimes we say to mums, don’t even clean them in their high chairs. Some children are so sensitive around their mouths, and if you scrub them, they become scared and will associate the high chair with getting a cold wipe on their mouth. Take them out of the high chair when you’re cleaning them. I also encourage mums from the age of six months to do finger feeding. There might be a lot of food on the floor but they develop their fine motor skills and their oral skills. You can spoon feed at the same time to make sure the nutrients are going in.

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Introducing solids is very controversial…
There’s no right or wrong way. My goal is to arm new mothers with choice and knowledge, as that’s what is going to empower them. New research has come out which says at four months, you have a window of opportunity to introduce solids to children which will actually help to prevent allergies arising later on. Previously we thought that if we delayed the introduction of allergenic foods, it’d prevent them. There’s been a huge rise in the amount of allergies we’re seeing in children. What I say to new mums is: watch your child. If they can’t keep their head up and don’t have a developed gag reflex, they’re not ready. It’s about seeing where your child is at. Also as a mum, you need to be ready for it. It’s a big change. I help mums with recipes, menu planners, milk and solids schedules in order to make it a stress-free transition. Babies are getting everything they need from milk up until six months, after this time it’s essential to find the right balance of milk and solid food. In my two hour workshop (Introducing Solids the Wholesome Way), I go through the development of food preferences, how a baby’s taste’s develop through amniotic fluid in the womb, then it’s breast milk, what a mother’s eating while she’s breastfeeding and if bottle feeding, what kind of formula you put them on. Different formulas will have a different effect on a child’s taste receptors. Then the third most crucial time you have to influence their food preferences is introducing solids.  We go through which foods to introduce first, look at the healthiest fats to add to their diets and when to introduce grains, protein etc.  We cover all the information from a wide-range of experts and put it together in a simple-to-follow plan.

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Juggling work with motherhood is a personal struggle for me…
With Aaron, I was devoted for the first year of his life. With summer, it has been totally different in that I am also running a business. As a mother, you always feel stretched. I am trying to do the best for my family and my clients. On top of that, I don’t buy them packaged food, so I am always cooking for them. It’s a huge commitment and one, which requires a lot of preparation. It’s all about being prepared and organised. I also put a lot of effort into my kids being good eaters – I put carrots on my head and wave them around. They’re beautiful eaters, but that’s because I work on it. We also read to our children for an hour each night and make sure we have a lot of quality time together. Honestly though, I couldn’t do it without our families, who are so hands on and supportive.

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An organised pantry and menu planners are my biggest tools…
Even if you start with lunchboxes or dinners, you can see what’s on the menu. You can aim for 2-3 recipes a week, double the batch and freeze it. Freshly made food, which is then frozen food is great. Always think ahead: if you are steaming vegetables, boil eggs at the same time and use them for filling sandwiches or as a snack after school."

Mandy's favourite recipes:

Protein and Veggie Date Balls
1 cup dates, chopped
A quarter cup beetroot, finely grated
A quarter cup spinach, finely sliced and chopped
1 and a quarter cup almond meal
1 cup finely shredded coconut
1-2 tbsp chia seeds
1/3 coconut sugar (optional)
½ chocolate powder, quinoa puffs or shredded coconut to roll balls in (optional)

1. Place all ingredient into a high speed processor/ Thermomix and process until smooth.
2. Roll into little balls and cover with shredded coconut.
3. Place balls in freezer and leave to set.
4. Best eaten within 15 minutes of removing from freezer.

Tip: You can turn these into a chocolate treat by adding 2 tbsp of cacao powder and 1 tbsp of carob powder and ½ cup of maple syrup.  Once the base recipe has been made, ask your child to help you create different versions of it with their favourite ingredients.

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Spaghetti Bolognaise
1.25kg beef mince
2½ onions, finely chopped
½ sweet potato puree, (boiled or steamed - do not throw away excess water)
½ butternut pumpkin puree (boiled or steamed – do not throw away excess water)
½ cup of spinach or carrot puree
600g tomato puree
2 tbsp of mixed Italian herbs
2-4 cloves garlic, finely crushed
2 tsp cinnamon
2 dried apricots (soaked in warm water for 15 minutes)
A quarter cup of coconut oil
Celtic Sea Salt and pepper to taste
250 ml vegetable or chicken stock

1. Heat oil in a medium to large pot, add onions and garlic, and sauté until transparent.
2. Add the mince to onions, turn up the heat, and brown until there are no pink pieces.
3. Add 2 tbsp of mixed herbs, cinnamon.  Keep stirring until it browned all the way through.
4. Add tomato puree and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
5. Add pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach puree, mashed apricots and simmer for 25 minutes with lid on.
6. Check meat and veg mixture to make sure liquid level is not too low. Add water from steamed vegetables and / or stock if necessary, this will increase vitamin and mineral content.
7. Turn off heat and leave to cool.
8. Serve with brown rice, home-made potato wedges, polenta or pasta of your choosing.

Tip: for younger children and children who are extremely fussy add their portion of mince to a blender to get a nice even consistency and then pour over pasta or brown rice.

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Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
1 cup zucchini, shredded
1 cup sweet potato, pureed
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
2 bananas
1 egg
1 cup brown rice flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cacao powder
1 tbsp carob powder
A quarter tsp Himalayan sea salt
1 tsp vanilla powder
Handful of small carob buds or the carob kitchen chocolate bears or bar broken into small bits.  Or dark chocolate buds.

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C.
2. Place the zucchini in a clean tea towel and squeeze extra water out of the zucchini.
3. Place the zucchini, sweet potato, egg, banana, coconut sugar, rice syrup and coconut oil in a processor and process at a high speed.
4. Add the rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, cacao powder, carob powder, vanilla powder and Himalayan sea salt. Process at a high speed until smooth consistency is reached.
5. Mix in the chocolate chips by hand. (Optional)
6. To make mini muffins, use mini paper inserts and add 1 -2 tbsp of batter per muffin and cook for approx. 25 -30 min.  Check after 15 min, place clean knife into middle of muffin and remove.  If no batter sticks to muffins they are ready.   For larger muffins, increase cooking time by approx. 15-20 min.

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Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo Hair and makeup: Sonia Allen Words: Georgie Abay