Paediatric nutritionist Mandy Sacher has released her first cookbook, Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook, with an aim to clear the confusion surrounding kids’ food and eating habits...
From fresh new recipes to healthy adaptations of family favourites, the easy-cook meals are made with time-poor mums and dads in mind. “The book aims to provide guidance and solutions to the common questions parents have around kids’ nutrition, and also offers a range of proven strategies to help with fussy eaters, allergy prevention, positive relationships towards food and frameworks for diversifying your children’s diets,” explains Mandy.
We caught up with the healthy-eating advocate to find out how her cookbook came to life, the best way to deal with picky little eaters and what some of her favourite family meals are to prepare, including her Supercharged Bolognese, which we’ve included below.
Words: Marisa Remond | Go to www.wholesomechild.com.au
Can you tell us a bit about the journey to creating your first cookbook Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook? Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign involved?
My goodness, what a journey it was! I often joke with my family and friends and say that it was like giving birth to a third child. Ironically it also took about nine months to come together!
In my private practice, I had mums coming to see me in floods of tears concerned that their child eats the same food day-in-and-day-out, or perplexed at how to deal with food refusal, worried about anaemia, constipation or allergies. They were wracked with unnecessary guilt, finding mealtimes stressful, exhausting and frustrating. There was also overwhelming confusion caused by all the advice from online resources, friends and well-meaning practitioners. It struck me that there was no, “one-stop” resource providing reliable information and support for families on their journeys towards nutritional wellbeing. This realisation, along with my own personal experiences during my kids’ nutritional development was the inspiration to write the Wholesome Child Complete Nutritional Guide and Cookbook.
The book aims to provide guidance and solutions to the common questions parents have around kids’ nutrition, and also offers a range of proven strategies to help with fussy eaters, allergy prevention, positive relationships towards food and frameworks for diversifying your children’s diets. It is a source of inspiration and education, empowering parents to improve their family’s eating habits, wellbeing and overall health – with over 140+ allergy-friendly recipes and a host of meal plans built on a central theme of balance and patience.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have an amazing group of people on my Wholesome Child team. When the Kickstarter launched last year, I was apprehensive and extremely nervous. It’s a huge emotional investment and daunting undertaking to launch a crowdfunding project, and I wasn’t sure that people would see the value and need in what I was doing. From day one, however, I was blown away by the support, pledges and words of encouragement and love I received – worldwide. And a year later here we now are… I still cannot believe it! I’m still pinching myself to make sure it isn’t all too good to be true! But it is true and also really empowering to know that any mum out there can turn their dream into a reality with a vision, passion and engaging a platform such as Kickstarter.
As a nutritionist and mother, you must have some great tips on combating fussy eating in children. Is it safe to say every child will go through a fussy eating stage at some point in their life, and if so, what is the best way to tackle it?
Around 80% of parents and caregivers I see in my practice are struggling with fussy eating and trying to get their little ones to increase variety. It’s a common issue, with around half of all toddlers being fussy or picky eaters at some point. Thankfully this stage is often temporary and something most kids tend to grow out of. Unfortunately, however, it’s also a phase that coincides with an important time in a child’s physical and emotional development… hence the understandable concern amongst many families.
My top tips are to banish the parenting guilt (you know – the one us mums all excel at!) and to keep in mind that change is a slow process when it comes to children – especially when fussy eating is concerned. Always respect where you and your child are at and celebrate any positive change that you’re able to make.
Making new foods familiar by repeatedly offering them in a calm family environment, encouraging messy play and eating together as a family as much as possible goes a long way towards making mealtimes fun and forming positive associations with food.
Working with textures that your child likes and by offering choices at mealtimes helps to give children a sense of control when it comes to their food. Children love praise and if adults praise a child for eating well it can have a long-lasting effect. These are just some of the suggestions that have proven successful. The key is patience and perseverance…. and realising that eating patterns don’t change overnight.
As parents, we know that real food is always a better option than packaged, but it’s not always realistic to cook three meals plus snacks every day. Are there any packaged foods that are better than others if we do have to buy?
I get asked this question at just about every one of my workshops. The average packaged convenience food is seldom geared towards health. However, some are better than others. My main advice is to look for products that contain NO numbers, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, flavour enhancers and colourings. This is not easy, but in my book, I provide detailed guidelines on how parents can spot the most harmful ingredients. If you are shopping for breads, crackers, grains, etc. choose wholegrains options as your first choice. This means you need to see the word ‘whole’ on the ingredient label – for example ‘wholewheat flour’ compared to ‘wheat flour’. Most parents do not know that white flour, unless it says ‘unbleached’ is actually bleached with harmful chemicals. If you are looking for yoghurt, choose ones with no added sugar (rather add a tsp of honey, fresh fruit or maple syrup to sweeten a plain yoghurt – this will contain less sugar than most kid’s varieties). Remember, low fat and processed foods usually contain double the amount of sugar to make up for the removed fat and artificial flavours – these should be avoided in children’s diets. Look for low sodium yellow cheeses, move away from choosing anything in individual wrappers as this sets up the expectation that food needs to come in bright and shiny packaging – and makes home-made food appear boring. A big block of cheese, grated or cut into fun shapes with a cookie cutter is a great way to move kids off cheese sticks – which are highly processed and contain excessive amounts of sodium.
It is disappointing that the vast majority of kids packaged and ready-to-go foods contain a scary dose of often unrecognisable ingredients and alarming levels of salt and sugar. You only need to look at the list of ingredients to see what I mean. It’s for this reason that I always try and debunk the myth that you need to cook three meals a day – or in fact need to cook every day. With good planning, bulk cooking (and freezing), as well as offering up raw fresh fruits and vegetables, snacks and meals don’t need to be excessively cumbersome or intimidating.
It could be a bowl of plain yoghurt topped with blueberries, ground almonds, chia seeds and a drizzle of honey for breakfast, an apple, veggie sticks, and hummus as a snack, a cheese and tomato sourdough spelt sandwich with capsicum, baby cucumbers and carrot sticks for lunch, a boiled egg and corn for a snack, followed by a pre-prepared nutritious family dinner such as lamb koftas or beef and veggie meatballs (use leftovers for the next day’s lunchbox).
What are some of your go-to weekday meals and snack suggestions for time-poor families?
I’m a firm believer in planning ahead, using leftovers and where possible bulk meal prep. We’re all busy, and the thought of slaving in the kitchen every day just isn’t practical or achievable for most of us. For this reason, I feature extensive meal plans in my Wholesome Child Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook.
Focus on multitasking your meals – prepare a roast chicken on Sunday and use the leftovers in a wholegrain sandwich or wrap the next day, freeze some thinly cut slices to use instead of deli meats for a later date, or use in the chicken and quinoa rissoles recipe from my book. If your children love mac ‘n cheese, try our wholesome version – double the batch, place in the freezer and use leftovers for the next day’s lunchbox.
Prepare batches of veggie-loaded dips such as avocado guacamole, hummus, basil and pine nut pesto or tzatziki, which are quick and very simple to make and can be stored in the fridge for snack times and salad dips (many children love dipping their food!), or even in wholegrain sandwiches and wraps.
Choose one or two healthy snacks to prepare with your child on the weekend, freeze and use through the week for mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. Great examples include beetroot bliss balls, black bean brownies, vanilla and cauliflower muffins, coconut macaroons, savoury scrolls. Muesli bars are another favourite and incredibly quick and simple to make in bulk, plus they last a week or two. Our nutritious and delicious vegetable muffins are great for lunchboxes and the freezer too.
Cooking up a one pot of Supercharged Bolognese and portioning up for the freezer is a great way to boost vegetable and protein intake and also incredibly versatile.
Do children’s taste buds develop and differ over time, if they don’t like a particular food should we keep offering it or accept their refusal?
The early years of a child’s life are the most crucial for setting up long-lasting eating patterns and behaviours. Training a little one’s taste buds to enjoy natural flavours without additives and sweeteners can go a long way towards building a strong immune system and shaping healthier food preferences. Remember that repetition and perseverance are key. We don’t give up if our children are not great at math or English, similarly, we should never give up trying to encourage healthy eating habits!
Processed foods are created and engineered to be delicious and addictive – making it hard for natural foods to compete. Packed with sugars, artificial flavours and salts, these foods over time can alter a child’s tastes and expectations with regards to food acceptance. This is why I encourage a slow and gradual “weaning” off processed foods, as it is a habit that needs to be broken slowly.
The good news is that it is far easier to make dietary changes whilst kids are young. Repetition will pay off quickly. For babies and young children it normally takes between 6-16 experiences with a flavour before it will be accepted. So if your child rejects a food, please don’t give up. Freeze the leftovers if possible and try again and again.
For older children, we need to focus on the positive qualities of food and get them involved in the kitchen helping with food prep and meals. Instilling a genuine interest and desire for nourishing food can go a long way. Helping them to identify how food makes them feel rather than focusing on weight or how they look is essential. For example eating nutritious foods helps them to feel energised, happy and satisfied. Even for older children, patience and persistence are key.
Recipe: Wholesome Child Supercharged Bolognese
Dairy-free/Nut free/Gluten free/Egg-free
Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 45 mins
Even the fussiest of eaters won’t be able to detect the veggies in this dish. It can be pureed into a smooth consistency for babies and picky eaters.
1-2 tbs coconut oil
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, finely crushed
1kg beef or lamb mince
2 tbs mixed Italian herbs
2 tsp ground cinnamon
700g tomato passata in a glass bottle (not canned)
1 cup (250ml) vegetable stock or bone broth
½ cup (125g) butternut pumpkin, steamed and pureed. (Do not throw away excess water)
½ cup (125g) sweet potato, steam and pureed
2 dried apricots, sulphur-free, finely sliced
1 cup (25g) spinach, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Hand-held blender or high-speed food processor
In a medium to large pot, heat oil on medium heat and sauté onion and garlic until transparent.
Add mince, then turn up the heat and brown.
Add mixed herbs, cinnamon and salt. Keep stirring until mince is browned all the way through and no pink pieces can be seen.
Add tomato passata and vegetable stock and simmer covered on low heat for 10 mins.
Add butternut, sweet potato and apricot, cover and simmer for 15 mins.
Add spinach and check to make sure liquid level is not too low. If extra water is needed, add water from steamed vegetables to increase vitamin and mineral content. Simmer for 10 more mins.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Turn off heat and leave to cool. Serve with wholegrain or gluten-free pasta, or brown rice.
Serving and storing leftovers: Serve immediately, store in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 4 months.
TIP: Serve with wholegrain spaghetti, buckwheat noodles, brown rice or quinoa.