What inspired your career in health and fitness?
I’ve been involved in the health and wellness industry for around 20 years now and nutrition has always been a huge passion of mine. 15 years ago, I co-developed the MEND program in the UK which is about empowering children who experience issues with their weight.
The MEND program is the world’s largest healthy lifestyle programme for overweight and obese children and focuses on boosting children’s self-esteem and instilling positive eating behaviors.
Seeing the program’s incredible results and after having my son Aaron spurred me on to move into the Pediatric Nutrition space in an effort to support and guide families around appropriate nutrition - often a confusing space for many families.
How did your studies as a paediatric nutritionist lead to the development of the Wholesome Child book?
Being a mother of two, as well as a Paediatric Nutritionist, I know first hand how confusing and difficult it can be to wade through all the conflicting information about feeding children. I saw the frustration and overwhelm amongst families I saw in my practice and it inspired me to create a resource to be able to reach and help more people.
I wanted to create “The Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” as a one-stop source of practical information, strategies and recipes to guide parents on how to feed their children healthy and nutritious food, right from the start. My intention has always been to make healthy nutrition feel achievable and manageable without any judgement. Each family is on their own unique journey after all, with their own specific set of challenges.
I was also inspired by my family GP - a highly respected medical professional in Sydney (as well as my mentor) who told me that the results I was having with my clients were exceptional and that I needed to write my book. He actually told me to mortgage my home and go for it!
What were your main goals for creating the book?
When I was writing the Wholesome Child book I wanted to create a comprehensive guide that would make mealtimes nutritious for the whole family. The book is a one-stop nutritional resource incorporates an eight-step family nutrition program and covers everything from dealing with fussy eaters (this chapter alone is indispensable!), the psychology of eating, meal plans with over 140 nutrient dense and delicious recipes.
I wanted to cover everything you would you need to know about how to feed your family nutritious, healthy food...and to do so in a time efficient and joyful manner. It cuts through the confusion often surrounding nutritional information with complete yet understandable and implementable information.
Why do you think there has been little focus on nutrition for children and yet we have thousands of books for adults?
I experienced first-hand the lack of sound nutritional advice in the market when my son was born. Children’s nutritional needs are often overlooked. Look at the kiddies menu in most restaurants, adults are spoilt for choice – quinoa salads, salmon, shakshuka – and children are offered chicken nuggets, pizza and pasta with cheese and tomato sauce. There is not enough focus on preventative health care, often we tend to try and fix issues once they have already occurred. Most adults turn to health and nutrition when they want to lose weight, start to age or are trying to recover from acute or chronic conditions. Children often appear healthy and robust – no overt need to focus on their food choices. They can also be wilful, parents can find it challenging to convince them to gobble up a bowl of veggies, when they have access to a packet of chips or snack food which is so much more appealing.
When it comes to children’s health, there is no ‘ Quick-Fix’ it’s a journey, one that takes perseverance and patience. Most adult nutrition and diet books offer instant results – 8 weeks to transformation. This overnight principle does not work when it comes to children and food, We need to focus on slow and graded changes, which the family can adapt to over time. We want long-lasting changes and to instil a positive attitude towards food and mealtimes.
Did you try out your recipes on your own children whilst writing the book?
The recipes in the book were created specifically for my own children, for example the chicken and thyme casserole, veggie muffins, pumpkin spiced porridge, easy fish curry were recipes that I offered my son during his transition to solids. From the beginning, I ensured that we were eating family meals together so it was easy to use the recipes in the book.
Many of the recipes were also developed for clients that I saw in my clinic and for my Introducing Solids, Fussy Eating and Lunchbox Solutions workshops.
The black bean brownie recipe was developed specifically for a 8 month old baby with a severe eating delay that was living off red velvet mud cakes, the chicken nuggets were created to wean a four old boy off processed chicken nuggets – he was eating these daily.
The sweet potato pizza was developed for a little girl who was addicted to pizza and would not go near any veggies. Whilst writing the book, I enlisted a tester group of mums to trial and test all the recipes. The recipes have now been trialed by tens of thousands of families.
Are the recipes in Wholesome Child good for the whole family?
I am a really big advocate of family meals so this is really at the heart of my book. The recipes are suitable for the entire family, and are recipes that my family has been enjoying for years - many of them adapted from meals I enjoyed in my own childhood.
The book includes over 140 breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes like healthier alternatives to your traditional Spaghetti Bolognaise with Hidden Veggies, Black Bean Tortillas and Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Zucchini, Cauliflower . We’ve also covered family-friendly snacks such as Chocolate Almond Scones and Beetroot and Spinach Bliss Balls as well as party food perfect for your next family celebration.
The book also contains advice and tips on how to feed the whole family by meal planning, bulk cooking and repurposing leftovers. I also feature a range of meal planners at the back of my book - to guide busy and time-poor families around weekly meals, snacks, lunchboxes, fussy eating and even birthday parties.
What are your suggestions for parents with fussy eaters?
Over 80% of the children I see in my private practice are fussy eaters, so I’m always keen to reassure parents that fussy eating is incredibly common issue for parents - and thankfully a phase that most little ones grow out of.
In my workshops I encourage families to patiently persist with repeat offerings of healthy food options. What is refused can be frozen and re-offered another day. This is an important part of the desensitisation process.
Patience (as hard as it may be), as well as positive reinforcement and relaxed mealtimes, go a long way towards managing fussy eating behaviours. It’s not an “all or nothing” approach and change definitely takes time.
I always advise families to “go slow” and make gradual changes - sometimes just one new food per week is a good goal to have. Try stretching your child… they may surprise you!
Congratulations on releasing Wholesome Child in the US! The US is a tough market to crack, how did you navigate your way?
Launching in the US has definitely been a rollercoaster!
There is a huge obesity epidemic in the US and the research states that the most successful solution is instilling positive eating behaviours and habits in young children. After working with MEND I always knew I wanted to take Wholesome Child to the US.
It’s been a steep learning curve but hearing how the book has made a positive difference in the lives of so many frazzled families makes all those long haul flights and 5am Skype meetings worth it!
A lot of parents have ideas on creating a business or launching a product that would be useful for other families/children. What is your advice to them on developing and pursuing their ideas?
My advice to parents wanting to embark on this journey is to test the market and listen to your target audience. I was fortunate to have been able to address a real need amongst families.
Throughout the Wholesome Child journey, I’ve made feedback a permanent feature in all my services - I think that its helped me adapt to evolving needs and grow my business in line with what families REALLY need and want - rather than simply what I’d like to provide. Market research is so important.
Where to from here?
My aim is to reach and help more families around the world, and to spread the word that whole food, balanced nutrition can absolutely be achievable, without needing to slave away in a hot kitchen for hours, either.
Families often feel daunted and overwhelmed around what to feed their children, especially where food allergies and fussy eating is involved. I feel that it's my mission to help guide, inform and inspire them. The world needs better health and I feel so honoured and privileged to be able to play a part in making a difference one family at a time!