Getting children to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet is no easy feat. As for the food battles, well who has time or patience for them? That’s where Mandy Sacher, Sydney-based pediatric nutritionist, SOS feeding consultant and author of ‘The Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook’ comes in.
With two children of her own, and a wealth of experience (20 years to be exact) in the health and wellness industry, Mandy was able to draw on her passion for nutrition when confronted with the same problem every other parent has faced. Now, she is encouraging other families to do the same through her private practice and The Wholesome Child.
There is simply no one better than Mandy to answer our questions around fussy eaters, dietary requirements and setting healthy habits.
Q&A with Mandy
What motivated you to start The Wholesome Child?
Being a Mum to two little ones, as well as a Pediatric Nutritionist, I know first-hand how confusing and challenging it can be to wade through all the conflicting information around feeding children. I witnessed the frustration amongst families I saw in my practice and it inspired me to create a resource to be able to reach and help more people.
Tell us about your book,The Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook
It’s a one-stop source of practical information, strategies and recipes to guide families around 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.
Describe ‘The Wholesome Child’ in three words?
Balanced, practical and achievable.
Healthy Eating with Kids
What are your top three tips for fussy eaters?
I’m always keen to reassure parents that fussy eating is incredibly common and thankfully a phase that most little ones grow out of.
- I encourage families to patiently persist with repeat offerings of healthy food options. What is refused can be frozen and re-offered another day. It’s an important part of the desensitisation process.
- Patience (as hard as it may be) coupled with positive reinforcement and relaxed mealtimes also goes a long way towards managing fussy eating behaviours. Change is always slow, and any positive change should be celebrated.
- I’m a big advocate of getting children involved and engaged with food preparation as much as possible. If they have helped prepare something, they will be more likely to sample a taste (or two!)
Kid’s menus tend to lean towards quick, fried food. What are you tips for making sure your kids still eat a nutritious meal when eating out?
This is something that’s a real issue for me! I’d love to see more nutritious options on kid’s menus at more restaurants. My advice is to skip the kid’s menu and rather look for a healthy starter option from the adult menu instead. Another great option is to share a main meal. My kids often share an adult meal.
The perfect snacks for playground fun?
Trying to convince little ones to sit down and eat when there is an array of fun slides and swings on offer can be a challenge! It’s for this reason that I often suggest engaging snacks at playgrounds - like a nutritious beetroot or butternut hummus along with some cut up veggie sticks or sweet potato crackers. Children love the act of dipping and the vibrant visual element will encourage them too. For a sweet snack, my Wholesome Child Banana Bread (nut-free) recipe is always a hit with all ages.
Your top kid-friendly cafes and why?
- Ministry of Coffee – it’s right by Lyne Park, so plenty of space for the kids to play. They serve delicious organic food and plenty of wholefood options. And you can get take-away coffee and food and enjoy in the park itself.
- Sugar and Spoon– Also situated in Lyne Park, they have delicious options for kids and adults. We prefer to eat off the main menu and skip the kiddies menu.
Your top kid-friendly restaurants and why?
- Coogee Pavilion – They have a great play area at the back which allows parents to relax and enjoy their meal. The produce is fresh and there are plenty of healthy options on the menu, including the quinoa and oat porridge and avocado toast, which is included on the kid’s menu. I also love the charred cauliflower and lentil salad.
- Sushi Den – They provide colouring papers with pencils and high chairs. Plus, they have brown rice sushi options.
How do you instill good healthy eating habits early on?
Setting children up with a genuine appreciation of nutritious wholefoods and understanding the importance of health is one of the greatest gifts we can give our little ones. It’s vital that adults role-model healthy eating behaviours and positive discussions around food and body image. Limiting children’s exposure (especially in the very early years) to processed and convenience foods ensures that their taste-buds can fully enjoy the tastes of natural food - free from excessive sugars, salts and preservatives.
Your top fun party foods that are still healthy?
Party food and birthday parties are a large and important part of most children’s lives. My mission with my book has been to give traditional recipes a healthy overhaul - showing that it is very easy and achievable to make party food and sweet snacks nutritious. In my book I feature a range of other party food recipes including:
What are your no fails when catering to children with allergies, intolerances and dietary preferences?
Yoghurt- A popular food with little ones, however those with dairy intolerances are often limited to expensive store-bought options (that can come laden with high amounts of processed sugars and nasties). My DIY Coconut Yoghurt recipe is incredibly simple and is dairy, gluten, egg and nut-free. Ideal for everyone to enjoy!
Supercharged Spaghetti Bolognaise - Loaded with nutritious veggies, it is also gluten, dairy, egg and nut-free as well as being incredibly versatile and freezer friendly. It’s a hit with everyone - fussy eaters included.
Wholesome Child Gluten-Free Flour Mix - I use it in many of my recipes and there is always the option to substitute with wholemeal spelt flour if a family has no allergies. Unfortunately, many store-bought gluten-free flour mixes are filled with refined starches and empty fillers. The Wholesome Child Gluten-Free Flour mix works just as well and is full of fibre and natural goodness.
Your top mess free snacks?
Muesli Bars are a great snack option and they also travel well and can be made in bulk (always handy!) - my Apricot and Coconut Muesli Bar recipe is dairy and nut free.
Bliss balls are a fabulous option. We love the Choc Chia Bliss Balls and the Beetroot and Spinach Bliss Balls.
My very simple Cheesy Polenta Chips are also a nutritious and relatively low-mess snack option - are gluten and nut-free and can be enjoyed hot or cold.
What are your food/storage hacks for kids snacks on the run?
Totally hear this one. Busy families don’t have time to spend preparing meals and snacks from scratch every day!
- My top tip is to plan, and bulk prepare/cook wherever possible. Menu planners are a powerful tool to help with saving time, money and stress.
- I suggest setting aside some time each week to plan and prepare snacks and meals which can be stored in the freezer and wheeled out quickly and easily for the mid-week evenings.
- I’m a big advocate of repurposing leftovers - either for another meal, or as a stress-free lunchbox addition the following day.