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The Wholesome Child – Q and A with Mandy Sacher


Hi, Mandy Sacher. I’m really excited to have you doing this story with me. I’ve had my battles with weight and food, and am now the mother of a teenage girl and am acutely aware that I need a softly, softly approach when it comes to food and what it entails. I worked for a very short time at Weight Watchers in Social Media and PR Management and quickly realised that people just don’t know how to eat well, and that the problem as we see from weightloss TV programmes is that is is based in the values of the family. I’d love to think this book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” helps many, many families.

Beetroot Balls by Mandy Sacher
Beetroot Balls in “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook”

Q: (Diane Kennedy) There is so much conflicting information out there, such as dairy and gluten free, paleo, vegan and the like. Where do you stand on these trends?

A: (Mandy Sacher) I don’t prescribe to one specific diet trend, especially when it comes to children. It’s more important to look at the individual family and prescribe a nutritional plan according to their specific needs. When it comes to kids, I tend to stay away from trends that suggest cutting out entire food groups and rather focus on choosing foods from each group that are most appropriate and are of the highest nutritional quality. 

If a child is coeliac or lactose intolerant then I would definitely prescribe a gluten free or dairy free nutritional plan for example.  We always need to be cautious with “diets” that exclude entire food groups as they can cause nutritional deficiencies – and can also lead to repetitive eating – potentially excluding important nutrients.

Healthy Muffins
Healthy Muffins in “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook”

Q: What advice do you give to parents of a “chubby” (slightly overweight) primary school child?

A: One of the main points in dealing with children who are perceived to be ‘chubby’ is not to shame them.  If a parent is concerned about their child’s weight (often this is because they have been bullied at school or are suffering from low self-esteem) it is important not to compound and validate those negative feelings. 

I would suggest and encourage the whole family to adopt a nutritious, holistic ‘whole food’ approach. Removing the junk food from the house and ensuring that nutritious meals are served in the home. Instead of focusing on the child’s ‘weight’ issue rather focus on the whole family adopting a healthier lifestyle. A very common scenario is that one child is told ‘no’ to seconds, while his or her siblings (who have no perceived weight issue) get to eat as much as they want. Adopting a wholesome, nutritious and healthy approach to mealtimes will be beneficial for the entire family and will remove the potential for a child to feel further isolated.  Holistic approaches always work best, from my experience. 

It’s also important to encourage physical activity, some children who are self-conscious about their bodies don’t enjoy going to the beach and can sometimes feel embarrassed if they’re not great at sports or get left feeling breathless after PE.  Instead of forcing children to do activities and exercises which they don’t want to do, I’d encourage families to enjoy outdoor activities together.  Incidental walks home from school, weekend bush walks and even some ball games in the evenings.

Coconut Custard
Coconut Custard from “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook”

 Q: How would you tackle the issue of a teen who is carrying a bit of extra weight, without affecting their self-esteem or creating body image issues?

A: I think it’s important for parents to be respectful of the emotions and changes that teens are developmentally going through. Understanding your child’s evolving body type and realising that not everyone is naturally lean, will go a long way in resolving our own expectations around what we want to see in our kids.

As parents, we serve as role models for our kids. Children are sponges, and when they hear their parents speak negatively about their own appearance (or the appearance of others) – they pick up on this and it influences how they see the world and themselves. I encourage my clients to remain positive and speak about their own body in a positive manner.

In my home we don’t use the ‘F” word… FAT! It’s best to always place emphasis on “health” rather than diet.

Providing nutritious family meals, offering support and bolstering a teen’s self-esteem will serve as an invaluable aid in fostering not only a positive and healthy relationship with food but also within themselves. Positivity breeds positivity – and when a teen is enjoying a healthy diet, feeling happier with their appearance and themselves, they will be encouraged to continue a healthier and more nutritious relationship with food… for life!

Q: How do you approach a change in diet to a child so the child doesn’t develop issues with food down the track. I only ask as my former step mother put me on weird and wonderful diets as a child and I ended up with disordered eating on my early 20’s dropping 47kg and going to the gym 2 x a day. I got help but I want to spare my own daughter from this battle.

A: I don’t advocate “diets” especially in children and prefer a balanced approach to nutrition. Real food – incorporating healthy, balanced meals that are rich in high quality, fresh ingredients.  Plenty of vegetables, quality proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and meals and snacks that are low in processed ingredients.

Adopting a healthy, nutritious and whole foods approach from an early age is a powerful foundation for life.  It’s important for children to see healthy food choices are part of a regular meal plan, so that they grow to appreciate the routine, tastes and health benefits for themselves.  It becomes their norm.

However, if we are trying to change an older child’s diet who is used to sugar laden foods, for example, we would need to take a slower and more gradual approach. It’s important to bear in mind that patience, persistence and gradual changes are part of this process. Simple swaps to healthier alternatives and options (swapping out white bread for whole grain options, replacing processed chicken nuggets or fish fingers with healthier homemade versions, boosting favourite meals with veggies) and making small, nutritional tweaks to existing family mealtime favourites help massively along the way.

Feta Spinach Slice
Feta Spinach Slice in “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook”

Q: Can you briefly describe your 8 step family nutrition program and how it works?

A: The 8 step family plan that features in “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” focuses on the main nutritional and behavioural principles and goals to create balance and harmony when it comes to overall family nutrition and mealtimes. 

Each of the 8 steps focus on easy-to-follow advice and simple swaps to boost a family’s nutrition and to introduce positive eating behaviours. The principle is that each small change can have a huge impact. And I encourage families to start with the goals that are most relevant to them. It’s not a prescribed philosophy – it’s more intended to be flexible and undertaken in whichever order and fashion best suits each specific family.

Some of the steps include: boosting protein, focusing on healthy fats, swapping to whole grains and rotating grains for more variety, reducing processed sugars, increasing vegetable intake, offering fruit in moderation. The behavioural goals include: introducing family meals, creating structure, cooking with kids, setting goals, how to speak to your child about food, increasing exercise.

Along the way, the steps are supported with balance, nutritional facts, colourful tables, easy swaps, and an array of simple, delicious, allergy friendly and family-approved recipes.

The book also features an array of menu planners – ideal for busy families.

Parfait by “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook”

Q: Can you explain which types of “healthy foods” are “no no’s” for a healthy lifestyle?

A: As a rule, I encourage my clients to avoid low fat options and processed foods.  For those with incredibly busy lifestyles, who cannot cook from scratch I offer a shopping guide which lists products from major supermarkets and health food stores which are Wholesome Child approved – these contain no additives, are GM free, low in sugar and sodium. Many processed foods, especially those marketed at children and the weight conscious are notorious for including hidden sugars or artificial sweeteners, preservatives, plenty of “numbers” and high amounts of sodium. It’s incredibly important to read ingredient labels and not simply believe the marketing hype featuring on certain “healthy” products. As a rule – the fewer the ingredients and the more whole and unprocessed the food option, the better. In my workshops, I show how two wholegrain wraps can make the world of difference. One popular option has approx 14 additives and 17 ingredients, including propionates, BHA and sorbates and the other has three ingredients and no preservatives. Being product savvy and focusing on your family’s store bought staples goes a long way in promoting overall health.

Q. As a very busy mum and wife to a sailor, mountain biker and photographer who goes away a lot, what are your thoughts on “cheating” with services like Hello Fresh. I started to get this for 3 of the meals a week as I cook it myself, but the ingredients are supplied.

A: If getting fresh produce delivered (to be made at home) is going to help to increase variety, reduce reliance on fast food and convenience food options then I think that it can be a valuable support.  It’s very important however, to make sure that ingredients are of a high quality, as fresh as possible and are free from preservatives and locally grown.

Q. What are your thoughts on frozen convenience meals from companies like Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine and Lite n Easy?

A: I’m conscious that working families don’t always have time to cook from scratch.  My concern is that all of the above products are focused primarily on being “low calorie”. I’d love to see convenience meals go preservative-free and contain real whole food ingredients. It needs to be about health and nutrition, rather than weight and calories. 

Weight management is an incidental byproduct of following a balanced wholesome diet and learning to listen to real hunger cues. If someone has a weight problem and they are only focusing on nutrition, without considering the triggers for eating – such as uncomfortable emotions, boredom etc – then these types of weight management systems often fail as the underlying issues are not addressed. I’d strongly advise against using these weight focused convenience meals for children.

Q: Can you explain the principles of the MEND program that you developed in in the UK?

A: Working alongside leading UK experts in children’s  nutrition and behaviour, I helped to develop MEND… Mind, Exercise, Nutrition and Do It, is one of the largest international evidence-based obesity prevention and treatment programme for children and young people. The main aim of the programme is to inspire children, families and adults to lead and sustain fitter, healthier and happier lives. The core principle is to change the behaviours that cause overweight and obesity. 

It does this through helping families change unhealthy attitudes about food and activity (Mind), keep physically active on a regular basis (Exercise), learn how to choose foods that are healthy, tasty and nutritious (Nutrition), and take action to maintain a healthy lifestyle – for life (Do It!).

Research has shown that programs that combine behaviour change, physical activity and nutrition with ongoing support for families are more likely to produce long-lasting health benefits. This was the impetus for my book and the foundation of my approach when dealing with all aspects of family nutrition.

Q: Jamie Oliver comes up a lot because he is so vocal about children eating well, do you think celebrity chefs like Oliver have changed the way a lot of people eat with their family?

I think that Jamie Oliver has made an incredible impact.  He has raised a huge amount of awareness around the value of healthy, nutritious eating – in both schools and in the home.  He’s been instrumental in increasing knowledge and has made healthy meals seem far more achievable for time-poor, busy families.  I believe that celebrity chefs have a responsibility to society – and this is something that Jamie Oliver has most definitely done… and should be applauded for!

Q: What is the most frustrating part of your job?

A: A big frustration is that parents and caregivers often need to become “food detectives” when it comes to navigating the tricky world of ingredients in kids snacks and convenience foods. We live in a fast paced world, where healthy options are more difficult to come by than unhealthy options.

Not everyone has the time and interest to dedicate towards ingredient label detective work. I would love to help more families and to see more wholesome, nutritious and preservative free options available.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: The overwhelmingly positive feedback from clients and the amazing emails that I receive in response to my book bring me an immense amount of joy and pride. 

Many of the families I hear from on a daily basis were dealing with an enormous amount of stress and confusion in relation to their children’s diets – confused, disheartened and wracked with unnecessary guilt.

Hearing about the differences that my book and workshops have made in eating practices, overall health and family dynamics fill me with inspiration.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles in modern society for healthy children?

A: Technology is a common stumbling block for many of the families I meet.  We live in a technology driven world – which inevitably means that children become familiar with devices and TV at increasingly younger ages…which inevitably results in less outdoor activity and more sedentary habits. 

Increasing activity levels and encouraging technology-free play is a constant juggling act for families, who are keen for their child to develop a healthy approach to exercise.

Another challenge is the prevalence of brightly coloured and processed kid’s food products.  These are convenient in a time poor modern society, however they are often low in nutritional value, high in preservatives and they leave the more healthy whole foods options looking and tasting bland in comparison.  It’s a constant battle between healthy nutrition and marketing.

Q: My daughter vehemently turned vegan at 13. There was nothing we could do to turn her, so we all went vegan. What are your thoughts on veganism in younger people?

A: Great care needs to be taken when it comes to children living on a pure vegan diet.  There needs to be a level of careful consideration when it comes to food choices and a degree of supplementation.  Without this, they are at risk of failing to meet their protein requirement, leading to reduced bone density (from a lack of calcium), potentially anaemia from a lack of iron and potentially B12, vitamin D and omega-3s, if a diet doesn’t include eggs or dairy products.  It’s always important to consult with a paediatrician, dietician, nutritionist or GP to ensure that a child is following a nutritionally adequate diet to support their growth.

Q: Do you feel that the many Instagrammers and Youtubers proportions to be “experts” such as Freelea and ThatVeganCouple that the tweens watch avidly has a big impact on their eating habits?

A: It’s important for parents to bear in mind that social media and Youtube have a huge impact on tweens. With technology constantly on the increase and access to a plethora of “information” young minds will get increased exposure to extreme practices and inaccurate facts.  It’s indeed a scary thought and we need to make sure that our kids are getting their information from credible sources. 

It is one of the many reasons that I advocate a holistic approach to nutrition, starting in the home. Remind your children that what they see on social media isn’t real.  They are seeing a manufactured snapshot – not the full, true and honest complete picture.

Q: What is your advice to new mums on early feeding once solids start?

A: This is a topic dear to my heart, as it forms the basis of a lifelong positive relationship with food, nutrition and good health.  I devote an entire workshop to this: “Introducing Solids the Wholesome Way” and it is one of my most popular workshops.  It includes a whole foods menu plan, food chart, recipes, shopping guide, advice on when to introduce certain allergy provoking foods and it sets parents and caregivers up for success. 

The main advice I give new parents is to train their babies’ taste-buds right from the start.  The journey to junk food often begins with their first squeezie yoghurt or teething rusk. There are simple alternatives and tips on how to prepare food in bulk and avoid the nasties. Shaping baby’s taste-buds from the beginning and establishing positive food preferences is of utmost importance.

Q: Do you think the odd “treat” such as a milkshake or chips is OK or is it better to avoid all calorie rich nutritionally deficient food all together with young children.

A: I think that when children are very young, there is no need for them to be exposed to certain processed foods.  When they get a little bit older and start going to birthday parties and can vocalise their desires, then I think that it is ok to make treats a “sometimes” food.  It’s important for parents not to vilify certain foods – but rather to take the approach that some foods we eat on a daily basis and others we eat less often.

In my book, Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook I devote an entire chapter to delicious sweet snacks and party food.  I also discuss how to give family favourites such as chocolate cake, brownies, ice-cream, biscuits, cheesecake, and cinnamon scrolls a healthy overhaul so that families can enjoy them with the added benefit of being nutritionally sound. My son loves my homemade treats but on when he asks for real gelato, we happily enjoy it together.  As always, it’s about balance.

Q: Mandy Sacher, Do you have any last words of wisdom for me or my readers, as mums and dads trying to give our kids the best start in nutrition without it ruling their lives?

A: It’s important to let go of the anxiety and guilt. Children pick up on these undercurrents and mirror many of the emotions around them.  Setting small and achievable goals for yourself and your family are a great way of measuring positive changes. Celebrate the successes, however small they may be. Children respond well to positive reinforcement.

I encourage families to be mindful of the fact that a relationship with food is for a lifetime.  A great start in life with established healthy habits is easier than trying to alter behaviours and habits later on. Building a solid foundation will pave the way for future success and health.

Thanks so much Mandy Sacher, you’ve given me so much to think about and strategies I can use with my family taking a systemic approach than focusing on my family’s health. I know the you will inspire anyone who reads your book, and it will change lives.


Readers, we have a signed copy of  “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” to give away. Comment below or on social media with the hashtag #wholesomechildcomp with your favourite nutritional tip in 25 words or less and the best tip will win!




(1) Comment

  1. Shenoa Gittins says:

    A fave recipe for hiding spinach & beetroot in my toddlers snacks – Bliss Balls by #wholesomechild. My boy loves them!

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