Listen up parents of picky eaters! Once a model for Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, Catherine McCord traded in her stilettos for an apron and headed to culinary school. When her first child was born, the model mom noticed a lack of great recipes for children and she created weelicious. The mom of two – son Kenya, 2 1/2, and daughter Chloe, 8 months – sat down with Celebrity Baby Scoop and dished it out: get your kids involved in the entire process, from the market to the plate! Read below for some great tips on how to get even the pickiest of eaters to enjoy food and hear about Catherine’s journey from the catwalk to the kitchen.
CBS: You are mom to 2 1/2-year-old son Kenya and 8-month-old daughter Chloe. How has motherhood changed you? What is your favorite part of motherhood? Most challenging?
CM: “All the cliches are true. The day I had Kenya, it made me selfless. Before, I was so wrapped up in what was important to me. Now it’s all about what makes my family happy, which in turn makes me happy. Believe me, I have a lot more respect for my mother now that I’m a mother myself. Funny how that happens!
My favorite parts of motherhood are those unplanned moments when my son wraps his arms around my neck and says “I love you so much” or when my daughter crosses a developmental milestone and I’m there to see it happen. That to me is heaven.
The most challenging? The struggle to be the most present, loving mother and wife I can be as well as a committed and passionate worker at the same time. I realize that when you’re pulled in so many directions, nothing will ever be perfect, but as long as I end every day knowing it did my best, I can go to bed happy.”
CM: “When my son was born, I searched the web high and low looking for information on preparing and feeding babies home made food. Everything I came across seemed so antiquated and didn’t address how to help kids become excited, healthy eaters. So I started weelicious, posting a new recipe and picture everyday to help inspire parents to cook for their kids.
I also started shooting cooking videos with my son, Kenya, and posting them every Friday to show moms and dads how getting your kids involved in cooking will inspire them to eat fruits, vegetable and other nutritious foods.
Over the past few years, as my own family has grown, weelicious has expanded from baby and toddler food to include big kids and now recipes that aim to feed the entire family. I started to notice a trend of parents acting like short-order cooks, making something different every night for each member of the family, and I knew there was a better way. So it seemed like a natural extension of what weelicious initially set out to do.
Good Bite was just starting out and contacted me about becoming one of their video bloggers. It was really as simple as that.”
CBS: Why do you think so many kids are picky eaters? Have we created this problem to some extent?
CM: “I think many kids are picky eaters simply because they can be. What I mean is, it’s one of the few things in life they can exert some control over. Kids have so little independence as it is – we are pretty much always telling them what to do and when to do it, so meal time is an easy place for them to assert themselves. I wouldn’t say that parents “created” the problem per se – kids are kids – but we don’t help it.
I’ve seen a lot of parents say things in front of their kids like, “oh, he hates vegetables”. That kind of thing just affirms kids feelings that they are succeeding in their power grab at the dinner table and reinforces a negative attitude that is hard to reverse. But I understand parents’ frustration. There are so many daily challenges raising babies and toddlers, that when it comes to feeding kids 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, we’re exhausted. It’s easy to get to the point where we give up and just learn to live with them eating something…Even if that is pasta with butter every night of the week!”
CBS: What are your best tips in making picky eaters happy eaters? Do you think hiding fruits and veggies in foods is the best bet?
CM: “Think about it: if your only exposure to food was having someone sit you down at a table and then put a plate of food in front of you, it wouldn’t be long before you’d start to get fussy yourself. We can’t allow eating to become a passive activity for kids. Get them involved in cooking with you! And that doesn’t just mean in the kitchen.
Food is such a integral part of our lives, make it a learning experience that kids can share and participate in. Take your kids to farmers’ markets or the grocery and teach them about different foods and where they come from. I believe that is a huge first step. Kids will start to understand the journey food goes on from the ground to the plate. We’ve taken our son to our local farmers’ market every week since he was an infant. He’s been getting to know the farmers (and they, him) since before he could crawl. And we have been letting him eat samples of the farmers’ produce since he was first able to chew. On any given Sunday you can find him there with a raw mushroom in one hand and a slice of fresh corn in the other, chowing away. So, he feels a very strong, identifiable connection to the food he later sees on our counter and in our refrigerator.
Also, by introducing kids to foods before they are cooked, making the process fun and letting them have “jobs” in the kitchen, they feel ownership over what you eventually put in front of them to eat. I believe it helps them ultimately make positive choices about what they will eat when they actually gain more freedom of choice.
Here’s what I have to say about hiding fruits and vegetables in dishes: once in a while it is ok, but to make it a part of your food routine is deception. There seems to be a lot of people subscribing to that approach, but I think it is a dangerous precedent to set. Why is deception a good thing to practice on our children in any form? What kind of message does that ultimately send to them?
I don’t want to come off here as preachy or get into a whole philosophical argument about parenting – we all do our best. And I also fully understand how fussy little ones can be about what they eat. But I believe the best way to approach feeding our children is the same way we would approach teaching them about any other thing in this world we want them to learn – through good education and family participation.
And do we really want a country full of 10 or 12-year olds that never realized that they actually were eating broccoli all these years because it was hidden in their brownies? If you sneak spinach in meatloaf just to get kids to eat it, you’re taking away an amazing opportunity for them to be empowered by their own choices, discovering new foods and to be learning from their experience. Yes, it takes effort but I think we owe that to our kids.”
CBS: What are some of your easiest and fool-proof recipes/foods that even the pickiest of eaters will love?
CM: “A friend of mine has a 5 year old son that won’t eat ANYTHING green. I took it as a challenge to get him to eat collard greens – the greenest of the green! My friend thought I was nuts. I brought my blender and a huge bag of collard greens over to her house one day and with his help, made my weelicious Super Juice (aka collard green juice). Her son loved it and my friend sat there slack-jawed as he drank glass after glass.
I get a lot of feedback on the website from weelicious users and they always seem to love/respond to Chicken on a Stick (isn’t everything better on a stick?), Banana Wee-Germ Muffins, Baby Frittatas, Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt, Chocolate Tofu Pudding, Avocado Shakes and Red Beet and White Bean Hummus. Again, it’s not just the recipes that work well, in my opinion, but also how much fun they are for kids to help make.”
CBS: What is your best advice to parents who have come to believe that their children won’t try anything, so there’s just no use in experimenting with different recipes?
CM: “It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work at change. Have realistic expectations and realize that it takes a lot of trial and error to help your kids discover the things they like and don’t like. Expect defiance, but be patient and also expect breakthroughs. Also, kids listen to everything we say. If they see us being dismissive of certain foods, why shouldn’t they? If we change our attitudes, then hopefully kids will too.
For example, I took Kenya to the park one evening several months ago and there were a bunch of dads hanging out there with their kids. I was feeding Kenya his dinner and a little girl came up to us and pointed to the steamed okra in Kenya’s container. I asked the dad if I could offer her a piece and he said, “she won’t like it.” She kept pointing to it so I asked him again. He kept insisting that she wasn’t going to like it, but he finally gave in. Several pieces later the father, tail between his legs, said “I really didn’t think she would like it.”
Just because we don’t like a certain food doesn’t mean our kids won’t. Kenya loves raw onions and I hate them, but I never tried to influence him one way or another. I always let him try all types of foods, even ones that are not my favorites, so he can determine on his own how he feels about them.”
CBS: What is your best advice to busy, working mothers who can’t seem to find the time for making healthy meals every day?
CM: “If you’re a busy, working mom, like most of us, my first piece of advice is to make life easy on yourself. Don’t put pressure on yourself to have a huge repertoire of dishes or feel guilty if you can’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Try and identify healthy dishes that you know your family loves and that will take you little to no time to whip up. Then try cooking them on the weekends when your spouse is around and you hopefully have a little more help with the kids and can enjoy the process of cooking with your family. Then, freeze, freeze, freeze! When I cook, I always make double the recipe or freeze half of a recipe so I can easily heat it up and serve on a busy night. You may not be able to cook every night, so feel a bit more at ease knowing you have delicious stuff on hand in the fridge and freezer.
There are also plenty of healthy and convenience staple foods such as cooked brown rice, cut up vegetables and diced chicken that only take seconds to reheat, steam or saute. Honestly, I’m no Martha Stewart. In fact, some days I’m kind of lazy in the kitchen. When I cook it has to be easy, fast and fresh.”
CBS: You began modeling at the age of 14. You have modeled for the likes of Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein. Have you quit modeling? Would you encourage Chloe or Kenya to enter the industry?
CM: “I haven’t quit modeling, but I don’t work at it like I used to. I worked for Target last week and had so much fun, but now it’s more of a hobby where I get to run into old friends and do something I really enjoy.
I will do everything in my power to keep the kids away from modeling – I want so much more for them. But if it went that direction, and it was what they loved, I would support them just as my parents did with me.”
CBS: I’m not sure that we’ve heard of model who turned into a chef! Have you always eaten well or is it safe to say you deprived yourself of certain foods/amounts during your modeling career? Has your relationship with food evolved over the years?
CM: “Such a good question. I’ve always been a good eater and loved food. I was so lucky to be able to travel the world at a young age and experience so many incredible cuisines, but I would be lying if I said that modeling hadn’t taken it’s toll on my habits, especially as a teen.
There’s already so much pressure on young girls in our culture to look and act a certain way and when you start modeling at such a young age, the industry doesn’t exactly help the situation. I definitely went through periods of deprivation and it made me unhappy. But ironically, it was modeling that really help cultivate my love of food. In spite of the pressure to always maintain a certain weight and look, living in all of those different countries was what made me fall in love with local flavors and get interested in cooking.
So, you never know where careers will lead you. And now, I think eating is one of my favorite pastimes. I should add that I really want kids to develop a good relationship with food from day one and know it’s there to nourish their bodies and make them strong, healthy and beautiful.”
CBS: If you are working on any other projects or with any charities, please feel free to discuss.
CM: “I recently started working with a charity called the Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture. They help kids to celebrate and learn about food from farm to classroom to table. Dan Barber, the chef and owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns is one of the most inspiring voices in the sustainable agriculture movement.
I also work with the Kenny Gordon Foundation, a charitable organization which was started by my husband in memory of his brother who passed away at 26 from a cardiac arrhythmia. The foundation supports some of the most advanced research in the field of arrhythmia’s at Cornell University/New York Presbyterian Hospital and provides full four-year scholarships to Skidmore College for students who have the ability to thrive in a higher education environment but whose high schools do not provide the support or resources necessary to prepare them for the academic challenges of college.”