I'm so excited to be interviewing Catherine McCord today. Catherine is the author of Weelicious: One Family, One Mealand Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals. A former model and culinary school graduate, Catherine started the popular mommy blog Weelicious in 2007. She also launched One Potato, an organic meal delivery kit company that donates one box of food to a family in need for every box sold. A Kentucky native, she currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
Welcome, Catherine. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Catherine McCord: I'm so excited to be on with you.
Zibby: You have these two amazing cookbooks, which I was just pouring over and thinking to myself, I can never make food look this good, but now I'm going to try. [laughs] In your first book, Weelicious: One Family, One Meal, you say, “I'm very familiar with the inner momologues. Why can't I make just one meal that satisfies everyone in our family? Why won't my kids eat anything I make them?” What made you want to dedicate your life to solving this problem for fellow moms?
Catherine: Really, it started with the fact that I went to culinary school. I had travelled a lot in my life and really studied the way that people in other countries eat and feed their children. I was basically working in restaurants and catering companies and feeding adults. Then I had my son. Within six months, I was like, “Oh, my god. What do I feed you? You're this small person. How do I make you a great eater?” I started going down the path of looking online for different resources on how to make kids great eaters from day one. There wasn’t a ton of information. That's how I set out with Weelicious.
Zibby: Speaking of when you were travelling all over, in the book you mention that you had been modeling and that the fact that you had been all over the world modeling enabled you to try lots of different foods. I was thinking when I read that, wow, I feel like all I hear about models and travelling is that they don't eat anything at all. Here you are travelling around and getting to try all these foods. I just wanted to hear, in your whole career to that point at least, what inner monologues, before you were a mom, were you relying on not to get sucked into that whole model mentality and appreciate the food?
Catherine: I've always loved food. I grew up with grandparents who were into farming and really loving the taste of real food. Total transparency, I lived with a lot of girls who were going through a lot of different things. There were definitely more challenging times. For me, I always loved food. Even as I've gotten older, that love has deepened, especially having children and watching them get excited about food. Food is the one thing that we all have in common. For parents, you have to feed your children twenty-one meals a week plus snacks. It’s something that's never going to go away.
Zibby: I'm stressed just hearing that. [Laughs]
Catherine: It'll make anyone not want to have children. You're like, “What? I have to what?”
Zibby: You came from a family of food lovers in Kentucky. You said in your book that your grandmother had a mason jar full of bacon grease next to the stovetop, which is such a perfect detail. Thank you for that visual. Clearly, your parents did something right with you because you have figured this whole food thing out. Now, you're spreading the love for your kids. What do you think that your parents did right to get you to this place with food?
Catherine: First and foremost, it was every night, we had dinner, five, five thirty, right at the table, no technology obviously, no TV, and just eating as a family. That instilled community. I treasure that time as a mom. My parents, they didn't have a lot of resources. The one thing that they would save for was a trip or two every year somewhere, so go to Europe or even in the States. They made travelling and exposure to different food something that was really fun and exciting for me and became a cultural experience.
Zibby: The fact that I take my kids to the same two places all the time, it’s not doing them any favors, huh?
Catherine: I will tell you, this was very funny. Our headmaster at my kids’ school six years ago said to my husband and I, “You should always take your child/children, at least once a week, to a different cultural neighborhood to go out to eat.” We do this all the time with our kids. Luckily, we live in LA, but Thai Town, Japan Town, different Mexican, all kinds of different restaurants. It is really fun to see how they react and how much more open they are to trying different foods with this strategy.
Zibby: That's a really good idea. Thank you for not making me cancel my upcoming flights. You also wrote in your book that you felt that culinary school didn't prepare you at all for cooking for kids. Do you think there's anything culinary schools can do? Is there any classes or anything to prepare moms for what they're about to experience with kids and food coming up?
Catherine: I definitely think just simplicity. Kids crave simple foods. When you look at Weelicious, even the most complex of the recipes are still simple and fun and easy. Kids don't want thirty depths of flavor and thirty ingredients. Being able to, in culinary school, just simple preparations of foods, roasting a whole chicken, grilling, steaming, the basics. There used to be home ec. There used to be cooking in school. That gotten taken away. That's been very challenging for certain people who are like, “I just never learned to cook.” We’re expected to know how to cook. This generation, we had alternatives like prepared food and food on the go. That's why we’re seeing a resurgence in it right now.
Zibby: I remember one moment when my twins were really little, freaking out in the kitchen and just holding the frozen bag of peas to my face being like, “How can I not figure this out? This is so simple.”
Catherine: It’s hard.
Zibby: Once you get into the stress and the demands of in the moment with the kids, it’s hard to think straight about anything, let along trying something new. Maybe everybody should spend a week or two cooking for someone else's kids just to get a taste of it.
Catherine: Oh, god. You said it. A hundred percent.
Zibby: Talk to me about short-order cook syndrome. What is it? How can we avoid it?
Catherine: For parents, there's so many battles all day long. When it comes to mealtime, you just want your child to eat. What ends up happening is Tommy wants mac and cheese. Sara wants grilled chicken. Your husband wants pasta every night. You're like, I'm literally making something different for everyone. I always encourage people, come up with a list of your family’s ten favorite foods. Sit them down and help them make this list so that when you're at the grocery, you always have those ten foods on hand. What are three meals that everyone likes? Make sure you have those ingredients for busy nights or if you're meal prepping on the weekends or whatever it is. I know my family, we get One Potato three days a week. We go out one night a week. Then I cook the other three. I know exactly what they all love. I'm constantly rotating and doing different twists on those foods.
Zibby: That's good. I feel like it’s impossible to get everybody happy. It’s one of those lessons of parenthood, right?
Zibby: Talk to me about One Potato. This is your new, organic meal delivery service. The website looks amazing. Why are they not shipping to New York City?
Catherine: I know.
Zibby: Tell me about this business. Are you now running a full-scale meal delivery company on top of doing Weelicious and obviously making lunches for your kids? Tell me about the business part of it and how you decided to start this business. Tell listeners a little more about it.
Catherine: I've actually had One Potato for two and half years. It’s an organic, family-friendly food company. We send two or three dinners every week to you. It’s subscription-based, but you can skip any weeks you want. The dinners take anywhere from twelve minutes to thirty minutes. It’s semi-prepared. Tonight, I'm having crispy salmon bowls. It’s pan-seared salmon. Then you might have rice or quinoa and all the sauces and these grated vegetables or whatever. It’s very DIY so everyone in the family can make exactly the meal that they want. Everyone's bowl is going to look a little bit different. This meal tonight’s totally twelve to fourteen minutes. It’s super fast. You don't have to grocery shop. You don't have to meal plan. Everything's really healthy. We price based on what your family looks like. We’re the only company that can do like two adults and three kids, or two adults and one kid, or one adult and four kids. We make meals based on your family’s eating habits, what you love most, to save you money and time.
Zibby: It sounded like the meals were intended to be prepared with your kids too, not just for your kids. Is that true?
Catherine: A hundred percent. We see that children that cook with their parents or have an active part in the meal opposed to passively where it’s like, “Here. Eat this,” they become better eaters. They are more excited to be part of the process from picking the meals to cooking to even cleaning. That's really part of One Potato’s strategy is to incorporate the kids in mealtime.
Zibby: You had a lot of good tips for incorporating the kids even with the grocery shopping and playing different games in the grocery.
Catherine: Everything. [Laughs]
Zibby: What were some of the tips in the book about how to make grocery shopping fun with your kids? You had some games where you had to search down the aisles. I found myself getting really excited for my next shopping trip thanks to that chapter.
Catherine: It really is. It’s super simple. It’s everything. If you bring your child, we already know it’s going to add some time. We don't want to do that. We want to shorten it as much as possible and actually have your child leaving being excited to try healthy food. If you're in the fruit and vegetable aisle, say, “You can pick any one vegetable you want and one fruit you want. Do you want carrots or apples?” Give them a choice but within your parameters, and I Spy games. It just depends on your child's age, but keeping them engaged in the shopping experience as well.
Zibby: I liked how you said you could bring little shopping lists and they could do a scavenger hunt and check them off as they went.
Catherine: Totally. It makes it so much fun.
Zibby: I feel like my kids would really like that.
Catherine: I love it.
Zibby: You said in the book -- I've heard this a million times before, but I continue to ignore it -- that kids need to try a food fifteen times or so to actually like it. You can't give up after a time or two. I just don't have the patience for this. After a whole meal is on the table and they try it, I'm just like, “Okay. They don't like whatever it is.” I know your book itself did a great job. Now, I'm more convinced than ever that I'm doing this all wrong, as if I needed more convincing. Convince me that it really is worth the time to keep having the kids try the same foods even though it seems like they hate them.
Catherine: Let's take broccoli for instance. You steam some broccoli. First, let's put some hummus next to it. Try dipping it in the hummus. Start even by trying it plain and then the hummus. Then that doesn’t work, so you go to Bragg’s, which is like soy sauce but with amino acids and B vitamins in it. They can spray that. They can squirt it on their plate and dip it. That doesn't work. You try sesame seeds the next day. You just keep going down the line until you find something that makes it an active experience for kids and that adds to the nutrition. Maybe you roast it. Maybe you air fry it. I can take basically any food and reimagine it fifteen different ways until my kids end up loving it.
Zibby: It’s not that I have to give them steamed broccoli fifteen nights in a row. It’s that I can continue to change the way I prepare the broccoli to find a way that they might like it.
Catherine: A hundred percent.
Zibby: That's better.
Catherine: That’s the Weelicious way. By the way also, if you do get broccoli, buy a $1.99, $2.99 organic bag of frozen broccoli so that you have it for those twelve, fifteen days opposed to buying a whole head and steaming it every day. You're like, “How much money did I just go through and Timmy’s still not eating it?” Frozen is a great option. It’s picked at the peak of perfection and frozen. It’s a good way to save money but also to keep trying it night after night.
Zibby: I always feel like frozen vegetables or fruits are a shortcut, like I'm doing something wrong if I'm not buying it fresh.
Catherine: No. They're the best. Oh, my god. My freezer always has every frozen vegetable known to man because then you can add it to smoothies or have it for last-minute dinners where you're like, “I got to get a veggie in there.”
Zibby: I loved how there was one part in your book where you go to the farmers market every Sunday and shop for dinner, which sounds so lovely. I want to be able to do that. Then one day it was raining or something. You couldn't get to the farmers market, so you had to take what you had and whip it up. You came out with this gourmet frittata that looked insane. I was thinking, oh my gosh, how is she doing this? It’s so great. Your recipes are so easy to follow. They make sense. There aren’t all these random ingredients. I'm really super excited to try to emulate that at least.
Catherine: Thank you.
Zibby: Is this right, you have a smoothie cookbook coming out next?
Catherine: Yeah. I still haven't announced it, but for you and I, yes.
Zibby: Oh, sorry. I’ll take this out.
Catherine: No, not at all. Cat’s not out of the bag. It’s all good. The Smoothie Project cookbook is something that I've been working on for four years based on my son getting very sick with headaches and nausea. It’s a long story you get to read in the book, but how just by changing his diet and adding in a smoothie every morning with fruits and vegetables -- it still tastes absolutely delicious -- different foods that will fire up our brains -- it really is birth to AARP how smoothies will change your life.
Zibby: Tell me about the process of writing these two cookbooks. How did you pick which recipes to include? What was the process like? Did you love it? Did it take a long time? A short time? What was it like for you?
Catherine: Considering I'm still in copy edit right now, it’s a true labor of love, this book, because I've been working on it for four years every single day. Really, it was just so much, I hadn’t even thought about doing it as a book. The audience, theWeelicious family, followers, just kept saying, “I want these recipes. I need to understand more.” Especially when it comes to smoothies, it can be a little intimidating. It’s the easiest way to cook/not cook or even the person that doesn't cook, to toss it in your blender and come up with these delicious combinations that are so good for your body. All the recipes in it -- there's over a hundred recipes -- they’ve been tested over and over again for the past four years.
Zibby: To go back to some of the earlier cookbooks, when you said some of the tricks for making kids more into their meals are things like keeping it colorful and engaging all your five senses. If I'm making a meal for my kids for dinner tonight, what tips would you give me for making it look more enticing or just be more enticing?
Catherine: For dinner tonight? Oh, gosh.
Zibby: Or lunch or something.
Catherine: Whether it’s lunch or dinner, that's a great point. You want it to be engaging visually as well as tasting delicious. Even when I send my kids with a lunch, it’s in a bento-style lunch box so they can see their choices. I try to always have something that's crunchy, something smooth, something more toothsome. Having one note isn't always the best for children. You'll learn also, just from trying, what they love most. Some kids, in lunch, want more of a snacky lunch. Others want soups and stews, and macaroni and cheese, and something that's more heavy. Your plate should have color. We don't want it all white. It should have different tastes and textures throughout.
Zibby: You even recommend in your lunch box book, Think Outside the Lunch Box, which was so funny, that you like certain vendors and certain actual lunch boxes a lot more than others. Are there any things, aside from it being a bento-style, that we can do to make lunch at school, when we have to pack it, more appealing, the actual containers?
Catherine: I love a reusable container because you're saving money. Your food’s not sitting on plastic. It’s easy for kids. They know it’s the same thing and not just another brown paper bag where they have to fish around for their food. That's incredibly important too. All those weird tools in your kitchen where you're like, “Why do I have a melon baller or a peeler?” Make melon balls for your kids. You could even make kiwi balls. Cutting things in different shapes and maybe putting a dip. For me, we don't want lunch to take more than ten, fifteen minutes. It should be fast to prepare, but just making it a little bit more fun and engaging.
Zibby: You had said that teachers, even, were commenting that by the time the kids figure out how to open all the different compartments of traditional type lunch boxes with their meals that they were out of time, basically, so to make it as easy as possible for them to get their food.
Catherine: When you're making a lunch, you should make everything as nutrient-dense as possible. It’s easy to eat the crackers that have not as many nutrients. If you can make a sushi sandwich with hummus in it, already you're getting that vegetarian protein. You're getting a really nutritious carbohydrate with the bread you choose.
Zibby: I was taking my daughter to school today and telling her about this interview. I was like, “I don't think I can allow you to look at this cookbook though because you will see how badly my meals for you are in comparison.”
Catherine: You're so funny.
Zibby: She's actually excited to now do it with me. That's your whole goal, right?
Catherine: Yes. That's the win-win. She’ll be empowered if she's making her lunch with you. It’s so cool and so much fun.
Zibby: I loved how you said that kids have so little choice. When they go play in their playroom, it’s so freeing because we let them do whatever. Take this out. Take that out. Do whatever. When it comes to food, we only give them a couple things. We’re like, “You have to eat this now.” That dictatorship over eating is part of the problem. By giving them more choice, they’ll eat more, right?
Zibby: Those are all excellent tips. Do you have any advice for the mom out there? I know all of your books are full of this fantastic advice. Somebody today who’s about to have to go through the chaos of dinnertime again, what encouraging words would you have to tell this mom?
Catherine: Don't be scared. Really dig in there. Make it an active experience with your kids. Like I said, go in and write down the ten foods they love. Write down the three dinners they want you to be making more of that you may not have known that they loved. Take them to the grocery. Grow something in the garden with them together. There's endless ways to get kids excited to be trying new foods and making it easy for parents.
Zibby: What about for the aspiring cookbook writer, somebody who’s dying to write about food? Do you have any advice for them?
Catherine: Keep a diary every day of what you're making, what you love, when you feed it to other people that they react to. Don't be scared. Make it a passion project.
Zibby: Excellent. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books” and for all of your advice and for helping parents everywhere get through a really tricky part of the day.
Catherine: Thank you so much for having me.
Zibby: Thanks, Catherine. Take care.