Donna Chernow

Health, it’s no mystery. Just like every other aspect of our lives these days, the wellness space has become crowded with too much content and information. We, in partnership with Tropicana, decided to bring it back to the basics.

How do Moms get their kids to eat healthy the authentic way? You might think you need to douse those Brussels sprouts in sugar, or somehow hide cauliflower in ketchup, but turns out there are Moms out there serving their kids wholesome ingredients, with no strings attached. We called upon a few tastemakers to share those recipes and discuss all things food and family. We won’t lie to you, Potatoheads: we’ve been low-key obsessed with Donna Chernow for years. Chernow is a pastry chef, model, wife, yoga instructor and mom to adorable little Finn. She’s the kind of woman who makes getting her son to eat healthy foods, like whole wheat bread and avocado, seem effortless. Read below for how she’s teaching her son to love food, what foods she personally avoids, and her spot-on advice for new moms…

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How do you get your children to eat healthy with “no strings attached”? Whats your go-to recipe that youre sharing with us today?

I started feeding Finn regular food around five-months-old and obviously still gave him milk, but I think it is really important to start introducing kids to food early and to give them as many different things as you can so they learn that food comes in many different tastes and forms. Not everything tastes sweet.

I wanted to show what I make for Finn almost every day for lunch. Hopefully, it will inspire you and give you some ideas to make a very easy and healthy lunch for your child. In Denmark, we eat smorrebrod for lunch every day, which are basically open sandwiches on hearty rye bread. You can do a million combos, and it is so easy to make something delicious. I’m very lucky that a Danish bakery recently opened up two blocks from me, so now I can get amazing rye bread there, but really, you can use any kind of bread! I also bake whole-wheat rolls a lot and use them some days too. It is all a matter of making things look good, so your kid finds it inviting and maybe even fun to eat!

It doesn’t have to be brain science to make a healthy lunch, and this is such an easy way to eat. I made three little open-faced sandwiches, with different toppings. I used rye bread that I buy at the bakery, but you can use any kind of bread. I use good butter under most toppings, just because it tastes good, and a small amount of fat is good for your child…

1. Rye bread with butter, salami and cucumber

2. Rye bread with butter, avocado and coconut flakes

3. Rye bread with cream cheese and tomatoes

Hard-boiled egg and a bit of fruit on the side.

Obviously you don’t have to make it look this “fancy” every time, but you get the idea! Make it interesting and fun to eat for your kid.

How do you start your day with your kids?

Finn is an early bird, so we get up around 6am every morning. Then I make breakfast, while my husband Michael takes the dog out. I used to be a “good wife” that made breakfast for my (spoiled) husband every day, but then we had a kid. Now I make breakfast for Finn and I, usually oatmeal or yoghurt and granola, and some sort of fruit, and Michael cooks his own eggs when he gets back in.

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How has having children changed the way you see food?

I definitely cook much more kid-friendly these days. Finn doesn’t eat salad yet, because he’s only two. So for dinner I cook veggies much more, whereas I often made salad as a side before. I used to hate thawing leftovers, but now it is amazing to have some Bolognese or some veggie lasagna leftover in the freezer, for those days when we get home late.

Whats your favorite meal to make with your family?

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal. I’ve never been one of those people who skips it, or any other meal for that matter! I don’t understand how you can “forget to eat,” and breakfast is such a cozy time with the family. On weekdays, it is the only meal where we can all sit around the table together because my husband often works at night.

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How do you get your child to eat when they’re not hungry?

You don’t. Simple as that. I have made many meals for Finn where he’s only ended up eating a bite or two, and as frustrating as it is, there is nothing you can or should do. Just wait until the next meal or snack, and then they will eat.

What are your childs favorite snacks? What are your favorite snacks?

Well, if it were up to Finn, he would probably say ice cream. But since this is about healthy foods, I would say his favorite is fruit. He has fruit every day, and loves it. My favorite is probably a piece of toasted bread with butter and cheese. He loves that, too. I’m Danish, and we eat a lot of bread with butter and cheese there, so it must be in our genes.

Are there any foods youd never feed your family? Why?

We try to stay pretty healthy in general, and don’t go to fast food restaurants and that kindof thing. But we do eat pizza every once in a while, and we do get dessert sometimes. I think it’s all a matter of balance.

Are there any foods you eat that your child doesnt? Any foods they eat that you dont? Why?

Many! He doesn’t really fish yet, for example, which is kind of a pity, since his dad owns a seafood restaurant. But they make good sweet potato fries and guacamole too, which he eats tons of when we are there. I’m sure he will like fish soon, and I eat anything he eats.

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Are there any foods your child refuses to eat?

Yes, there are many he doesn’t like. In general he’s a pretty good eater, so I don’t worry about it. It’s also an age thing. When he was a bit younger, he would eat anything, but these days at age two, he doesn’t love to try new things. He likes to stick with things he knows.

Any advice youd give to new Moms?

Everything is a phase. Whether it is with food or sleep (the two major ones mom’s worry about!), everything changes all the time. So try not to worry about things too much, because they are probably going to be different next week.

Is your child a picky eater? How do you deal with that?

Kids don’t work like we do; they don’t think “Oh its lunchtime, I should eat my lunch.” If they aren’t hungry, they don’t eat or they might be picky. Moms always worry that their kids will go hungry if they don’t eat their dinner, but there is an easy way to prevent that. You can always give them a light meal before bedtime. An hour after dinner, you can serve oatmeal, some yogurt or fruit, and then you don’t have to worry about your child eating his dinner anymore! I’ve done that with Finn since he was very little, and it has been working great. I think the key is not to serve something else if they don’t eat the food you’ve served them for any meal. Because then, they just learn very quickly that something better will come if they refuse to eat. Instead, keep your frustrations in, and just move on.

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Whats an easy way to get your children to have more protein? More greens?

It depends on the age. When they are small, you can just blend veggies into anything – like mashed potatoes or something – because when they are small, they don’t know you are tricking them. But, when they get a bit older, it seems like they like everything separated! I can’t fool him now. I think it is a matter of just giving them a big variety of things early on, because then they get used to eating many different things. Finn loves meat – not all kinds, mostly ground – and I try to give him some at least every other day.

Do you ever use food as a reward? (i.e.: a lollipop after a visit to the doctor’s office)

Yes, they have lollipops at the doctor’s office, so of course he gets one. He also gets ice cream or cake sometimes as a special treat, but I don’t think he understands it as being a “reward” yet.

Does your child like to cook with you? Do you let them help with meal prep?

Yes, I let him help me a lot! I have this great stepping stool/tower in the kitchen, so he can stand by the table with me. I have him put things in a bowl for me after I cut it or have him add flour when we bake. He loves it.

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How important is it that children have home-cooked meals?

I think its very important, but I also know it’s hard to do every day, and of course I “cheat” every couple of days. You can get great healthy ready to eat things, like at Whole Foods, for example. I often get their homemade pastas and organic pasta sauce, which makes for an easy but still healthy meal for him. I always freeze small portions of homemade meals for him, too, so on some busy days, he can still have a home-cooked meal.

Whats an easy way to teach your children to love food?

Let them be a part of making it! It gets a bit messy, but they love to be a part of what’s going on in the kitchen. It’s also a great way to spend time with your kids, after they come home from a busy day at daycare, for example.

How do you encourage your child to have a healthy relationship with food?

I think it’s important that most meals are spent together around the table as a family. It is a nice time to sit down and to share food together, and it gives a feeling of comfort and togetherness. It also shows the kids that the adults like the food that they are eating, and it will encourage them to eat as well.

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