Five Minutes with Anjali Shah, Founder of The Picky Eater Blog and Author
By: Roma Patel
A few years ago I stumbled across Anjali Shah’s blog, The Picky Eater. It quickly became my go-to for recipe inspiration. I could relate all too well with Anjali and was desperately searching for “husband approved” dishes! Fast forward a few years, Anjali and I are friends and I continue to find so much inspiration from her! She’s a (take a deep breath) food writer, a newly published author to an amazing book called Super Easy Baby Food, board certified health coach, nutritionist, mom of two, and an advocate for healthy, clean eating for individuals and families (and exhale). We chatted about her journey to healthy eating and nutrition:
Tell us a little about your journey – what drew you to healthy eating?
I was lucky enough to be raised in a really health conscious family. Both of my parents were always mindful of the things we were eating and also were advocates of whole food, clean eating, and cooking at home. When I went to college I kind of fell off the healthy eating wagon because temptation was everywhere (giant chocolate chip cookies at midnight, anyone?). But after my freshman year, I realized that the food I was eating was having a major impact on my energy levels, my weight and my mood – and that’s when I became passionate about food and health.
As a parent, one of the hardest things is to instill healthy food habits in and out of the home. What advice do you have for parents at birthday parties and events to avoid the sugary drinks and food?
So actually, I don’t tell parents to restrict treats at birthday parties and special events. I’m all about moderation – there’s no reason entire foods or food groups should be completely cut out of our lives. Treats are fun and indulgences should be enjoyed – just in moderation! That means both with the portion of and the frequency of eating those foods. When my daughter goes to a birthday party, I let her have her own small slice of cake and 1-2 slices of pizza. After that I steer her towards any fruits or veggies that are available, or I tell her that if she’s still hungry she can have more food at home. I also let her take just a couple sips of juice, and then switch out her drink for water. I don’t restrict foods completely, because restricting cake at a birthday party will just make your child want it more. And when they do get the opportunity to eat it they’ll eat an entire cake vs. being satisfied after a small slice because they may feel like they’ll never get cake again. When it comes to instilling healthy food habits for kids, one of the things you want to teach them is that there is a time and place for special treats, and that they’re not completely off limits. But you also want to teach them that too much of a treat can hurt our bodies, which is why we eat them sparingly and learn to be satisfied after a small portion.
With summer soon approaching, what are healthy alternatives to ice cream and juice that can serve as a refreshing snack?
I like turning smoothies into popsicles and giving that as a cooling healthy treat! Basically, you just make a healthy smoothie at home (spinach, apples, pear, berries, plain yogurt – any ingredients you’d normally use) – and then pour it into popsicle trays and freeze. Super easy, healthy and perfect for summer!
Why is it important to introduce a variety of fruits, veggies and even spices early on when introducing solids? Does it help create a more diverse palate as they approach the toddler age?
To your second question – yes absolutely! I recommend that for the first year or two parents focus on fruits, veggies, spices, lean protein, and certain whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa or sprouted grain bread. That’s because those first two years are critical for developing your child’s palate and teaching them to enjoy foods that may be more bitter, pungent and not sweet. Breastmilk and formula are naturally sweet, so introducing less sweet foods for the first year or two and saving things like crackers, cookies, cereals, etc. for the later toddler years helps to ensure you’ll have a less picky eater as your child gets older!
There’s so much hype about dairy free nowadays; what’s your take on it – especially related to toddlers and kids?
Honestly, I think unless your child has been diagnosed with a dairy or lactose allergy specifically, there is no reason to avoid dairy for young children. I actually think some of the dairy free alternatives (packaged almond/soy/coconut/etc. milk) are more harmful because they’re often sweetened with too much added sugar, have tons of preservatives/stabilizers and thickeners added, and, with the exception of soy milk, have no protein or other key nutrients. I’m an advocate for whole milk, organic, grass fed dairy for children – there are lots of benefits (calcium, healthy fats, etc.) that kids can get from organic dairy!
In your perspective, what are the biggest nutrition myths that are prevalent today?
Dairy free being healthier is definitely a myth (for the reasons I listed above). There are so many nutrition myths out there, but here are 5 that are especially misleading:
- “Fat is bad for you” – It’s not! Trans fats and processed food is definitely bad, but fat in avocados, evoo, nuts, whole milk organic dairy, etc. are great for you.
- “Carbs make you fat” – also not true! Complex carbs like sprouted grains, oatmeal, quinoa are really good for you and have tons of nutrients. The carbs that are bad are the processed white grains, and sugar.
- “Calories eaten at night make you fat” – Another myth. Calories are calories and there’s nothing special about 7pm. No food at 7:05pm will make you gain more weight than something eaten at 6:55pm. The key is to just not eat within 2-3 hours of going to bed, primarily for digestion purposes.
- “Gluten is bad for you” – Unless you’ve been diagnosed with celiac or a gluten sensitivity (by a doctor), there is no reason to eliminate gluten from your diet. In fact, many gluten free foods are actually more processed and higher in sugar and unhealthy ingredients than their gluten-full counterparts.
- “Juice cleanses are healthy” – I’m really not a fan of cleanses. It just puts your body into starvation mode, messes with your metabolism, and any weight you might lose is quickly regained after you stop the cleanse!
What do you look for in nutrition labels – especially for kids?
The two main things I look for is the amount of added sugar (I like it to be 5g or less per serving, ideally 0g per serving), and the list of ingredients (here I’m just making sure all of the ingredients sound like food and there are no chemicals, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors or flavors or unhealthy fats – like trans fats – included).
As a family, what are your favorite places to eat and what type of food do you order?
We love to eat out pretty much anywhere that cooks with fresh ingredients and interesting flavors! We don’t have one or two places that we frequent – we like all cuisines and will go anywhere that has an interesting menu. We like to order a variety of vegetable dishes along with a few dishes that have veggie-friendly protein and whole grains to keep us full and satisfied!
You’re the founder of The Picky Eater blog, an author of an amazing new book, a wife, mother of two and also, have a full-time day job at Google – how do you keep a work/life balance while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle? Do you ever put up your feet and watch Netflix like the rest of us
Haha! I am busy that’s for sure – but I absolutely take time for myself to relax at the end of the day! I love Netflix, but right now I’m actually binge watching Orphan Black on Amazon Prime Video (so good!). What I’ve found is that I just end up staying up a little later at night after everyone’s gone to bed for some “me” time, and that prioritization is key when it comes to balancing everything. If something on my to-do list doesn’t have to get done that day or the next day, I’m not going to think about it until it’s “due date” arrives!