Title Page


Table of Contents


Title Page



Success stories

Five important reasons to dish up healthy food to your family

Nutrition in a nutshell

Marketing magic

How to make healthy cooking happen

Kitchen essentials

Getting started


A healthy lunch box








Back Cover Material

For Jack and Ayva.
Thank you for being fussy eaters.
You inspired me to try something new.


My daughter was three when anything that resembled plant life suddenly became revolting. She also wouldn’t touch tuna, porridge, anything with a hint of spice (or flavour!) and she would suddenly be hungry, again, just before bed. I could have composted for the entire Royal Botanic Gardens with all the nutritious meals I had to throw out each week. Mealtime tantrums are just a part of life, I thought, as another vegetable frittata became destined for landfill. For the next two years I diligently chopped up the carrots, capsicum and anything green from the fridge and popped them on her plate. And later I’d scrape the vegies and half the rice and most of the meat into the bin.

Then I read a few scientific studies that revealed how vegies can reduce a child’s risk of life-threatening diseases when they grow up. I began to panic. Oh dear, I thought. Was I being a bad parent? Or worse: was I a crap nutritionist? This was the catalyst that led me to discover effective ways to get children eating healthy foods.

For those of you who’ve lost hope trying to convince your child to eat meals that include spinach, curry or grainy bread, grab a cuppa, head for the sofa and read on. If you worry your child is not eating enough nutritious foods or are wondering how to slot ‘healthy cooking’ into your hectic schedule, sigh loudly and sit down. This book is designed to help you. More than 90 per cent of parents face these common dilemmas each and every day. You may be the exception. Or you could be one of the majority who want to add a new dimension of fun to your daily activities (and do it while whipping up great family meals). These topics, and more, are covered in the three main sections of this book.


Around 90 per cent of parents often have trouble convincing their kids to eat vegetables. However, even if your child consumes most foods, you might want to persuade them to dig your favourite fish curry or savour your nanna’s famous spinach salad (the meals you’ve banished since your child first pronounced ‘yuck’). Chapter 3, ‘Marketing magic’, gives you the tools to fix fussy eating habits, forever.

Years ago when my daughter became a finicky eater I tried a range of strategies to persuade her to eat. I attempted puréeing vegetables and hiding them in more appealing foods such as muffins, but it just felt wrong. Ayva was five by this stage, not five months, and I wanted her to eat what I was eating. I didn’t want to cook all night so I also bribed her with sugar. I’d say, ‘You can have dessert if you eat all your dinner,’ then I’d hold my breath and anticipate the worst. Reluctantly she ate, complaining the whole time. Great. But then she held me to ransom each night, demanding to know what was on the dessert menu before she’d commit to eating her greens.

I soon realised these tactics were sending her the wrong messages.

Then one night I made up a fun story about the green beans and carrots on her plate. And guess what? She ate them. The whole bowl. She did not complain either and we actually laughed during that meal—the deep-bellied laughter, usually reserved for Funniest Home Videos, not carrot consumption.

This event prompted me to do some investigating. Two years of research and writing, studying marketing books, talking to other parents, observing junk food advertising campaigns and sourcing articles about them, and hundreds of scientific studies later, it became clear what was missing in the battle to get our kids eating nutritious foods. These revelations are contained in Chapter 3.

My daughter’s taste buds no longer rule our meal choices. She eats tomato, tuna, porridge, all things green and the curry recipes from this book. She is now nine years old and today we went to a play-centre café, lined with rows of tempting iceblock freezers, giant chocolate freckles and cookies in jars. At lunch she came to the counter with me and excitedly asked for the kid’s pizza option from a list of kids meals that were void of anything green and healthy. And being the optimistic (stubborn?) mother I am, I ordered her the adult-sized wholemeal chicken and salad sandwich (the type with tomato, lettuce, carrot, beetroot and sprouts). When the meal was served to my daughter she didn’t throw herself on the ground in protest. There were no ‘Aww muuuum’ complaints. She just ate it (excuse me for bragging with excitement). And since passing on these techniques to other parents, I’ve heard similar success stories over and over again, and you’ll read some of these soon.

But getting your child to eat healthy foods is only one aspect of this book. Now that your family wants to eat healthy foods, the second half of this book solves that annoying problem called not enough time. Yes, it would be great to have more time. Time to cook a healthy dinner. Time to read the newspaper with your partner (time to shave the woolly mammoth off your legs?). As a busy parent, I’m guessing you need to feed your family quickly and without fuss. After all, your child is probably saying ‘Come and play with me— now.

Healthy Family, Happy Family was written after I had my second child, Jack. This is when it hit me that parents and guardians need as much support as possible in order to juggle household duties, work and raising healthy kids. I was a busy working mum with two children. ‘Arsenic hour’—5p.m.—often crept up without warning. Jack, who was seventeen months old at the time, would fish out the soup ladle from the middle drawer and make dinosaur sounds in front of the refrigerator. Ayva would start circling like a shark at dusk, whining ‘Muuum I’m hungry, what can I eat?’ Then it was a race against time to whip up a tasty meal. To be honest, I was really beginning to feel ungrateful for the family I had. The daily battle to 8p.m. was thankless.

However, I decided that rather than wishing time away, I’d look for ways to make today okay. So I did some investigating to find out how to fix my new time-poor, cooking-anxiety problem. The solution, I found, did not involve seeing a therapist. I cancelled the acupuncturist and called off the kinesiologist. All I needed was six simple time-saving solutions. And then I redesigned my recipes so there was less traditional, time-consuming measuring and weighing of ingredients and more freehand measuring and using up leftovers. Now dinner is whipped up on schedule. And I look forward to cooking because it’s easier.

In Chapter 4 you’ll also learn why making food preparation faster involves sitting and playing with your child, not standing in the kitchen. In chapters 7, 8 and 9 you’ll find out what to feed your child to give them the best start to life but you won’t have to weigh most of your ingredients or obsess about food choices. When you walk into the supermarket, you’ll never stand in front of the button mushrooms trying to guess how much 200 grams is—instead you’ll just grab three handfuls and be on your way. There are many simple ways to save time in and out of the kitchen so you can spend more quality time with your family.

When I initially developed and tested the menus and set meal plans in this book I felt organised and relaxed for the first time in years. It was as though my brain had just experienced some sort of vacation (minus the sunburn and surprise mini-bar bill). I was so used to rushing each day. I’d go grocery shopping with only two planned meals and then grab the ‘usuals’ off the shelves. Then I’d run out of food mid week (but still have a fridge full of random items like a tonne of wilted silver beet). That’s why Chapter 7, ‘Menus’ and Appendix 4, ‘Shopping lists and further resources’ are my pride and joy. Who needs to meditate halfway up a mountain in order to feel free, when you have all your recipes, menus and shopping lists set out for you?

You’ll never need to worry if you and your family are receiving the right nutrition for growth and development when using these healthy meal plans, recipes and the corresponding shopping lists. You don’t have to figure out if your child’s eating enough protein to grow properly or fret about food additives that can hamper your child’s concentration during class. There are weekly lunch box guides in Chapter 8 to take the guesswork out of packing school lunches so you’ll know your little ones are getting enough calcium, fibre and a range of cancer-busting nutrients each day.

This book has a range of programs that you can either adhere to or use in part. You can follow the weekly menus and print out the shopping lists or you can simply try any of the numerous healthy ways to get your family eating vegies and other nutritious foods outlined in Chapter 3 (including the top 10 must do’s). You can also cook whatever recipes you like, in any order you like. Since I specialise in eczema and other skin conditions, I’ve also included recipes for people with special dietary requirements.

I know at times you’re probably unmotivated to cook but I want you to give yourself a bit of credit when you do whip out the wok. Cooking for both yourself and your family is one of the most loving and kind things you can do for them (and for you). As a parent, eating healthy meals will help you to cope with the daily stressors of family life, you’ll have more energy to play with your children and you’re more likely to be around long enough to know your grandchildren. Food is nourishment and each time you dish up My Favourite Lamb Cutlets, your actions speak volumes about how much you love your family. Healthy foods eaten during childhood can decrease the risk of certain diseases later in life. They help your child to be strong and healthy, and far less moody or hyperactive. So they’re less likely to scream for chocolate or set fire to your garbage bins. Nourishing foods can also give your child energy to play and think properly at school. What could be more rewarding than that?

Okay, mushy stuff aside. Let’s be honest. Family life does have its challenges (hello midnight nappy changes and that emo teen phase), but family meal time does not have to be one of them. A healthy and happy family is attainable and it’s much easier than you’d imagine. It is not reserved for the rich. God did not give out ‘healthy, agreeable family who eat their greens’ to some people and not others in some lotto-like draw that you didn’t buy a ticket for. You do not need a degree in psychology or a black belt in martial arts to get your family to sit calmly and enjoy their food. I believe this is great news as I’d like to think we could all have a healthy household if only we had some sort of guide that was written in plain English saying ‘Do this and your family will eat!’

Healthy Family, Happy Family is that manual. I hope you enjoy feeding yourself and your family from now on, and if you do, be sure to spread the joy by letting your friends and relatives know your secret. Here’s to a happy life and a healthy future generation who eats their greens.

Health and happiness,

Success stories

Before you get started on you own family’s eating plan for health and wellbeing, I’d like to share with you some success stories from parents, to show you that even some of the fussiest eaters can be won over by using the techniques in this book.

Hi Karen, my three-year-old has point blank refused any vegies unless she is unaware she’s eating them e.g. in a (very labour-intensive) pattie. When I read your paragraph about your girl eating a whole bowl of vegies once you marketed them the right way to her, I thought ‘Oh, I wish, but there’s no way Sophie would swallow that’. Well, today at lunch time I presented her with a bowl of stir-fried vegies with rice and sold it to her ... And, blow me down with a feather— she ate the entire bowl!!! After lunch she asked if we could have vegies at dinner too. I really hammed it up and made it funny and she laughed a lot but she was really taken by the ideas and then became really proud of herself for eating ‘like a big girl’. I’m just thrilled!
Patricia Cope, mother of two

For someone who struggles to read a page a month of any book I just gobbled down your book. Thankyou for taking the lolly argument out of my life! I love saying is ‘Is it lolly day?’. ‘Brainy’ bread has had a big impact. Ed, who is six, is very excited about the human brain and the rest of the body. Overnight he went from white bread to grain bread. We talk a lot about the brain and nerves getting together, sending out different messages to the different parts of the body. It’s lots of fun! Vegies are coming along slowly. Carrots, beans, peas and corn are the regulars. Bit by bit he is increasing the amount of lettuce on his home-cooked burgers. Now if you could work out a way to market ‘sleeping through the night’ to my eleven-month-old ... Thankyou thankyou thankyou.
Robyn Bernstein, mother of two

I am still laughing just thinking about when I told my four-year-old girl about power fruit. It was amazing, and we have been talking about it for weeks now! And she will come out with things like ‘Yeah, let’s have some power fruit so I can dance for a really long time’. And when we are at the markets, she picks the ‘power fruit’ that she would like to eat. And as for vegies, it is working well too. And for ‘sometimes food’, you made a lot of sense. I would constantly say no to certain foods, saying that we can only have them sometimes, but I never explained when that would be. So their ‘treat’ for the week is ‘Nutella sandwich Tuesday’, which is only to be on grain bread (white bread no longer exists in our house). No more ‘Can I have a Nutella sandwich today?’, which I was dealing with almost every lunchtime ... I am so glad that I was able to read your books.
Jasmin Santosuosso, mother of three


Five important reasons to dish up healthy food to your family

Me no carrot!’ your child cries in toddler English. ‘Yeah Mum,’ pipes up your eldest child as she passes you her plate of untouched roast vegies. ‘I’m full; I don’t want any more dinner; can we have dessert now?’

How many times do they complain before you finally give up serving vegetables? Do you let them pick out each piece of spinach from their pasta? Do you revert back to white bread after the grainy sandwich comes home untouched in your child’s lunch box at the end of the day? We’ll get to the 95 healthy food marketing strategies later, which will help enormously. However, right now it’s time to get the scientific information which can boost your resolve to soldier on. It certainly gave me the panic stick I needed to get creative and persuade my eldest child to swap the junk for the ‘jewels’ in the fridge. And after you read this, you—the parent who is all-knowing and wise and stuff—will realise you know best. You always did. You just had cyclone Timothy at the table booming ‘Aww yuck, Mum’ without even sampling a spoonful.

Reason 1: Kids who eat plenty of vegetables are less likely to have strokes during adulthood

Picture having to help your child pull on their shirt and socks each day. When they eat, you have to lift the spoon to their mouth and wipe away the drips. You teach them to walk, one step at a time. They are learning to speak. You interpret what your child says so others can understand. Sounds like a typical one year old, but imagine it’s your child at 40 years of age. They’ve survived a stroke.

What is a stroke? It is a cardiovascular problem that occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain haemorrhages or becomes blocked. It’s bad news as it can leave you partially paralysed, unable to speak properly and your vision and balance can be affected (and that’s if you survive the brain damage).

According to Professor Andy Ness from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, children who eat at least 100 grams (3 1⁄2oz) of vegetables per day have a 50 per cent lowered risk of strokes when they grow up.[1] This amount, 100 grams, is the equivalent of one small carrot, a child-sized handful of baby spinach, a small floret of broccoli and two thin slices of zucchini. Sounds like a lot? Well, this amount is recommended in the Australian Government dietary guidelines for children and adolescents as it can give your child the best start to life.[2]

Reduced stroke risk is a really great reason to promote the peas, catch-cry the carrots and endorse the eggplant as you pop them on your family’s plates.

Reason 2: People who eat dark leafy greens are less likely to get cancer

I visited the Sydney Children’s Hospital today. As we were leaving I smiled at a little boy in the hospital corridors. He had a shaved head and looked pale and tired. Chemotherapy can do that. It is used to kill cancer cells but it also makes your hair fall out. You vomit lots and feel nauseous all the time but chemo can also save your life. This boy and his family probably spend a lot of weary moments at this hospital.

I took my son home and fed him pesto chicken and baby spinach. And I said a dozen silent thankyous.

I know genetics play a role in the formation of childhood cancers and often there’s nothing you can do to prevent illnesses. But research shows that you can decrease the risk of your child growing up and suffering from cancer during adulthood. And you can do this by feeding them a healthy diet during childhood.[3]

But when it comes to cancer-busting, not any odd scrap of lettuce will do. Some vegies are much better for you than others. Namely, the dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, which are the gold standard in vegetables: both cancer-protective and great for your heart.[4], [5], [6], [7]

Research published in the Journal of Nutrition reveals that we are not eating much of these top shelf anti-cancer vegetables—we’re favouring the two least nutritious vegetables: iceberg lettuce and French fries (which were once potatoes, apparently).[8] So even though your child may naturally favour less nutritious foods, it’s vital to train their pallet to accept the vegetables that promote a healthy, disease-fighting body.

So, think green and frilly the next time you’re shopping for vegetables. The best anti-cancer picks include dark leafy greens such as spinach, watercress, rocket, parsley, mint and silver beet, and the cruciferous vegetables broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. (Read ‘How many vegies per day?’.)

Reason 3: Kids who eat fruit are less likely to get cancer when they grow up

The C word is a scary one. However, it’s comforting to know that you can reduce your child’s risk of suffering nasty adulthood cancers by serving them nature’s candy: fruit. In a 60–year follow-up study of over 3800 children, it was found that children who ate fruit daily had fewer incidences of cancer during their adult life.[9]

Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a lowered risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and possibly stomach cancer.[10] Adults who eat less than one and a half cups of fruit and vegetables daily have a 65 per cent higher risk of developing colon cancer.[11] Y’know, the yucky cancer that causes bleeding of the rectum; the cancer that kills approximately 80 Australians each week.[12]

How do fruits and vegetables cut the cancer risk? Cancer can form when a cell becomes abnormal, continues to grow without control and does not die when it should. According to the Cancer Council of New South Wales, fruits and vegetables contain anti-cancer agents and they help you to maintain a healthy weight, which can also cut your cancer risk.

You won’t get the same protective benefits from a doughnut, packet of chips or chocolate frog. So the next time your little angel hassles you for a treat, give them an antioxidant superfood, with super protective powers. Fruit. Okay, so they may whinge the first time you whip out a watermelon from the fridge. But they will get over it.

Give your golden child polyphenolic-loaded blueberries and raspberries, potassium-rich apricots and bananas, liver-protective grapefruit and lemon, and antioxidant abundant apples and so on. They’re worthy of the name ‘power fruit’ don’t you think? (Read ‘How much fruit per day?’.)

BTW (by the way)

It’s not just kids who get health benefits from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Adults who choose vegies over VBs also reduce their risk of heart disease, cancer and Type II diabetes. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in the year 2000, not eating enough fruit and vegetables attributed to approximately 2.6 million worldwide deaths and 31 per cent of cardiovascular disease cases. WHO recommends adults eat 600 grams (1 1⁄3lb) of fruits and vegetables daily to reduce the risk of preventable diseases.[13] This recommended amount looks like two pieces of fruit with breakfast; a side of salad with lunch and half a cup of sweet potato mash and three florets of broccoli with dinner.

Reason 4: Wholegrains can keep you slim, satisfied and strong[14], [15], [16]

When Ayva was five she declared, ‘Mum I’m not eating grainy sandwiches—the grainy bits get stuck in my teeth.’ She had a good argument for not liking wholegrains. But what was the alternative? Just looking at the ingredients in white bread gave me heart palpitations. I could see it wasn’t a healthy choice—the nutritious bran and much of the natural fibre, vitamins and minerals were gone. In their place were a few fortified vitamins and flour that had been bleached, which would be great if I was whitening my child’s socks. But I’m not, so I can’t bring myself to go white.

So what’s in it for you and your family if you switch to wholegrains? A daily dose of grains lowers the threat of blood vessel damage and heart disease by 30 per cent. The same goes for diabetes: knock off a bowl of wholegrains each day and your risk decreases by 34 per cent.[17] Eating wholegrains can also reduce your chances of getting cancer of the breast, stomach and colon.[18], [19], [20], [21] Wholegrains also offer a unique mosaic of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, and energy that is slowly released from the grains, so you’ll feel satisfied for longer.

And there are more compelling reasons. Adolescents who eat wholegrains are less likely to be overweight. These kids are naturally slimmer so they don’t have to obsess about unhealthy dieting and are less likely to be a target for fat jokes at school.

Wholegrains also offer a steady supply of energy for better concentration and stamina—thanks to their lowered glycaemic index, or GI (the glycaemic index is explained in detail). This is a bonus during school exams and sports. Maybe that’s why they’re called brainy grains. Eating plenty of wholegrains can also protect you from bowel embarrassment. They help to keep things moving down there, so you’re less likely to be blocked up with smelly constipation.

So wholegrains help you feel great, look healthy and they can offer some protection against diseases. I wish I had a best friend like this one when I was at school, even if it was just a grainy sandwich in my lunch box, and the bits got stuck in my teeth. And now my daughter agrees (thanks to a bit of healthy marketing and some creative cookie cutters).

You’ll recognise wholegrains as rolled oats (not instant oats), brown rice, grainy breads (with visible grains), corn kernels, barley and cereals such as muesli (granola) and rolled oat porridge. Less common wholegrains include buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum and triticale. I’m feeling brainier already. (Read ‘How much wholegrains per day?’.)


Don’t be fooled by manufacturer’s claims about white bread containing added ‘invisible’ fibre—it’s often the wrong type of fibre for bowel health. You also need to see some of the natural, untampered-with grainy bits so your child knows they’re eating ‘brainy’ grains. Look for grainy bread with whole linseeds for added omega-3 goodness.

Reason 5: Children who eat a healthy diet are less likely to develop acne

It’s hard enough being a teenager without the added shame of having Mount Fuji ready to erupt on your forehead. Acne vulgaris can appear as tender red bumps, small white nodules, blackheads and deep, painful, pus-filled cysts that can lead to scarring.[22] And as a result of their appearance, sufferers can experience embarrassment, poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression.[23], [24], [25]

Skin problems can cause social phobias, missed employment opportunities and, if not treated, in very severe cases it can lead to suicidal tendencies. A study involving 10,000 high school students in New Zealand found a strong link between severe skin problems and depression and suicide. I don’t mean to alarm you (or maybe I do) but you should know that, in this study, one in three teenagers with severe acne had suicidal thoughts and more than one in ten had tried to kill themselves.[26]

What can you do as a parent if your child already has acne? Well, firstly don’t panic and start shadowing your child everywhere—you don’t want to embarrass them further. Just let them know that there is a way to manage their acne. However, it does not come in a magic pill that is patented by a drug company. It’s something called a healthy diet.

In modern Western societies (like ours) it’s estimated that up to 95 per cent of people suffer from acne at some point in their childhood.[27] And it’s not just our teens who are breaking out in embarrassing pimples; even four year olds are getting spotty skin before they hit kindergarten or prep.[28] And we’re bringing zits into adulthood, alongside our distinguished wrinkles (it doesn’t seem fair, really).

But watch a documentary on indigenous people and you’ll note an absence of acne. According to the research, pimples are virtually non-existent in traditional cultures such as Okinawan Islanders, the Inuit, Ache hunter-gatherers, and the Kitaan Islanders. However, modern, processed foods are slowing creeping into these populations and along with it, scientists have noticed emerging symptoms of acne.[29], [30]

So why do some medical practitioners still say that acne is not caused by diet? Well, back in 1969, a clinical study was done on chocolate bars to see if their consumption made acne lesions worse. Half the participants were given a placebo food bar (which had similar ingredients to the chockie bar) and the others ate chocolate bars. And no statistical significance was noted, so it was concluded that diet did not play a role in acne.[31] However, 40 years later studies are showing that a healthy, low GI diet does improve acne symptoms (see GI information). There’s also some interesting research suggesting that dairy products, especially light, or reduced fat, milk, may be implicated in teenage acne.[32] Teenagers with acne can benefit from eating a modified healthy diet and the menus in this book are designed to promote healthy skin.

A healthy diet plays a vital role in the happiness and wellbeing of both current and future generations. Of course, some things we just can’t control. However, we can feed ourselves and our family nutritious foods every day so we have the best chance at health. You can begin by making small decisions such as switching to grainy bread and tossing a carrot into their lunch box. Our fussy eaters and passionate tantrum-throwers do not know best. We do. And with a little imagination (and a lot of heart), we can persuade our crew to eat the foods that will help them grow up strong, healthy and happy.

Remember me!

• Eating plenty of vegetables can lower your child’s risk of adulthood strokes by 50 per cent.

• Fruit and vegetables decrease your child’s risk of cancer when they grow up.

• You and your family are more likely to be slim and healthy if you favour wholegrains.

• Wholegrains decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

• Limit high GI, white flour carbohydrates such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and white breads (reserve them for party foods).

• Eat a healthy diet and avoid junk food to decrease the risk of acne.