As the food editor at Parents magazine—as well as a culinary instructor, personal chef, and owner of Rosaberry, a culinary services company—Jenna Helwig knows a thing or two about food. And as the mom of a 9-year-old daughter, Rosa, she also knows quite a bit about home cooking and about how to get babies and kids to enjoy eating healthy. “After my daughter was born, I realized that I needed to get my cooking act together,” she explains. “I started out by just making her food, and then I just kept on cooking.” Helwig’s personal and professional passion has paid off recently as she released her first two cookbooks this year: Real Baby Food: Easy, All-Natural Recipes For Your Baby & Toddler (which came out in April), and Smoothie-licious: Power-Packed Smoothies for the Whole Family (which hits shelves this month).
What inspired you to take on the topics of baby food and smoothies for your first books?
Real Baby Food, my first book, was inspired by my experience cooking for Rosa, and also by my experience at Parents magazine. I believe in homemade food, from the time that someone is a baby, to the time that someone is 100 years old. At Parents magazine, my goal is to help parents find easier ways to cook at home. About half of Real Baby Food is actual baby food: Purees, blends, and finger foods. The other half is food that can carry toddlers and their families through. These are breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner recipes for the whole family. Smoothie-licious is a really fun book. I am obsessed with smoothies, because you can put so many ingredients in them and they are so healthy, easy to make, and delicious—which is a combination that is not always easy to achieve. Kids love smoothies, because they are like milk shakes, and so do grown-ups! I just finished one for breakfast.
What was the process of writing cookbooks like? Which book came to you more easily?
I was basically writing both books at the same time and on a very short deadline. It was a very busy six months for me. My family was so supportive: Every weekend day, I would make five different smoothies and we would all taste test them, and discuss our thoughts. I would take my family’s feedback, adjust the recipes, and play around a little bit. I had a real chance to be creative, because I wanted to include 75 smoothie recipes, and really had to think about what I needed to do. I loved the creative process: What can I do for the Fourth of July? Or what is the best thing for April Fool’s Day? Real Baby Food was also great, because we actually got to eat the food. Especially for the second part of the book, these are dishes that my family ate for lunch and dinner. It is always fun to cook for my family, and they give me really good constructive criticism. When they don’t like something, I hear about it!
What is your favorite recipe in each book?
That is such a hard question! In Real Baby Food, I love the rosemary roasted pears. You roast pears with rosemary, and then you blend them with almond butter. This is such a great food for babies, because it is high in protein… In Smoothie-licious, the smoothie that got me to start making smoothies is called “Avocado Bliss.” It has avocado, coconut milk, and frozen mango: It is thick and creamy. It really tastes like a milk shake, but it has spinach in it.
Do you have any advice for parents of picky eaters?
I have a short section in Real Baby Food called “How to cope when kids get choosy.” The biggest piece of advice I can give is not to pressure your kids to eat. Parents should put a healthy meal on the table: One that is delicious and that the parents would also want to eat. Include one item that the child really wants to eat on the plate, like apple slices. There shouldn’t be any pressure at meal times, and kids should decide what they are going to eat themselves. Dinner should be pleasurable for the whole family.
To learn more about Jenna Helwig, visit jennahelwig.com!