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Catherine McCord: Supper Superstar (and Breakfast … and Lunch)

The founder of Weelicious and One Potato dishes on picky eating, the power of smoothies, and back-to-school.

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Catherine McCord is one of those people whose to-do list and personal kit of get-things-done lifehacks you’re dying to see. A former model and culinary school grad, she runs not one company, but two.

Weelicious, founded in 2007, is a site and store dedicated to hooking families and kids on eating healthier and more adventurous diets. (We find that mission simpatico, to say the least!) One Potato, an all-organic meal delivery service, serves up kits designed for whole-family consumption, with kid-sized portions and built-in flexibility. Add a new book, The Smoothie Project—slated for December, and about “how smoothies can change your life”—and it’s hard to know how she gets it all done.

But at a moment when parents everywhere are laser-focusing on back-to-school, Catherine took some time with Little Sous to talk origin stories and picky eating, and share a couple super-handy recipes for breakfasts and lunch boxes. Read on! (And if you’re ready for other fun ways to fuel up the kids, check out our new Kitchen Academy kit, “Let’s Do Lunch.”)

Tell us about your formative food experiences.

My grandparents ran a family farm in Kentucky, so I grew up with this crazy yin-yang of food, from KFC and Wendy’s to fresh snap peas and blueberries. When I was modelling, I got to travel pretty widely, and I was fascinated to see how different cultures approached food—and how kids in Mexico would eat spicy, or kids in France would eat escargot. In America, it’s always this bland, dumbed-down, my-kid-is-a-picky-eater thing. Why is that?

We keep asking ourselves that! How did that perspective inform the creation of Weelicious?

By the time I had my first kid, I’d been to culinary school, and I had always shopped for my groceries at the Hollywood Farmers Market. So I became obsessed with the question of how you make a great eater from day one, and he got to be my guinea pig—my first of three little guinea pigs.

Three guinea pigs in, what do you feel like you’ve learned about kids and food that you didn’t know going in?

It’s all about exposure. I knew that from my own experience—my parents and grandparents would always be there to say “good job!” if I ate a new mushroom, or pickled, funky anything. But I’ve really learned in a deeper way that getting kids interested in a wide variety of foods is all about exposure and inclusion, and not about pressuring them at all.

How do your three kids differ as eaters?

My son had exposure to everything, from the very beginning. But he never really loved animal proteins, and at five years old he declared himself a vegetarian. Now he’s 12, and to this day he’s a passionate, committed vegetarian. My daughter is 10 and is a total carnivore. She loves steak. She will eat just about anything except stinky cheese—and she is very, very determined that you know that she does not like stinky cheese. My four-year-old, so far, is pretty open to things. They’re all different, they like different foods, but they all tend to be fairly flexible and open.

Sounds amazing! Picky eating is an almost universal parent pain point. What else have you figured out about encouraging experimentation?

Being patient is key. It might take 12 times, 14 times before they like something. You might have to sautée the cauliflower and then roast the cauliflower and then try cauliflower rice. And if you’re not passionate about cooking, patience can be hard. It’s like anything—if you’re not passionate about construction, say, or about arts and crafts, it would be pretty difficult to develop the patience to work through issues in those areas. The difference with food is, you have to eat. And when you realize you’re talking about 21 meals a week, plus snacks, you realize you need a strategy even if it’s not your favorite thing to do.

Your other company, One Potato, delivers family meal kits. What has that business’s journey taught you?

People want to cook more. They might not know how, because our generation tended to go straight from college into the workforce, and skipped that 1950s homemaker phase. But they want to do the right thing, and if you give them tools, they will.

We started with five seasonal meals a week, but we got feedback that kids wanted Taco Tuesday, they wanted meatballs. So we added some family-favorite meals you can get all the time. The food is always separated, so if you have a vegetarian or someone with dietary restrictions, it’s easier to accommodate that.

And with all this going on, how do your kids approach cooking?

They want to get in there most of the time, which is so great. Cooking just encourages them to try more and different things, and that’s true all the way down the age spectrum. My four-year-old will say, I don’t want to eat that! And we’ll say, but you made it! Oh, I did?