I'm super excited today to have Katie Wells from the Wellness Mama blog.
Wellness Mama is an online resource for women and moms who want to live a healthier yet affordable life — featuring parenting advice, practical tips, real food recipes, natural beauty and cleaning tutorials, natural remedies and other information to make your life better.
Katie is a wife and mom of six, as well as an award-winning blogger, podcaster and real food crusader. She has over a million followers on Facebook and was recently named by greatist.com as one of the hundred most influential people in health and wellness along with Dr. Oz, Dr. Mercola, Food Babe, and Tim Ferriss.
14:40-24:19 Plan Your Meals With Your Children
24:20 Send Your Children Outside!
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
It’s a super huge honor to have Katie Wells with us. You'll see today how awesome she is and how she's developed the key things that we really all need to be doing that she has found to make a huge impact on her life.
I've followed her blog and watched her evolved for years now, and we are going to talk about the top three parenting tips that she practices, that have made her life easier, and family healthier.
Thank you for having me, it's an honor to be here as well. I've followed your work for years also and love the information you're putting out into the world and all the thousands of people you've helped.
How The Wellness Mama Blog Started
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
Thank you. Let’s talk a little about your background and what brought you to this point because it's a lot of work having a family of six but still be inspired to share your messages with the world!
You probably see this too but I joke that people go into their fields to try to help themselves. You hear it the most with psychiatry, like friends of mine who have gone through the graduate degree program for psychiatry — that everybody goes into it to fix themselves. They just may or may not know that they're doing that.
I feel like that was my health journey. When I had my first son, I knew something was wrong (with my health) but I couldn’t find my own answers. I went through multiple doctors before I finally found a doctor who was able to diagnose me with Hashimoto's. And I had went through all these years of doctors telling me that I was crazy, that it was all in my head, and that nothing was wrong because they just tested a couple of hormones and didn’t look at antibodies or the whole panel.
We lived in a rural area, and my husband, who had a background in technology, was like “You need to start a blog and share this just to connect with other moms, because there's got to be people going through this and you guys could help each other.” My background was in journalism and nutrition, so that kind of the writing was a perfect fit, and I loved it.
So it was really just me sharing my journey. The part that really struck me and stayed with me for these ten years is I hadn’t known that were lot of moms that struggled with so many of these same things; even the ones who don't have any health problems. We're all in this motherhood thing together, and it's never easy for anyone. I think moms can use resources in that area, because it is stressful to be a mother or at the very least — it's just a very busy life.
So my goal is to develop systems in my own life that keep my stress levels down, keep my household running smoothly, and keep my kids healthy; and share like a CliffNotes version with other moms so that they don't have to have the same learning curve I did. Because it's been a long road for me to finally figure out my own health answers and how to have all the systems to keep my house organized and always have good food on the table.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I love your videos, I love your tips, I love your practical information that you give, the amazing people you bring to your podcasts and the information they're able to share.
What you said about the stressful mom life; let's not gloss over that, because there's the illusion of what a stay at home mom’s life is like versus what it’s like in reality.
When I first moved here to Georgia, I was a full-time OB-GYN working 80 hours a week, and doing all that, dropping my kid off to Montessori School, trying to juggle her between me and her dad, getting her to dance school and those aspects; that alone was hard. And then now — being a single mom for the last seven years, it is tremendously hard.
I retired my practice to do what I always told moms to do — you will never regret the time you choose to spend home with your child. And I am really happy to say that I absolutely can endorse that from personal experience at this time in my life.
But it is challenging, the idea of what we're feeding them, how we're nourishing them, who they're interacting with; just from the moment of that positive pregnancy test, there's that fear aspect that you juggle with too.
So let's talk about that home life — how do you juggle working at home with six kids?
It's definitely a balancing act. I think what you said is so key too — there are all the jokes about stay at home moms sitting at home and eating bon bons. No matter what a mom does I have respect for moms in every walk of life, because whether you are a stay at home mom or a working mom, every mom is working so much; there are so many daily things that we're juggling, even when we have amazing supportive husbands and partners who are also doing stuff.
I feel moms still have the emotional burden of the logistics. (My husband) is great about pitching and doing anything around the house but I'm the that has to cook dinner and the kids see mom as the brain center of the house. And so in order to run smoothly, I had to figure out systems where I didn't have to stress about something until it happens.
In other words, our life operates on a schedule — laundry happens at a certain time, meals happen at a certain time, cleaning happens at a certain time. So when it's not Friday morning I don't think about the laundry because that's not laundry's time.
I feel like that can be one of the biggest stressors of motherhood — there are like forty things on your to-do list and you're trying to remember them all in your head.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I really want your schedule. So laundry happens on a schedule, versus letting it pile up till it gets overwhelming?
That actually wasn't going to be one of my tips but I'll totally share it!
Parenting Tip #1. Don't Do Things For Your Kids That They're Capable Of Doing Themselves
So we have a very strict rule that we don't do things for our kids that they're capable of doing themselves, unless it's a bonding activity because that's obviously different. If we're hanging out, that's fine but as far as like normal day-to-day life — once they can tie their shoes, they can tie their own shoes. Once they can wipe their bottoms, they can wipe their own bottoms. Once they can do their own laundry, they do their own laundry. Once they can clean the bathroom, they clean the bathroom.
We're all in this family together; you guys are not guests in a hotel of mom and dad. This is all of us together on a mission and we actually involve them in learning about the business as well.
Raising them as entrepreneurs is a big goal for us as well, so they can understand that mom and dad don't just have a job; they have a mission to really help people and they’re working towards their own goals. So because of this, we spread out the burden. I do end up still cooking most of the meals and a lot of those type of activities but they help around the house.
That's one of the things I would tell moms — don't be afraid to pass things off to your kids that they're capable of doing. For one, they should have the honor of contributing to the household because they live there and it makes them feel big. That's what we noticed — they feel like they're grown up when they can do grown-up things. So don't be afraid to let them be involved.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
That’s such a good point — they're not at the mom and dad hotel because it’s so true, especially when you're so busy and you're working at home. When you just feel like okay — these are the things that a mom has to do for their child but no, that child is capable of doing that and this needs to be their responsibility, so they can get it done.
I am adopting this tip right away, and I’m excited to hear tip number two, Katie Wells!
Well, this is a follow-up (for the first tip). If you have multiple kids like me — our kids are in groups of two in their bedrooms and they each have a laundry basket in their bedroom, so that their laundry only ever goes from their room to get washed and dried, and then back in that laundry basket in their room. This way there’s no sorting. I feel like sorting the laundry can be the worst part, when you end up with a basket of everybody's clothes.
So that’s another tip — keep things in their own silos so that they don't have to cross over, and no one's ever sorting; there's never six baskets of laundry on my couch. That's been a huge help for us.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
That sounds great. Then they will just fold it and put it away because they're responsible for that. How old did they start? You know Ava (my daughter) is nine years old — surely she's able to do that now!
Ours pretty much can do it from ages five and up. I put a picture next to the washing machine of which buttons they're supposed to push, and they have a little scoop to measure the soap. So they know what they're doing and then they fold it.
We read The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and there's a great course on Udemy called Tidy Up Your Home where she teaches her method of folding things, which has been helpful for the kids because kids are so visual, and instead of me harping on them to fold their clothes, it’s an expert who’s showing them the most efficient way to fold clothes and save time. So it becomes their responsibility and their mental burden, instead of mine.
They're like, “That's great that I can go play faster because I'm done folding clothes,” so it lets them take ownership of for that part of their life. I think that's a huge key because if they don't have clean clothes; that was their responsibility. Life's a great teacher and we tell them that; whenever a kid says, “It's not fair!” we say “Congratulations, you just figured out part of grown-up life, and that's okay. When you're given a hard situation, you work with it, and that's awesome.”
I think as an early mom it was so easy to be like, “Oh no that wasn't fair; this kid had to do more chores,” and now I'm like, “Wait a second — I have to do more stuff around the house with my husband some days, and he has to do more stuff with me some days, and that's life. So why am I protecting them from this?”
And it’s the same with failure. If they have only dirty clothes, that was their responsibility, which is a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, and hopefully teaches them so it doesn’t become a major thing in college.
That's our hope; we joke that we nurture and give them opportunities to fail and feel unfairness because that’s part of being a grown-up, and it would be cruel if we just threw them out into the world as adults with a “P.S. — Life's not fair.”
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
You’re really absolutely right — life's not fair and one thing that I recognize now from having girls aged nine to 29; I learned that it was okay to let them fail at this.
The science fair projects not done by midnight — at that point I knew those were good lessons because now they're really independent young adults away from me, and I see where those skills were developed in certain ways.
You have older children so you can speak to it much more than I can!
The second (tip) I was going to mention is that I know that the food battle is a real struggle for a lot of moms, and I know that you and I are very much on the same page as far as choosing really nutrient-dense foods and wanting to keep what goes into our families mouth clean and real.
After I had done the research on nutrition and was completely on that wavelength myself, there was still (the question), “How do I get my family on board with this?”
It’s one thing to have the mentality of “If I cook the food that is what there is to eat,” and I'm not going to force it down your throat… but I'm also not a short-order cook, so I'm not going to make a sandwich because they don't like what I cooked. That set the stage where I realized that if they're not loving it, they'll eat it but they’re not internalizing why these foods are healthy and why we eat this way.
What has greatly simplified my life is having the systems for the kitchen as we do for the house and laundry; getting the kids involved. That was when I really saw the light bulb moments happen with them, and they take ownership for it.
They started making really good decisions at other people's houses or at birthday parties without me telling them to — when they internalized it. I'd say (my children that are) six and up pretty much always choose foods the way I would actually want them to choose because they understand it.
So it’s a three-part thing for me:
- Educating Your Children On Nutrition
In our homeschool, we talk about food and how it benefits your body in different ways. I've given them the foundational aspects of food. If you don't homeschool, just throw those things in when you're cooking or when you're shopping for food.
- Meal Planning
There's a meal planning software called Real Plans that's been really helpful to me because it's on my phone.
- Getting The Children Involved
The kids are involved in every phase because kids actually pick up a lot more than we think they do. Just like anything in life, just like teaching them other life skills; it has to be something they take ownership of.
At the end of the day, we don't want them to eat vegetables because we forced them to eat vegetables; we want them to eat vegetables because they learned to love vegetables. That's what makes it a healthy habit.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
Give us an example of that — teaching them to internalize these foundational foods and the fundamentals of good nutrition.
We'll learn the basic building blocks and go from nutrients and understanding the chemical structure of food, to how does that then taste and how you can create different flavors.
I get really geeky on the science side — there's a book called Ingredient by Ali Bouzari, which is about the science of food, and that was a really fun one to go through with them because then it was like, “Oh so when the Brussels sprouts get browned, it's this reaction happening. That’s really cool.”
They are also involved with the shopping, with the meal planning, and with the cooking. I found if a kid cooks the food, they're actually way more willing to try it because they made it.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I love it, and I’ll give an example. I think it was Mother's Day or a special occasion and Ava made me a breakfast of scrambled eggs with some other ingredients with it but she had also put lemon juice in the eggs. I was like — scrambled eggs with lemon juice? Oh my god this is delicious! That is now an ingredient for our eggs; lemon juice.
I think that's so exciting because you never know what they come up with; that sense of intuitive cooking chemistry comes into play. It's really getting them invested in appreciating their meals and their foods and how they make it.
So what's a favorite dish that your children has come up with?
They're really good with stir-fries, so that tends to be their go-to. They'll just start pulling things out of the fridge and a random stir fry will be the result but they also know a lot of grain-free pancake recipes and that kind of stuff. It's fun to see the things that they come up with for sure!
There's also a course online called Kids Cook Real Food, and that one is great. The teacher is patient and she teaches (things like) how to use a knife properly and what the actual fundamentals of cooking are, so that's been fun for them, because then they can feel like they're actual chefs and totally get into it.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I have to admit that one of my favorite shows that my kids also used to watch growing up was Rachael Ray's cooking show, because she made everything so easy, fun, and practical.
I like Kids Cook Real Food — thanks another referral tip for our audience! With Katie Wells blogs and her website, there are so many practical tips great resources that she's vetted out. So if she mentions them, she really highly believes in them. I just want to thank you for that Katie and let our listeners know that wellnessmama.com is a fantastic resource.
So number tip number was giving your family on board with eating the right food.
Yeah and like I said — meal planning is a key part of that, because that takes away the mental stress of what's going to be cooked.
There are all these mom jokes about feeding your kids four hours ago and wondering why they’re hungry again. But we can actually predict that; kids are going to be hungry pretty much all the time, and they're going to want to eat at every meal time. If you already have a (meal) plan in place, you don't have to have the mental stress of what to cook, which is when I was more likely to go out somewhere or make cheap convenience food, which isn’t that healthy.
So (meal planning) to me has been the biggest budget saver, and time-saver too, because then you have all the ingredients, and if you have kids who are willing to help in the kitchen, you can pass off a recipe to them and they can make dinner. Which is awesome!
How to Organize Meal Planning With Notecards (and Get Your Children to Cook!)
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
That does sound awesome. Can you help me visualize what meal planning looks like — is it a calendar or is it a chart? How do you organize around meal planning, because you're absolutely right; knowing what's in the fridge and turning it into a stir-fry did get me through college and medical school for sure.
There's a ton of online systems now that are amazing but when we started doing (meal planning) it was without any kind of online tracking.
I prepare 3” x 5” note cards (in a box) and write the recipe and the instructions on one side, and the number of ingredients on the back in shopping list format. So then the kids could go through the cards and pull recipes out of the box; laid out in order for the week — like breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Then those cards can be put on the fridge using magnets, and whenever it’s that meal’s time, the kids can just pull the card, make the food, and stick it back on the fridge after. That (system) is very tangible for them, as they can see what they’re going to have and look forward to their favorite meals.
This has also made it a lot easier for me if I was like in a business model or on a podcast and it was 3 pm; I could ask them to start with dinner. So that was the easiest system with my kids, and I still do that system quite a bit, even if I'm planning it on my phone I'll still put the cards on the fridge.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I know we've got artists in our family and that visual (card) makes a huge difference in explaining things and making it real and easily understood.
So it’s wellnessmama.com/meals to get your Real Plans food guide; perfect, that sounds great.
Alright — I'm ready for tip number three!
Parenting Tip #3. Send Your Children Outside!
So the overarching concept of this one is to not stack the odds against them. The actual practical step is — them being outside any day that it's not raining isn’t just a huge thing for them developmentally, but it's a requirement at our house. Our neighborhood is very active — there are tons of kids, so it's not like I have to cajole them into going outside.
We know the effects of giving a child sugar and all these processed foods on their brain; there is solid research on this — if you give a child all these like mind-altering foods and then expect them to behave, it's going to be an uphill battle for them. We also know the benefits of being outside (like getting vitamin D), touching the earth, spending time in nature, clean air and all that.
So we consider (outside time) like a vitamin, and it's a daily requirement for them to go outside. That’s what I mean by don't stack the odds against them — don't expect them to behave by giving them things that make it difficult for them to behave.
I see the biggest difference on the days when they just run and run (outside) because they get way more hungry, and they're more likely to eat whatever food I put in front of them and think that whatever it is, is amazing, even if it's just really basic. They're also getting all those benefits of being outside.
It's also free. Yes, we could spend thousands of dollars on all these crazy things that you can do to stay healthy, but going outside means that you're not spending money because it's totally free. And statistically the sunlight is going to help your circadian rhythm, so if they're outside and they're out there till it starts to get dark, their bodies are getting all these cues to create melatonin. These are the (kinds of) things that improve their sleep, improve their appetite, and improve their physical activity. And all these factors make my life so much easier.
It sounds like a super simple tip but like daily time outside is top priority with the kids because it makes a drastic night-and-day difference with them and for us. We've like dialed way back on the activities and the after-school stuff because for us, to some degree — play is the work of children.
They're learning all these interpersonal dynamics and how to work through things with other friends, so we don't want to take that away from them by giving them a structured activity every single day. They certainly still do have music and things that they're in but most afternoons they're just barefoot outside running as much as possible. I feel like that is like truly one of the best gifts to give them, because play that is the work of children.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I love that — play is the work of children. I think being outside, we get a lot more than just Vitamin D from the Sun. Like you said, resetting the circadian rhythm and giving in to the natural cues that we've developed to optimize our life for over ten thousands of years is so important. Being barefoot in nature and exposed to all different things that we were intended to be exposed to really helps support the immune system.
I couldn't agree more about you said about less structure more play. Is there an activity that you definitely feel okay with doing every day, or are more inclined to encourage them to do, for any reason?
They love any of the games; there are a hundred variations as I've now learned. There's a tag. And then there’s an infection, which is like reversed tag where one person's it, and when you start tagging two other people then they're all it; so eventually you have everyone chasing one person.
But all these games involve non-stop running, and when I go out and play with them, I'm like, “Oh man like you guys run hard and you guys are fast!” but I find like they actually do best when I don't interfere.
It’s very much like all like those movies where they (children) learn all of their interpersonal dynamics by doing it, even if it's climbing trees or just like going through the woods. Most adults can’t even climb trees anymore but if you want to talk about an amazing workout that involves the whole body — climbing trees is about as close as you can get.
Child Safety: Getting Over Your Fears As A Parent
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I agree. You're in a safe neighborhood, but what about the fears of of children being safe in other neighborhoods? Is there any guidance or recommendation that you have for that?
This is a tough thing, and it's something we've talked through quite a bit, because on the one hand, statistically it's safer now than it was when our parents were younger. But there's a whole lot more fear. I actually worry less about something actually happening to my children outside than I do someone reporting the fact that my kids are playing without an adult tethered to them and CPS (Child Protective Services) coming. It's so unusual in our neighborhood thankfully as it's very common that the kids are just outside. But we've lived in places where that was not the case, and it really makes me sad for kids. I wish I could just grant all kids the ability to have a safe environment to just run in.
I think in those moments you have to be more intentional. What we would do at that time is a drive to parks or places that were safe but where we could let them go and still keep it as an eye on them. As you mentioned, you want your daughter to develop independence and I think there's a very strong psychological need there, where they have to actually be able to be a little bit afraid and test the boundaries of that by being further away from you that they think they could. That’s when they start to feel independent because we can't give them independence — they have to take it.
So you have to be a lot more intentional. Maybe there could be meetup groups where moms could meet up at a safe park a couple of times a week and let the kids run as a pack or something. But that is hard. As I said, I wish I could just grant every child a safe neighborhood overnight.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I know, that's true. And then just to alleviate the fear because if you think of statistics, it is safer but you don't want to be that odd one, right? There's the reality to that too.
For me, one of the things I do, if my kid is going to someone's house in the neighborhood, is to call me when they get there and call me when they're leaving; little things like that. Like “Okay, I'm not going to walk you over there but just let me know that you got there.”
There’s still that uncertainty of not hearing from her or knowing what’s going on but trying to leave them; and I have PTSD so I have that high fear, which makes it worse. Trying to live with that yet nurture (my daughter’s) independence is certainly one of my challenges, so I appreciate your recommendations too.
I think for other moms listening or even our listeners with grandchildren — look at nurturing independence as a way of giving them that ability but with safety boundaries. They've got that liberty, you've loosened the umbilical cord so to speak, yet there's a check in and check back safety net... for our sanity probably more than theirs.
And I think it’s also about reframing it. If enough of us parents start to give them a little more freedom, maybe we can see some societal changes over time.
When you look at the fact that in large cities in Japan, for instance — the majority of six-year-olds ride the subway to school by themselves. Here, the majority of college students don't even know how to work an iron or change a tyre. We need to reframe these things and give these kids a little bit more independence and responsibility, and not be afraid to not do things for them.
I think there's a cultural element to it, and whatever the reason was for the last couple of generations of American parents; we have a whole lot of fear surrounding parenting and things happening to our kids.
Maybe it's just that we hear more of the bad things now because of the media, so it doesn't seem like the statistics are small. Instead, it seems like 40 % of children must get abducted for as many times as I hear about this on the news. As parents, our brains are wired to protect and to watch, so we're getting so many inputs there that I think maybe it’s key to cut down the negative inputs as much as possible.
If enough of us can do it and make it a little more normal, then we’ll have more parents out there that are just keeping a distant eye without the helicoptering.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
Right, plus recreating a safe community because often, especially when your entrepreneurial or you're working at home, there's that isolation effect. So it’s really about going beyond that to build a nurturing community. It takes a village to raise a child so sometimes it is up to us to create that village if we don't have one that to step into.
So I definitely encourage that. I have family in the Middle East and they have an apartment building, so the kids are constantly running and playing together, and there's that “village” that thousands of cultures over thousands of years have experienced. With all of the modernity, there are benefits to staying in the traditional model because our children do better. They (the family) are all professionals, creative, and independent yet there’s the importance of family, community, and keeping that area tight.
I have a brother in California and a brother in Pennsylvania; we're so spread out so we sometimes find ourselves in need of recreating that village. Whether it's with children or your neighbors or that community. I think that's really exciting.
And somehow this got seeded because my daughter Amira came home from her first year in college during Christmas, and she made cookies for all the neighbors. She said, “Mom, I just feel like we really need to connect with everyone again,”. She put the Christmas cookies in the mailboxes of all our neighbors’ houses; there are fifty houses in our neighborhood.
So she did that on her own — just feeling that need. I think our children need community too, to create that safety net of “If you know me, you care about me.”
So I was really happy that Amira did that “oxytocin-nurturing” activity that really just warmed my heart because I’ve got so much going on with business home juggling, I didn't think of it at all!
Yeah, so much of that is awesome and it’s like what you said about how building a village is an amazing key. It used to be that you grew up in a neighborhood where your parents, aunts, uncles, and everybody were there, and you had this community. Now we don't but look at every study — we need that emotionally if you don't want to die early. You need to have a community, and your kids need to have a community.
And I think sometimes that means you just have to be unconventional. My husband's been out of town for about a week and a half, and he's still going to be gone for a few more days, so last night I really felt like I needed to talk to a grown-up because I've only talked to children for a very long time. So I think you do have to create those village opportunities for yourself.
I invited a ton of moms over and was like, “I know you guys all have kids; bring your kids it's fine,” and there were six moms and 20 kids in our house. Just kids everywhere and it was awesome; we got two hours to have grown-up conversations while the kids played Lego.
You just have to think a little unconventionally, because you know that's not what you would normally do on a school night as everybody has their the routines. But you also have to be able to break the routine once in a while.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
Absolutely, I love that. You've given us tremendous tips today, and I've taken three pages of notes. I'm just going to tackle the laundry thing — I think I'm going to get three laundry baskets!
So I want to thank you for sharing this; I know you've spent years learning these tips and that you shared them generously. Just to close — what would you like to say to our moms and dads that are listening?
Let’s say that the key, at the end of the day, is we underestimate our powers. I think that parents have an amazing ability to change the future of health. We all obviously want a better future for our kids, and we want our kids to grow up healthy, but I don't think we realize the collective power we have to do that. We control a large percentage of the food budget in the country and we make the buying decisions but more importantly — we're raising the next generation day to day.
I know it's hard because life is so stressful but if we can just be slightly more intentional on a day to day basis of how we're doing that, how we’re giving them skills, and how we’re helping them understand — those little tiny drops are going to create a huge tidal wave that will totally change society.
I 100% believe that, and that's why I write so much on the Wellness Mama blog and why I love other moms because I think we do have that amazing ability. If we stepped into our power there, we would see huge changes. If we teach our kids to step into their power there, we can and raise a whole generation of world changers.
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
Thank you so much. For our listeners, please visit wellnessmama.com and remember to get her meal plan at wellnessmama.com/meals. I’ll race you there!
I have a podcast called Healthy Moms Podcast, which I've had you as a guest on, and it’s an awesome episode, so they can find that one there as well and hear your wisdom too!
Dr. Anna Cabeca:
I love her podcast too because she just really gets real with the people that she's interviewing. I've heard pearls and tips that I hadn't heard from people that are interviewed elsewhere as well.
Katie Wells, I want to thank you for being on our show and thank you for all you do in this world. God bless you.
Thank you so much, it's an honor to be here, thank you.