Before having a child, Emily Groden made everything from scratch. She rolled her own pasta, cured her own fish, baked her own bread, and made her own nut milks. And in the mornings, if she wanted pancakes or waffles, she made them from scratch.
But when she got pregnant back in 2017, she realized that — between managing a hungry kiddo, a full-time job, and a morning routine that would surely get shorter by the day — she'd have to figure out a speedier way of getting breakfast on the table. Her friends with kids all told her what they relied on most mornings: frozen waffles. Like chicken nuggets and mac 'n' cheese, "that's just one of the staples of a kid's diet," Groden told POPSUGAR.
But when she hit up the frozen-food section at her local grocery store in Chicago, she was shocked at what she found. Or rather, what she didn't.
"Kids learn from their surroundings from an early age that they shouldn't like healthy foods, and that the foods they do like, including desserts, are unhealthy. For us, it's all just food and it's about balance."
"I started looking around at what did exist, and it's so dominated by essentially just Eggos," she said. "At the time, I was expecting our first child, and I found myself thinking, because I was the kind of person who liked to make everything myself from scratch, that I knew I wasn't going to want to give her Eggos. I didn't want her to eat any of this stuff that has all these sugars and preservatives and all this extra junk."
She was determined to find something that didn't sacrifice nutrition, quality, or taste, but even the "better for you" options she found at Whole Foods weren't much of an improvement. "If you actually look at the ingredients list, they're also full of sugars and 'natural flavors,' and what are those really?" she said.
For example, Groden found a "natural, organic, gluten-free" frozen blueberry waffle, but when she dug deeper, turns out the blueberries were actually made up with 10 ingredients, the first of which wasn't even blueberries. "It was something like apple juice," she said. "What boggled my mind is you don't need these things for shelf stability if you're a frozen product. You can use real blueberries. The freezer is your preservative!"
So, she decided to make her own "cleaner, stripped-down version" of the frozen waffle without all those extras found in processed foods. Instead of artificial flavors, she used real fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices. Instead of white wheat flour, she used whole-grain wheat flour. Instead of refined sugar, she used honey.
And it worked: she not only discovered unique flavor combinations — peanut butter and banana, zucchini and carrot, chocolate chip and matcha, pumpkin and pecan, and mixed berry and almond — but she figured out how to pack all that very real flavor (using no more than 12 from-scratch ingredients!) into a frozen waffle brand called Evergreen that is now available in major grocery chains nationwide.
Groden certainly seems to have solved a very specific problem with frozen waffles, so she surely has solutions to some more common breakfast-time dilemmas parents face, right? The entrepreneur, who is expecting a baby girl this month to join her 2-year-old daughter, shared her top eight tips to keep kids eating healthfully and, just as important to her, happily.
Try Taking Mealtime to Go
For those sick of having to do massive kitchen cleanup every morning, Groden found a surprisingly simple solution — having her daughter eat breakfast on her daily walk to daycare. This can be in the form of a breakfast bar, an egg muffin, or a couple of Evergreen frozen waffles.
"She eats them usually completely plain in the morning, which is great," she said, noting that the added flavors make them satisfying on their own. "It's mess-free and super easy. It takes us 30 seconds to heat up in the microwave and it's done."
Tell Your Kids How Good Food Tastes
Although Groden puts a high priority on feeding her daughter nutritious foods, she finds it just as valuable for her daughter to eat foods that taste good — and those don't have to be mutually exclusive.
"If we demonstrate that we're eating the same thing and we love it, then it will communicate to her that, like, 'Oh, these are delicious ingredients,'" she said. "So when we say, 'You should eat some more asparagus,' and she asks, 'Why?' we'll say, 'Because it's delicious!' We try to frame it as it's not just good for you, but it's a delicious thing that you will probably love."
Don't Give Up the First Time
Because Groden makes thousands of waffles from scratch every day, she has no intention of being a short-order cook at home. Her daughter doesn't get a separate meal from grownups.
"We've always tried to present her with whatever we're eating," she said. "It doesn't always work, but most of the time it does. And if it doesn't work the first time, we also don't give up. We keep reintroducing whatever it was."
Remember That Sweet Doesn't Have to Mean Sugar
Although Groden avoids most highly processed foods, she understands that not all kids do — and for them, a waffle made from honey instead of refined sugars might not taste as sweet.
"If your kid has a big sweet tooth, add a little more maple syrup and you're still going to have a base of whole grains and fruits and vegetables and nuts and spices," she said.
She even suggests turning her waffles into desserts. "I'll put vanilla frosting on top of our waffles, and it's kind of like a sugar cookie, except instead of a cookie base, it's whole grains," she said. "There are ways even for kids who are accustomed to highly sweetened foods to be slowly introduced to better-for-you options that can adjust their palates." Another naturally sweet treat her daughter loves? Dried fruit, like mangos and prunes.
Be Honest About the Foods You Are Serving
Groden has made a point not to be secretive about the more healthful ingredients in her daughter's meals as a ploy to get her to eat them. For instance, when she serves up a green smoothie, she could easily tell her daughter that it's a lime-apple drink, but she doesn't lie. If there's spinach in there, she's going to announce it.
"We've always been careful not to hide the good stuff we're giving her," she said. "That's the philosophy behind the zucchini-carrot waffle. I didn't call it a carrot-cake waffle, even though it tastes kind of like one. Teaching kids from an early age that fruits and vegetables taste good can be helpful."
She also said, however, that she doesn't judge anyone who sneaks healthy ingredients into their children. "You got to do what you got to do, and at the end of the day, it's always better for a kid to have their fruits and vegetables than not."
Avoid Labeling Foods as "Good" or "Bad"
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Groden does not discern healthy foods from unhealthy ones in front of her daughter.
"Kids learn from their surroundings from an early age that they shouldn't like healthy foods, and that the foods they do like, including desserts, are unhealthy," she said. "For us, it's all just food and it's about balance."
If her daughter wants more cookies than Groden thinks she should eat, instead of condemning the treat itself, she'll explain the effects of certain foods: "I'll say, 'You know if you have too many cookies, you might get a tummy ache.' I try to teach her the intuitiveness of eating even from a young age."
Encourage a Lifelong Love of Food
Although her business is based on a healthy alternative, her background isn't nutrition. In fact, before kicking off her entrepreneurial endeavor, she worked at the Alinea Group, which runs some of the most creative restaurant experiences in the world.
"I love food from every angle — there are a lot of different benefits to food and it's not always going to be nutritious," she said. "There's a time and a place for not eating well, too. I love an indulgent meal out at a restaurant. That is such a special way to learn about different cultures, and for creating memories and being a kid. Whenever I have an ice cream cone today, I still think about summer nights with my family going to get ice cream. That's just as important as a nutritious breakfast."
She also said it's an important responsibility to impart this love of food early on. "Do it from day one, especially to young girls who we all know will either struggle themselves or have friends who struggle at some point with their relationship with food."
Don't Have Any Food That's Off Limits
What would Groden do if, on a grocery run, her daughter spotted a box of Eggos and asked to put it in their cart?
"I would let her buy it under my philosophy that there's no food off limits, but I'd try to communicate to her that it's less a source of sustenance and not going to provide her with the fuel she'll need to make it through the morning to lunch feeling really good and energized and able to learn and soak up everything from school," she said, steering clear of calling it bad or unhealthy. "So it shouldn't be her everyday breakfast option, but that doesn't mean she can't ever have it."