‘Family Reunion’ star Tia Mowry shares her top parenting tips for back-to-school – USA TODAY


Before Tia Mowry became a TV star and a household name, she was a student. And like scores of other young, impressionable people, she relied on instructors to help her learn the alphabet, how to tell time and decipher math equations. But she’ll never forget one lesson that a special teacher taught her: self esteem.

“My elementary school teacher, Mrs. Smallwood, taught me to believe in myself even when I didn’t know the answer. She did little things that showed me she cared, and when someone is investing their time and showing you that they care, it makes you want to care about yourself,” says Mowry, whose acting career began in the 1990s when she starred alongside her identical twin, Tamera Mowry-Housley, on ABC’s Sister, Sister.

These days, the 42-year-old is busy wearing multiple hats as an actress, entrepreneur, author, producer, wife to actor Cory Hardrict and mother to son Cree, 9, and daughter Cairo, 2. She shares cooking tips and life hacks on the digital series Tia Mowry’s Quick Fix on Facebook and YouTube, stars on the Netflix show Family Reunion and is the co-founder of Anser, a health and wellness supplement line.

Now that Mowry, whose acting credits include a starring role on The Game from 2006 to 2015 and several Lifetime and Hallmark Channel holiday movies, has kids of her own, she appreciates even more the role that teachers play as an essential part of a child’s development, in part because of the countless hours spent together in the classroom. And their impact goes beyond K-12.

Mowry and her sister graduated from Pepperdine University in California. There, one professor’s lessons went beyond the textbook.

“Dr. Banks was there when I was feeling insecure about my body, and I was on Sister, Sister at the time and taking diet pills. I just wasn’t loving myself, and he made me realize the importance of my mental health in his psychology classes,” Mowry says. “Teachers are teaching you educational and life tools that really carry you on as you get older, and that’s why it is so important to show teachers how much we care.”

Back-to-school traditions

As Mowry gears up to send her son to fourth grade, she’s relying on traditions that her mother passed down. “My mom taught us that when you are going to school, you’re going to get an education and learn new things, so it should be an enjoyable experience. So you should present yourself in a way to let your teachers know that you are ready to work,” she says.

In order to get ready for back to school, Mowry has a checklist she follows.

“The main thing is to go ahead and check off your list of tools that you’ll need for your child ahead of time, like the essentials such as markers, pencils, backpacks and even lunch bags. Just like my mom used to do, I get new clothes including jeans, socks and new underwear because it’s the perfect time to get your child new stuff.”

She also suggests helping children deal with any anxieties by visiting their classroom ahead of time, getting familiar with school grounds and meeting the teacher before the first day of school. Once the school year kicks off, preparations don’t stop, so Mowry says she tries to stay ahead of the game with a few tricks.

“I put out the first week of the clothes Cree is going to be wearing in his closet, so we both know what he’s going to be wearing and it’s prepped. It saves a lot of time and anxiety,” she says.

Quick fixes

The kitchen is a place where Mowry feels right at home — after all, she authored a cookbook titled Whole New You: How Real Food Transforms Your Life, for a Healthier, More Gorgeous You in 2017 — so preparing food ahead of time is also on the to-do list.

“My son is a huge snacker, so it’s beneficial to create some snacks that you can do on the weekends and have enough stored for the week ahead. One that I like to do is apple crisps, which is just cutting up apples, putting some cinnamon on them and putting it on a sheet tray, then throwing it in the oven. Or you can create a popcorn medley with pretzels and other fun things.”

For breakfast, she says her son loves overnight oats to start his day, and it’s an easy meal to prep ahead of time.

“You just put oats with some milk and fruit … in Mason jars in the refrigerator, so in the morning, you don’t have to make anything. You just screw off the top and it’s done,” she says.

Her son has a peanut allergy and daughter Cairo is a picky eater, so Mowry has to get creative with meals. For Cree, she will substitute almond butter or sunflower butter for peanut butter, but with Cairo she has to find ways to sneak in the foods the toddler doesn’t like. “She’s a huge smoothie drinker, but she doesn’t like vegetables, so I’ll throw an avocado and spinach into a smoothie. I just add whatever she doesn’t like to what she does like because she has to be familiar with whatever she is tasting.” She also adds honey to meals such as pancakes to sweeten the pot for her picky eater.

“I respect her and what she likes and what she doesn’t, so it just means I have to find new ways to introduce foods to her.”

Wellness is a way of life

It’s clear that health and wellness are of the utmost importance to Mowry, but she believes it’s equally important to pass that knowledge on to her kids.

“I felt like being a mom, sometimes we take care of everyone but ourselves,” she says.

“How can the goose lay the egg if the goose doesn’t take care of herself?”

She answered that question by co-founding the supplement line Anser with manufacturer BioSchwartz after a longstanding battle with endometriosis. She says her doctor told her after several surgeries she would need to change her lifestyle to help with her symptoms. “I went on this journey of educating myself about how food exacerbates or suppresses an existing condition, so I changed my diet, started exercising and started taking supplements and I saw a huge shift.” During that journey, Mowry began noticing the lack of supplements specifically for women of color in the marketplace.

“I wanted to basically start a conversation with the women that felt ignored or not included within the conversation of health and wellness because it should be accessible to everyone and it’s affordable.”

Anser’s collection includes multivitamins for the entire family, prenatal formulas and beauty supplements.

“You are not whole if you are not well. If you take care of yourself, you aren’t being selfish, and that’s the one thing I had to learn myself.”

She reinforces a healthy lifestyle for her kids: The family takes supplements and stays active. “We have a bike and a treadmill. It’s just important to get the entire family moving and making sure you all are eating well-balanced meals with proper nutrition.”

She also makes sure everyone is getting the proper amount of sleep and keeping regular sleep schedules. “Having them go to bed at the same time every day has been beneficial for us. They get on a circadian rhythm that has been helpful.”

Art imitates life

The style in which Mowry parents is similar to Cocoa McKellan, the nontraditional mom that she portrays on Family Reunion. Cree slept in her bed until he was 4, and Mowry has continued the bed-sharing tradition with Cairo.

“Cocoa is this kind of peaceful Zen-loving mother and that’s the way that I am. She’s not your traditional mom, and that’s where the conflict comes in on the show; it’s tradition versus nontraditional. I grew up in a traditional household. My mom is an evangelist, and she is for spanking children and not for co-sleeping. I didn’t want to raise my kids that way, just like Cocoa doesn’t,” Mowry explains.

The show tackles heavy topics such as religion and race relations. For example, the family reacts to police accosting the Black McKellan kids for being in “the wrong neighborhood.”

“We’re not afraid to depict the truth, and that’s what is so amazing about this show. It’s a success because it’s multigenerational and everybody can sit down and watch.”

Whether she’s learning lines, chasing her toddler or having dance parties with her son, one thing Mowry has realized is that balance isn’t in her vocabulary.

“There is no such thing as balance for me,” she confides. “If there is balance, then I’m not forgiving of myself. I’ve just learned to go with the flow, and while I have a list of priorities — and those are my children, my family, their health and well-being — it’s important for me to be fulfilled and not lose myself just because I’m a mom. So as long as I tap into that, I am a happy person.”