Shawn Johnson & Andrew East On The Surreal Transition From Athletes To Parents - Exclusive Interview

Former athletes, parents, YouTubers, podcasters, social media influencers — all of these words describe Shawn Johnson East and Andrew East. The previous Olympian gymnast and former NFL player have transitioned their stardom in professional athletics to a reputable online status through relatable videos and family content (which is seemingly never-ending with two young kids!). And in an exclusive interview with The List, the Easts revealed exactly what they're up to this summer and handed out some much-needed parenting advice.

The couple's recent partnership with Home Chef for the brand's 10th anniversary landed them in Chicago for the interview, and the East family divulged their latest favorite meals (Shawn, your fans are patiently awaiting a dinner invite for that tasty salmon bowl!). Plus, she finally put to rest that "I buried my Olympic medals in the backyard" nonsense, while Andrew named the one thing he would change as a retired NFL athlete.

The East family partnered up with Home Chef

Tell me what your summer has been looking like. What are you and the kids up to these days?

Shawn Johnson East: It's been a really big summer. We just got back from a big trip to Greece, where we took our kids. We flew into Tel Aviv, Israel. We boarded a boat and we did a Greek Islands cruise. It was amazing. The kids way exceeded expectations and had so much fun and were awesome. We also got to take them to Disney World for the first time, which was amazing. We have big family plans for the 4th of July, spending time on a lake.

Andrew East: Currently in Chicago for Home Chef's 10th birthday. It's been good so far.

I love that. How did they enjoy Disney? Were they excited?

Shawn: They loved it.

Andrew: So fun.

Shawn: We did one day, which is enough for a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. But we did the park hopper passes. We got to see a bunch of stuff. We got to meet all the princesses.

Andrew: All of them.

Shawn: [We] got to eat all of the sugar that they sell. The kids crashed around 5:00, which was great.

Andrew: It was a full day.

That's relatable.

Shawn: Yeah. We crashed around 2 p.m.

I haven't been there in a long time, but it looks exhausting to me.

Andrew: I was dragging my feet. I was like, "Dang, are we really going to do this? The kids feel a little young." But watching our daughter's face as she met Elsa was well worth all the effort.

I believe that. With your partnership with Home Chef and your traveling and all of that good stuff, what would you say is the key to managing your career, family, and your own health, physically or mentally?

Shawn: Simplifying as many aspects as possible. Even [with] Home Chef, it's like, "How can we make family meals possible with a busy schedule?" This is why we started [with] Home Chef — the convenience and ease of it. Otherwise, we're either going to be ordering out or not eating together as a family because it would take too long. [We're] simplifying different aspects.

Andrew: It's been fun — the last 12 months, specifically, Shawn and I have tried to explicitly prioritize what we want our family life to look like, and then being intentional with each of those priorities. It is important for us to cook meals in front of our kids and have them watch us prepare meals and invest in the experience that is a family dinner or a family lunch. Home Chef makes it simpler from the shopping standpoint, the prep standpoint, and the cooking standpoint, so it's not this burdensome thing. It makes it easy and approachable in the sense you're not spending hours and hours doing it. You know it's going to be delicious too, so it's wonderful.

They let their kids help in the kitchen

Do your kids help you in the kitchen at all?

Andrew: Yes.

Shawn: They're always begging to help in the kitchen, and it's such a love-hate relationship because you want them to help you, but they also destroy everything.

Andrew: And it takes about 10 times longer.

Shawn: They're always wanting to help stir with the stovetop. Our son wants nothing more than to stir on the hot stovetop. I'm like, "Dude, this is a recipe for disaster." But we try to let them as much as possible.

Andrew: Shawn and I are both efficient. Hey, let's —

Shawn: Get it done.

Andrew: — put our heads down, knock this out, on to the next thing. We tried to shift from that mindset to changing our expectations and inviting the kids in. Making a meal is going to be messier; it's going to take longer; the cleanup is going to be tough. You're teaching the kids how to put the silverware in the dishwasher, so it's a whole process, but it's important to teach them at a young age all these things.

For sure. Cooking already stresses me out enough, so I can't imagine adding kids to that.

Andrew: Oh, man. For some reason, our son always goes for the sharpest knife. It's like, "Hey, go for the spoon, and I'll be fine with it." But never.

What does a go-to dinner look like for you right now? What are you cooking up?

Shawn: Whatever Home Chef bag is in our ... We literally have a drawer. It's the bottom drawer of our refrigerator. A Home Chef box arrives; we open it up and dump the packages in there. Each night, it's shopping through what sounds good, but it's one of those. We usually do a lot of tacos, we do a lot of salmon, then we do their pastas, which is also really good.

Andrew: I probably wouldn't eat as healthy had it not been for Shawn or Home Chef, but she makes some delicious meals. My favorite is your salmon bowl ... It's delicious.

Shawn: I haven't made that in a long time. We should have that.

Andrew: We had it last week. I don't know what your timeline is, but not that long ... What's the recipe for your salmon bowl?

Shawn: I don't know.

Andrew: You're not going to say the recipe?

Shawn: No. The tomato relish is the best.

You put tomato relish on it? Is that the deal?

Shawn: Yes, I got it from Home Chef. It's cherry tomatoes, garlic, Dijon mustard, butter, salt, and pepper, and you sauté it all together. It comes like this sauce, and you put it over salmon, over rice, and it's the best.

Andrew: Delicious.

Pack heavy when it comes to traveling with kids

If you had any recommendations for moms who have picky eaters, what would it be?

Shawn: Variety. A lot of parents get trapped by, "Oh, my kid ate macaroni and cheese last night and they liked it, so let's do it again." But like us, kids get tired of stuff, which can make them pickier. We try to offer our kids three or four options every night, and I'm not saying three or four dinners. On their plate, they have three or four different things. We don't repeat it a lot. We try to always be changing. We always try to change up what they're eating, try new fruits, new vegetables, new sauces, new dips, new proteins. If they don't like it, they don't ever have to eat it. That's a rule in our household, but they always try it, which is great.

Andrew: There is something to having your kid get used to seeing different things on the plate. There was a survey recently done, I think, that three in five parents said their children are more open-minded about trying new foods. So try. Introduce something else besides the mac and cheese.

Shawn: They say with kids it takes seven times being introduced to a certain item for them to like it.

Andrew: Is that right?

That's interesting. That's a lot.

Shawn: It's a lot — a lot of rejection as a parent.

A lot of trial and error for sure. You both have been traveling a lot lately, you mentioned. Do you have any tips for parents on how to deal with the stress while traveling, whether you were in Greece or Disney or whatever it is?

Andrew: Shawn's a boss when it comes to that. She's so good at preparing and packing. We did Greece without having too many issues. She brought the big sound machine.

Shawn: Pack and plays. A lot of your success comes with packing. We always pack a suitcase of toys, which keeps our kids entertained. We always pack a ton of snacks or load up on snacks in the airports. Your best success with little kids is setting them up for success so they don't get tired and they don't get hungry. Whatever you need to do to protect those — bringing their blankets, their packs, their sound machines, but giving them safe spaces for sleep and then making sure their bellies are always full makes travel a lot easier.

Andrew: Shawn packed half a suitcase full of the books and toys that the kids love using at home. When we're traveling and before bedtime, we open that up, and it's an aspect of the routine that they're used to. She always has a plan A through G of snack options. It's like, "You don't want the bar or whatever it is, and you don't want that? Well, here's the next thing." She's great about that.

Most careers require discipline

I want to get into your careers a little bit because you both have a lot of accomplishments. What would you say is the biggest difference between your jobs now as podcast hosts and social media stars versus being in the professional athlete's realm?

Andrew: The biggest difference or similarity?

We could do both.

Andrew: Well, it took us a while to realize that it takes a lot of discipline and practice and trial and error to get good at a sport. It's the same thing for podcasting. We put out a YouTube video a week, and that takes a certain amount of discipline. You have to be disciplined to show up to the interview when it's scheduled. It took me five years to make my NFL dreams come true, and that persistence, we're always doing outreach for ... We're trying to get Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell on our podcast. It's like, keep trying.

I've been listening to his [podcast].

Andrew: It's so good. It might take us five years — you never know — but we're going to keep trying. There is a lot of overlap — certainly a lot of differences as well, though.

Shawn: The difference is it's a completely different career. We spent our whole lives in the athletic world being coached, being told exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to eat, whatever. The biggest difference for us is we are our own coaches now, which is hard. We set our schedules, we set our routines, we set our standards, our goals, everything, and that's hard. That's a hard transition because you're having to do it all on your own now. But it's fun.

Andrew: You go from someone having set up this infrastructure of practice and nutrition and the routine to you having to create that for yourself. It's a big leap.

When you revisit your days in the Olympics, Shawn, or your days in the NFL, Andrew, is there anything that you look back on and say, "Maybe I would do that differently than I would today"?

Shawn: I was always taught by my coach to never let your mind go down that route. Could I have done things differently? I'm sure. But every single thing that I did, I learned from, whether it was good or bad, and it's brought me here, so I would not change a single thing. What about you?

Andrew: When I was playing, I was anxious as all get out about how I was going to perform. That anxiety did damage to my performance. Trusting your abilities and your skills [is] something that I do more now than I did then, and I wish I had learned that sooner.

Shawn: See, you learned that because of it.

Andrew: 100%. Yeah, that's good.

Shawn: Maybe you wouldn't have learned that.

No, Shawn Johnson's Olympic medals weren't buried in the backyard

Shawn, I have a question for you because I saw in an interview with US Magazine that you buried your Olympic medals in the backyard. Is that true?

Shawn: How should I answer that?

If you're not comfortable answering, you don't have to.

Shawn: You're going to laugh. I was doing a question and answer on Instagram, and people ask all the time about Olympic medals. "Where do you keep them? What do you do?"

Andrew: It came out this time, buried them in her backyard. Right there. Don't check by the play set.

Shawn: In a very impulsive thought, I was like, "Buried them in the backyard," period, and sent it. Completely joking. My medals are in a safety deposit box somewhere in a bank. But people's responses were absolute ... I thought it was the most insane thing that I could possibly ... In my mind, I was like, "What's the most ridiculous thing I could say?" I wish you could have seen people's responses. They were like, "Those mean more to the world than you would ever imagine. How dare you do something?" People were so livid. I was like, "We got to run with this." Someone days later was saying, "Did you actually do it?" I was like, "Yeah." Then I did an Us Weekly interview about the medals, and I was like, "Got to commit to this. Buried them in the backyard."

Andrew: What are you supposed to do with them? Supposed to look at them all the time or put them on your wall?

Shawn: That's one of the points I was trying to make with burying them in the backyard ... Olympic medals are so cool. I get that. And especially for someone who hasn't experienced that, it's such a representation of everything the Olympics stand for. However, for me, the experience outweighs any material item I ever could have been given. If I were to lose that medal, would it probably be a bummer? Yes. But it'll never replace that experience for me. To me, it truly is just a materialistic item, and I don't put that much weight behind it. So it was a dumb thought that I ran with.

Andrew: Would you ever put them up for auction?

Shawn: Yes. I don't care. Nobody can ever take that experience from me.

Andrew: But they can take the medals.

Shawn: Why not? I'll give them to my kids someday.

Well, at the end of the day, you earned them, so it's really no one else's business but your own.

Shawn: It was comical how many people so blindly believed we buried them in the backyard.

Andrew: It is interesting because you won it for the United States, so is it Shawn's or is it the US's?

That's true.

Shawn: I did have close friends even DM me and they're like, "Wait, really?" And I'm like, "No."

That's a fine line. That's an interesting point.

Shawn: Maybe they should be in a museum.

The East duo has some advice for aspiring athletes

If there's any advice you have for athletes looking to make it to the Olympics or a professional team, what would it be?

Shawn: Protect your love for your sport more than anything else. You can work through any adversity if you love what you do. [If] you don't love it, it won't work out. Whatever you need to do to protect that passion, do it.

Andrew: To make it, every level you advance in sports — whether it's high school to college or one level of gymnastics to another — it takes a certain level of luck and the pieces falling into place. The opportunity for a long snapper to make it an NFL, the turnover is pretty low. Prepare yourself as much as possible, be ready for an opportunity if it comes, but realize that it's not just a reflection of your skills or abilities. There's a lot of other moving pieces that play into you having that opportunity, so don't take it personal.

That's great advice. What else do you have going on? Are there any upcoming projects you would like to speak on or anything else exciting?

Shawn: We'll be going to the ESPYs this year, which is fun. We're enjoying building FamilyMade, enjoying Home Chef. Having fun.

Andrew: We do our own podcast, "Couple Things," which has been fun. We've had people like Bill Donahue and Marlo Thomas, Karl Pillemer, who is one of my favorite authors. We have Missy Franklin and her husband Hayes, Walker Zimmerman — who's on the US men's soccer team — and his wife, Sally. We have a ton of fun interviews, but we've also helped produce 14 other podcasts that tell different stories about family experiences, and it's been a fun project. It's great to see the feedback from people who consume the podcast and listen to it, talking about how it positively impacted their family experience. That's what's keeping us busy.

You can check out Home Chef's recipes on their website. Keep up with Shawn Johnson East and Andrew East on their YouTube channel.

This interview has been edited for clarity.