Talking With the First Lady: How to Eat Better As a Family

by in Food News, MyPlate, February 26, 2013

michelle obama

Family dinners can be a challenge, more so when the food is healthy–even at the White House. “Yes, I’m the First Lady,” Mrs. Obama said. “But, yes, my kids make dinnertime miserable because they like three things: pasta, pasta with cheese and pizza.” So, to mark the third birthday of Let’s Move!, her initiative to fight childhood obesity, and today’s announcement of a massive virtual recipe swap with and other media outlets on Pinterest, the First Lady shared her strategies as a mother for eating well as a family. Along with the Partnership for a Healthier America and Let’s Move!, the First Lady’s office is partnering to pin hundreds of family-friendly recipes from favorite Food Network chefs and others that fit the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines. The goal for the partnership is to help lower obesity rates, and to bring together food brands and recipe websites with a common theme: to make it easier for families to make the healthiest choices. “We’re all busy parents,” said the First Lady. “I’m busy in a different way, but before being a First Lady, I was one of those moms out there trying to figure out how to feed my kids, hold down a job, get to the grocery store, then what to buy, how to cook it, how to get through a week and how to make lunch that the kids won’t whine about.”

Mrs. Obama talked through the challenges of getting a healthy meal on the table each night, described ways to convince kids that vegetables are important parts of everyone’s diet, explained how to keep dinner simple (and delicious), and shared her own go-to baked chicken dish.

Make healthy changes early and they’ll stick:

Mrs. Obama: “The sooner you start this stuff, the more it will be their norm. They just won’t know any different. So if you start out by making your macaroni and cheese with a little cauliflower puree, so they get the taste of the cauliflower, the taste of too much cheese will be too much for them. If you start out diluting their juices so that they’re never getting that 100 percent concentrated stuff, then once you put it in, it will be too sweet for them. Kids’ palates are just so adaptable, and I think that’s the point we’re trying to make to parents — it just doesn’t take much, and the sooner you start, the easier it will be to transition. You can still transition. I mean, my kids were 10 and 8 when I started making the changes, and then complained for a while; they still do. But they make the changes themselves now because they can’t drink purely concentrated juices, and it’s too sweet. It doesn’t taste good to them.”

Make small changes to food your family already likes:

Mrs. Obama: “Take the things you like and figure out how to tweak them. Oven-fried chicken is just as good as fried chicken; it really is. Whole-wheat pasta in a good sauce, a fresh tomato sauce, is better than the canned stuff. Fresh salsa — chop up some tomatoes — it actually is really good. It’s just the same stuff. Just try this.”

Healthy eating takes planning, and that planning can be tough:

Mrs. Obama: “I thought that my weekly schedule of eating was right — I had it planned out — I’d cook a dinner on Sunday that would last through Monday. By Tuesday, we were eating out. Then Wednesday, you would cobble together the eat-out food. And then that would get you to Friday, where you’d eat out again. So you looked up and you found yourself eating out a lot simply because just figuring out how to make that meal was a challenge, and how to do the shopping, and what actually works and tastes good.”

Keep it simple:

Mrs. Obama: “The other day they were reminiscing about one of the meals I used to make all the time, which was this baked chicken. And I actually had this conversation with my sister-in-law, who’s Barack’s youngest sister who has two little girls, and she doesn’t cook. She is a teacher and doesn’t have much time to cook. I was trying to tell her that you can cook a simple meal. Well, what she’s trying to cook is these complicated Asian dishes that require many pans and chopping. And I was like, no, no, you only do that if you have a sous chef. And we don’t have any of that.

My simple meal was taking some chicken legs, seasoning them in the morning, coming back, popping them in the broiler or the oven to let them cook and get a little crispy outside because it made it seem like fried chicken. It was tasty because the seasoning flavored the skin of the leg, and the legs are good — kids like legs. They’re easy and they’re controllable. Serve it with couscous or rice. And broccoli, steamed broccoli. I could do that in 15 minutes, and then we’d have leftovers. Now my family is sick of that meal!”

Vegetables should be a part of our diets:

Mrs. Obama: “I think as parents we have to realize, as I tell my kids, vegetables are something that has to be a part of your diet so we’ll find a few that you like, but there has to be a vegetable, and you have to finish it. You can skip the pasta, but you’ve got to eat the vegetables.”

But kids don’t have to love every vegetable:

Mrs. Obama: “In my household, when it comes to vegetables — and I encourage this with kids that I meet because I always say, do you eat your vegetables? They say no. So I say, just pick one, find one you like and own it. Broccoli is a winner in our household. So we do a lot of broccoli. And it works. Malia doesn’t like snowpeas, but they will appear because I like them.”

Master some easy sides:

Mrs. Obama: “One option is the baked sweet potato, because you can do a sweet potato in a microwave; my kids like sweet potatoes, too. So that’s another quick side, with the broccoli. Or frozen peas — frozen peas were big in my house. The kids were talking about, hey, remember how you’d make those frozen peas? Frozen peas were great because you get them and you cut the bag open, dump them in. In seconds, they’re done. So peas, broccoli — I had two vegetables.”

Cook at home and bond over a family meal:

Mrs. Obama: “You do want to cook, because it’s affordable, and it’s healthier, and it gives you more control, and you can control portion sizes. It’s a good way to bond. It’s a good way to have those conversations with your family. It’s a good way to teach rules and lessons. I mean, all of our major conversations in our family about rules and life, and ups and downs, happen at dinner. It happens at mealtime. It’s the only time we’re all together where the kids — if they’re slow over their vegetables, they’ll find a way to get into a good conversation about school, hoping that you won’t notice that they haven’t eaten the snap peas.”

Make a game out of the healthy foods conversation:

Mrs. Obama: “Over Christmas we did a bracketing of foods — ‘food bracketology.’ This was the President’s idea, and he’s quite pleased with it — like March Madness. We were with a bunch of other families, and this was an evening activity where the fathers bracketed foods — like what would be the winner. And you’d have the top brackets — so you had your pizza and your fried chicken, but you had sushi and you had vegetables — broccoli, kale, salads. And everybody got to vote. The foods would go head to head. Bacon against pie, right? Everybody had to vote, and the kids could make an argument. You could make one argument per category when they got down to the final eight. This was an intense conversation. We were surprised at many of the kids, how many vegetables stayed in for a long time. They got to the top eight — beyond the Sweet 16.”

Learn more about our partnership with First Lady Michelle Obama and Let’s Move! and find hundreds of MyPlate-approved recipes on our Pinterest boards.

Photo by Adam Garber

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House. 

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Comments (338)

  1. M B says:

    Well if you could talk your husband The President into fixing the ecomony then maybe people could eat better…it cost mre to eat that way, and….now a days it's even toug to get to work, if you even have a job….with the price of gas! Why don't you just stick to the White House, and stop giving advice!

  2. disgusted says:

    THIS is this week's "food news?" You can't be serious. Let Mrs. Obama worry about her own family, I will worry about mine.

  3. Jo Ellen says:

    You bet they are eating hot meals 3times a day, while our troops are just getting 1 hot meal a day. When they cut their meals to one hot meal a day for budget cuts they got a pay raise figure that! I can a sure you that her children are getting hot meals while mine isn't! But they could care less! I'll be glad when they are gone!

    • Emily says:

      Jo Ellen you do realize that it was the same way when George W. Bush was president don't you? Stop blaming Mrs. Obama for something in which she has no control over.

    • guest says:

      You aren't a vet or active duty huh? Well I am a vet, my husband is active duty and when he's deployed they have Prime rib fridays and seafood etc. When he is stateside he can get a hot breakfast with all the fixins for 2.37 on post every morning. I have no freaking clue where you are getting this one hot meal a day crap. Yea if they are in the field they eat MRE's but heck, even those have heat up packs in em. If your kids aren't eating hot meals you really need to look at what you are doing wrong as a parent. We grow a garden for pennies on the dollar, preserve it for the winter, we join food co ops to reduce our budget adn FRESH healthy food is a ton cheaper then that processed junk

    • sandyh says:

      i don't believe a word of what you say! i come from a military family and yes, it is tough, but we eat well and so do our deployed! i think you are lying….and why do your children not eat well? maybe it has something to do with their mother?

  4. Tina Maria says:

    More politics. Who cares what she thinks. It is time for the Left wing liberiels to stop glorifying this woman. Stick to articles about healthy living and keep the politics out of it. I am so disappointed with the food network for this.

    • Emily says:

      What does wanting people to eat healthy have anything to do with politics? Seems like you're the one who's interjecting politics into this. Also, no one wants to hear about your political bias on a food site. Take that over to Fox News.

      • Tina Maria says:

        This is still a free country and I have a right to my opinion. What does Fox News have to do with my opinion anyway.

        • Emily says:

          Yes you do have a right but wrong place wrong forum. This is an article about a partnership between the first lady and the Food Network. This is a food site and mentioning things about liberals and their evil ways to me is not appropriate. I apologize for the Fox News comment.

          • Seji says:

            Excuse me Emily, but Food Network decided to bring politics into this by using an Obama. Tina has the right to voice her opinion unless you, like the Obama's, want to stifle that right?

          • Emily says:

            No I'm not trying to stifle anyone's opinion and neither is Mrs. Obama. Seems to me that according to you no first lady should ever be involved with any issues or maybe just those who happen to represent viewpoints that are opposit to yours. Did you object when Laura Bush worked for better literacy or when Nancy Reagan worked for the "Just Say No' campaign or did you call your local libraries and anti-drug centers in protest?

        • sandyh says:

          isn't that where you GET your opinions, tina?

  5. Debbie says:

    Thank you Food Network!!! Michelle Obama really knows how to get us thinking about our food. More people (including myself) are gardening so we don't have to pay the high cost of food and it is so much healthier. The white house garden has inspired me and I had tons of beautiful basil last year and even saved my seeds for this year now zero cost :) I like her common sense ways of getting back to healthier foods in an incremental way, just cooking simple foods. I know she is enjoying the perks of First Lady, but I also know she has lived a 'real' life just like me :) I am just reading the h8ters above, too bad – they live in some kind of a bubble – NO ONE has done more to bring attention to the TROOPS than the two First/Second ladies (not to mentioned Barack was almost the ONLY senator to vote AGAINST the Iraq war). Peace Out y'all

    • Jerry says:

      Gag me with a spoon. Barack seems to like those drones and being responsible for (oh, I take that back – I just remembered he doesn't take responsibility for anything bad) killing people though doesn't he.

    • LC6624 says:

      so is that why the first CUT for anything is taken from the military. Keep drinking your Kool-Aid!

  6. ladidi says:

    The food network should discuss how the additives in our food are affecting our health.

  7. ssdub says:

    I, too, applaud Food Network and our First Lady Michelle Obama for forming this partnership to improve the health of our children. And thank you, Kyle, for changing the subject when so many were bashing our First Lady — very smooth. ;)

  8. ninety9 says:

    it doesn't matter what your politics are, it's healthiest to eat whole, unprocessed foods, more whole grains and way more vegetables. that's the message mrs. obama stands behind and it's a good idea to actually offer healthy recipes. this is a good thing, people.

  9. Linda says:

    I don't need or want ANYMORE advice from this source…or her husbands!!

  10. Michael says:

    Please vacate the White House….enough is enough!

    • Debbie says:

      Hey, you guys lost the election… so stop whining.. enough IS enough so get over it – this incredible couple is in our white house thankfully and we love to hear what ALL of our First Ladies have to say :)

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