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. Jeanette Duurvoort says:

    There are more folks on food stamps then ever in history; with everyone pay cuts, layoffs, taxes……and the fact this woman has a "staff" at our expense….this article is rediculous.

  2. ninety9 says:

    do you really think your complaints are going to change the white house staff? it's a fact of life: there will be a white house staff. again, politics don't matter when it comes to eating right. cook at home for your kids and eat your vegetables (half your plate!) people!

    • Debbie says:

      ninety9 that is so true, politics DON'T matter when it come to eating – like all our moms said including republicans and democrats and independents… don't eat junk foor and eat your vegetables!! :)

  3. ninety9 says:

    and jeanette Duuvroot: get spell check.

  4. Zinnia2 says:

    that person's ideology of dictating to people is Against our Constitution and you people at Food Network are promoting their dictating ideology and are accomplices… Wake Up…

    • Debbie says:

      Really? I think our constitution allows for free speech – The lovely Michelle Obama is not an elected official so she can still speak freely in this country (even if she WAS elected she would be allowed to speak freely) Again.. these people live is some strange bubble….

      • Zinnia2 says:

        speaking about something and forcing schools to change their lunch menus are two different things – the money wasted on food the children don't eat is outrageous – besides that person doesn't have a degree in dietary science – she's just a mouthpiece for the liberal agenda…

        • Mary says:

          Yes, I see a lot of democrats/liberals 'forcing' things through.. there's no gridlock or anything stopping them right? LOL this is too funny. They should leave all that fried, beige food alone right? Kids needing healthy lunches, wow what a communist plot that is. ugghhhh you guys are too much.

          • Zinnia2 says:

            it's called R e g u l a t i o n s – bureaucratic regulations… I guess you have no clue what is good for your children, so you depend on the gov't to tell you what's good for them – you follow leader… I'm sorry for you…

          • Tammi says:

            No quite the contrary, my children go to PUBLIC (government?) schools so no, I am not a follower I want the GOVERNMENT to follow good, scientific, and dare I say common sense to put healthy healthy good fruits and vegetables in our schools. What I don't liked is all the government WELFARE being paid to subsidize corn that goes into the fast food garbage that is making our entire country obese and sick. Therefore I LOVE it when anyone promotes healthy eating:). Way to go Food Network!

          • Zinnia2 says:

            putting good food in front of students should be up to the individual school districts – the federal gov't should not interfere or be involved at all – but somehow people have become dependent on a big wasteful gov't and gotten the idea that big daddy gov't knows best… foolish and dangerous…

          • wholefoodgood says:

            YOU GO, TAMMI! Absolutely CORRECT. – And I live in corn growing and corn syrup making country.

        • lifestooshort says:

          Since when is eating your vegetables a liberal "agenda"?

          • Zinnia2 says:

            when food network puts a rep from the wh in front of the camera pushing their ideology… there are plenty of chefs/cooks on food network who are more educated on dietary habits and foods – no need for gov't to be involved…

          • wholefoodgood says:

            "Just say 'No'." Mrs. Reagan should just mind her own business. It's not the government's business to tell us to say "no" to drugs.

            Literacy matters. Early childhood reading programs PROMOTED by Laura Bush – maybe even both Mrs. Bushes – are not the business of government. It's a parents' prerogative to decide their own child's reading habits.

            You guys are so clearly political and double standard. YOU just go away.

  5. P fields says:

    As an American I find it offensive for her to speak of eating healthy. She has a personal chef and staff to prepare her meals and her families. She also has her mother living with them. We would all like to eat healthy, but due to limited budgets and the high cost of food. We cannot afford to eat as she eats. I actually pay for my food and prepare my own meals. Really Food Network hope you got your brownie points for showcasing her program that regular people cannot afford to use.

    • Lisa says:

      Healthy food is not expensive – and gardening is very very very inexpensive. It's all the junk food that costs $$ and costs TONS for health care created by the awful food. And really? now she is slammed for her mother living with her again.. the bubble.

      • Seji says:

        If you live somewhere were you can have a garden, that's fine. This is unrealistic and just shows how out of touch Food Network and the Obamas are with the average American. Stop praising stupidity.

    • guest says:

      Fact…healthy foods are less expensive then pre processed crap. Bag of beans 1.99 in my store…enough for 6 meals here, bag of brown rice..2.99, enough for 6-8 meals, buy the veggies that are on sale that week for 2 bucks or under, you can routinely get chicken legs/thights/rib in breast for under 1.50/lb and boneless skinless for under 2. You can buy a whole chicken for under 1/lb on sale and cut it up yourself. Meanwhile one frozen "skillet" meal is over 5 bucks and feeds one maaaaybe two people. We feed a family of 4 plus 4pets on a budget of about 350 a month utilizing sales, coupons, and our own gardens

  6. saly says:

    mrs. obama has always acknowledged that she's not in the same situtaion that she was in when she didn't live in the white house. but she used to struggle with cooking healthy meals for her kids when she was a working mom. and if you READ the article, even in the white house, the kids don't want to eat their vegetables! you people listen to oprah and dr.oz– do you think they cook their own meals?

    • wholefoodgood says:

      I was about to say most of that. I will add:

      My husband and I own a business that is 24-7. We both work on average 50 hours each week. We're not rich by any standard. At middle age I have found that the heat and eat foods are far more expensive than fresh. A single meal made from fresh foods usually nets 3 to 4 meals. In all of the ranting I have not seen one person saying that fresh isn't healthier so I won't even go there.

      I spend about 2 weekend days each month making meals and packaging them (for our own freezer) for dinners during the week and lunches. That process also allows me to provide easy to prepare (microwave or oven reheat) meals for my in-laws – both in their mid-80's. It helps minimize their dependence on those heavily processed, preservative and sodium laden foods. Both have (or have had) heart, blood pressure and cancer issues. I also get some of that better food in for my kid at college. And gee, guess what? My food budget is DOWN and I feel really great about what I did with my weekend.

      Yes it take effort. SO???????

  7. Pat says:

    these republicans are even against the help for good meals to our children we all could use some advice on low fat meals and get up fixing meals not going out eating fast food with all the fat. those people are hateful and sound lazy.

    • Angelina says:

      So true, trust me if Michelle Obama was for breathing air in and out they would be against it!! It just doesn't matter with them, they live in a world that says if the Obamas are for it, they are against it.. and it just really doesn't matter what the subject matter is. I mean REALLY against healthy eating for children? How much more jaded can you get?

    • Seji says:

      I see, and calling someone lazy isn't hateful?

  8. Kris says:

    I couldn't agree with some of these comments more.with rising obesity rates how dare the government tell us to eat vegetables and sit down for a family dinner.I'm so tired of the Obamas liberal agenda.

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  10. Jeannette says:

    Eating healthy is for everyone.. and encouraging and educating people is what Mrs. Obama is doing.
    Ameicans are fat, do not exercise and have one of the highest mortality rates for heart disease and cancer in the world. Childhood obesity and diabetes are growing everyday. Can we leave politics out of it for a minute? She's a real person just like you and me. Yes she is the first Lady and she is trying to help everyone. Healthy eating and making good choices are universal. Encouraging good habits in children will go a long way to a healthier life for everyone.

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