By Michelle Edelbaum, February 26, 2013 - 9:44am
First Lady Michelle Obama is the ultimate busy mom—last week she presented at the Oscars, this morning she’s on Good Morning America talking about her latest effort to help Americans eat healthier—the MyPlate Recipes Partnership. Starting today, you’ll be able to find healthy MyPlate-inspired recipes from EatingWell and 17 more of America’s top publishers to help you eat in line with the MyPlate guidelines, the USDA’s nutrition icon and guide, on our websites and on a new MyPlate Pinterest page at pinterest.com/myplaterecipes.
As a partner in this effort, EatingWell and our fellow publishing brands got to visit the White House last week. It was really fun to get a tour of the White House kitchen and gardens. Plus we heard from our colleagues about some of the challenges Mrs. Obama faces and got an update that the efforts to reduce childhood obesity are starting to yield success in terms of lower obesity rates, especially in states like Mississippi which has seen a 13 percent reduction in childhood obesity. Mrs. Obama was inspired to start the Let’s Move! Initiative and its private-sector organization, the Partnership for a Healthier America, during a visit to Malia and Sasha’s pediatrician that happened before the Obama’s became the First Family. The girls’ doctor expressed concern about their fluctuating weight and that was the wake-up call Mrs. Obama needed to spur the family’s healthy eating efforts and inspire Mrs. Obama to start a national campaign to fight childhood obesity.
In a sit-down meeting last week, the First Lady talked with several food editors about her family’s current dinnertime challenges. When it comes to eating healthy Michelle Obama is like most parents—she wants to do the right thing. But finding the time to cook a healthy dinner is a challenge and like many parents she wants to make sure that whatever is on the menu is something her family will enjoy.
“Before being the First Lady I was one of those moms out there trying to figure out how do I feed my kids, hold down a job, get to the grocery store,” said Mrs. Obama. “What do I buy, how do I cook it, how do I get through the week, how do I make a lunch that the kids won't whine about?”
In her pre-White House days, Mrs. Obama said, she started off the week with the best of intentions. Often on the menu were her go-to dishes—a shrimp pasta dish with linguine, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, and baked chicken legs with couscous and steamed broccoli. But a few days into the week, the order of the night was takeout and restaurant meals.
Now that she’s the First Lady, Mrs. Obama has some help getting healthy food on the table (fish three times a week!) thanks to White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass. (In fact, Mrs. Obama hasn't cooked since coming to the White House, one of the perks of the job.) But she still faces the same challenges every parent does in trying to get her girls to eat healthier.
“Yes, I’m the First Lady, but my kids make dinnertime miserable because they like three things: pasta, pasta with cheese and pizza,” said Mrs. Obama.
OK, not entirely, as it turns out. She said her kids love broccoli and frozen peas too.
But the dinnertime focus isn't all on food; there’s a lot of discussion about why they’re eating certain ways and how food helps your body function. Malia runs track and she was really tired after a recent race. When Mrs. Obama asked what she’d had for lunch, Malia said she’d just eaten some lunchmeat. So Mrs. Obama used that opportunity to make the connection between your body needing fuel and that you can't race at the end of the day if you don't eat.
“The conversation that I had with my girls is that I’m preparing you to go to college, I’m preparing you to be an adult, and you’ve got to learn how to make these choices,” said Mrs. Obama. “If you go off to college and you eat nothing but bagels, which is what I did, it doesn't work for you. You’ve got to get a salad, a meal, put a vegetable into your system. You have to make those choices because it’s your body.”
It may take time to transition kids (and adults!) to healthier ways of eating. But start with small changes. With effort and patience, these new ways of eating can become the norm and less healthy meals will not be as palatable.
“Kids’ palates are just so adaptable,” said Mrs. Obama. “It doesn't take much and the sooner you start the more it will be their norm.”