What You Didn’t Know About Dinner at the White House
Last week I was invited along with representatives from other media companies to the White House to join First Lady Michelle Obama for a round-table discussion about healthy eating. My thought as she walked in the room (other than, man, I should get bangs) was to try to stay honest. Not to play the “I work for Cooking Light and my family only eats kale and salmon” card. She immediately put those anxieties to rest with her honest account of her own battles with feeding a busy family—which served as the inspiration for her Let’s Move! initiative and has informed our new shared Pinterest page with USDA's MyPlate.
Mrs. Obama is the first to point out that since moving to the White House, the cooking is left to Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, who joined in our round-table discussion. Any sense of false pretenses went out the window with Mrs. Obama’s full disclosure: “Yes, my kids make dinnertime miserable because they like three things—pasta, pasta with cheese, and pizza.”
With that I took a deep breath and realized we’re on the same playing field. So many of us are. No matter what your family looks like, one thing’s for sure: We're in constant motion, and taking time for healthy food sometimes falls to the side. The First Lady went on to describe some picky-eater tricks that have worked for her. On the subject of vegetables: She’s heard the rule of thumb that kids should try something 10 times before they can really say they don’t like it. But, as Mrs. Obama affirms, “Who’s got time to think about that?” Her advice: Pick one winning vegetable. “Find one you like and own it. Broccoli is a winner in our household. So we eat a lot of broccoli.”
What a nice dose of reality. Filling half your plate with fruits and veggies, one of the USDA’s MyPlate suggestions, doesn’t have to mean beets and snow peas. Find a veggie they like, and start there. It counts.
And on to another pain point for many, a particularly big struggle in my own home, is the goal to add more fish to our diets. Chef Kass prepares fish three nights per week at the White House, but the First Lady admits that when those days roll around, “It’s just a sad day. The mood really changes.” Mr. Kass attests to the fact that Sasha and Malia don’t count fish as their favorite fare. But as unhappy as those plates sometimes make them, Mrs. Obama says, “We can’t make them happy with food. I think that’s part of the challenge.” Food is for nourishment, not for rewarding or attempting to make them happy. Mr. Kass also noted that “kids’ palates change, and they’re evolving quickly,” so over time they can learn to like new dishes.
Thank you, Mrs. Obama. Permission granted for a new vision of the family dinner table. The next time my princess-clad 3-year-old refuses to even try her salmon, I’ll remember that dinnertime doesn’t always look like I want it to. The joy should come in sitting together, sharing about our days, and trying new things along the way. When it’s fish night, it might be sad. When it’s broccoli for the fifth night in a row, that’s OK, too.
What are your picky-eater tricks? And how does your family dinner night play out?
Cooking Light is working with Let’s Move!, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), and USDA’s MyPlate to give anyone looking for healthier options access to a trove of recipes that will help them create healthy, tasty plates. For more information about creating a healthy plate, visit www.choosemyplate.gov. Start pinning recipes at http://pinterest.com/MyPlateRecipes/.
*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, e-mails, products, promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.