Eat Beat

Michelle Obama’s Healthy Food Agenda

by Althea Zanecosky

First lady Michelle Obama has emerged as a champion of wholesome food and healthful living. She has encouraged community vegetable gardens and started her own, opened up the White House kitchen to draw attention to its chefs’expertise with vegetables, helped out in a soup kitchen and told stories about feeding less fattening foods to her daughters.

In a recent issue of People magazine, the first lady described her early morning workouts with the president. The magazine’s cover displayed her famously toned arms.

When working at Miriam’s Kitchen, a nonprofit drop-in center serving Washington, DC’s homeless, Mrs. Obama urged Americans to provide fresh, unprocessed and locally grown foods to their families and to the neediest in their communities.

Mrs. Obama has said the White House garden’s most important role will be to educate children about growing healthy food. In an interview, she expressed hope that “children will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

The White House has said that the focus on healthy living will be a significant item on Mrs. Obama’s agenda. As the nation battles an obesity epidemic seasoned by a hard-to-break taste for sugar and salt, her message is clear: Fresh, nutritious foods are not luxuries enjoyed only by the wealthy, but important components of healthy lifestyles for ordinary families.

What We Can Do
Like Michelle Obama, you, as a parent, can help your child learn how to make informed food choices and develop sound eating habits. What can we learn from the first lady?

Get fresh. Mrs. Obama has called attention to the need for more fresh, locally grown food and has vowed to encourage a more nutritious and sustainable food supply. Besides starting your own garden, you can shop at farmer’s markets and look for seasonal, local products that are now sold at many major grocers. Also look for dairy foods that were produced and processed locally.

You can also become part of the sustainable food movement by working to keep ground open for local farmers. Retaining farmland also combats over-development and the resulting pollution from storm water run-off.

Get creative. Mrs. Obama invited television cameras into the White House kitchen and made a point of praising the chefs’ nutritious creations, including creamed spinach without the cream. Like many moms, she works hard to satisfy the taste buds of her two daughters, Malia and Sasha. They, like most kids, wrinkle their noses at some veggies.

According to White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford, the secret ingredients for that spinach are sautéed spinach, olive oil and shallots, whipped into a light and delicious purée. But Mrs. Obama conceded that the dish was not a hit with Sasha. No matter what you do, she said, “sometimes kids are like, ‘It’s green!’”

Like Mrs. Obama, parents can seek new ways to include more fruits and vegetables in meals. While you may not have a personal chef, the Internet is full of recipes and ideas.

Nip childhood obesity early. “A couple of years ago, you’d never know it by looking at her now, Malia was getting a little chubby,” President Obama told People. The Obamas took action when Malia’s pediatrician looked at her diet. “We cut out juice boxes, sweets and processed foods,” Mrs. Obama told People.

With your health care provider, keep an eye on your child’s weight and growth patterns. If he is putting on pounds too quickly, carefully remove foods and beverages that provide calories but little or no nutrition and find ways to add more activity into the day.

All things in moderation. Reportedly, Mrs. Obama occasionally enjoys waffles and grits for breakfast and has admitted to a once-in-a-while yearning for fast food. Mrs. Obama says that the White House chefs “can make a mean batch of French fries when you want it.” It’s all about eating without excess.

Help out. The first lady wants to help all Americans eat healthfully and has volunteered to serve food to homeless men and women, as well as have fresh produce, donated by White House employees, delivered to a local soup kitchen.

She urges us to “collect some fruits and vegetables; bring by some good healthy food. We can provide this kind of healthy food for communities across the country, and we can do it by each of us lending a hand.” Families can go it alone or work through employers, churches, schools or community groups to make these efforts successful.

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.