How All-Star Moms Talk to Their Kids About Food and Nutrition

Famous moms First Lady Michelle Obama, Alex Guarnaschelli, Ellie Krieger and Joy Bauer share their strategies for talking to their kids about nutrition.
family dinner at table


Family smiling around a healthy meal

Photo by: Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Ever wonder how moms like The First Lady, celebrity chefs and renowned nutrition experts speak to their children about healthy eating? Find out how four amazing women talk to their kids about food, weight and body image.

Q. How you talk to your daughters about a healthy weight and how do you recommend parents talk their kids about healthy weight?

Michelle Obama: I don't talk about weight at all. I talk about healthy choices. When I talk about exercise I don't talk about exercise in terms of you have to look good. Exercise is about competition; it's about learning a new sport; it's about being introduced to something interesting; it's about learning about how to compete and why competition is important. We talk in those terms.

When we talk at the dinner table we talk about eating a balanced meal, not because of how you look but because of what your body needs.

Now that [the girls] are getting older they're starting to conversations [about weight] in their community, so it's not coming from us, it's coming from the outside. But I always shift them back to health and tell them the best way to never have to worry about what you look like is just to get good food in your body.

It's all about balance. It's not about never having birthday cake, or going out to lunch and not having a burger. I don't even want them to think about that. I don't want them to obsess about food. I just want them to live their lives.

So if they're doing a sport, if they stay active, if they're eating vegetables most meals and not overeating, if we treat foods as treats -- so the weekend I'll tell them you can have one breakfast that's a splurge breakfast, just once a week -- because you just don't need to have pancakes and sweet rolls -- at the White House, you walk in and it's like pancakes and a sweet roll and a biscuit -- (laughter.) it's like, who's idea was this?
Q. How do you talk to your kids about healthy eating and how it affects their growing bodies?

Alex Guarnaschelli: My daughter and I cook together sometimes. She loves great ingredients but honestly isn't in love with eating lots of vegetables. That's a work in progress. I talk with my daughter a lot about portions. I am trying to help her understand that eating what you want to eat, in smaller portions, is a happier way to live. When she gets chocolate ice cream, that argument becomes less convincing.

Alex Guarnaschelli  is the executive chef of Butter and The Darby in New York. She has worked as a chef in New York and France, where she attended La Varenne Cooking School. Recently, Alex won The Next Iron Chef: Redemption. She is also a judge on Chopped. Her first cookbook is titled Old School Comfort: The Way I Learned to Cook.

Ellie Krieger: In my home, I approach food as a wonderful sensory adventure and encourage my daughter Isabella, 10, to taste, smell, touch and explore all kinds of foods, especially colorful produce. I talk to her about how food affects her growing body by stressing the positives: that certain foods will help her feel energized, strong, focused and keep her from getting sick. I keep the conversation about health, rather than weight, as I see too many girls her age already facing weight and body image issues. But more than talking about healthy eating we do it, by enjoying healthy delicious meals together every day. That is the best nutrition education you can get!

Ellie Krieger is an award winning cookbook author and host of Food Network's "Healthy Appetite."

Joy Bauer: I started chanting a "90/10 food philosophy" as soon as my kids discovered chocolate (by preschool, I'm sure). As a family we've always lived by 90% healthy food and 10% fun. My kids know that they'll always find a "fun food" in their lunch bag -- it's portion controlled, but it's there (for example: 2 cookies, a healthy bar, snack bag of healthier chips, etc.). After dinner they help themselves to dessert, a reasonable amount of anything they'd like. (I'm in charge of buying the brands, so if it's not homemade, it's still pretty darn good).

For "health" leverage, I communicate what is most important to each of them. My older daughter, Jesse, is a fashionista so I tell her how foods will make her complexion radiant and her hair thick and shiny. My son Cole is serious about school, so he gets the "brain food" education. My youngest daughter, Ayden Jane, is an athlete, so I talk to her about endurance and strength (although she is a budding fashionista too. Yup, I'm in trouble).

I've never focused on weight--only health, height, teeth, fashion, smarts and athleticism. It's worked! Although they certainly understand there is a direct relationship between eating too much of the wrong food and weight gain… it's never come from me. This is something they've learned from peers, teachers, TV, etc. Of course when it comes up organically in conversation, I'm totally open and honest.

Joy Bauer is the Nutrition & Health Expert for the TODAY show and New York Times bestselling author.

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