'Eat a Little Better': 8 easy tips for your family from the Obamas' chef
Photo by Aubrie Pick from “Eat A Little Better"
In Michelle Obama’s bestselling new memoir, “Becoming,” she tells the story of how her own family members began improving the way they ate.
This was back before the days of the White House garden and school lunch reforms, when Obama’s pediatrician warned that daughter Malia’s body mass index was going in the wrong direction. Given the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic, it was “a trend to take seriously” and to reverse.
The wakeup call made Obama realize that “convenience had become the single most important factor in my choices at home” during her husband’s first presidential campaign. Weekends meant the McDonald’s drive-through window between ballet and soccer, lunch boxes were packed with Lunchables and Capri Suns.
Cookbook fans already knew where this was going, because they’d read the same account in White House chef Sam Kass’s cookbook, “Eat A Little Better.” While we can’t all employ a personal chef to change our eating habits when life gets overwhelming – even the Obamas had some issues before taking that step – Kass offers practical steps that all families can take to improve, even those in circumstances far from the presidency.
As the title suggests, Kass advises making small changes in our own kitchens wherever we can. “If we only look to make dramatic change, we’ll find ourselves standing still forever,” he writes. Here’s a sampling of his many down-to-earth recommendations.
And click here for two solid recipes to try: Roasted Broccoli With Lemon, Capers, and Shaved Parmesan and Sausages With Bitter Greens and Red Wine.
Give your pantry and fridge a makeover. In the Obamas' kitchen, Kass and the Obama children went through their shelves together, putting healthy snacks like almonds in easy reach, and slicing up vegetables in clear containers for quick, convenient nibbles. Heavily processed sugary foods went out, while treats with “real” ingredients (e.g., brownies made with butter, flour and chocolate) were placed on harder-to-reach shelves.
Put a big bowl of fruit on your counter. “You eat what you see,” he writes.
Cook a little more. “Look, I know it’s hard. Like, really hard … I know that people in my position throw around the advice (or command) “Cook more!” like it’s easy, as if our lives are set up for spending a couple hours every night cooking.” But try anyway, Kass writes, even if it’s just cooking one more meal a week than you do now.
Eat more vegetables. Don’t stress out too much about whether they’re organic, local, or seasonal, just eat more vegetables. Be aware that almost all vegetables transform “from mild-mannered to thrilling” when they’re coated in oil, sprinkled with salt, and roasted in a hot oven.
Be a better meat eater. In the Obama White House, that goal meant Friday was steak night. Sound counterintuitive? “Designating one night a week for this treat meant that for the other six, we weren’t eating beef,” considerably cutting the family’s beef consumption. Again, the point is “to make progress relative to what you do now.”
Eat more fish, and branch out beyond tuna, salmon and shrimp. Buying American isn’t just a patriotic message for fish, he writes, it’ll tend to get you responsibly managed and regulated catches.
Eat more beans and grains. The many good reasons why include that they’re “about pleasure, not penance.”
Do a little advance planning. If you write down even a rough idea of what the week’s meals might be, it’ll pay off in your food shopping. Once you get groceries home, keep foods with short shelf lives in clear containers at eye level in the fridge. Again, “you eat what you see.”