Last week I had the privilege of speaking with Elizabeth (Liz) Ward. She has an amiable personality as well as a breadth of knowledge about healthy eating, physical activity, and the importance of communication and planning within your family. Liz is a Registered Dietitian and author of a recent book called MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better. I asked her a series of questions about topics covered in the book, as well as a few fun things about herself, her family, and life-changing moments in her career.
If it’s a busy weeknight at your home, how do you make a quick and easy dinner while still pleasing your family and staying true to the MyPlate nutrition guidelines?
I always have a Plan A and Plan B. An example is, I will roast a chicken along with potatoes, onions, and carrots. I’ll also have a salad and some fruit. Plan B would be “panic mode,” like if I forgot to put the chicken in the oven or something came up. So then I would run to the store and get a rotisserie chicken, get pre-cut vegetables, and a quick cooking grain like whole-wheat couscous.
You always have to have these quick dinners that you can make in 30-45 minutes- 45 minutes tops- and then just decide that things aren’t always going to go your way every day. You can do things like:
- Have breakfast for dinner, which we do a lot around here. We have omelets with leftover vegetables, whole-wheat toast or whole grain rolls, fruit, milk, and that’s dinner.
- Keep pre-baked pizza crusts (the whole-wheat ones) in the freezer, and make pizza in 15 minutes. I serve that with a salad, some fruit, and milk.
Those all adhere to the MyPlate principles because there’s protein, a serving of dairy with the milk, and whole-grains. I always tell people, dinner does not have to be elaborate to do the trick.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to eating healthier, and what steps do you think we need to take to overcome that?
The barrier is lack of time, and the answer is planning. There’s nothing like planning in order for you to have healthy meals and snacks. Planning for me is taking a look at the calendar on the weekend and seeing where everyone is going to be and seeing what kind of meals I need. Plan with simple meals in mind, and then shop. You can’t make healthy meals and snacks if you don’t have the ingredients in the house. It will NOT happen, I can guarantee that!
With that in mind, what are some suggestions for eating healthy without breaking the bank?
There are so many foods out there that give you a big return for your investment and I can probably think of 5 right off of the top of my head:
- Eggs, most definitely.
- Canned tuna fish. You really can’t beat the price and there are so many things you can do with it.
- Beans. No one said you have to soak them overnight. Buy the canned, reduced sodium ones. They are really good and double as a protein source and a vegetable.
- Potatoes. They are full of nutrition and so versatile. You can bake and stuff them with black beans, shredded cheddar cheese, and lots of other good stuff, and that’s a meal.
- And milk. It’s like a quarter for a glass and what you’re getting in that is so amazing for your twenty-five cents.
In this same question, Liz talks about the concept of “stretching” more expensive foods like meat and how it’s so beneficial:
I never use any more (and I’m feeding 5 people) than a pound of ground beef. For example, there’s a chili recipe in my book and there’s only a pound of ground beef in it. The rest of it is two different kinds of beans and lots of canned tomatoes. Lean ground beef is full of iron, and people like it and love to eat it. It’s not only what are the cheapest foods, it’s how can I stretch them. You’re taking that meat a really far way and in a delicious way so you don’t feel deprived.
What is one “guilty pleasure” food you absolutely couldn’t live without and how do you make it adaptable to MyPlate?
Well, I don’t, and its chocolate. I have this real long run of eating 100-calorie fudge bars and that worked for a while, but I realized that what I really want is just about an ounce of dark chocolate every night. One of the things that’s important for everyone to understand is that no matter what your calorie allowance-whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, you’re pregnant, you’re nursing, you have room for FUN! The dietary guidelines say that it’s anywhere from like 100-250 calories a day and I call it the “no questions asked” category. The idea is that if you’ve basically eaten very healthy during the day and you’ve stuck to your calorie intake, then you have those extra calories to play around with. It could be extra butter, a glass of wine, it could be anything, but for me, it’s chocolate and it’s something I have every single day.
What are some of your favorite activities or plans to keeping your kids physically active?
Well my kids are older now. They dance yearlong and they all play tennis. I think the reason why they do those things is because we showed them early on that we value physical activity and that physical activity really isn’t optional. It’s like going to church, that’s just what we do in our family. They’re like sponges, kids, and they’re going to pick up on what you do. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily going to stick, but if you don’t have a framework for that, they’re not going to have any idea.
What was it like to meet Michelle Obama and what did you discuss when you met her?
I worked with Mrs. Obama in February of 2012 and it was a WebMD town hall that we recorded in Homestead, Florida. I was the moderator of a panel of two dietitians, a pediatrician, and a guy who was from the National YMCA. It was to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Let’s Move! I absolutely got the thrill of my career when I actually introduced the First Lady of the United States– it was just a trip. If you told me back in dietitian school that I would ever be doing that, I would have laughed at you. It was very thrilling. For an hour I asked the panelists questions, including Mrs. Obama about child nutrition and fitness and she talked about what she and the President do. It was amazing to hear how they are really militant about dinner. He even arranges his schedule so that at 6:30, he stops working and goes and eats dinner with them. They are really devoted to that family time.
To read Liz’s full biography, click here.