07/16/2011 11:29 am ET | Updated Sep 15, 2011

My Beef With the First Lady's Lunch

The First Lady's indulgence in an almost-1500-calorie lunch of burger, fries and a shake is a matter of public record -- and likely familiar to you. Also a matter of public record, though perhaps not familiar to you, is my reaction, as quoted by ABC News: "I invite only those whose diets are housed with no walls of glass to hurl a burger in the first lady's direction on the basis of this one lunch."

This truly is how I feel. The First Lady is human, and to my knowledge, has never claimed to be otherwise. The fact that the guy she married happened to turn into the President of the United States did not magically endow her with a new set of taste buds. She lives in the same obesigenic world as the rest of us, where she has to work hard to eat well and be active, and work harder still to see to it that her kids do likewise.

All signs indicate the First Lady loves her husband, and there is thus every reason to suspect she might experience some daily stress associated with his job and the various, not always pleasant, reactions to it. Maybe the First Lady was just having one of "those days," and needed lunch therapy. Most of us have been there. We are all well-advised to chew carefully on the litany of our questionable lunches before rushing to judgment about anyone else's.

But I do, nonetheless, have a beef with the First Lady's lunch. Several, in fact -- and here they are:

1) Making perfect the enemy of good is a mistake.

Whether First Lady of the United States, or first lady or man of your household, it is important to try to eat well and be active, for the sake of your own health, and to serve as a role model to those you love. It is not necessary to be perfect in this effort to be a good role model. Before reacting to any given lunch, we really need to know the overall context. If that context is effort nearly every day to fit in physical activity and eat well, any one lunch should not get too much scrutiny.

2) Mistaking outcomes for effort is a mistake.

It is perfectly reasonable that someone struggling with their own weight or exercise or diet could nonetheless be a role model for healthy living, just as some of the best counselors for overcoming substance abuse are 'recovering' addicts. The requirement for being a good advocate and coach is not perfect performance, but dedication to the process. That the First Lady works hard not only to advocate for healthful eating, but to practice it herself, does not diminish the value of her counsel.

3) Forgetting that high profile does not mean high proficiency is a mistake; the First Lady is not a nutrition expert, she's just someone in the spotlight, trying to do the right thing.

There is a remarkable affinity in our society for celebrities. Katie Couric's support of colonoscopy did more to promote the practice than years of advocacy by trained experts in cancer screening. So be it. But let's remember that being a celebrity does not confer content expertise -- it simply means that what you do and say will always be in the spotlight. As an uber-celebrity, the First Lady's every choice of food or fashion is apt to generate considerable attention. But she is not a health expert -- and we should not mistake fame for expertise.

4) Thinking that personal responsibility and public policy are either/or choices is a mistake.

One of the roiling controversies among obesity control experts and expert wannabes is how fully the epidemic may be accounted for by either personal responsibility or public policy. At the extremes, advocates for personal responsibility seem to advocate that those with no boots should lift themselves up by their bootstraps; staunch environmental determinists seem to imply that the way to better health should not only be paved for us, but we should be carried down it as well.

My view is that we need policies, programs and practices to empower us -- and once empowered, we must all take responsibility to use the resources at our disposal. Power means responsibility; responsibility requires empowerment. The First Lady is not solely responsible for eating well and being active -- she, too, should be the beneficiary of policies and programs that make it easier. Which leads directly to my final 'beef' ...

5) And then, there's the actual beef -- along with the white flour bun and fries and soda ...; we could do much better.

We might think about the First Lady's lunch in the context of a famous ad for Lays' potato chips: Betcha' can't eat just one! Many of the most readily accessible options in the modern food supply are foods that are extremely palatable, and all but engineered to lead us to temptation, overcome our resistance and compel us to eat more than we should. It does not have to be that way.

Consider, for instance, my wife's turkey burger recipe, reproduced below. I invite any burger lover to try these -- I am confident they will stand up to any test. But whereas a burger of chopped beef on a white bun packs in the calories, a burger of lean ground turkey blended with lentils and served on a whole-grain bun packs in ... satiety.

Satiety is the creation of a feeling of fullness. In my view, the key to restraint is not eating less than you want, but eating foods that get you to satisfaction on fewer calories. I absolutely love the burgers my wife makes, but ...I can't eat more than one, much as I want to! They are just so filling, due in part to a high fiber content from the lentils and whole grain. In an age of epidemic obesity, "betcha' can't eat just one" is a peril to us all.

What we need is many more 'bet you can't eat more than one!' products -- products that fill us up on fewer calories. Catherine's turkey-lentil burgers are a delicious example; I call on the food industry to come up with countless others. If the Shake Shack offered such a burger, the First Lady might have had her dietary indulgence, and stuck to her calorie-controlled program, too.

Clearly, there is no such thing as a free lunch -- even if you are First Lady of the United States. There is, instead, food for thought for us all to chew on as we consider what it will take to make meals we love that love us back, the law of the land -- from sea to shining sea.


Dr. David L. Katz;

Catherine's Turkey-Lentil Burger Recipe:

Makes 8 patties
1 lb raw extra-lean ground turkey
1 egg (with omega-3)
1 Tbsp flax meal
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp tomato paste
¾ tsp salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped onions
2 cloves chopped garlic
2 cups sliced raw mushrooms
1 cup cooked lentils, drained*
1/3 cup water
canola oil cooking spray

*a little less than 1/2 cup dry lentils cooked in 3 cups boiling water for 15 minutes, or until tender

1. In a large bowl, mix together first 7 ingredients (all the way through ground black pepper). Set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a small non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chopped garlic and onions and sauté for a couple minutes, then add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft.
3. Place the cooked mushrooms, cooked drained lentils and water in the bowl of a food processor and grind until "creamy."
4. Add the ground turkey mixture to the lentil/mushroom mixture in the bowl of the food processor and grind for a couple of minutes until thoroughly mixed and smooth. It will be "sticky" and that's just right. You can refrigerate (it also freezes well) at this point until ready to grill. (Do not form patties at this point!)
5. Spray canola oil cooking spray in a large cast-iron grill pan (you can also grill on BBQ) and heat over high heat. When the pan is very hot, spoon out the ground turkey (about a heaping 1/3 cup per patty) onto the grill pan. Do NOT attempt to shape the patty at this point! Let it sizzle on that side for a couple minutes, then flip over and flatten with a large spatula -- it will make a nice circular patty with the center grilled and the outer part still raw for now -- (see illustration below) -- grill for a couple more minutes on that side.
6. Flip the patties over once again until cooked through. Serve on whole wheat buns with garnishings and ENJOY!

Per Patty: 110 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 gram saturated fat), 18 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate,
2 g fiber, 50 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium