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Mom Advice from Michelle Obama: How to Raise Healthy Kids

06/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For the first time in a while, I'm not thinking about my weight. It's the rest of the country I'm worried about. I'm sitting with Michelle Obama discussing the Fat Attack on America.

Let me explain. I'm actually sitting in on a Town Hall Meeting that the First Lady is having with 75 school students, 15 kid reporters, and a small clutch of journalists to discuss the issue of childhood obesity.

This venue is part of Michelle's mission: the Let's Move! initiative to combat childhood obesity. While she serves up healthy information to kids, I take away seven key points that parents can use to create a healthy family.

1. Use the "O" word.

The very first question from a student at the town hall meeting is "What is obesity?"

Michelle Obama breaks it down for the student audience. "It's when people's weight gets higher than it should be," she says simply. "As you grow, your weight and your height should remain fairly consistent."

Don't worry about getting into specifics like calories or Body Mass Index (BMI) with your kids. As Mrs. Obama tells the students, keep it simple and concentrate on feeling good.

"This isn't about the way you look. This is about the way you guys feel," she tells us. "It's about health."

2. Every body is beautiful.

The First Lady knows a thing or two about standing out in a crowd.

"I am 5'11". I was probably this height when I was very young," she says. "But my parents taught me to be proud of the way I look." Towering over her teachers and classmates, she knew she was different, but she dodged the bullet of comparing herself to the other kids, thanks to her parents' advice.

"There's no one right weight or height to be," she says to the students. "What this is all about is making sure that you guys are healthy, that you're eating the right foods, that you're getting enough exercise. We all have to own and be proud of exactly who we are."

When I get home from the town hall meeting, I throw away the scale. I want my kids to know that as long as they're healthy and happy, the number on that scale doesn't mean a thing. That should start with me.

3. Have your kids take responsibility for their food choices.

Let's be honest: Most kids will pick cookies and cupcakes over broccoli and brussels sprouts any day. Mrs. Obama's advice for getting your kids to chow down on healthy options? Let them take the lead.

"Your taste buds change over time. If you get used to the taste of sugary food, your taste buds are going to think that's normal, right?" she says. "But if you start drinking more water and trying more vegetables, your taste buds will crave that. So you can adjust yourself at a young age to want healthy things."

"My whole goal for my kids is to try to get them to think about the choices they're going to make in their own lives," Mrs. Obama explained. "I tell them it's not about who they are today, it's about who they want to be when they're 20 and 25."

I start thinking of ways I could let my children make their own healthy choices. I'll let them pick nutritious recipes we can make for dinner. I'll bring my kids to the grocery store with me so they can start deciding what should go in the cart. We'll start cooking together.

Bonus: Once you get your kids to adopt healthy habits, you might find yourself having a little more discipline. Sasha and Malia make health a family matter, and no longer let their mom off the hook for bad eating habits. "Once I started talking to my kids about what they needed to eat, trust me: They were monitoring me way more than I was monitoring them," Mrs. Obama says.

4. Make small changes.

Like most families, the Obamas are busy. And they were busy before they were the First Family.

"Our health habits got way out of kilter because we were eating out too much," she says of their life in the South Side of Chicago before the White House. "I didn't have time to cook, and I had to buy a lot of quick, packaged things."

But when the Obama's pediatrician warned Mrs. Obama to be careful, she knew her family needed to put more emphasis on their health.

"I didn't think we had a problem because I look at my kids and I see perfection, just like your parents see," Mrs. Obama tells the students. "They're perfect, they're beautiful. And it wasn't that they weren't, but it was just that things were just tipping over to the point that we needed to make some changes."

So Mrs. Obama made some simple changes to their daily routines.

"We made sure we got more fruits and vegetables," Mrs. Obama says. "I cooked more. We ate out a bit less. We limited desserts to weekends. I took out sugary drinks so my kids were drinking more water. We made sure they were exercising--at least moving around every day."

These are simple changes any family can achieve.

5. Be realistic.

You can't expect your children to cut out junk food cold turkey. And let's face it: Life happens. On a recent visit to New York, the First Lady and her daughters hit the Magnolia Bakery, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, and Dylan's Candy Bar. Now that's a lot of treats, but Mrs. Obama explains that breaking the rules on special occasions--just being flexible--is OK every once in a while.

"There are no absolute no's. We eat junk food, snack food--but it's a balance," she says of her family's food philosophy. "Balance and moderation is really the key."

6. Move it.

Mrs. Obama tells us that she had only seven television channels--not 700--when she was growing up.

"Now my kids could watch SpongeBob 24 hours a day," she says. "I even know all the episodes!"

However, kids should be getting 60 minutes of physical activity every day, even if they're not sports junkies. "You can make a decision to sit in front of the TV, or get up and jump rope, or walk up and down the stairs, or do a pushup, or figure out something fun, or turn on the radio and dance," she says. "I mean, exercise isn't always about sports. It's just about moving, right?"

Now, every night when I get home from work, I'll think about turning off the television and taking my kids for a long walk around the neighborhood.

7. Don't sugarcoat it.

Mrs. Obama is honest about the challenge, and we as parents should be, too.

"The things that are the best for you may not taste the best, but that's life," says. "I would love it if I could live healthy on pie and french fries. But the fact of the matter is that you can't."

Healthy kids turn into healthy adults. So we need to show our children how to change their bad habits now, before it's too late.