Catherine, I am so excited to hear your secrets for enticing kids to eat healthy. With five kids spanning thirteen to twenty four years old, you are truly an expert! Plus, you are married to Dr. David Katz, the renowned health and nutrition expert … the king of healthy eating. I recently watched your kids’ very impressive UNJUNK YOURSELF! video. Wow! I’m really looking forward to exploring how you and David have been able to entice your kids not only to eat healthy but also to promote healthy eating in a rap video! So, first tell us about yourself. Are you as committed to healthy eating as David and your kids are?
I am now, but I was not always aware of how important it was. I grew up in France on a Mediterranean-style diet. So, of course, food and health just went together, but I never stopped to think about it. I was committed to health because it was the path of least resistance! But when I moved to the U.S. at age 14, I became very intrigued with all the American food. I just wanted to try everything, and it all tasted so good!! Before I knew it, I had gained 25 pounds! I eventually lost the weight by getting back to my original way of eating and regular physical activity, but I have to say that before I met David, I hadn’t really thought about health as one of the wonderful benefits of eating well. David, of course, was so committed to health and nutrition that it wasn’t long before we really made it work. One-by-one, I reinvented our favorite dishes to make them more nutritious while keeping them just as luscious – very important!!! David always says: “It’s important to love food that loves you back!” It’s simple, but that’s what we do as a family, and it’s so true!
Anita: I know you graduated with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Is that the secret? Does it take a degree like that to get kids to eat healthy?
Catherine: Haha, no not at all!!! Our kids were born into our healthy eating lifestyle, and it’s just an important part of our family’s value system. They have healthy eating habits simply because they have acquired a taste for the more wholesome foods. That’s what they know and it’s pretty difficult to actually go backwards. Imagine trying Jif peanut butter with the Crisco, salt and sugar taste – it’s awful! It’s the same with simple things: once you are used to skim milk and then try whole or even 2% milk (which we know is not actually 2% fat, but that’s another issue!), it tastes like thick glue! Anyway, you get the idea!
Anita: So it sounds like one of your biggest success strategies is teaching kids about the benefits of eating healthy when they are young. What would you say is the biggest struggle?
Catherine: Yes! It helps, but really, it’s never too late! I would say the biggest success strategy is NEVER having the kids feel deprived. Their friends have cookies, chips, crackers, etc. And my kids have cookies, chips, crackers, etc., but in each category, we “trade up” to the more nutritious version, and we make sure they love the trade-up, so there’s no loss for them!
The biggest struggle came when our then eight-old, Valerie, came home sad from school one day, saying that another kid made fun of her at lunch because of the healthy food she was eating. We reacted to that by creating the “Nutrition Detectives” program which, at the time, was just meant to be a fun program we taught the kids at her school to learn how to read food labels and to have them “get it,” too! Little did we know that this would become a program now used by elementary school kids all over the world!
“Trading up” by buying higher nutrient snack foods such as whole grain crackers and baked chips.
Anita: What are some of your kids’ favorite meals?
Catherine: They all really like my homemade chicken cutlets. I really like to recreate recipes to be healthier. So I take chicken breast and dip the breasts in egg white and then in a mixture of Kashi crackers and Nature Path Heritage Flakes cereal that I’ve crushed in a food processor. Then, I sauté the chicken in olive oil, and sometimes I serve the cutlets with baked fries. So it makes a fun and delicious meal that the kids really like. It’s our ‘fast food.’ Another type of fast food we eat is sushi. I can pick it up at our grocery store, so it is easy for me, and all my kids love it. I also make great turkey burgers. I add PUREED French lentils to the ground turkey, which makes the meat really moist and also adds nutrients. We always have a salad with dinner.
Anita: And a lot of your recipes are featured on Cooking with Catherine Katz on ABetterBagOfGroceries.com. They look wonderful! What about school lunches?
Catherine: Thank you! They are definitely tried and true! As for the lunches, I usually send my kids to school with homemade sandwiches. That way I know that they are getting the nutrients they need to get through the rest of the day. I make fresh turkey sandwiches on whole grain bread with lettuce, tomato, cheese – and pesto or mustard for the spread. Or hummus, avocado and tomato sandwiches on whole wheat bread. My girls really like salad with chickpeas and feta, or a salad with black beans and corn tossed with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and cumin. I always send fruit; strawberries, bananas, grapes, apples. One of my kids’ favorites is kiwis cut in half, which they eat with a spoon. But any fruit is good, including dried fruit as long as it doesn’t have added sugar. Also, a small Ziploc bag of whole grain cereal mixed with almonds, walnuts, and bittersweet chocolate chips is a nice filling snack. There are so many options. All you need to know is “trade up!”
Peer pressure: “Kids were making fun of my daughter because of the lunches I was packing for her. I felt so bad for her but that made me want to help my kids work through that and be 'cool' because they made smart food choices.”
Anita: How about dining out in restaurants?
Catherine: With five kids, especially when they were little, we just didn’t eat out much. But when we travel, we pick our restaurants and know what to look for on the menu. For example, we choose grilled over fried, olive oil over butter, sautéed over smothered in cream sauces, etc. …I know that David is a big fan of HealthyDiningFinder.com because it really does all the heavy lifting for the parents! It’s a very valuable tool to help Americans find healthful choices at restaurants.
Anita: What about birthday parties, pizza parties and school fundraisers?
Catherine: It is hard when there are no healthy choices available. But when you eat healthy the rest of the year, it’s OK! My kids eat pizza, birthday cake, and ice cream at birthday parties. It’s just that because their palates are not used to sugar and salt, they don’t really crave or actually even like it much.
“How we eat is an important part of our family’s value system. Eating healthy is important to us.”
Anita: And so that brings us to the Unjunk Yourself! video starring your son, Gabe, and two of your daughters, Natalia and Valerie. I love it! How great that there are already almost 20,000 views.
Catherine: My kids are dancers, and Gabe is a rapper, so this was a natural for them. David and I are so excited about this because there is such a need for inspiration for tweens and teens. There is so much potential to get that age group to be the agents of change for their generation. And the rap video is a perfect way to get kids hooked on eating healthy and to become the vectors of change. The alternative is the scary path we are currently on if we don’t do something about it – diabetes in our 10 year-olds, heart attacks in our teens – this is unacceptable! We all need to be passionate about the health of our kids, and getting the kids to actually care and want to “unjunk themselves” is our best hope for change!
Anita: Absolutely … thanks so much for all that you, David and your kids are doing to make a positive change for the health of our nation’s children and future generations!!
The Katz family