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Taking the Kids: The first lady's tips on eating healthier on summer vacation

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Media Services on

How do you think the first lady does it? I'm not talking about how she easily converses with heads of state or military families or how she always looks perfectly turned out no matter what kind of day she's had.

I'm talking about a more mundane concern we all face, especially in summer -- keeping our kids happy and eating healthy on vacation. We've all watched the first daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 10, crisscross the world with their parents.

Sure, they travel a lot differently than the rest of us, but one thing is the same whenever you travel with kids: You all are going to be tempted to eat too much junk food.

"I know it can be tough to make sure your family is eating right, particularly when you're on the move or in a new place and don't know where to look for healthy options," first lady Michelle Obama said in an email this week.

Mrs. Obama, of course, has made combating childhood obesity and encouraging families -- including her own -- to eat healthier and get more active her signature White House initiative by way of her Let's Move! ( campaign. But she doesn't often talk about eating healthy on vacation -- a subject that increasingly concerns American families. We were glad she took the time to respond to questions for TakingtheKids.

The White House garden, in fact, the largest ever planted at the president's residence, was inspired by her concern for her daughters who weren't eating enough nutritious meals. Now her new book, "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America," tells the story of the garden, which offers 55 varieties of vegetables and fruits, and other gardens across the country, hoping to inspire all of us to eat fresh and local foods wherever we are. (Read what I wrote about how hotels are changing their kids' menus.


The Let's Move Outside Junior Ranger program ( encourages kids and their families to engage in outdoor activity that will get hearts pumping and bodies moving during a visit to national parks. Kids who complete at least one physical activity in pursuit of their Junior Ranger badge receive a sticker that designates them as a Let's Move Outside Junior Ranger. Thousands of kids have earned the title.

With so many families heading off this month to the beach, theme parks and the mountains -- AAA reported that some 42 million of us traveled over the July 4th holiday, the most in the last five years, we asked Mrs. Obama how she encourages her family to eat healthier when they travel and what tips she might have for the rest of us:

Q. What can parents do to prevent a steady diet of chicken fingers and fries when away from home?

A. Planning ahead and packing nutritious snacks whenever possible is a good way to avoid resorting to less healthy options. Simple steps like spending time with your kids in the kitchen to write out a grocery list or to make healthy snacks together are also chances to talk about healthy choices. And more and more, companies are working to provide healthier options.


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