"If we can cook more at home and have more family meals, all of this just leads to better nutrition." - Liz Weiss, MS, RDN
Shireen: Winner of the 2015 Media Excellence Award from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Liz Weiss is a nationally recognized registered dietician, nutritionist and pioneer in nutrition communications. Liz is the mom of two brown boys and the voice behind Liz's healthy table podcast and blog. Welcome, Liz.
Liz: Thank you for having me.
Shireen: An absolute pleasure. So, Liz, I want to know a little bit more about what led you to work within nutrition and then more specifically, what led you to focus on family nutrition?
Liz: Hmm. Well, I haven't been a dietitian for many, many years. And when I was in high school, I became really intrigued with the subject of nutrition. My mom was a homeroom teacher. And so she taught cooking classes when they used to have homework in elementary school, don't we all wish they had that again. And I don't know, I guess when I was in high school, they had these friends, they lived in California, they would come visit us. And they were quote unquote, health food nuts. And I was so intrigued by this. I just sort of combined this love of food and cooking with this newfound interest in nutrition. And I went to college, and I studied nutrition. So that was the backpack backstory. And then as far as this interest in family nutrition, I guess it's because I had my own kids. And I wrote a cookbook called the Mom's Guide to Meal Makeovers. Back in the early 2000s, when American kid diets were starting to get pretty challenging, you know, there was just a lot of mac and cheese and chicken nugget options at the supermarket. And just it was a lot of marketing to kids. And I just sort of found myself as a mom in this niche of helping fellow moms and dads to feed their kids a healthy diet without the fights and without the fuss.
Shireen: And so what do you think, is the importance of starting conversations around nutrition within the family?
Liz: You know, it's, it's interesting, it's, it's not really just the conversations about nutrition, I'd say it's more the conversations around food, and the beauty of fruits and vegetables. Because if you can get kids to love fruits and vegetables, and to love cooking and eating fruits and vegetables, then even learning how to slice an apple Yeah, like you can't expect your kids to eat an apple when they go off to college, if they can't really slice it. Or if they have braces in high school, they're not going to be able to bite into it. So those basic skills, but you know, just talking about cooking, talking about food, it just naturally leads to nutrition because those foods are so healthy. So I really want people just to celebrate fruits and veggies and wholesome Whole Foods. Get away from a lot of these heavily processed foods. I'm not gonna say processed because, can be inter processed orange juice and milk, these are processed, I'm talking about the heavily processed foods we can get away with that. If we can cook more at home and have more family meals, all of this just leads to better nutrition. We don't have to talk about it so much as to just have action. You don't just get in the kitchen, start cooking, eat together. And then by default, you know it'll just lead to good nutrition for the whole family.
Shireen: And then, so how has COVID changed all of this? So how is COVID affecting nutrition within families?
Liz: I think it is changing it and affecting it dramatically in a good way. So you know I've been trying to look for silver linings during COVID because it's been a really challenging time for everybody. And we all go through our highs and our lows and, and I think a lot of people are kind of dreading the winter and go Gosh, are we going to be really stuck at home, but the silver lining one is that we're cooking more together as families. We're cooking more in general; we're eating meals together. And when I'm talking like we're eating breakfast together, we're eating lunch together, we're eating dinner together. And I was laughing The other day I was talking to my college age son who will be going back to college in a few weeks. And I said, you know the assignment when you came home in March and didn't go back to college. You were super bummed and all your friends of course you know those 20 somethings really bummed out. I don't blame you. I sip it secretly. All the moms were happy because we were backed and cooking for our kids again, we missed those family meals. I am telling you people you have got to cherish it because when your kids leave home and you're an empty nester, you are going to crave the family meal, the comfort you're going to miss having your kids around. So when they're home, enjoy it and take advantage of it and yeah, people by necessity, are cooking more together. And I'm going to tell you and get your kids to help because when my son and his girlfriend that we're here a lot this summer and when they would cook a meal I'd say you guys have to make dinner tonight. It was great. I felt like a queen for the day. I just didn't have to do anything. So enlist your kids. I don't care how old they are. Get them cooking, power them And then you, you deserve to be pampered. It's a lot, you know, to grocery shop and do all that for food prep. And it's like every day, day after day, big time, but the silver lining, we're all together, we're supporting each other, and we're going to eat healthier, because we're cooking more at home. So by default, you will eat healthier than if you're going out to eat all the time.
Shireen: And so not only are families having to eat, you know, they're eating more at home and more often, but they're likely eating together for the most part, just like in your family. So why do you think the importance of what do you think is the importance of family meals during this time?
Liz: Right, right. Well, do we have five hours to discuss? I don't think so. There is so much great research about the benefit of family meal time, right. And I'm going to just give you a few of those benefits. Well, let me just back up and say that the food Marketing Institute every year, they have this family meals month, every September makes sense, right, kids are going back to school, and I'm putting that in quotes now. And they've sort of turned it into family meals, the family meals movement, because it's just really taken off. And coincidentally, the produce for Better Health Foundation has In September, the National fruits and veggies month. And so the challenge is to eat one more fruit one more veggie a day than you normally eat and to have one more family meal a week if you can. And now of course, it, the whole thing's blown up for good because we're all eating together a lot. But the research is amazing. So a few things. When families eat together, the more they eat together, their fruit and vegetable consumption increases. And that's probably because we're eating more family meals, parents and adults are role modeling good eating habits and good nutrition. So when mom or dad or grandma, you know, eats the broccoli, kids are more likely to eat it. So we know from research, you're more likely to eat fruits and veggies, we know that teenagers feel less stressed, the more they have family meals together, they have less risky behaviors. And so you know, I'm talking, smoking and drinking and that sort of thing. And fewer eating disorders. And so, you know, we just, we know that in general, kids and families eat healthier when they eat together. The caveat here is you got to turn the TV off and kind of get rid of the screens. So I've always had this sort of rule, a good rule in my household, and that is the TV's off. And we don't have our cell phones at the table. And we can take that break, you know, for half an hour, put all those distractions away and focus on each other. And they're, there’s lives, you know, where you're going to get all those great benefits when it's an uninterrupted, and you can really enjoy each other's company.
Shireen: And then, so how can family start conversations around nutrition and word? How do you get started?
Liz: Well, well, how about having conversation starters, you can literally take a bowl or a mason jar, or you can buy one of these little conversation starter kits, you know, and you could put fun questions in there. And depending on the ages of your kids, those questions could be something like, what's your favorite fruit? Or what's your favorite vegetable? Or if you were on a deserted island, and you could only eat one? healthy food? What would it be? You know? And then from there, just have fun with it. Right? You don't have to be super serious about it. You know, I think it's okay to say Hey, everybody, you know, we're having our fruits and vegetables with dinner tonight because they're going to help us feel strong. They're going to help us feel healthier. You know, when kids are going back to school, maybe you're having salmon for dinner and you can talk about salmon being a brain healthy food or get eggs. Eggs contain a type of B vitamin, a nutrient called Coleen and we know we need it for brain health. So you could say Hey, did you know burn that you know extra good for for your brain? They're going to help to make you smarter. You could be silly with it. You know, we don't have to be super serious. Because to me food and mealtime. Oh, it's like an art project. You know, we want to be creative with it. We want it to taste good, smell good. Crunchy sounds good. So it's really a creative process. And so we want to keep that creativity going. And again, you know, we, we talked about the whole COVID thing you know, we're at home more. We're feeling more stressed out. mealtime should be a time for enjoyment for joy. We don't want parents to feel any more stressed out than they already do. So make mealtime a fun and playful time rather than a stressful time.
Shireen: And when you are talking to the younger members of the family, how, where do you begin to maybe engage them or how do you, do bring them into the kitchen? Do you start you know, getting them to chop? I mean, what are some of those starter activities that you would recommend?
Liz: Right, right. Well, a couple of things. You know, of course it does depend On the age of your child, but little kids can help with so many tasks, you can give them a whisk and a bowl. And they can whisk an egg, you know, you can crack the egg in there, but they can whisk it. Or they can whisk some dry ingredients for, say, a pancake batter. So there's plenty of things kids can do, you can give them a little plastic container with some salad dressing ingredients in it, to cure that lid and have them shake it. You know, when you see like these top chefs making salad dressing and they're slowly whisking the oil into the acid and it's a Lassie Forget it, I just throw everything into a mason jar or a container, put on a lid, I shake it, you know, have your kids help you with that, you can have little ones help to set the table, you know, so many things you can do to engage them. I have a coloring cookbook series on my website, I've got three coloring cookbooks on the website. One is for wholesome family dinners. So you get recipes and then companion coloring pages. And these coloring pages are beautiful. They're these Mandala designs and they have food imagery in them. They're fun enough for little kids and sophisticated enough for adults. So little kids can be in the kitchen coloring while you're making dinner. Or your older kids can be cooking while you color because color is very relaxing. And so just being in the kitchen, giving everybody little tasks, you know takes a little time especially with the little ones. Oh, how about let us give them some lettuce leaves and let them rip the lettuce up for the salad. Of course wash your hands first. But plenty of things you can do to to engage your kiddos.
Now we have this concept called quarantine fatigue. And in fact, a few episodes ago we talked about that with my fellow who's a registered dietitian. And so a lot of people are starting to feel burned out when it comes to cooking during quarantine. They're running at a recipes. They're wary of going to the grocery store. They're just simply tired of cooking, especially every night. So we asked our Instagram followers. Are you feeling cooking fatigue while cooking for your family and quarantine? And 86% responded? Yes. So how do you recommend keeping this activity interesting and fun for the family?
Liz: Hmm, well, I would say turn to convenience foods but choose wisely. And so you can buy a rotisserie chicken, they're very affordable. And I know when I remove the meat from the rotisserie chicken, I end up with four cups. I'm a nerd. Okay, so I measure these things right, so you end up with four cups of chopped chicken meat. And with that chicken, your whole world opens up. You can make chicken salad, you can add this recipe I just made and something that I talked about on my podcast recently and it's a recipe from a cookbook called On Meals that Heal. So you use the rotisserie chicken, you add cherry tomatoes just slice them in half. You add some diced avocado, which happens to be my favorite food on the planet. And then you make a dressing with some smashed avocado, lime juice and olive oil, a little bit of cumin, shake, shake, shake maybe a little garlic in there to shake it up and after dressing. This is literally like a maybe five or 10 minute meal. Delicious. I love it. So using those convenience foods and then adding those fresh veggies into tomatoes technically, you know fruit, but adding the fruits and veggies into it can really save the day. I mean you can make pasta. Or how about lists How about a pizza, you get a pizza crust and hopefully whole wheat preferably or if it isn't no biggie. And then you can saute up some spinach. You can add that, you can add some pasta sauce, you can add some pre shredded cheese because you bought that already pre shredded, pop it in the oven, and you got a pizza for dinner. So these are so be thinking easy, be thinking convenience, but always with convenience. Emphasize the fruits and the vegetables. I always buy pre-washed greens not always because if I go to the farmers market, obviously I buy big, big beautiful lettuce. But if I go to the grocery store, I often times buy those pre-washed greens like a regular because we like a rucola that's a big time saver. All those little time savers, it really adds up and then you don't feel so fatigued. Some people do the meal kits, you know the blue aprons of the world. And you can really, I mean if you have kids who are a little finicky boy that opens up their world or if you have, you know teens and tweens, you can get them cooking because those are step by step instructions. little pricey and there's a lot of packaging. That would be my two, sort of negatives on those. But if it's in your budget and you want to shake things up once in a while, maybe once a month, get some of those meal kits delivered. That's a big time saver. If you're, get your help. And if you have to do it, they can be a little bit fussy. But think about shortcuts. Because Yeah, I mean, I, I've had the fatigue, too. Every time. You know if I say to Simon this summer, and again, he's leaving soon, you got to make dinner tonight, he'll do it very happily. And it's a big relief when other people help. And my, my rule is, if I do the dinner, I don't do the dishes. So you need everybody else who's not cooking to be in charge of setting the table and clearing it and cleaning the kitchen.
Shireen: Now, September's also fruit and vegetable month, which is being spearheaded by the produce for Better Health Foundation. And I believe you're one of the ambassadors for them.
Liz: Yes, I am one of their fruit and vegetable ambassadors in action. The, the half a plant, they that's their campaign have a plant campaign. So I'm always out there. It's a volunteer thing, but I'm always out there promoting fruits and veggies. And I, and my advice to people really is, you know, every meal of the day is an opportunity to get more fruits and veggies on to the table. So at breakfast, I used to have this thing with my kids when they were younger, and I called it fruit first. And that meant when they came down in the morning before they headed off to school. Instead of starting off with a bowl of cereal or a waffle or a piece of toast, I would always start out with a piece of fruit. It might be an orange that I sliced up or some strawberries that I sliced up or half a banana. But they were hungry, right, they'd come down and that's what was in front of them in a cute little bowl and they would eat it. And then the cereal came out. And so you're you as a parent feel like wow, check. I checked off a fruit, right? And you just feel like, Oh my gosh, this is amazing. Where you can literally, you know, saute up some baby spinach just takes a minute and make a quick little cheese omelet. Because those eggs remember good brain food. And check we got a vegetable and so I'm always saying like every meal occasion, every snack, how can I incorporate some fruits and veggies? And I will tell you, Shireen that beans are a vegetable technically. And so if you love beans, I do. hummus, black bean soup case it deals with beans, so versatile, filled with fiber. You could check off a vegetable when you have beans, you know at meal time or snack time.
Shireen: Now unless you're, you're amplifying your voice and your message through your podcast, which is the healthy table podcast, what has your experience been like with your podcast? And what is the response been like?
Liz: Well, I have been podcasting. I'm gonna date myself. And I'm not 100% sure, but I think my first podcast launched in 2008, which to me feels just like yesterday, but it was a while ago. If I do my math, I think that's 12 years ago. And the first show I had was called cooking with the moms and I co hosted it with another dietitian, we recorded almost 300 episodes over a span of let's see, it was 2008 till about 2017. So we, we were constantly podcasting. And I think we were maybe one of the first dietitians in probably the world in the world to have a podcast. And we had avid followers. And some of the people who live listen to that show, still listen to my new show, which is called Liz's healthy table. And I've always had the family focus. And I've always been very foodie and recipe driven on my show. So when you tune in, you always get a recipe or two. And then in my show notes over on my website, I always provide links or I actually give those recipes. And so there's lots of news you can use within the podcasts. And I usually have a guest once in a while. It's just little old me but that's kind of lonely. And I have followers, you know, like I said, have been with me for a really long time. And it's fun because their kids were really little when they found me and now their kids, many of them have gone off to college, which of course blows my mind. But hey, it makes sense if you do the math. So I've just always loved podcasting and, and now of course are so popular, like come on what happened here? I like it. I like, blinked my eyes and podcasts were all the thing, all the rage. And if they're fun, it's just a fun way to, to get the message out. Right. And for me, it's all about good nutrition.
Shireen: And I'm right there with you. I think it's, it's such a valuable experience to go through a podcast, connect with all sorts of different people who are doing different, different yet complementary things right to your own work. So I love it myself too. So with that, Liz, we're toward the end of the episode, unfortunately, but toward the end, I'd love for people to hear a little bit more about how they can connect with you and learn more about your work.
Liz: Sure. So my website is Liz's with an S Liz's healthy table. dot com. And when you come over to the website you can, you'll see links, you know, you can head over to the blog for recipes, you can head to the podcast page for the podcast, I have a cookbooks and freebies page. And there's all sorts of freebies on there, including a brand new one, which is my top 10 pantry must haves. So when everybody's back to cooking, I'll tell you what I have in my fridge freezer and pantry that I cannot live without. And I'll give you some meal ideas for those in that freebie. And of course, there's all my social media, and I'm on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. So I have all those links up there Pinterest, the usual so people can connect with me. And of course, I would say Instagrams kind of all the rage now, that could change. But that's a fun place. You know, I always post Instagram stories, and I love to interact with people that way. So I welcome everybody to, you know, stop by and say hi, and check out the website.
Shireen: And that sounds great. And we'll just link everything in our show notes so people can quickly tap or click on it and head over to your website that way. So that'd be great. Thanks. So with that, thank you so much less for your time. This was very, very valuable. It was a great conversation. We hope it was for the listeners here to truly want to thank you.
Liz: Well thank you. It's a pleasure being on.