Healthy Families 101

The Sneaky Chef gives us a lesson on raising happy and healthy kids as part of the Care.com Interview Series.

chase lapine apron

Sneaky Chef Missy Lapine is famous for her commitment to healthy eating, but the self-diagnosed health nut has a shocking confession - she lets her kids have Twinkies! Here, Lapine reveals her belief that hard-and-fast rules are not the recipe for a healthy family. See why this mom doesn't believe in force feeding her kids broccoli and prescribes tickle fights instead of push-ups for exercise.

How health-conscious are you and your family?

I'm a passionate foodie and I'm passionate about health and fitness. So personally on the scale from one to ten, I'm a ten. I'm trying to get my family to buy into that passion as well, but it's hard for my kids at their ages and even with my husband! It's really hard to transfer your passion, to give it to someone else and have them own it.

Do you feel your passion for health has transferred to your kids?

[My kids] are 12 and 14. They know more than most nutritionists know about nutrition. Does that mean they make the right choices all the time? Heck, no! They are still going for the huge size, big-gulp Slurpie. We all know what we should be doing for good health, but we don't always make the right choices. That's why I became the Sneaky Chef. It's about how to get yourself and others to actually do what you know you should be doing.

Do you have any rules in your house about junk food?

I try to be moderate and I don't want to create this forbidden fruit. So you know once a year, even I will bring in the box of Twinkies. Everyone has a story about someone who grew up and they were never allowed soda pop or the birthday cake. I don't believe in that philosophy. I think that if you forbid it they want it even more.

How do you teach your kids about healthy habits without being too pushy?

I think it's very important not to engage in a power struggle because with children whether they're 2 or 12 they are trying to exert independence. Now, if I tell my [kids] they are going to score more lacrosse goals because they ate their broccoli, they might actually be motivated. They're not going to be motivated if I tell them they have to.

What are some creative ways you get your kids moving and make exercise fun?

I wrote a whole book about that, its' called Sneaky Fitness. In my mind, if you ask your child to drop and give me twenty push-ups, it's probably not going to be as effective as engaging them in a pillow fight or going out and throwing the ball around with them or chasing them around the house and threatening to tickle them. I don't know that you have to necessarily call it exercise so much as just move more. Hey, that's what the campaign is called, "Let's Move!", right? But you gotta make it fun.

What about weight? Do you think weight plays a role in the push for kids to be healthy?

I'm very conscious, having two adolescent girls, of making them self-conscious and giving them an eating disorder. The constant berating of children that they're obese is going to have more of a backlash. Skinny doesn't necessarily mean healthy. We should all be looking at being fitter, stronger, feeling good.

Have you observed other parents being overly controlling about their kids' diet and weight? Do you see an impact on their children?

Absolutely. 1000%. [My] father put a lot of emphasis on weight and to this day, I think it does affect my self-image. It's a constant battle.

You don't want to single out a child. You can't make it about the fat kid or the chubby kid. It can't be like you can't have that, but she can. Any rules you set should be for your whole house, for everybody for health. Talk about it for health. Don't talk about it for weight.

If someone in your family needs to lose weight, do you have any advice for getting the family healthy together?

There are a lot of sneaky strategies to the obesity thing. If you employ some clever strategies-I call them Sneaky Weight Loss Tips-no one even has to know you're doing it and the truth is the less they know in this case about the weight issue, the less chance of a body image issue.

[As for tips], let's just say you go buy yourself new dishes and those dishes are a little bit smaller. It's the MyPlate Campaign is really what we are talking about. Then you are eating that much less without feeling it, without knowing it.

Also, the only thing you should be serving family-style now is the vegetables. Family-style makes it far too easy to reach in and take more helpings of carbs. Buy less. Make less. Serve less. And no one will even notice!

How do you protect your kids against body image concerns?

I never talk about my kids' weight. I tell my girls they are perfect and beautiful just the way they are. If they want to do better in school, sports, or maybe feel better in their clothing, I support them in making healthier choices.

I'd love to hear some of your top Sneaky Chef tips. What have been your most successful tricks?

Some of my tricks are what I call Sneaky Swaps. I try to say "I know you want that, but let's just make that healthier." Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Change your breakfast from sugary yogurt with sugary cereal to Greek yogurt, whole grains, and fruit.
  2. Pass on the gas station slushie full of artificial flavoring and corn syrup and instead make one at home with fresh or frozen strawberries and very little sugar.
  3. Want a brownie? Swap the traditional ingredients for blueberries, spinach, and whole grains.

What's the best tip you could give another parent about how to raise a healthy family?

Make it fun. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your meal time. It should not punishment or work or deprivation. Fun and love will always nourish your family.

Missy Chase Lapine is an author, a busy wife, and mother of two. Lapine works from home as a self-proclaimed 'mompreneur' -- testing recipes, touring, connecting with moms to help them find simple ways to feed their families healthy foods, and blogging over at The Sneaky Chef. Keep an eye out for her Sneaky Chef sauces hitting stores this fall! Follow the Sneaky Chef on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

See how other families stay healthy in our Care.com Interview Series: Raising Healthy Kids Without the Backlash

Photo used with permission from Missy Chase Lapine.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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