We’re back with another edition of Table Talk, this time with food systems policy expert and social impact entrepreneur, Debra Eschmeyer. Deb is a Founder and Partner of public affairs agency Original Strategies, which works with leaders and organizations to drive positive impact. Prior to that, Debra served in the Obama White House as Executive Director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative. She also was President Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition focused on improving the federal nutrition landscape. Prior to serving in the Obama Administration, Debra co-founded the national nonprofit FoodCorps and started an organic fruit and vegetable farm. Oh, and she’s also a mama of two! Wowza.
Read on for Deb’s answers to all your questions about nutrition, farming, and working in the White House. And you can always DM us on IG @plezinutrition if you have more questions or topics you want covered!
Q: How do you teach kids about farming and where their food comes from, but also let it be okay to sometimes eat less healthy foods?
Deb: Give your kids some soil, water, and seeds, and just watch how much fun they have and note the desire and willingness to try the food they grew! Kids eat radishes when they grow them. True story. And you don’t need acres, you can do this in an old yogurt container, poke holes at the bottom, and grow your own herbs, lettuce or what have you in the window sill.
And yes, treats are to be enjoyed and your body will feel better after having a balanced meal, then a treat.
Q: Please please please tell us a story from the White House!
Deb: So so so many good stories. First of all, it was an honor of a lifetime to walk into the White House every day to serve the public on an issue so critical: raising a healthier generation of kids so they can reach their full potential.
Most of my most memorable moments were all about the kids: inviting young people to plant and harvest the White House Kitchen Garden and hosting a Kids State Dinner.
And most of the work was behind the scenes where we made historic progress on healthier school meals, modernizing the Nutrition Facts label to reflect the latest science, and creating marketing campaigns to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption.
But we also liked to have fun. And lift up serious accomplishments with challenges like when the First Lady joined Ellen DeGeneres and the So You Think You Can Dance All Stars to debut the #GimmeFive dance for the fifth anniversary of Let’s Move!. It was this very fun choreography that Mrs. Obama then did at the White House Easter Egg Roll and the entire South Lawn was filled with families doing the dance… it was just pure joy.
Q: OMG I love Let’s Move! What advice do you have for encouraging physical movement with tired kids at the end of the school day?
Deb: Love the Let’s Move love! Personally, my kids never seem to tire out. But we are all about dance parties – never too young or old for this.
Q: What’s on your family dance party playlist??
Deb: We put on vinyl alot these days with the 5 and 2 year old so last night it was Footloose, Dolly Parton in honor of her birthday recently, a little GoGos, and the new Bluey album, because again, the kids control the music. We also play music at every meal which helps set the chill vibe to actually sit, eat, and really talk about our day.
Q: If you were having the Obamas over for family dinner, what would you serve?
Deb: I’m pretending it’s summer and not January so the menu would be garden fresh forward: Simple salad, lightly steamed peas, pesto chicken pasta, garlic roasted carrots, and oh I would definitely do garlic scapes because we still grow garlic on our farm and the scapes are a treat in the summer. Scapes are the green stalks that grow from the base of hardneck garlic plants, they look like large chives, but just a little olive oil and sea salt and wow…just heaven. And for dessert, homemade ice cream with a berry crisp. And now I’m hungry 😉
Q: What tips do you have for talking about nutrition with kids (in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re telling them what to do)?
Deb: I tend to talk it through in stories so I’m not lecturing, but giving them visuals on how different foods impact them and frankly, they are so focused on the story, they actually sit and eat…I think we are in season 72 of the “date farm story.” And when I’m short on time or patience or both, I start with the end goal. I ask them: how do you like to feel? Full of energy, ready to play? Me too! Then we need to eat foods that give us steady energy. And we talk about how a protein and a carb work together to fuel our brain and muscles. If I’m ambitious, I’ll bring out the massive human body book we have and show them what I’m talking about. I also don’t label things bad or good. I want kids to know the science but also that food is family and joy.
We so appreciate Deb taking time out of her day to spend time with us answering questions about nutrition and farming. We definitely want more White House stories and farm-friendly pro tips, so we’ll be having her back real soon. Thanks Deb!