Breaking Out of the Food Rut: Meal Makeover Moms Will Have Your Kids Eating Healthy – and Loving It.
The food rut is a familiar one to most moms. Macaroni and cheese. Hot Dogs. Pizza. Old reliables, to be sure, but not always the most nutritionally sound meals for growing bodies. When it comes to feeding kids, begging and bribery often fail, guilt ensues, and eating a healthy variety of food groups goes down the drain.
Enter the Meal Makeover Moms. Boston-based mothers Liz Weisz and Janice Bissex are coauthors of “The Mom’s Guide to Meal Makeovers” and cofounders of mealmakeovermoms.com. Their mission: to help families adopt a healthier diet.
Weisz, a former CNN producer and reporter in Atlanta, met Bissex when she was the dietician for the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. They kept in touch over the years and in time both had relocated to Boston. The two decided to write a cookbook together to help tackle two related problems: poor nutritional meals on the tables of American families, and the growing national obesity problem.
“The Mom’s Guide to Meal Makeovers” came out in 2004 and a second cookbook is in the works. The two have also been busy since then with additional ways to help families eat better. On their website, 40 cooking and eating tips are available on video, there is a weekly blog with new recipes, and they will soon launch a radio show and a weekly podcast called “Cooking with the Mom.”
At the heart of the Meal Makeover Moms, of course, are the amazing recipes. Great nutrition meeting great taste and great texture that kids will eat means easy lunchbox packing, family dinners with plates cleaned, and relieved parents. Some of their family favorites: grab and go breakfast bars made with whole grain oatmeal, banana chocolate chip muffins, pumpkin bars, halftime taco chili, and mama’s amazing ziti.
For Bissex and Weisz, making some of their kids’ favorites for them to enjoy when they are away traveling, and knowing they are getting delicious healthy meals, is a way to stay connected too. Food is a way they nurture their kids, and knowing their husbands can manage the pre-made meal takes the stress level way down.
The two moms test and retest recipes, tweaking them until they are perfect. The grab and go breakfast bars did not reach perfection until the eleventh round of testing. In fact, their taste-testers are their toughest critics: kids. Neighborhood kids and friends of their children function as a testing panel, and once even the pickiest eater was won over, requesting seconds and thirds, they knew they had reached recipe nirvana.
Rather than fearing natural sugars or fats or jumping on trendy diet bandwagons, the moms go for real food with real flavor. Their philosophy is that when people are eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, they fill up more, so portions are smaller and more satisfying, and people are less likely to overeat.
All this cooking and testing happens while the two are raising their families, of course. Bissex is the mother of two girls, ages 15 and 8, and Weisz has two boys, ages 13 and 9. Since their work often takes the moms on the road to conferences or media tours, they have found ways to keep their homes in order while they are gone, and to make their traveling easier.
The two don’t like to be gone for long stretches, so they try to cap nights away to just a day or two at a time. Healthy meals and snacks made in advance, and plenty of fruit means her family won’t rely on fast food at night. Neither mom uses nannies, but Bissex’s parents live in town and so pitch in when she is away, and Weisz has a network of friends she exchanges support with when she travels.
To stay connected during longer media tours, the two place daily phone calls, emails and postcards, or even bring the kids along! Bissex brought her older daughter to New York City to see the sights, shows and restaurants the Big Apple is famous for, and enjoyed some bonding time alone with her daughter as well.
In addition to family vacations and occasional getaways with their spouses, Bissex and Weisz each like to take time to reenergize by traveling with friends. Weisz enjoys a weekend retreat with women in her church each year, as well as an annual girls’ getaway for a night or two with a few great friends.
Their destination changes each year, but the group has traveled to Florida, New York City, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Newport, Rhode Island. The traveling is necessary for her well being. “It’s so important to stay connected and have that social time, because it makes you a better parent,” Weisz explains. “We shop, we work out, go to the spa, it’s fun. And it’s an annual thing – when it becomes annual, it becomes sacred.”
And their must pack items? For Bissex, snacks and water bottles at the ready are essential. For Weisz, it is migraine medication, hand sanitizer and a hair straightening iron. Food is critical, but so are mommy essentials!