HOMESTEAD — Malia and Sasha Obama do not have a TV set in their White House bedrooms, their parents set a bedtime for them and for lunch they get to alternate between “fun” and “healthy” meals.
During an appearance last week at the YMCA in Homestead, their mother shared some of the first family’s efforts to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, a cause she is championing for the entire nation.
“You don’t have to be a culinary genius to make the simple things easy,” Michelle Obama told the South Miami-Dade audience.
Simple includes substituting fried foods with baked or white bread for whole wheat, incorporating healthy snacks, reserving desserts for the weekends, limiting the number of dining-out days and setting aside family time for shared physical activity and dinner.
“For us at the White House, no matter what is going on, at 6:30 we stop everything; we have dinner together,” Obama said. “When the president travels, his goal is to get home in time for dinner. And that's really the time that we get to connect with our girls.”
Obama spoke Friday to about 350 people, mostly families enrolled in the Homestead YMCA and local community leaders. She joined a panel of experts from WebMD, a free Internet source of health information. Parents, children and a national online audience posed health questions covering topics from how to be more forceful in making their voices heard in the selection of lunch menu items at school to how to limit their children’s Xbox activity and enforce bed times.
Obama urged parents to “not be intimidated” in finding out what schools are offering and to take an active role in advocating for healthier food choices.
On computer and video game obsessions: “Sometimes the answer is just ‘no,’ ” said Obama, adding that there is no TV or computer time for Malia and Sasha on week days.
“Sitting in front of the TV means they’re not burning off energy, so they may not be tired enough,” she said. “But if we’ve got our kids in sports and other extra-curricular activities, the truth is there are times when Sasha puts herself to bed, she’s so tired.”
The first lady said she encourages her children to stay in shape by following a sport or activity they enjoy. For Malia, 13, it’s tennis; for Sasha, 10, it’s basketball.
“What I don't want is my girls to grow up like many girls grow up, thinking that sweating isn't cute; that girls shouldn't be on teams and learn how to fall and to compete.”
Karim Ali Howard, sports coordinator and fitness instructor at the Homestead Y, got the audience revved up prior to the first lady’s arrival with a half hour of cardio-fitness exercises.
“We let our kids sit around all day with Xbox, letting them gain weight,” Howard said. “There is a cure for obesity. It’s called good health: exercise and eating the right foods.”
The YMCA, which provides child care throughout the country, adopted new “healthy living standards,” in November, including offering fruits, vegetables and water at snack time, increasing the amount of exercise and limiting video games and television for youngsters in its programs.
Alfred Sanchez, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Miami, applauded the first lady for selecting the Homestead Y for her visit.
“We are trying to make the community healthier,” Sanchez said. He said Obama launched her “Let’s Move” project to combat childhood obesity at a YMCA in Alexandria, Va., last year.
Shameka Jester, 28, a law enforcement officer with Florida Probation and Parole, was one of the YMCA families randomly selected to participate in the presentation. She brought along her daughter, Zaria Bell, a second-grader at Air Base Elementary School.
“We are the lucky ones,” said Jester, a lifelong Homestead resident and Y member for two years.
All the excitement about the first lady’s visit, however, got Zaria, 8, thinking beyond just healthy living.
“I want to live in the White House,” said Zaria. “It’s big enough for me to sleep in.”
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Photo: Michelle Obama