Leanne Ely: Saving Dinner

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Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor back — with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim Show. I am so excited about today’s show because I am on the About page of today’s guest and she is — she has got this wonderful picture and I am not sure it will be up there when this show airs, but she has just got this radiant, confident smile on her face; her shoulders are back, chest out, hands on hips. Just being like, yo — what’s up? We need to save dinner. She’s sitting in the kitchen, she’s standing, excuse me in the kitchen and I love her mission. I love what she is about. She is a New York Times best-selling author. The author of the “Saving Dinner” series which is just an epic series of books and she’s been featured all over the media. She is on the cutting edge of health and wellness and meal-planning technology, which we will talk about today, but most importantly, she is a wonderful example of how an individual can set their mind to a critical mission and just make it happen. Her mission is a grand one which I will let her explain more, but it is to save dinner and all of the brilliant implications that it has along with it. Today’s guest folks, I am honored to welcome, Leanne Ely. Leanne, welcome to the show —

Leanne: Hey Jonathan thanks for having me.

Jonathan: Well Leanne, let’s get started from the very beginning. What set you on this journey in the first place?

Leanne: Well you know, it is funny because in the 80s, I owned a catering business and I noticed that there was this sort of disconnect between what was going on in families that I was doing these catering jobs for and I watched these women who were my customers and with their kids and everything and explaining that they do not have time to sit down at the family dinner table anymore, that they ate the scraps off of their kids plates and that — and I watched one family — it was the family dinner hour and I had to go over there when — to get a contract signed and at the family — I apologized profusely for being there and she said oh no, it is no big deal, the kids were eating and they were sitting at the breakfast bar and her husband was on the phone somewhere and she was just like picking and eating as she was scurried around the kitchen and signing the contract and giving me a check. I just thought, wow, at my house, when I was growing up, the family dinner table was sacred and we sat down and by god you were in the house at a certain time or — and it was just a natural thing. This is something that we did and it was a ritual that we did every day.

I noticed there was this disconnect between this new set of families here in the 80s versus how it was when I was growing up in the 70s. I found myself thinking that’s kind of weird and then as I went on and I had my own children and we sat down at the dinner table every single night and made that work, I kept seeing how much more disconnected, how much more fragmented dinner time was and I had a Mommy and Me class and I had women — bunch of women saying, there’s just no way that they can sit down. There are too many activities that they have to go to, etc. At that point, I started to do a little bit of research about how important it was to have dinner as a family and that just became my mission. I just kind of naturally fell into it. So, those are the rough beginnings.

Jonathan: Leanne, you can tell that it is truly a passion of your because you are just a fountain of information about this subject and it is such a critical subject, just to give a quick personal anecdote, I was actually on the phone with my mother last week and we were talking about how people don’t eat meals anymore and how — really we’re talking — we spend so much time on this show, talking about people just eat food, just eat things that you find in nature. It’s simple, but even one step back from that is, eat meals because if you sit down for a meal, chances are you’re not going to all sit at the table and unwrap wrappers and open boxes.

Leanne: Exactly.

Jonathan: So, this is just a critical mindset shift, but as you’ve expressed, it — we have moved so far away from that what can we do to move back towards it?

Leanne: Well, you know, I think — to me where the critical problem starts and ends a lot of times is that the responsibility for these meals end up getting pushed on to mom, and I think that is a completely — especially in today’s world, I think that’s completely unfair. We need to shift a little bit and have the meal time become a family project, and so, we need to bring our children into the kitchen with us and they need to be a part of the preparing and they need to be a part of the cooking and they need to be part of the cleanup. I am talking a very little — a two-year old can take a spoon and put it in the dishwasher. Dad needs to be a part of this. Everybody needs to have their part in it.

Jamie Oliver did a very interesting expose on kids. He was in the kindergarten class, holding up different vegetables and these kids didn’t know what they were. The reason that they do not know what they were is there is no connection to their food. They did not know what a tomato was, they didn’t know what a potato was, but if they — he took a French fry and held that up, they all knew it was a French fry, but they didn’t know that the French fry was created from a potato.

So, if we connect our children to what it is that they’re eating and we bring them into the kitchen and we take them to the grocery store, we have them be a part of the menu planning, what do you like that mommy makes – or you’re going to learn how to make something. I mean one of the things that I did with my kids is every single night, one of them was helping me prepare a meal and I had one kid, my son, who would not eat a salad to save his life and finally I had him make his own salad and when he made his own salad and it was–believe me, he blew the kitchen up, there was just junk everywhere, but once he made his own salad, he ate like two or three helpings of the salad because now, it was his salad. So by god, he was going to eat that salad and there was a connection between his creativity of making it and actually eating it. It’s kind of a nutritional responsibility if you will. So, that’s a lot of information for that small question, but basically, I think the way to overcome the problem is to have the family take this on as a unit rather than give it to one person to handle the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning etc., because it is an overwhelming task.

Jonathan: Even the mindset that goes along with what you just said, this becomes less of — oh it’s this chore that mom has to do to — this is our family thing. This is what we do as a family. This is what we value –

Leanne: Yes.

Jonathan: And that seems like that permeates so many things. One example is even the language we use, like if you have to eat your vegetables before you get to eat the candy bar, we are communicating vegetables bad, candy bar, good.

Leanne: Exactly.

Jonathan: Whereas, if it’s like a celebration, we — so how can we even use our language to help our family get on board with this?

Leanne: One of the things that I did with my children and I think it was really helpful because I did — the only hiccup that we had with my two kids who are now, by the way, in their 20s — early 20s and they’re both incredible eaters and they both eat beautifully, you know, on their own now and buying vegetables and cooking them themselves, so, it does work if you stay the course, but I would say, we get to eat this. This is a privilege. Look what we are having tonight, we are going to have broccoli tonight.

Years and years ago, we were in a store and I was taping something for a news segment that I was doing and my children were younger, much younger, and we went up and they were going, look, let’s get cauliflower mom. This old man in the store next to me, just about fell over, he goes, I’ve never heard a kid say I want I want cauliflower, but when you make it something like, ooh, yum, let’s go make the cauliflower, ooh, did you see what they have, and you get excited and your children will take on what it is that you’re excited about. So, when we act like when we have this food is punishment kind of a thing, you know, the bad stuff is the treat and the good stuff is the punishment, we’ve got it all backwards. What we need to do is say, hey this is really delicious, oh, mom, I love the way you make that cauliflower, or let’s try something new. What would you like to try? Show me a vegetable that you want to try, and we call it what it is.

Another thing that we did, especially with little kids, I would say, these are the growing foods, these are the things that are going to give you muscles just like your dad, and so, I’d have a child that would not want to — I do this and show this a lot to different families who are having kids with issues and would not eat stuff. So, I had these little kids over and there was no way they were going to eat spinach and I said, well, you know what, I think you should eat the spinach, I just want you to take one bit and let’s just take a look at something, and so I finally got that one bite in and I said, okay, now let me see your muscles, and then I’d just say, oh my gosh, mom, did you see his muscles? Look at them, and that’s because he’s eating his growing food.

So, if you can get the associations correct and you show that the good food is going to do good things for you and you keep that up, I think we can make the connection in a way that we’re disconnected from now.

Jonathan: Leanne, we absolutely can because that is what my mother did with me. So, just another quick anecdote, which is ironic because it has to do with Superman and my wife and I just watched the Man of Steel movie which is fabulous — anyway, I digress. So, when I was growing up, I was — I am talking like little Jonathan, like five years old, this wasn’t when I was a teenager, it might me when I was a teenager so I used to wear a Superman costume all the time. Like it was just what I wanted to wear. I wanted to go to the grocery store in my Superman costume and this may or may not have been in high school. This was when I was really little and my mom in her infinite wisdom would say, Jonathan, eating this processed garbage will not make you be like Superman. So it wasn’t that punishment, it was like this is what you need to do to be like Superman. It wasn’t like, you’re not going to leave the table until you eat this, it’s you’re not going to want to leave the table because eating this will make you like Superman. Is that on the right track?

Leanne: Absolutely. I mean, honestly, years and years ago, I used to have a product that we used to do for our kids and this happened — I was in a speaking engagement and afterwards this family came up to me to say how thankful they were because my book had helped them to eat new things etc., and this little boy says to me, he goes, where’s your cape? And if you look on my “Saving Dinner” books, they all have like this super-gal with the cape and she’s coming to save the day, going with the grocery cart and all of that, and so I created a product with a calendar and you put little veggie stickers on the calendar as you eat your vegetables, as you’re developing your big-boy chops so to speak, and at the end of it, you would get a Dinner Diva cape. So, I’m with you on that cape. That cape is a powerful thing for especially little boys. They see that and you were one of them that seeing that see that gee, this is one way to develop those superpowers, but I think the point though is the conversation needs to change, we don’t need to punish people with food. We need to enjoy our food and we need to spread the joy of our food and take our families with us on that and we do have the power to do that.

Jonathan: We absolutely have the power to do that Leanne because there’s this false concept that kids like kids’ foods. That kids only like sugary, starchy, processed garbage which — if you want an example of what kids like, just like look around the world. Kids in Africa eat differently than kids in China who eat differently from kids in Brazil. Kids will like what we give them if we present it correctly as evidence by every child who has ever lived in any culture anywhere except the current children in modern, Western culture.

Leanne: Right. We have dumbed down our food and you see — we tell our children that they’re — they have to eat chicken shaped like dinosaurs and they need to not eat any vegetables and that here’s the kids meal at the restaurant. It is all dumbed down food for them, we don’t give them any credit for developing their palette and we don’t give the parents any lessons on it. As a matter of fact, we tell them — we tell our parents, you know what, they’ll outgrow it, they’ll do whatever they want to do. Well, let me just tell you something, I have seen so many kids who grow up, whose parents didn’t take the time to train their palettes and they grow up eating macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets and going to the prom. So, I mean that’s pathetic and it’s sad and usually they’ve got — their skin isn’t too happy about it and they haven’t had the good building blocks of proper nutrition throughout their most formative years and it’s sad. How can we do this to our kids?

Jonathan: It’s sad and it is ironic because when we think about the — let’s call them the smallest kids, aka right when the baby is developing, in-utero, as a culture, we all agree that nutrition is super-critical. It’s not just like oh, well, it’s — the kid is only three inches big, so just eat whatever, it’ll grow out of it. No, no, no. We’re like it’s super-important, but somehow from zero to 9 months it’s critical, but then from 9 months and 1 day to 18 years, oh, it’s whatever, give them the kids menu.

Leanne: Right. Now I have one kid I know that I’ve got him eating green beans now, but 16 years old and he’s never eaten a fruit. The only vegetable that he’ll eat are the green beans and I’ll make an occasional baked potato. Not the best thing, but at least he’ll eat the baked potato and it’snot French fries. And that’s it, and this kid has — otherwise eats lots of fast food, lots of pizza, very limited palette, and it is not okay. It’s just not okay. This is — we are setting this generation up for disease and I think we need to take this very, very seriously, and get ourselves to the point of understanding that developing a child’s palette is not giving them an eating disorder and it’s not about parenting. It’s good parenting and this is what we need to understand and there’s a lot of really great ways to be able to do it and to do it together as a family.

Jonathan: Amen, Leanne, and that is a key point as well is, with all of the misinformation out there and the billions of dollars of marketing working against us –

Leanne: Yes.

Jonathan: It would be so important to have creative and modern tool-sets to help us overcome some of these challenges. So, one of the things that I’m most excited about sharing with the audience is some of the tech work — because so often, things around nutrition are so low-tech in fact, one of my whole things is like, hey, we’ve been told the same information around the science of eating and exercise for 50 years. Like let’s get modern with this, and you’re doing a great job of that. So please tell us the big things you have coming up next and the tool sets you’ll be providing to people to help them live this way.

Leanne: Well, one of my biggest things is you know, I told you savingdinner.comis overgoing a complete transformation and I’m really super excited to have that — have the new site debut here and it’s just absolutely gorgeous.

And also, our cornerstone product called “Premium Menu Mailer” where people are allowed to — once they become members, they’re able to go in and create custom menus that their families will enjoy. So, we have something we call it “Classic Menu Mailer” and it’s again, that’s a subscription thing so that they get this every single week. They get an opportunity to log in and see their menu, or, if they do the “Premium Menu Mailer,” they can completely customize it for whatever it is that their families like. It’s not every family — while I say, eat everything and eat as much — eat as good food as you possibly can, not every family is going to be say salmon lovers. That’s fine, there are other fish there. So, choose a fish that you like and you can search our entire database and believe me, I’ve been doing this for almost 13 years and so, our database is pretty big. And you can get exactly the menu that you want for your family. So, it’s really fun and I’m really excited about that.

Jonathan: And if I understand correctly, it’s also a pretty integrated and advanced situation where it is not just like hey, here’s a menu, it’s like, here’s a menu, now here’s the grocery list you need to build that menu, and so it really automates, it’s like you have a little personal assistant in a sense.

Leanne: Right. So, as you are choosing the food that — what we will give you like
— here’s some different example menus that you can choose from, but let’s just say you look at it and you go, ah, just really not wild about the salmon, I am going to change that salmon recipe out for something — shrimp, my family likes shrimp, fine — so you put shrimp in the search option and then you find — let’s say you find a shrimp scampi that the — you know the whole family will eat that, so you swap those out and as you’re doing that, your grocery list is created at the very same time with the exact amounts you need, with the serving suggestions on there, all the information. It’s really super cool and then the best part about it is you can have that grocery list get sent to your spouse’s phone — notice how I am pushing it out and you are done, and it’s that easy and then there’s no excuses for oh gosh, I forgot that can of tomatoes. You didn’t forget it because it’s right there on your list.

Jonathan: I’m going to make a feature request here, which I’m sure you already have in the works and that might be in addition to actually sending it to their phone, something where it’s like they can’t get into certain applications until they go do this other thing. That might be kind of a cool way. No, I am just kidding.

Leanne: Lock them out of Facebook, yeah, right?

Jonathan: Leanne well this is — again the website where folks can go to learn more about this as well as all the other cool stuff that you have going on is, savingdinner.com, correct?

Leanne: That’s absolutely right.

Jonathan: Beautiful and the book is — the book series is the same name, it is the “Saving Dinner” book series; correct?

Leanne: Exactly.

Jonathan: I love it. Well, Leanne, if could leave our listeners with the one key — the one key — just do this for 21 days, in your 13 plus years of experience, that would give them the most bang for their buck or set them on the path to revisiting and saving dinner in their family, what would that tip be?

Leanne: It would be to reconsider your dinner table as a sacred piece of furniture and not some place to dump the junk mail and the book bags and you really rethink it. Bring the family together, make this a family project and it will happen if you put the time into it.

Jonathan: Not sure if the mic is picking that up, but that is official applause. That answer got a ten out of ten. I am actually checking with the judges, confirmed. That answer is a ten out of ten. Leanne Ely, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been an absolute pleasure.

Leanne: Thank you Jonathan for having me.

Jonathan: Listeners, again, today’s radiant guest is the brilliant, New York Times best-selling author and tech guru as you hear, Leanne Ely and you can learn more about her at savingdinner.com. This week and every week after, remember, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Chat with you soon.