As Lisa sets the salad bowl on the burnished-oak kitchen table, Dr. Oz calls the younger of their four children—Zoe, 16, and Oliver, 12—to dinner. Late-afternoon sunlight streams through the window, which overlooks a gray stone parterre. Just beyond, the lawn of the sprawling, Mediterranean-style house terraces down to the Hudson River. When Lisa brings to the table a platter of mashed sweet potatoes with cornmeal-crusted tofu, the kids angle for the crispiest slices. "Hey, I wanted that one!" says Oliver, eyeing a piece that Zoe has nabbed.
Of the four children, Arabella, 20, and Zoe are vegetarian; Daphne, 25, and Oliver are not. "Oliver had been the most strict of all the vegetarians until we went to Italy and they served wild boar," Lisa says. "Mehmet thought it would be fun to let him taste it. Oliver thought it was like manna from heaven. So now he does occasionally eat meat."
Dr. Oz and Oliver tease Zoe for being the family member least likely to eat greens, but she holds up a forkful of kale and protests, "Yes I do! Look at this! I do eat greens!" and takes a big bite. This is the kind of healthy peer pressure Dr. Oz is fond of advocating. "You know, it takes kids about 12 exposures to a taste to begin to like it," he says. "So it takes a while for them to get used to the idea that broccoli actually tastes good—and to admit that it does."
As for dessert, the Oz family rarely eats it. "Fat is an acquired taste," Dr. Oz says. "There's no taste bud for fat." The cravings for sugar and salt are in the same part of the brain, he says. "I'd rather my kids go for the salt, because they usually won't eat as much as they would with sweets." The family also serves only water with meals—never soda and rarely alcohol. "We'll add slices of orange, cucumber, or lemon with mint to water—we call it spa water," Lisa says. "The kids drink it all day long and love it, especially if they've gotten to choose what the flavor will be that day."
Dr. Oz understands how hard it is to get kids to eat well. "The most challenging one for us to deal with was Daphne," he says. "She had the biggest problem with weight, and she was the most resistant because she was the first. The genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger." Only once she understood that eating healthy is as much about quantity as quality did Daphne change the way she ate. Following Oz family tradition, in 2006 she wrote a book for college students about conquering bad eating habits, The Dorm Room Diet, which became a national best-seller.
When they finish dinner, Oliver escapes to the pool and Zoe heads up to her room to finish homework while Dr. Oz and Lisa linger at the table, watching the light fade through the trees outside.
"The disintegration of the family meal can be directly linked to obesity, because that's when you pass along not just the lore of the family but the taste buds of the family," he says. And Dr. Oz knows how much he owes the ritual of the healthy family dinner to his wife of 26 years. On the nights he's taping his show, he gets home too late to eat with everyone else.
"The kitchen closes at 7:30," he says.
"You have leftovers out on a plate waiting for you," Lisa protests.
"Yes," he says sadly, "but it's not hot, and there's no one there to eat with."
The one thing Dr. Oz never misses is the family's weekly field trip to the Union Square greenmarket in New York City, where they stock up on organic produce. The family fridge is filled with leafy greens, raspberries, and apples; the pantry with beans, brown rice, and olive oil. "We are all creatures of habit, and junk food is not something I think about," Lisa says. "This is just the way we live."
Next: Dr. Oz's Vegetarian Recipes for Family Dinners
Health Advice from Dr. Oz
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