Come Into My Kitchen

Sheila Kemper Dietrich tackles the obesity epidemic, one table setting at a time

Sheila Kemper Dietrich (left), with second cousin Julie Kemper Foyer, is on a mission to tackle rising obesity rates through portion control. But everyone needs a treat now and then, says Kemper Dietrich, who shares her recipe for Lavender Lemon Bars.
Sheila Kemper Dietrich (left), with second cousin Julie Kemper Foyer, is on a mission to tackle rising obesity rates through portion control. But everyone needs a treat now and then, says Kemper Dietrich, who shares her recipe for Lavender Lemon Bars.

These days Sheila Kemper Dietrich’s food portions are right-sized. Troubled by the childhood obesity epidemic and her personal weight struggles, Kemper Dietrich founded and is now CEO of Livliga, a company formed in 2011 that designs tableware with portion-control guides.

Kemper Dietrich, a busy mom with three children, gets plenty of support from husband Walter, who has joined her in the business and in losing weight.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Kemper Dietrich now makes her home in Longmont, Colo., but travels back to the area regularly for business and pleasure. Formerly in the banking industry and not-for-profit management, Kemper Dietrich remains a philanthropist in Kansas City with close family ties.

Childhood friend and second cousin Julie Kemper Foyer opens up her Mission Hills home to Kemper Dietrich. “I just moved back from France, and it’s always good to share time with Sheila,” Kemper Foyer says. “We never run out of things to talk about, and that often includes food.”

Q: You recently attended the Kemper Healthy Lifestyles Lecture Series at Children’s Mercy Campus Auditorium. Why is it more important than ever to focus on children’s health?

A: There is a growing epidemic of childhood obesity, which affects approximately 12.5 million children in the United States alone. The Center for Children’s Healthy Lifestyles & Nutrition — a joint program between Children’s Mercy Hospital and the University of Kansas Medical Center — is a hidden gem in Kansas City that is doing groundbreaking and nationally recognized research on childhood obesity while offering innovative programs to help children in our city with their health issues specific to obesity.

Dr. Theresa A. Nicklas, who spoke during the lecture series, studies environmental influences on preschool children’s eating habits. Her research also focuses on eating patterns associated with obesity and chronic disease risk factors for children and young adults.

Q: You’re very open about your own weight struggles.

A: Yes, but it wasn’t until I worked as the executive director of the American Heart Association in Denver, when, figuratively, my own heart was opened to concerns related to obesity, especially for children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said we are now living in a generation where parents are going to outlive their kids because of obesity, and I got angry.

That’s when I started to do research and really realized that people eat with their eyes first and that American portion control is out-of-control. What does one serving of whole-grain pasta look like? I certainly didn’t know.

Q: Is that what led you to create your lines of tableware that have visual cues for portion-control?

A: We need to enter into a meaningful and mindful relationship with food. It used to be that I would graze while I was fixing a meal, then I would sit down and eat another dish with my family. I wasn’t aware of how much food I was actually consuming.

Also, I think it’s important to get kids back into the kitchen and engaged with their food. Instead of children sitting in front of the television or on their electronic devices, have them set the table, toss the salad or help make the meal.

Livliga — which is a Swedish word that means lively, vibrant or vivid — is a line of tableware I created that includes visual cues on plates, bowls, spoons, mugs and glasses, which use strategic designs so the diner can actually see what a healthy portion of each food group looks like. The largest space on the plate is reserved for vegetables.

As my family was becoming aware of portion control and a beautifully presented, balanced meal, we were able to slow down and appreciate what we were eating. We don’t feel deprived, because this isn’t another restrictive diet plan.

Q: Why did you share this recipe for Lavender Lemon Bars?

A: Everyone needs a sweet treat, and you can pair a Lavender Lemon Bar with some fruit to really savor as a dessert or snack. The lavender in this bar complements the sweet citrus in a satisfying way. I’ve lost more than 50 pounds after educating myself about proper food portions. But I’ve also added more exercise to my life, and Walter and I are now enjoy the great outdoors by regularly biking and hiking.

Be kind to yourself if you’re trying to renegotiate your relationship to food. Forgive yourself for overindulging or making less-healthy food choices. Have your refrigerator and freezer stocked with lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables. Be a good eating example to your children and take responsibility for your own health. I believe we can gain control this obesity problem in our country, one bite at a time.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at to nominate a cook.

Lavender Lemon Bars

Makes 16 servings

For the crust:

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons dried lavender buds, finely chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unbleached white whole-wheat flour

For the topping:

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon finely ground kosher salt

2 teaspoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare crust: In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with a whisk attachment, combine sugar and lavender buds on medium speed until mixture becomes fragrant.

Add butter to sugar mixture and beat until light and fluffy. With mixer running on low speed, slowly add flours to sugar mixture, and whisk until well combined.

Press crumbly mixture into the bottom of an 8-inch-square baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

To prepare topping: Using a clean mixing bowl and whisk attachment, beat eggs at medium speed until frothy. Add sugar, lemon peel, lemon juice, flour, baking powder and salt and beat until mixture is well incorporated.

Pour lemon mixture over prebaked crust. Place in oven and bake another 25 minutes or until set.

Allow to cool completely before sifting powdered sugar over all. Cut into 2-inch squares.

Per bar: 116 calories (24 percent from fat), 3 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 46 milligrams cholesterol, 20 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 46 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.