Video clip after the jump...
First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the members of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) on Monday in Washington, and congratulated the group for all its good work in ensuring that children are provided with nutritious meals, and urged them to continue. The SNA represents more than 75 percent of the food service workers in American schools, and the organization has made a big commitment to support Let's Move!, Mrs. Obama's ambitious campaign to end child obesity in a generation.
"All of you don't just shape the future of individual students; you help to shape the future of this country," Mrs. Obama said.
The SNA is in Washington this week for their annual Legislative Action Conference, and the president of the group, Dora R. Rivas, will testify before the House Education & Labor Committee today, during a hearing devoted to strengthening the federal school nutrition programs. Other members of the group will be meeting with lawmakers to encourage a strong reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which provides funding for the federal school breakfast and lunch programs. (Above: Mrs. Obama speaking to the SNA at the J.W. Marriott Hotel)
Mrs. Obama was met with wild enthusiasm during her appearance. Let's Move! has many components for which the 55,000-member SNA has lobbied: More money for school lunch and kitchen equipment, streamlined paperwork to enroll students in school feeding programs (universal access), better training for cafeteria workers.
School food workers are the front line defense for teaching children about nutrition, Mrs. Obama told the SNA, as well as for ensuring that children get nutritious meals in school. She noted that the group is very important, since 31 million children are enrolled in the federal school lunch program.
Mrs. Obama noted that a confluence of events, from no physical education in schools, to no safe play areas, to the wide availability of junks foods and the high price of healthy foods have conspired to create a situation in which children are at risk for obesity, and the SNA must continue its work to turn back the tide.
The First Lady lauded the efforts of school food service directors around the country, and noted that many have developed inspired solutions for getting healthy foods to children, while working within tight budgets. These ideas include getting farmers to grow foods specifically for school districts, and encouraging school chefs to cook from scratch.
"Every day, in communities across this country, you all are proving that if we're creative and resourceful, if we meet this challenge with determination and commitment, then we can take back control," Mrs. Obama said.
She also noted that state budgets are a huge challenge for all those who work in school food.
"I think that if you asked the average person to do what you have to do every day, and that is to prepare a meal for hundreds of hungry kids with just $2.68 a child -– with only $1 to $1.25 of that money going to the food itself –- they would look at you like you were crazy," Mrs. Obama said. "That's sad. But that's less than what many folks spend on a cup of coffee in the morning."
The First Lady gave a shout out to Mary Hill, Executive Director of Food Services for the school district, in Jackson, Mississippi, where elementary school teachers are now required to eat meals with their students.
"As you can imagine, with teachers sitting at the table -– both encouraging kids to eat fruits and vegetables, and eating them themselves –- fruit and vegetable consumption has gone up there," Mrs. Obama said.
Mrs. Obama will get a chance to see Hill in action on Wednesday, when she brings Let's Move! to Jackson. She'll visit Sam M. Brinkley Middle School and Pecan Park Elementary School, accompanied by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and First Lady Marsha Barbour, and hear from state and local officials about efforts to improve school lunch programs and encourage children to be more physically active.
SNA leaders were at the Feb. 9 launch of Let's Move! at the White House, and member chefs also visited the White House last October, for Mrs. Obama's Healthy Kids Fair, at which the White House chefs demonstrated how to make healthy, kid-friendly recipes using ingredients that are available to schools that receive federal funding for their school nutrition programs.
*Related: The full transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks to the SNA is here. On February 19, Mrs. Obama visited Fairhill Elementary School in Philadelphia, and spoke about better school lunches and improving access to healthy and affordable food. Read about her trip here. The First Lady stars in a White House video about food deserts here. Mrs. Obama has brought her campaign to America's governors and to America's mayors. A video of Mrs. Obama's remarks at the White House launch of Let's Move! is here.