Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Michelle Obama, Margarita Zavala Have Let's Move! 'State Lunch' With Local School Kids

A spotlight on healthy eating and fitness, with a tough question from a second grader on immigration reform...
This morning, First Lady Michelle Obama gave Mrs. Margarita Zavala, wife of the president of Mexico, a first-hand look at the project that's emerged as the centerpiece of her portfolio of service activities. In their only joint outing for the State Visit, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala traveled to a school in the DC-metro area that's a model for Let's Move! initiatives. The visit was filled with physical activity and healthy eating--and also had a moment when a second grader innocently asked a politically charged question on the issue that's acting as a backdrop to much of the State Visit: Immigration reform.

Following the very elaborate and colorful arrival ceremony this morning on the South Lawn, when President Obama and Mrs. Obama welcomed President Felipe Calderón and Mrs. Zavala, the two first ladies motorcaded to New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland. It's a thirty-forty minute drive for civilians, but the first ladies arrived in record time, thanks to the motorcade. (Above: Mrs. Obama demonstrates the correct way to eat broccoli)

During Mrs. Zavala's visit to the White House in March, and again when Mrs. Obama visited Mexico in mid-April, the two reportedly discussed childhood obesity issues and the Let's Move! campaign.

Mexico has a rate of childhood obesity that's second to the United States' as the worst in the Western hemisphere, so the campaign is of critical importance there, too. That's because--as was noted in the arrival ceremony--our countries literally share familial bonds. And like the US, Mexico has been attempting to deal with the issue from a variety of angles, from legislation through school and community-based initiatives. (Above: Mrs. Obama serves broccoli)

New Hampshire Estates School has attained Silver Medal status in the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, which requires nutrition education, phys ed, and no junk foods served on school grounds. The Challenge is one of the pillars of the Let's Move! campaign, and something Mrs. Obama hopes many more US schools will adopt. The Obama-Zavala visit began with a vigorous workout in the school's gym, with twelve second graders--and that's where the policitcal question happened. But more on that below. For a special kind of State Lunch, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala joined a group of about sixty three- and four-year-olds enrolled in the school's Head Start program for a "family style" meal--which was notable for numerous reasons.

Before eating, the kids sang a song for the first ladies:

I watch my table manners
I sit up nice and straight
I say please and thank you and please put more on my plate
I do not talk while chewing
I do not play with food
We enjoy lunch together, because our manners are so good!

The bilingual school has a high percentage of kids enrolled in the federal child nutrition program--thus the "State Lunch"--and they've also got the highest test scores in the county, according to a school official. The two first ladies each sat at the head of a table in the school's brightly decorated cafeteria, and passed the potatoes (literally) while talking healthy eating with the little ones. Like Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Zavala also has two children, and she chatted away with her kids, in Spanish.

The day's lunch menu reflected the healthy food aesthetic, and included chicken rolled in whole grain wheat flour, a wholegrain dinner roll, seasoned potatoes, apple slices, steamed broccoli, and low-fat milk. The idea of "family style" service--in which bowls or plates of food are put on the table rather than the kids filing through a lunch line, has both social value as well as nutrition education value. It encourages social interaction, but also allows kids to master the idea of choosing appropriate portion sizes. Adults at the table monitor self service.

Mrs. Obama urged all the kids at her table to try the broccoli--and after she demonstrated exactly how it's done--most gave it a try. Mrs. Obama winked at the photo corps as they snapped away when she put some broccoli in her mouth, and chewed exaggeratedly. "Mmmmm," she said.

"Can you guess who else loves broccoli?" Mrs. Obama asked the kids. They were stumped.

"The President loves broccoli!" Mrs. Obama announced. She told the kids they must always try new foods, and they agreed.

During the meal at Mrs. Obama's table, the kids were dipping their broccoli in ranch dressing, and a school official noted that that was the best way to get veggie eating accomplished. At one point, everyone picked up their milk and had a sip together, in a version of a State Dinner toast.

The kids enrolled in the federal nutrition program at the school eat breakfast, lunch, and a snack there, and they also get backpacks of food to take home on the weekends, donated by a local food bank. That ensures that they eat healthy in the "gap" times, too.

Programs like the backpack initiative are something both the White House and USDA are encouraging as a way to combat both hunger and childhood obesity. But these rely on non-profits and community action, and promoting massive, local-based participation in Let's Move! is a primary goal of the campaign. (Above: Mrs. Obama gives a "high five" after broccoli is sampled)

Immigration reform, and muscle mass...
Before lunch, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala ran around in the gym with twelve second graders, and played games with them that involved a parachute and all kinds of balls.

It was distinctly unlike the formal arrival ceremony--though both first ladies were still dressed in the sheath dresses they'd worn earlier. And both seemed to have, er, a ball during the running and jumping.

After, the kids sat in a circle and had a discussion with their coach and Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala, which was all about muscles and blood flow and heart rates. And then they had a Q & A with Mrs. Obama, which is where things got political. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala running with the second graders)

Malia and Sasha have a WII Fit, Mrs. Obama said in response to one child inquisitor. And she and the President work out every day. The kids should, too, Mrs. Obama added.

"When you work out, the most important muscle you exercise is your brain," Mrs. Obama said. (Above: The Q & A)

And then a little girl asked Mrs. Obama about immigration reform, noting that her "mommy" said that "Barack Obama" wants to deport people who don't "have papers"--and adding that her mother doesn't "have papers."

Mrs. Obama responded without missing a beat.

"That's something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers," Mrs. Obama said. "We have to work on that. We have to fix that. Everybody's got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens."

Mrs. Obama took a few more questions, then Mrs. Zavala gifted the kids with little souvenir books from Mexico. They headed back to the White House after having lunch with the Head Start kids.

Related: A video of Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Zavala is here.

*Photos by Obama Foodorama

Update: The immigration question rapidly made national and international headlines. A spokesperson for the school said that the child would not be identified, nor would her mother, since checking the status of legal or illegal citizenship is not part of the school's oversight as an educational institution. Your intrepid blogger was snapping photos, so here's an MSNBC video of the moment.

*Photos by Obama Foodorama