Monday, November 22, 2010

First Lady Michelle Obama Unveils Campaign To Get 6,000 Salad Bars Into US Schools

Mrs. Obama touts "cool factor" of fresh fruit and vegetables as she launches $15 million campaign...
Miami, Florida: During an afternoon visit to Riverside Elementary School on Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign, a major new initiative for her childhood obesity crusade. (Above: Mrs. Obama talks veggies with students)

In an effort to boost the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables for children who participate in the National School Lunch program, Mrs. Obama has brought together a grassroots coalition of public and private groups to raise $15 million to place 6,000 specially designed, child-sized salad bars into school cafeterias across the US over the next three years. Riverside, located in the Little Havana neighborhood, received America's very first Let's Move! salad bar. As Mrs. Obama made her announcement, teachers and school administrators, state and local officials, and a huge pool of media crowded the windowless cafeteria, which featured a huge handmade banner: Riverside welcomes Mrs. Obama!

"There are studies that show that kids who are eating their fruits and vegetables on a regular basis actually do better in school," Mrs. Obama said as she stood beside the salad bar, which was stocked with locally grown produce, hummus, feta cheese, and dressings.

Appropriately, the kids were seated at the same faux wood tables they eat lunch at each day as they listened to Mrs. Obama tout the cool factor of fresh fruit and vegetables. Scattered across the tabletops: Baby pattypan squash, chives, basil, sun gold tomatoes, cucumber, whole heirlooms, bell peppers...the kids munched these as they listened to the First Lady. (Above: The First Lady during her remarks)

"If you take vegetables and you organize them in a pretty, delicious way, kids like you may actually eat them more -- because it looks kind of cool, doesn’t it?" Mrs. Obama asked the kids during her remarks.

The First Lady got a resounding "yes!" from the kids, because the salad bar (at left) is like no other. It looks like a compact space vehicle, with a clear top and bright blue base. It's on wheels so it can be moved around the lunchroom, and is designed to be easily accessible to kids; it's lower than a standard salad bar. Each salad bar kit comes with serving tongs and spoons, a cutting board and chilling pads, knives, and a digital thermometer.

"All the things you need to make sure that the salad stuff is safe and healthy," Mrs. Obama said.

The salad bar is a savvy rendition of the concept of choice architecture, which holds that design can impact how choices are made.

"Children’s choices depend on what is most visible and easily accessible; seemingly small differences in the school environment can have large effects on what children eat," notes the Report from the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity about placing salad bars in schools.

The founding partners for the new initiative include the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, which is co-chaired by Produce for Better Health Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; United Fresh Produce Association, a major produce industry trade group; and the Food, Family, Farming Foundation. Chef Ann Cooper, who runs the foundation, was on hand, as was Sam Kass, Mrs. Obama's Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives. Kass brought the new coalition together to create the campaign, and fund raising has started in earnest. (Above: Mrs. Obama with students)

"So what they’re doing through this partnership is that they’re providing schools with all of the equipment," Mrs. Obama said, adding that "this kind of stuff is really expensive."

"Not every school has the money that it takes to bring the salad bar in, even if they want to make it happen," Mrs. Obama said.

Encouraging school gardens for lunchroom use...
The kids at Riverside have their own school garden, and Mrs. Obama toured the raised beds in the school's courtyard, and got a good look at the crops that every child in the school helps grow: Tomatoes, eggplant, kale.

"It is pretty cool, because you guys are showing that without a stitch of land you can plant a garden because you’ve done it in cement boxes," Mrs. Obama said. "And that's important for the whole country to know, that you don't have to have a big field to plant vegetables."

She promised the kids that their crops will be in their new salad bar, too.

"Once you start harvesting from that garden you can take that, put it in your salad bar, and have it for your lunches and for all your snacks," Mrs. Obama said.

Raising funds, awarding salad bars...
Schools are being encouraged to help raise the $2,500 that each salad bar costs, as they apply online to receive one on the just launched website. The campaign is designed to reward schools that have best-practices in the lunchroom to begin with: Any K-12 school district or individual school participating in the National School Lunch Program is eligible to apply for a salad bar grant, but schools/districts with Bronze status or above in the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSC), will have priority in receiving a fully funded salad bar as money is raised. Riverside is a Bronze-level award winner in HUSC, and has about 80 percent of its primarily Hispanic student population enrolled in the National School Lunch program. The first round of salad bars will be awarded to eligible schools in March of 2011.

HUSC is a Let's Move! initiative run by USDA that awards best practices in school nutrition and fitness programs, and Mrs. Obama has a goal of doubling the number of schools enrolled in the program by June of 2011. As of November 10th, 903 schools had received HUSC status, according to USDA, with the goal being 1,250.

A call to lawmakers to pass the Child Nutrition Reauthorization
As she has been doing for months, during her remarks Mrs. Obama once again took the opportunity to call on the House of Representatives to pass the pending childhood nutrition legislation, which stalled out before the Autumn recess in September.

"We also need Congress to do their part," Mrs. Obama said. "And one of the things that we hope will get passed soon is the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill."

"So we hope that Congress will do their part," Mrs. Obama repeated.

Mrs. Obama also suggested to the kids that they step away from junk food and get more exercise, which has become her standard piece of advice, right alongside the suggestion that they try new vegetables.

"We need you guys go turn off the TV, and start moving," Mrs. Obama said. "We need you to put down the chips and pick up a carrot. Change how you think about snacking. Drink more water. That's on you."

Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools is in response to the White House Task Force Report on Childhood Obesity, which encouraged the placement of salad bars in schools as a way of boosting kids' daily consumption of fresh produce; read "Healthy Food In Schools," Section III of the Report, here [PDF]).

>Read the full transcript of the First lady's full remarks here.

Local chefs give cooking demo....
The salad bar had been stocked from family owned Teena's Pride farm by chef Michael Schwartz, who owns Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, a very popular Miami restaurant, and chef Michelle Bernstein from Miami's Michy's and Sra. Martinez, two other popular local eateries.

Both chefs have joined Chefs Move to Schools; Schwartz works with Phillis Wheatley Elementary in Overtown, and Bernstein has adopted North Miami Senior High. Accompanied by two students, Amanda and Daniel, the two chefs showed the kids how to compose what Mrs. Obama called "a delicious and tasty salad." (Above: Mrs. Obama looks on as Schwartz, left, and Bernstein oversee the kids in action at the salad bar)

Amanda and Daniel were allowed to choose exactly what they liked from the new salad bar. Daniel noted that he didn't like very many vegetables, but true to Mrs. Obama's mission, he promised to try just one bite of each--and he did.

Afterwards, Kass led each table of kids up to the salad bar, and let them select vegetables they wanted for their own salads. The First Lady moved from table to table, speaking with the kids, as they sampled plates loaded with salad, and encouraging them to try the raw vegetables that were scattered across the tabletops.

Today was not the first time Schwartz and Bernstein have been part of a White House event: Both also joined Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and FDA chief Margaret Hamburg for a September trip to New Orleans to promote the safety of Gulf seafood. (Above: Students enjoy their salads)

The details of the salad bar kit
Each salad bar is a portable 72-inch, 5-well insulated salad bar with two tray slides; divider bars; four 4-inch deep full pans with covers; eight 4-inch deep half pans with covers; and eight 4-inch deep quarter pans with covers. The kit also includes five buffet chilling pads; 24 serving tongs; 24 serving spoons; four squeeze bottles for dressing; one cutting board; one chef's knife; one paring knife; one peeler and one digital pocket thermometer.

In September, a coalition of major cookware makers agreed to donate more than $2 million in cookware and tools for chefs and schools who participate in the Chefs Move to Schools project, another win for Mrs. Obama's campaign.

*Check out this Flickr page by Jackie Sayet, who works with Schwartz and Bernstein, for more photos from the day.

*Top, sixth and seventh photos by Jackie Sayet, with special thanks; fourth photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House; others by AP.