Alexandria, Virginia–(ENEWSPF)–January 25, 2012 – 11:32 A.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everyone. Please, sit, rest. This is exciting. It is such a pleasure to be here today. This is an exciting day.
I want to start by thanking Secretary Vilsack, not just for that very kind introduction but for his outstanding work as Secretary of Agriculture. He has been just a major proponent on so many issues that are near and dear to me, and we wouldn’t be here without his efforts and the efforts of his entire agency. So, thank you, sir.
I’d also like to thank Principal Akroyd and Jen Fitzgerald for their terrific work and for hosting us here today at Parklawn Elementary School. Go, Panthers! (Laughter.) I hear you’re the “purring Panthers.” (Laughter.) It’s very, very good — very good. We are so happy to be here and so proud of you all.
And I want to recognize all of the educators, the administrators, the food service workers and the advocates who are here today for everything that you do, every day, on behalf of our kids. This is a great celebration for us all.
And of course, I want to give a special hello to Rachael Ray, who’s a special guest here. I know she’s hard at work getting lunch ready, and I am hungry — (laughter) — so I’m looking forward to it. But she has been a true advocate on this issue for quite some time, and we’re just thrilled that she’s here with us today.
And finally, I want to thank all of the parents who are here today — because, I just want to be clear that we can’t make any mistake about it — this movement to improve the food in our schools is happening in large part because of all of you, the parents. It’s happening because you all stood up. It’s happening because you all spoke out and you asked for something better for our kids.
Because, as parents, we all know that if left to their own devices, many of our kids would eat candy for breakfast, they’d follow it up with a few French fries for lunch and cookies and chips for snacks, and then they’d come home for a big chocolate sundae for dinner, right? (Laughter.) And we know that it is our responsibility, as adults, to make sure they don’t do that. So it’s our responsibility to make sure that they get basic nutrition that they need to stay healthy.
And that’s why so many of us try so very hard to prepare decent meals at home, and to limit how much junk food they get at home, and to ensure that they have a reasonably balanced diet. And when we’re putting forth this kind of effort at home — and many of us are, and it’s difficult to do every single day — it’s always a challenge, particularly with tough economic times and not enough time in the day — but when we’re putting forth these efforts, when we’re doing what we’re supposed to do at home, the last thing we want is to have all these hard efforts, all this hard work undone in the school cafeteria.
When we send our kids to school, we have a right to expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we’re trying to keep from them when they’re at home. We have a right to expect that the food they get at school is the same kind of food that we want to serve at our own kitchen tables.
And let’s be clear, this isn’t just about our kids’ health. Studies have shown that our kids’ eating habits can actually affect their academic performance as well. And I’m sure that comes as no surprise to the educators here today. Anyone who works with kids knows that they need something other than chips and soda in their stomachs if they’re going to focus on math and science, right? Kids can’t be expected to sit still and concentrate when they’re on a sugar high, or when they’re stuffed with salty, greasy food — or when they’re hungry.
And that brings me to another important point. For many kids whose families are struggling, school meals can be their main — or only — source of nutrition for the entire day. So when we serve higher-quality food in our schools, we’re not just fighting childhood obesity; we’re taking the important steps that are needed to fight child hunger as well.
And that’s why so many schools across this country have been working so hard to improve the food that they serve to our kids in school. In fact, there are many schools that have been meeting these new standards for years, long before this legislation was passed. Thousands more have made significant improvements, offering their students a whole array of healthy — and tasty, mind you — new options.
For example, right here at Parklawn and in schools throughout this district, you all are doing some wonderful things, serving baked chicken tenders instead of frying them — small things; replacing white rice with brown rice. You’re offering all kinds of veggie side dishes, everything from succotash to broccoli, exposing kids to a whole array of wonderful tastes and flavors.
And we’re seeing changes like these in schools all across the country, of all sizes — rural, urban and suburban. And I’m not just talking about schools in well-off areas with plenty of resources. I’m talking about schools like F.S. Ervin — it’s an elementary school in Pine Hall [sic], Alabama. Now, Pine Hall [sic] is a little-bitty town, rural town, with a population under 1,000 and an average household income of less than $26,000. But they have made some important changes to their school menu already — things like replacing canned vegetables with fresh or frozen ones, moving in more whole grains, offering plenty of fresh fruit, and even baking their French fries instead of frying them. These are small changes.
And plenty of schools like F.S. Ervin are getting creative in this way. There are schools around the country that are holding taste tests and recipe contests to get kids really involved in the whole change — give kids a competition and they’ll get involved. There are schools that are partnering with farmers and with chefs in their communities, and that’s making a difference. They’re making these small, daily changes — simple things like replacing whole milk with skim milk — changes that add up over time and it can make a real difference in the life of our kids.
And again and again, schools are finding that when they actually offer these healthier options, kids aren’t just willing to try them, they actually like them. That’s the thing, that’s the surprising thing. I’ve been to so many schools across the country where parents see their kids eating fresh vegetables off the vine, kids they say would never try anything, but that’s the beauty of children — they change. They change much easier than we do, and when we give them an opportunity to try something new, they embrace it oftentimes, and they come back for more.
So while budgets are tight right now, there are schools across the country that are showing that it doesn’t take a whole lot of money or resources to give our kids the nutrition they deserve. What it does take, however, is effort. What it does take is imagination. What it does take is a commitment to our children’s futures.
So today, I am asking parents and educators and food service workers across this country to embrace this effort on behalf of our children. Embrace it. Because we all know that we are some of the best role models for our kids. We are the first and best role models. And if kids are like mine, if I’m excited about something, they’re excited about it — right? If we as adults embrace it, the kids will follow suit. They’re looking to us to figure out how to make this happen. So if we get pumped up about this effort, get excited, get creative, the kids will follow suit and they will do it with vigor and vim, and they’ll be out there out front in a way that we would never expect.
So I want to thank you all once again for all that you do every day on behalf of our children. I’m excited to be here. This is a great day, a wonderful accomplishment. And it’s just exciting to be able to highlight the work that’s being done here at Parklawn.
So now, as I mentioned, I’m a little hungry. (Laughter.) I understand that I get to hang out with the kids, have a little lunch. And it’s turkey tacos! Sounds really good. So with that, I want to thank you all for being here, and we’re going to have some lunch.
Thank you all. (Applause.)
11:42 A.M. EST