On Tuesday morning, I had quite the exciting experience: a visit to the White House to hear the First Lady and her advisors speak about Let’s Move! and the health of our nation’s kids!
It’s not every day that you get an invitation to the White House – especially to see the first lady speak – so I was really pumped.
Joining me at the White House for the event were about 150 health-related bloggers and influencers, including many mom bloggers and some fellow dietitians, too. As you guys know, I have a Masters of Public Health in Nutrition, and we spent a fair amount of time in my program talking about child nutrition, community nutrition, and nutrition/health policy related to getting kids eating healthier and being more active, so I was really interested to hear what the panelists (and the first lady) had to say. Great line up of speakers!
First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move! in 2010, and since then the program has worked hard to put children on the path to a healthier future. Prior to the First Lady’s speech, we heard from staff from her team, as well as representatives from Partnership for a Healthier America, HHS, and USDA that shared more about the significant nutrition and health policy accomplishments that have come out of Let’s Move!. The program initiatives include fostering environments that support healthy choices, working to provide healthier foods in schools, ensuring that families have access to healthy, affordable food, and helping children to become more physically active. Here are some of the Let’s Move! program’s impacts so far:
- More than 30 million kids are now eating healthier school breakfasts and lunches (97% of schools are now meeting the new standards, in fact)
- More than 4,000 Let’s Move! salad bars have been installed in schools, reaching more than 2 million kids
- Nearly 80 million people (1 in 4 Americans!) now live in a Let’s Move! city, town, or county where kids can walk to school on new sidewalks, participate in summer meal programs, and join athletic leagues
- Over 10 million kids attend Let’s Move! active schools where they strive for 60 minutes of physical activity per day
- 1.6 million kids are now attending healthier daycare centers where fruits and veggies have replaced cookies and juice, thanks to Let’s Move! Child Care initiatives
- Thousands of chain restaurants have created healthier kids’ menus, and food and beverage companies have cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products
- Families are getting active in our national parks through the Let’s Move! Outside initiative – did you know that 4th graders can get a free entry pass for themselves and their families to more than 2,000 federally managed lands/waters nationwide? (Check out everykidinapark.gov for more info!)
That’s a lot of awesome stuff, huh? I also loved hearing more about Let’s Move! efforts to tackle junk food marketing to children. One of the cooler things they have done on that front recently is called “Team FNV (fruits and vegetables)” – an advertising campaign geared towards kids with slicks ads, cool marketing, and celebrity spokespeople – but entirely focused on fresh fruits and vegetables! Genius, right? I love seeing that many celebrities that kids look up to are using their fame for such a good cause (and, apparently, for free – no one is being paid)! Their YouTube channel and Instagram have some great videos/images – check it out!
But of course, even though a lot of great work has been done in recent years, there is always more to be done in terms of promoting the health of our nation’s kids – and that is what the First Lady’s speech, which ended the morning’s presentations, focused on.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the First Lady speak once before – at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in 2013 – and she was just as well spoken and engaging this time. One of my favorite quotes from her was: “The government alone cannot solve this problem – it’s up to the parents.” She spoke about how when her daughters were young, she remembers a visit to the pediatrician’s office when the doctor told her she needed to start feeding her kids healthier food. She said that was the wake up call she needed to start making small healthy changes in their eating habits as a family. “Start them young and keep at it – give them a foundation of habits and knowledge that will continue when they are adults.”
Childhood obesity rates have stopped rising, but it’s as important as ever to get kids eating more whole, real food (fruits and veggies!) and less processed food. She made the comparison that you wouldn’t let your kids get out of a dentist appointment or math class just because they complained/didn’t like it – and it should be the same for nutrition, a non-negotiable. Certainly that doesn’t mean being perfect, and sometimes it’s easier said than done – but consistently promoting fruits and veggies and leading by example goes a long way. It can take up to 10 to 15 tries before kids accept new foods – don’t give up! Get creative about sneaking in veggies (like smoothies – try my Banana Spinach Smoothie – you can’t taste the spinach!) and most importantly, get them involved in the cooking, planning, and even the growing process, if possible! Kids are WAY more excited about food that they have helped prepare/grow – I certainly learned that in a couple summers ago when I taught a series of children’s cooking classes! (See also: How to Get Kids Excited About Healthy Food)
And along those lines, if you have kids, encourage them to enter the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge! This contest promotes healthy eating among young people in the nation, and invites kids ages 8 to 12 to create an original recipe that is healthy, affordable, and delicious. One winner from each U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia will win the opportunity to be flown to DC to attend the “Kids’ State Dinner” at the White House – how cool! Recipes are due April 4th! 🙂 More info here.
Our visit ended with a trip to see the White House Kitchen Garden, which Mrs. Obama first planted on the South Lawn in 2009 as a way to initiate the conversation around the health and wellbeing of our nation. That conversation soon led to the start of Let’s Move!
Since 2009, the White House Garden has become the first major vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden in 1943. I hope it continues when the Obamas leave the White House next year!
The garden’s primary purpose is to provide fruits and veggies for the First Family and guests at the White House for events, including receptions and state dinners, but it has also provided nearly 500 pounds of produce to Miriam’s Kitchen, a local organization that prepares fresh, healthy meals for the homeless.
Each year, the First Lady invites students to join her in planting the garden in the spring and harvesting it in the summer and fall. Love that! The garden has grown to 1,700 square feet – and in 2014, a pollinator garden was added to support bees, monarch butterflies, and other pollinators.
What a cool opportunity to see the White House and learn more about Let’s Move! I was really happy to hear Mrs. Obama say that she plans to continue this work even after she is no longer First Lady.
Before I close out this post, I wanted to give a shout out to some friends in attendance – when we first arrived at the White House, we had some time to mingle (and take pictures, obviously) before the program started, and it was great to see healthy living bloggers Kath, Tina, Brittany, and Liz, pictured below, as well as fellow dietitians The Nutrition Twins!
What an honor to be able to attend such an important discussion. A big thank you to the White House for having us and for hosting this conversation, and to the team at POPSUGAR Select for inviting me to join!
If you’re a parent, how do you get your kids excited about (or at least eating) their veggies? How do you encourage them to stay active?