First Lady Michelle Obama’s battle for school lunch reform continued to heat up Friday as she urged a room full of kids and parents to become advocates for healthy lunch programs, despite “grownups' ” attempts to block reform.
“And while the vast majority of the schools are doing just fine with these new standards, those few complaining voices happen to be the loudest voices and they’re getting the most attention right now,” the first lady said at the third annual Kids’ State Dinner, slamming Congress for “undoing some of the progress” made.
With 54 kid representatives from each state and territory attending the dinner after submitting winning recipes, Obama took the opportunity to center her remarks on school lunch, suggesting the voices of parents and children are necessary in the fight for healthy, nutritious lunches. A panel of judges — which included White House chef Sam Kass — picked the tastiest and healthiest recipes among the 1,500 submissions. The nutritious component of the contest prompted recipes such as winning dishes “Grillin’ Out Veggie Style” -- a seasoned black bean burger topped with avocado spread and served with a side of carrot salad that was cooked up by 10-year-old Georgian Mira Solomon. Another dish, crafted by Michigan’s Elena Hirsch, 11, was dubbed “Barack-oli and Mich-room Obama-let.” The goat cheese and veggie omelette included “carMALIAized” onions, named after 16-year-old Malia Obama.
Though declaring “party in the White House,” at the beginning of her speech, the first lady’s tone turned serious when talking policy. With a sense of urgency, she warned of interest groups that want to keep with the status quo on school lunches.
“We can’t afford to stay silent on this issue, because if we do we’re going to wind up right back where we started,” she said. “And that’s not acceptable.”
Delawarean Braeden Mannering, 10, who represented the First State at last year’s dinner, introduced Michelle Obama at the dinner and called her one of his “most favorite people.” He said after being inspired by the first lady’s words to pay the experience forward, he started a nonprofit centered on feeding the homeless with healthy snack bags.
Mannering echoed the words of the first lady and called upon the younger audience to also “pay the experience forward.”
“As kids, we sometimes forget how powerful our voices can be,” Mannering said. “We can also be the voices of change.”
President Barack Obama also stopped by the celebration, but avoided talking lunch reform. Instead, he admitted to sometimes indulging in junk food, revealing to the audience his guilty pleasure of chips and guacamole , according to our own Steven T. Dennis.
The president did allude to one debate he had to the crowd — which he called hipper than the “stodgier” crowds that typically fill the East Room — calling the affair a dinner instead of a lunch.
“It doesn’t make sense, because we have state dinners,” the president joked. “So it’s the Kids' Dinner, even though it’s noon.”
After eating some of the dishes and being treated to an exclusive performance by the cast of Broadway’s "Lion King," the winners made their way to The White House’s Kitchen Garden Project. In the garden, Jane Battle, 10, from Alabama dished about her recipe and talked healthy eating. Battle was the mastermind behind “Veggie Spaghetti with Alabama Gulf Shrimp” which features squash pasta.
“Most of my friends — when they think of something that’s ‘oh that’s good’ — its mostly junk food,” Battle said. “I’m trying to tell people, 'oh, that’s yummy' is not just junk food. It can also be food that’s good for you."