National School Lunch Week is underway this week. It’s an annual event, of course, but this year I think we have a lot to celebrate because more and more people are coming to understand how important it is to provide America’s school children with a healthy nutrition environment at school. In fact, as I look around, I see encouraging developments in many areas, but none more so than the growing number of schools that have decided to take on USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge.
Schools participating in the Challenge agree to create a healthy school environment by providing nutrition education, nutritious food and beverage choices, physical education and opportunities for physical activity. What I think is particularly impressive about the Challenge is that it’s completely voluntary. Schools taking on the Challenge do so because they recognize the vital role schools have to play in helping our nation’s children develop healthy nutrition habits. This fact is driven home when you consider that many children from low-income households eat as many as two meals each day at school.
I’m encouraged, as well, by the strong support First Lady Michelle Obama has provided through her Let’s Move! initiative, which aims to end childhood obesity within a generation. In February, the First Lady and USDA called on stakeholders to double the number of HealthierUS Challenge schools within in a year and add 1,000 schools per year for two years after that. And we’re working hard to meet that goal. As of late September, 841 Challenge awards have been made to schools.
USDA is also supporting other innovative Let’s Move! efforts, including the Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge, which launched in early September. The Recipe competition draws on the talents of chefs, students, school nutrition professionals, parents and community members to develop tasty, nutritious, and kid-approved foods that schools can easily incorporate into National School Lunch menus. Competing teams have the opportunity to submit original recipes that meet nutritional requirements in three categories: whole grains, dark green and/or orange vegetables, and dry beans and peas. Foods that children (and even most adults) do not eat enough. Winning teams will have a chance to compete in a national cook-off with White House chefs and $12,000 in prizes.
Schools that are looking for a chef to participate on their team can use another great Let’s Move! resource—the Chefs Move to Schools Program —to let chefs in their community know they are interested in partnering. So form a team today and finish perfecting your recipe–the competition is open through December 30, 2010. The Recipes for Healthy Kids Web site contains resources and more information about how to submit a recipe.
Still, there is much work to be done and we look forward to working with all of our teams and partners in schools and communities to further improve the nutrition of children across the country.