“I think it’s safe to say there have never been this many chefs on the South Lawn,” announced Sam Kass, assistant White House chef, to a sea of chefs dressed in their whites. “What an amazing day.”

WHchefsmove.jpg Over 500 chefs from 37 states, including celebrities Rachael Ray, Tom Colicchio and Cat Cora–a formidable healthy food army–gathered at the White House on Friday in the summer heat to rally behind Chefs Move to Schools, the newest part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to combat childhood obesity within a generation.

The First Lady is asking chefs across the country to partner with local schools to help educate kids about food and nutrition.

“You can make a salad bar fun–now, that’s something–and delicious,” said Mrs. Obama. “You can teach kids to cook something that tastes good and is good for them; and share your passion for food in a way that’s truly contagious.”

As of Friday, 990 chefs and 488 schools had signed onto the program, which is being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s going to take all of us–parents and teachers, community leaders, food manufacturers, all of us doing our part to give our children the healthy future they deserve,” Obama told the audience of chefs. “And it’s going to take all of you, our nation’s chefs.  That’s why I am so moved to see you all here.  You all are at the heart of this initiative, because if anyone understands nutrition and food, it’s the folks sitting here in their whites today.”

“You’ll be helping students learn where food comes from, and develop healthy habits,” she said. “You’ll be elevating the role of food in our schools, and working to create healthy meals on a budget.”

WHgarden2.jpg“This project has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my 20 years as a chef,”  said Chef Todd Gray, an esteemed local Washington chef who has been working with Murch Elementary on an extensive culinary and garden curriculum.  “Make a commitment to these schools and to these kids, it will change your life both personally and professionally.”

Coinciding with the star-studded event, the White House also announced more public and private sector commitments to the wider Let’s Move! campaign:

-Sodexho, Chartwells School Dining Services, and Aramark committed to meet the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations within five years to decrease the amount of sugar, fat, and salt in school meals; increase whole grains; and double the amount of produce they serve within 10 years.

-The School Nutrition Association (SNA), which represents food service workers in more than 75 percent of the nation’s schools, has committed to increasing education and awareness of the dangers of obesity among their members and the students they serve, and ensuring that the nutrition programs in 10,000 schools meet the Healthier U.S. School Challenge standards over the next five years.

-Working with school food service providers and SNA, the National School Board Association, the Council of Great City Schools, and the American Association of School Administrators Council committed to meeting the national Let’s Move! goal.  The Council of Great City Schools has also has set a goal of having every urban school meet the Healthier U.S. Schools gold standard within five years.  The American Association of School Administrators has committed to ensuring that an additional 2,000 schools meet the challenge over the next two years.  These combined efforts will impact approximately 50 million students and their families in every school district in America.

Chefs interested in learning more about the Chefs Move to Schools initiative should visit the Let’s Move! website www.letsmove.gov and click on the Chefs Move to Schools icon.

Pictured: Top: Chefs on the South Lawn listen to First Lady Michelle Obama as she discusses the program. Bottom: The First Lady helps local students and chefs harvest vegetables from the White House Kitchen garden. Photos by Helena Bottemiller.