President Obama made a culinary confession Friday: He “loses his mind” over chips and guacamole. His daughters, Malia and Sasha, love indulging in ice cream, pie and sushi.
And his wife, Michelle? She loves French fries, though the nation’s unofficial health guru said she’s taking a break from the salty snack.
“I’m making a vow – I’m going to take a break from French fries,” she said during the third annual White House Kids’ State Dinner, which is part of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. The first lady founded the event to promote healthier lunches in the nation’s schools.
“It’s not like our family, including me, don’t have some snacks once in a while,” the president explained. “Each of us have our weaknesses.”
The president made a brief, surprise visit to the East Room to address 54 children and their guardians, shortly after speaking to the press corps about the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine yesterday. He said the youngsters “keep my spirits up” when world crisis strikes and his job gets tough.
“This is a much hipper crowd,” Obama said. “But I also just love seeing young people who are doing wonderful things.”
The lunch attendees won a national recipe contest through the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, by designing nutritious – and delicious – meals that adhere to the Agriculture Department’s healthy lunch guidelines.
“You all represent 54 reasons why we know that we can do so much better by our kids when it comes to eating healthy,” said Michelle Obama, who has been working against House Republicans who want to soften the school nutrition rules created through the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids act.
The first lady called out the “grown-ups” in Congress, who are trying to “undo some of the progress” she and her campaign have made in getting healthier food into schools, delivering one of her sharpest remarks yet on the battle.
“We are currently spending $10 billion a year on our school lunch programs,” she said. “So it’s not surprising that there are certain interests that are resisting change and trying to take us back to the old ways of doing business.
“But you all have a right to expect that your hard-earned tax dollars will be spent on food that meets basic nutrition standards,” she said, addressing the parents in the room.
More than 1,500 kids ages 8-12 from across the nation entered their original dishes in the contest. One child from each state – plus D.C. and three U.S. territories – were invited to join the first lady for a lunch, featuring a selection of the winning recipes served on White House china. After lunch, the children toured the White House Kitchen Garden.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges that included chef Sam Kass, executive director of the first lady’s initiative against childhood obesity, and Tanya Steel, a contributor to Epicurious magazine, which helped create the contest. Kass said he alone tasted 110 dishes.
Elena Hirsch, an 11-year-old from Michigan, created “Barack-oli and Mich-room Obama-lette,” a dish inspired by and named for the first family. It also included “car-Malia-ized onions” and “butternut sq-Asha” for Malia and Sasha.
Hirsch said she and her family came up with the breakfast’s name first and spent about five days testing different ingredients before coming up with the “perfect” combination.
Mahlia Amarsi, a 9-year-old from Washington, found inspiration in her Pacific Northwest and Muslim roots. She mixed her favorite food traits – sweet and crunchy – with one of her state’s delicacies, salmon.
The meal is something everyone can eat, she said – “kosher for the Jews, halal for the Mulisms and Christians can eat it, too.”
“It’s a meal we can all sit down together to eat in peace,” her mom added.