Behind the Scenes: Getting Ready for the Kids’ State Dinner

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move! blog.

We’re all pretty excited to greet 54 amazing young chefs at the White House on Monday, August 20, when First Lady Michelle Obama will host the first-ever Kids’ State Dinner. Joining us will be the talented young people (and their parents) whose recipes submitted for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge most impressed the judges, and best met all the criteria: A healthy, original and affordable lunch that contains the five food groups (fruits, veggies, protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains). Kids could integrate everything into one recipe, or incorporate some of those food groups into one dish and represent the others as suggested sides, like a whole-wheat wrap with chicken salad, lettuce and shredded carrots, served with skim milk and some strawberries.

Before we could narrow down the more than 1,100 entries to the finalists, however, we needed to test the recipes and make sure they also met the final criteria: Is it tasty? Take a look at the massive challenge our judges faced — how to choose just one per state?


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Join us at Let’s Move on Monday at 10 am EST as we live-stream the big day, from the arrival ceremony in the White House through the First Lady’s remarks to the winners and even the special entertainment. a performance by Big Time Rush.

Wrapping Up the Let’s Read! Let’s Move! Summer Series

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose,” read former NFL player Brian Mitchell during the final installment of ED’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer series on Monday. Mitchell read Dr. Seuss’s popular book Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, which encourages children to reach for their dreams. It was the perfect lead-in for the Let’s Move! portion of the event where children from the local area participated in fitness activities and games on the Department of Education’s plaza.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, joined Mitchell for the final Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer series. Three other Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events were held on July 11, July 18, and July 25. Each event supported First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, which promotes healthy eating and an active lifestyle, while also encouraging summer reading and adult participation.


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Cydney Adams is a student at the University of Georgia and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Team Squash and Team Broccoli Get Going at ‘Let’s Read! Let’s Move!’

Can you imagine young children debating over which fruit or vegetable is their favorite? At the third installment of ED’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer series, that is exactly what happened. As the students arrived, they were put into groups named after fruits and vegetables, ranging from Team Strawberry to Team Squash.  “I love broccoli,” said Alyssa, a rising 3rd grader from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Youth Center, when she was assigned to Team Broccoli for the day. “Carrots are my favorite,” said her friend Jaden. Luckily, they found common ground with their mutual dislike for lima beans.

A group of more than 150 local students joined Secretary Arne Duncan, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Services Wendy Spencer, DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Danny Davis (D-IL) for reading and physical activities at the Department of Education.

The students listened closely as the guests read popular children’s books such as Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems, I Believe In You by Marianne Richmond, and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. They quizzed Henderson, Davis, and Spencer on everything from their favorite books to their favorite teachers. “When we read, we become friends with people who write books because they share their experiences with us,” Henderson told the children.

Kofi Dennis, a Ghana native, a teacher, artist and musician from the Wolf Trap Institute, entertained the children before the readings. and led them outside to the beat of his drum to begin the Let’s Move! portion of the event.

At the end of the day, each child left with a new book and book bag provided by Target. Other Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events were held on July 11th and July 18th, and the last one is scheduled for July 30th. Each event supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which promotes healthy eating and an active lifestyle, while also encouraging summer reading and adult participation.


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Cydney Adams is a student at the University of Georgia and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Moving and Reading with Stars at Let’s Read! Let’s Move!

Secretary Duncan, LeVar Burton and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler reading to students.

Secretary Duncan, LeVar Burton and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler read to students for Let's Read! Let's Move! Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

After all the excitement of yesterday’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event, six-year-old Jorge exclaimed “I got to play basketball!” when quizzed about his favorite portion of the day’s activities. Yesterday’s event was the second in ED’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer series, and many children like Jorge were eager to share their favorite parts of the event.

Jasmine and Analise, 9-year-old cousins from Thomas Stone Elementary, described how excited they were to read their brand new editions of Pippi Longstocking. A group of boys from Horizon’s Greater Washington excitedly shouted out that they learned how to grow stronger, to drink water, to read books, and to exercise.

Over 150 students from the DC area participated in the activities led by Secretary Arne Duncan, two-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington, Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler, and Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton. The children danced and played Simon Says, sang along with Miss America on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and laughed as Burton read the poem “Peanut Butter Sandwich” by Shel Silverstein. Burton surprised the students when he claimed that he usually reads four different books at once. “I love science fiction,” he told them.


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“Through encouragement at school, from my family, my mom and dad, that’s how my love for reading began,” said Kaeppeler, who read Ladybug Girl and Bingo by David Soman and Jacky Davis, before heading outside to play basketball and pass out fruit and water to the children. The students were also able to take pictures with Arrington, who was happy to have the chance to play basketball with the kids. “Stuff like this, it’s just awesome,” he remarked between photos.

Before leaving, students visited the autograph table where they were thrilled to not only get a new book but also have it signed by Arrington and Kaeppeler. “My first favorite part was getting the new book bag, and my second favorite part was reading and getting the autograph,” said Thin Wut Yi, age 7.

The students weren’t the only ones pleased with all of the activities. “This was wonderful, even with the heat,” said Thomas Stone Elementary School principal Helda Morad. “We’re very thankful.”

Each child left with a new book bag and books provided by Target, snacks, an autographed book, and a smile.

The first Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event was held on July 11th, and two more are scheduled for July 25th and July 30th. The four events support First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, which promotes healthy eating and an active lifestyle, while also encouraging summer reading and adults reading to children.

Cydney Adams is a student at the University of Georgia and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Kicking Off ED’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! Summer Series

A student races a shopping cart during the Let's Move portion of Let's Read! Let's Move!

Students raced to fill their carts with plastic fruit and vegetables during the Let's Move! portion of ED's first Let's Read! Let's Move! summer series. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

“Reading is a way to travel in your mind,” said Cornell McClellan, the First Family’s Nutrition and Fitness Trainer, to over 130 students from DC area schools, camps, and youth programs yesterday at the first of ED’s four part Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series.

McClellan joined Secretary Arne Duncan and Sam Kass, assistant chef and senior policy advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives at the White House, to read and talk to more than 100 local children about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and learning over the summer. Students Jaden McDowell and Kylie Peterson, from DC’s United Planning Organization, had the honor of introducing the secretary and his guests to kick off the activities.

Kass read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and described the balanced meals he cooks for the First Family, while McClellan chose Jonathan London’s Froggy Learns to Swim. “It’s important to just move because almost any activity that you enjoy can be used as a fun exercise,” said McClellan before starting the Let’s Move! portion of the event.

Secretary Duncan, Kass, and McClellan, led the students outside for games and fitness activities. “If you exercise more, I actually think you do better in school,” Duncan said.

The children participated in games and fitness activities directed by ED’s partner, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington Physical, Healthy, Drive (PHD) program. Kass and McClellan joined the students in a shopping cart nutrition relay while the secretary shot some hoops with children. Each child also received a book bag and a book of their choice while they snacked on fresh fruit, granola bars, and water.

In addition to Sam Kass and Cornell McClellan, Susan Hildreth, the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, also joined Secretary Duncan for today’s event. Today’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event was the first of four events to be held at ED this summer to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, which promotes healthy eating and an active lifestyle, while also encouraging summer reading and adults reading to children.


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Additional Let’s Read! Let’s Move! Events are scheduled for July 18th, July 25th, and July 30th.

Cydney Adams is a student at the University of Georgia and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

National Healthy Lunch Finals Held at ED

Secretary Duncan greets student chefs

Secretary Duncan greets participants at the Cooking Up Change event at the Department of Education. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

While you may not consider West African succotash, home-style tortilla apple pie or lemon pepper chicken with brown rice standard fare for a school cafeteria, a group of culinary chef students hope to re-write cafeteria menus to prove that school lunches can be both delicious and nutritious.

The students who gathered at the U.S. Department of Education on May 21 are the finalists in a national healthy lunch competition called Cooking Up Change, and sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign, a non-profit organization based in Chicago.

In the final round of the competition, students were allowed two and a half hours to create their recipes. Each team used ingredients commonly found in school food service in a recipe that was limited to six steps.

Group photo with Secretary DuncanSecretary of Education Arne Duncan greeted the high school culinary whiz students before the cook-off began, and congratulated the participants for making it to the finals.

The secretary’s wife, Karen, and Christie Vilsack, wife of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, serve as Cooking Up Change Honorary National co-chairs and Karen served as a  judge for the event. The panel of judges also included Chief of Staff to the Secretary Joanne Weiss and Deputy Chief of Staff Eric Waldo.

For Alex Hernandez of Santa Ana, California, participating in the competition was life changing.

“I have changed my own cooking habits at home. I tend not to eat fattening foods or drink a lot of soda.” Hernandez said.  “I’ve found myself encouraging my family members, friends and teammates to eat healthy and live a better lifestyle.”

Students from Santa Ana’s Valley High, won the competition with a lemon and spinach chicken dish accompanied by a Tuscan bean salad and cinnamon poached pears.

Click here for more information on Healthy Schools from Let’s Move!

DeRell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

A “State Dinner” Just For Kids

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move! Blog

Calling all kid chefs: The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge invites parents of kids ages 8-12 to submit an original recipe for a lunch that is nutritious and delicious. All entrants have the chance to win a trip to Washington D.C. and the opportunity to be invited to attend a Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House in August, where a selection of the winning healthy recipes will be served.

Let's Move LogoLet’s Move! is teaming up with Epicurious, the Department of Education and USDA to find great lunch ideas that are healthy, affordable, and — of course – tasty.

“We all want to ensure that our kids are eating nutritious, delicious food at every meal, and as a mom I know that parents are always looking for new ideas to make that happen,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “With parents and kids all across the country getting creative in the kitchen, I know we’ll find healthy meals that every family will enjoy.  And I can’t wait to try the kids’ creations myself.”

The rules are simple: All entrants are encouraged to reference the MyPlate nutritional guidelines to ensure recipes meet the primary criterion of being healthier. Entries should represent each of the food groups, either in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal, including fruit, veggies, whole grains, protein and low-fat dairy foods.

Recipes can be submitted May 21 through June 17, either online at http://recipechallenge.epicurious.com or via mailWinners will be notified on July 16. The White House Kids “State Dinner” is currently scheduled to take place in August 2012.

Hike It! Bike It! I Like It! Walk to School 2011

Walk to School LogoIt’s a special day when communities and schools, parents, kids, and teachers make that extra effort to find an alternate safe way to get to school other than riding on a bus or in a car. Meg McFarland, Walking School Bus Committee Chair, at Briarcliff Elementary in the North Kansas City Missouri School District, organized and created a “human school bus” to help celebrate International Walk to School Day on October 5, 2011. Briarcliff students, staff, parents, the North Kansas City High School Hornet Marching Band, Varsity Cheerleaders and Henry the Hornet along with invited guests and the surrounding community met at a designated area and walked, wheeled and rolled together to recognize the healthy benefits of exercise.

Group PhotoMore than 250,000 children across the United States and nearly three million around the world participated in the annual event.

“Walking and bicycling to school enhances the health of kids, improves air quality and the environment, cuts down on traffic congestion and fuel costs, and is fun,” remarked McFarland.  She explained that every Friday in fall and spring more than 30 students participate in the Walking School Bus—a fixed-route walking schedule that allows many adults to supervise kids on their walk to school. “The families, the community, and the environment all benefit,” she said. This initiative also supports the President’s Challenge and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign by helping to solve the problem of obesity within a generation, as well as ED’s new Green Ribbon Schools competition.

Through the 2005 passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, Congress authorized $612 million toward developing the National Safe Routes to School Program, and money is distributed to states to fund education, planning and implementation of Safe Routes to School plans and programs.

Creating a special day for our children to walk or bike to school helps communities figure out ways to overcome their reliance on cars and buses. Briarcliff Elementary and thousands of schools across the country are encouraging healthy lifestyles by putting regular physical activity back into daily routines and promoting healthy eating habits — habits that have proven to produce happier students and higher grades.

Jeanne Ackerson

Jeanne works in ED’s Kansas City, Mo., regional office.

Cleveland Middle School Helps Put ED Tour in Motion

Michael Yudin with Solon students, retired NFL player Lomas Brown, Ohio dairy farmer Davis Denman and Chomps, the Cleveland Browns' mascot.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin (second from right) with Solon students, retired NFL player Lomas Brown, Ohio dairy farmer Davis Denman and Chomps, the Cleveland Browns' mascot.

SOLON, Ohio—For a back-to-school sprint through the Great Lakes region, it just seemed to make sense to warm up with a little physical activity. So that’s what Michael Yudin, the Department’s acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, did Tuesday morning at Solon Middle School, a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School outside of Cleveland. Secretary Duncan will visit Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon.

Yudin joined Solon City School District Superintendent Joseph Regano, Principal Eugenia Green and representatives from the dairy industry and the National Football League’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program for an assembly to motivate Solon Middle’s 400 8th graders to make smart food choices and be physically active. Lomas Brown, a retired NFL player who spent the 1999 season with the Cleveland Browns, was also on hand to encourage the students, as was Chomps, the Browns’ canine mascot.

Solon Middle School Principal Eugenia Green

Solon Middle School Principal Eugenia Green leads a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School that is now participating in the Fuel Up to Play 60 program.

“We know that healthy students are better students,” Yudin said, congratulating Solon Middle on its Blue Ribbon award and its commitment to student health. Through quality school nutrition and the integration of physical activity into the day, schools are one of the key pillars of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to combat child obesity.

After the assembly in the school’s gym and a toast to the new school year—with milk, of course—Yudin, Brown and Chomps joined the students on the school’s athletic field for a football, Frisbee, running and walking break.

Solon Middle School students

Following an assembly, students took a mid-morning activity break on the school's football field.

Launched by the National Dairy Council and the NFL in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fuel Up to Play 60 empowers youth to take action to improve nutrition and physical activity at their school and for their own health.

“Just as the NFL uses their playbook…we can use Fuel Up to Play 60 playbooks to choose the activities that are best for each of us,” said Solon 8th grader Jeff Lidawer, one of several student-athletes who spoke at the assembly.

To learn more about the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, including five steps that schools can take, visit LetsMove.gov.

-MASSIE RITSCH
Office of Communications & Outreach

ED Wraps Up Its Let’s Read! Let’s Move! Summer Series

Special guest Dora the Explorer joined Secretary Duncan and ED Senior Advisor on Early Learning Jacqueline Jones to encourage young students to be physically active and to keep reading during the final Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event at ED headquarters Tuesday afternoon.

Duncan and Jones read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems, sparking an animated discussion with the children over what would happen if the book’s pigeon began to operate a motor vehicle, one particularly enthused young student shouted “he would go to jail,” much to the amusement of the adults in attendance.

Following the Let’s Read portion of the event, the students joined Dora in exploring the obstacle courses and participating in physical activities. The fitness activities are part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to emphasize the importance of an active and healthy lifestyle.


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This week’s event marks the end to the 2011 Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series; for more information on the initiative and its sponsors, read our previous posts on this summer’s first, second, and third Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events.

Noah Bokat-Lindell and Simone Zhang are interns at the Department of Education.

Let’s Read! Let’s Move!, Part III

(Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams)

“You don’t have to be a professional writer to tell a story. So go out and tell a story!” Maya Soetoro-Ng told a group of young students gathered for ED’s third installment of its Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer series.

Soetoro-Ng, an author and half sister to President Obama, joined former Washington Redskins linebacker Chris Draft, Top Chef alumnus Spike Mendelsohn, Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Robert Velasco II, and ED’s deputy chief of staff Eric Waldo at ED headquarters to encourage young students to be physically active and to keep reading.

Following the Let’s Read! portion of the event, the students joined Draft and YMCA staff in navigating an obstacle course and other physical activities during the Let’s Move! segment. The fitness activities are part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to emphasize the importance of an active and healthy lifestyle.

For more information on the Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series and its sponsors, read our blog about this summer’s first and second Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events.

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The final Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event is scheduled for July 26.

Noah Bokat-Lindell is an intern in the Office of Legislation and  Congressional Affairs at the Department of Education.

Rep. Miller and Musician Eleanor Friedberger Join Arne for Let’s Read! Let’s Move! Part II

What if the law said you could have ice cream every day before school starts? Would you vote for that law?

That’s the question Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.) posed to the young students gathered last week for ED’s second installment of its Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series. Miller joined Secretary Duncan and musician Eleanor Friedberger at ED headquarters in encouraging young children to become active readers and active in physical health.

During the Let’s Read! portion of the event, Congressman Miller read Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson, and Eleanor Friedberger read the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Eleanor inspired the students to pursue their dreams just as she has done.

Taking questions from the children, Miller encouraged the children to keep reading, “When you know how to read,” he explained, “you can do anything you want to do in life. Secretary Duncan asked the children to “keep reading all summer, go to the library, and go to the bookstore.”

For the remainder of the event, the children participated in Let’s Move! obstacle courses and other physical activities to get their body in motion. For more information on the Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series and its sponsors, read our blog about this summer’s first Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event.


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The final Let’s Read! Let’s Move! events are scheduled for July 20 and 26.

Noah Bokat-Lindell and Eugene Smith are interns at the Department of Education