Sep 17, 2012
“One in three Americans will have diabetes in their lifetime”, Sam Kass reports to Fresh Picks. ” The stakes are high- we have to make significant changes right now to get us on the right course to a healthier nation.”
In researching healthy lunch recipes and foods for our September Lunch Box, we were enlightened and inspired by what First Lady, Michelle Obama, and White House Assistant Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, Sam Kass, have been cooking up at the White House. So, we made a house call to Mr. Kass himself to get a sense of our nations health and to understand how Fresh Picks could make a difference.
Kass and Let’s Move!
Before signing on as the White House Assistant Chef, Sam Kass cooked for the first family for years when they resided here in Chicago. His degree in U.S. History from the University of Chicago and his international culinary track record provided the perfect background to spearhead the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative by day and cook dinner for the First Family by night. As Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, Chef Kass works to put the goals and mission of the First Lady’s vision for Let’s Move! into action. “Let’s Move! identifies ways young people can grow up healthy and continue to lead healthy lives, the way they deserve”, Kass says. ”The challenges of modern life have people working two or three jobs, making less time for cooking so people are eating out more frequently. Our lives today are also not conducive for being physically active. Put together less home cooking, more snacking, and not enough exercise, and your left with a tough challenge”, Kass says.
Let’s Move! was officially launched in February 2010 as a means to improve the health of our nation’s youth through education, support, and empowerment. The comprehensive initiative works with students, parents, teachers, and communities across the country to provide the information, tools, and supportive environment necessary to get healthier food on our tables. The sense of urgency is high especially given that obesity rates have tripled in the last three decades. And these numbers are even higher among Latin and African-American populations. With the newly introduced Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report, the White House has outlined strategies, benchmarks, and a plan of action to eliminate obesity within a generation.
Setting Our Kids Up For Success
It’s critical to begin eating healthy at an early age rather than transitioning from bad habits as an adult. Kids are set on their path at an early age. “Doctors have reported signs of heart disease in kids as young as 2 or 3 years. Their taste palettes start forming at a young age so getting them on an early start is one of the focuses of Let’s Move!,” the White House Chef emphasizes.
Kass adds that getting an early start is just a piece of the puzzle and that staying on a healthy path, brings its challenges too. “We’ve seen that when kids are included in the meal process and they play an active role, they feel empowered. The most effective strategy to keep them eating healthy is to get them involved somehow”.
Kass oversees the four-season White House Garden on the South Lawn and
coordinates the seasonal plantings. The First Lady has welcomed kids to these events as a way to encourage their involvement and get them excited about fresh food. Chef Kass recommends five ways to keep kids involved and excited about healthy eating:
1. Plant a garden together: Starting and maintaining a garden can be fun for the whole family. It gives kids the opportunity to see where their food comes from, how it grows each day, and the care involved to sustain it.
2. Get their input: Before going to the store, ask your kids what kinds of healthy snacks and foods they would like to get. Don’t wait until you’re at the store because they may get excited about something that isn’t as healthy. Suggest healthy alternatives to add to the shopping list and make at least half of your snack items fresh fruits and vegetables.
3. Cook with your kids: Throw an apron on them and get them in the kitchen from the beginning. This brings families closer together and educates kids on how to prepare healthy, home cooked meals.
4. Brighten up their favorites: Add a handful of spinach or 1/2 cup of broccoli to their favorite dishes. Mac & Cheese, lasagna, and grilled cheese sandwiches can all accommodate a variety of fresh vegetables. Try adding sliced mushrooms to quesadillas or using sweet potatoes or zucchinis for fries.
5. “Superheroes love…”: You know who your kids idolize so tell them how much they love to eat their fruits and veggies. “Spiderman gets his powers from eating his broccoli” and “Wonderwoman has an apple every day”.
In general, make it easy to eat healthy. Stock your pantry with fresh foods and place fruits and veggies in the front of your refrigerator for easy access. We eat what is around us, so surround yourself with healthy options and avoid junk foods and sugar snacks and beverages all together. It will be easier to make smart choices if there is no temptation in the kitchen.
Positive Changes Thus Far
Since it’s inception in early 2010, the initiative has seen successes both big and small. Kass details that big corporate retailers and restaurants have “committed to fundamental improvements by reformulating their products and changing their menus”. Chefs are partnering with schools to plant gardens and teach kids where their food comes from. Farmer’s markets are also booming and the demand for farm fresh produce is higher than it has been in decades. And governments are pushing to make healthier foods more accessible across all communities, especially those that are challenged.
Above all, we have to support our growers. “We need to make the supply chain more efficient and support the farmers because their success makes it possible for us to eat healthy food”, Kass explains. And that is precisely what we work towards everyday at Fresh Picks- to help expand the market for our local growers by making distribution more seamless.
And up ahead? Let’s Move! has their work cut out, but we can look forward to new standards for school lunches. The Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act is being implemented to make significant improvements for school lunches on premise. The USDA’s nutritional guidelines have been revamped with daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, a move to whole grain-rich foods and to low- or no-fat dairy products. They will also offer vegetarian and vegan students more options. Parents should be confident that their kids are getting the proper nutrients to stay focused and energized for the school day.
Participate in our September Healthy Lunch Recipe Contest for the rest of the month for a chance to win the First Lady’s book, ‘American Grown: The Story of The White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America’. Click on the link above for more details and submit your entries via our email, email@example.com.