WASHINGTON - Children from five local elementary schools came to the White House today to chow down on crops they planted in its garden last spring. Under the chandelier of the residence's state dining room, First lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and White House chefs helped the students make lunches from the fruit and vegetable patch as a reward for each of their schools meeting national health and nutrition standards supported by her "Let's Move" initiative.
"I've been looking after it," the first lady told the watching children. "I've been going down there every night after dinner with the dogs and with the president and making sure that everything's turning out ok. But you guys did an awesome job in helping us plant, and now we get to experience the fruits of our labor."
Turning to the assembled press, the first lady said a balanced meal can lead to academic and disciplinary improvements in youth.
"For millions of kids in this country, their main source of nutrition comes from the food that they get in their schools," she said. "And we are paying billions of dollars to invest in that food as taxpayers. And as a result it's up to us to make sure these kids get the best food that they can get into their stomachs."
Joining Obama were classes from the nearby Harriet Tubman, Bancroft, Kimball and Cleveland elementary schools, along with Friendship Public Charter school. The first lady also invited school nutrition directors from Orlando, Dallas and West Virginia to participate.
Administration officials say about 90 percent of U.S. classrooms are meeting the nutrition standards, overseen by the Department of Agriculture, which require schools to lower salt content and increase the count of fruits and vegetables in meals. But it is not without its detractors; some consider the restraints to be an example of government overreach while others say it places a budgetary burden on some schools.
Today the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was expected to vote on a Department of Agriculture spending bill that would allow educational institutions to opt out of the standard, but was reportedly shelved until after the party could elect new leadership next week.
Today's event was initially scheduled as a summer harvest in the garden, but an inclement weather threat moved the first lady and her guests indoors. The White House Kitchen Garden, now in its sixth year, began as a pet project of the first lady to discuss healthier eating and living. It is now commonly used as a setting for children's events on the residence grounds and is a popular tourist attraction open to the public.
This report was updated as 5:20 PM.