Michelle Obama on Deciding What Kids Eat: ‘We Can’t Just Leave it Up to The Parents'

By Penny Starr | December 13, 2010 | 12:10pm EST

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at Sidwell Friends School in Bethesda, Md., Friday, Dec. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) - Speaking at Monday's signing ceremony for the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act”-- a law that will subsidize and regulate what children eat before school, at lunch, after school, and during summer vacations in federally funded school-based feeding programs -- First Lady Michelle Obama said of deciding what American children should eat: “We can’t just leave it up to the parents."

The law for the first time gives the federal government the authority to regulate the food sold at local schools, including in vending machines.

“Everywhere I go, fortunately, I meet parents who are working very hard to make sure that their kids are healthy,” said Mrs. Obama. “They’re doing things like cutting down on desserts and trying to increase fruits and vegetables. They’re trying to teach their kids the kind of healthy habits that will stay with them for a lifetime.

“But when our kids spend so much of their time each day in school, and when many children get up to half their daily calories from school meals, it’s clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well,” Mrs. Obama said. “We can’t just leave it up to the parents.  I think that parents have a right to expect that their efforts at home won’t be undone each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending machine in the hallway.  I think that our parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards.”

The Senate approved the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act legislation in August and the House approved it earlier this month by a vote of 264-157 (with 153 Republicans and 4 Democrats voting no, and 247 Democrats and 17 Republicans voting yes). The law will be administered by the Department of Agriculture, which will craft new school nutrition standards under the law.

The law increases spending on school nutrition programs by $4.5 billion over ten years and encompasses a range of provisions, including offering qualified children breakfast, lunch and dinner at school, as well as meals during the summer. It also includes a pilot program for “organic foods.”

President Obama said at the signing ceremony—held at the HarrietTubmanElementary School in Washington. D.C.--that he was following in the tradition of President Harry S. Truman, who signed the first federal school lunch program into law, and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Childhood Nutrition Act of 1966.

Obama said that if the bill had not reached his desk for his signature, “I would be sleeping on the couch.”

The law has been championed by the first lady as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity. Michelle Obama said that while it may seem ironic to be addressing childhood hunger and obesity at the same time, “it’s really just two sides of the same coin.”

Critics of the bill include former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a Republican, who took cookies to an event in Pennsylvania in November to illustrate what she said is the “nanny state run amok.”

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