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White House Kitchen Opened to Students for Virtual Healthy Cooking Demo

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Thousands of students took a virtual field trip to the White House kitchen this week for a lesson in healthy eating and good nutrition as part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! health initiative and Discovery Education's Of the People: Live From the White House live-streaming webinar series. 

In an entertaining but less raucous version of Food Network cooking shows, Sam Kass, White House senior advisor for nutrition policy and the executive director of Let's Move, prepared Sunrise Tuscan Chicken, one of the winning recipes from this year's Kids' State Dinner competition.

Students in about 3,000 classrooms across the country tuned in for the live, interactive broadcast.

"We're having lunch in the White House Kitchen! How cool!" tweeted Marnie Diem, a 3rd grade teacher at Conant Elementary Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., during the program.

Her students felt the same way. 

"Ewan thought the White House lunch was amazing," Diem wrote in an email to Education Week after the event, "because we got to learn all about the food at the White House, and what the president's favorite food is." (More on that in a minute.)

Another student, named Brandon, "thought it was really cool that we could be in the White House while eating lunch and talking about healthy foods in our own classroom."

Diem, too, was impressed by the technology. "I loved the ease of the streaming access and how simple it was to bring this fantastic opportunity into my classroom, though we're hundreds of miles away," she wrote, adding that it was at a perfect level for her students to understand and had them "engaged through the whole presentation." Their only complaint was that they wanted to see more of the White House garden. 

Choose My Plate Graphic.pngAs Kass diced and sliced, he chatted about good nutrition and physical fitness with Maurice Morris, a high school senior and cooking enthusiast selected to co-host the event. Morris, who's also a star quarterback at Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., donned a striped apron and playfully shouted the occasional "BAM!" a la TV chef Emeril Lagasse, while asking some prearranged questions, such as "What should be on my plate?"

Kass smiled. "You really just led me perfectly because we developed a whole thing called My Plate. It is the new food pyramid; we turned it into a plate," he said, describing the four sections—one each for fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

He really became animated though, when Morris asked about teens and snacks, the place where even health eaters tend to "fall off the wagon," Kass said.

"Whatever you do, you can't do it as well if you're living on junk food.  Whatever it is, if you're an athlete, if you're a mathematician, if you love chess, if you want to do well on tests. There's a lot of correlation between your diet and how well kids do on tests," Kass said, citing research showing that children who eat free breakfast in school score, on average, 17.5 percent higher on standardized tests than their classmates who skip breakfast.

Kathleen Leddy, a teacher at Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, Texas, said she was "thrilled" that the program happened to be scheduled during her nutrition class and that the information was relevant to teenagers and supported her curriculum:

"I loved watching my students as different topics were discussed that we had already been over in our class! 'We did that!' It was nice to see validation in the curriculum we cover and that the topics we discuss are current."

Students watching the program also had an opportunity to submit questions for Kass to answer during the event.  Not surprisingly, "What's the President's favorite meal?" was at the top of the list.

Kass deftly sidestepped giving a specific answer and instead kept to the theme of the day, saying that the first family likes to "keep it simple," with vegetables, a lot of greens, whole grains, and plenty of fish and chicken.

"This is a home, even though it's the big fancy White House it's a home, and we want to make sure that it feels like home," said Kass, and that means the Obama's dinner table also includes "a good burger every once in a while."

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