March 2nd, 2011
05:42 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) –– Saying schools are the "frontlines of our efforts to fight childhood obesity," first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the government is amping up efforts to get schools to serve more nutritious meals.
In a conference call Wednesday with educators and parent groups from around the country, Vilsack said the Department of Agriculture is putting up $5.5 million dollars in an effort to entice more school districts to join the HealthierUS School Challenge.
Right now only about 500 schools are certified in the program which sets concrete goals to serve more nutritious school meals. The participating schools adopt USDA standards for the food they serve and also agree to educate teachers, parents and kids on how to eat healthier and offer physical activity programs.
Mrs. Obama acknowledged school budgets are tight in this current economic climate saying, "you all are facing shrinking budgets and limited resources...a lot of school districts are struggling just to provide the basics." But she emphasized schools that become certified in the program can also qualify for monetary rewards, from $500 to $2000. She said representatives from award winning schools would also be invited to a reception at the White House.
Mrs. Obama said her goal was to double the number of schools in the HealthierUS School Challenge in 2011and add 1,000 new schools per year over the next two years.
The USDA says many children get half their daily calories each day at school.