First lady vows to fight for school lunch nutrition 'until the bitter end'

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First lady Michelle Obama encouraged parents Thursday to fight with her "until the bitter end" to preserve tougher new school lunch standards that House Republicans are working to roll back.

"It's important for every parent to know where their members of Congress stand on this issue," the first lady said during a Twitter chat on school lunches. "Make your voices heard today."

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The Twitter chat came ahead of an event where the first lady and students from nearby elementary schools prepared a healthy salad lunch at the White House. The students were originally invited to help cultivate the White House garden, which they helped plant earlier this year, but the threat of rain kept the event indoors.

"I just want to make sure no one was struck by lightning," Obama joked.

The students were joined by nutritional directors from schools that had implemented the tougher news standards championed by the White House.

At the event, Obama vowed to "fight until the bitter end to make sure that every kid in this country continues to have the best nutrition that they can have in our school."

She argued that ultimately, preserving tough nutrition standards was about promoting academic success.

"We know that kids who have nutritious foods, vegetables and fruits, they do better in school," she said. "They have better disciplinary outcomes. They have higher test scores. So we simply can't afford to say, 'oh, well, it’s too hard so let’s not do it.' "

Obama noted that 90 percent of schools had already met the tougher new nutrition standards.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," she commented. "It's up to us to lead by example."

The first lady also argued that preserving the standards is "critical" to support low-income students who might not have healthy options at home.

"The best way to support them is to make sure we maintain strong nutrition standards," she said.

Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would waive tougher standards on sodium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables for schools that could show they had operated at a net loss over six months.

Republicans say schools need greater flexibility to implement the standards championed by the first lady, and that the tougher requirements cost too much.

That bill was slated to hit the House floor on Wednesday night, but was delayed until next week after the surprise primary loss by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) left Republicans scrambling.

The White House has backed a compromise agreement adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Under that deal, tougher requirements on sodium levels would not be implemented, although requirements on schools to offer fruits and vegetables would remain.

The Senate plan also asks the Agriculture Department to identify products schools could purchase instead of whole-grain pastas and breads, and offer technical assistance to schools struggling to meet the new requirements.

The first lady has aggressively lobbied against the House Republican proposal, holding a series of events with stakeholder groups urging them to help demand lawmakers hold the line. The rare political foray for the first lady included a column in The New York Times where she encouraged parents to “put our children’s interests first.”