Five Magnolia Elementary School students, along with their peers from schools in Washington, D.C., Virginia and West Virginia, sat down with First Lady Michelle Obama Wednesday for a meal made with fresh produce from the White House garden.
"The First Lady is a very nice person to talk to," 11-year-old Kylah Cain-Ward, of Edgewood, said in a telephone interview while riding the bus back to Harford County. "Even though she's very famous, she's like an ordinary woman, and she's very nice and kind."
Kylah and four of her fellow fifth graders – Donyell Lyons, 10, of Edgewood, Jessica Ann Dewhirst, 10, of Joppa, Antonio Negron and Kimonna Henderson, both 10 and Edgewood residents – plus Principal Patricia Mason and fifth-grade teacher Jessica Mecca traveled to Washington, D.C., for the White House visit.
They were among 25 children who visited the presidential mansion.
"It was wonderful," Mason said. "The kids had a really good time."
The Magnolia Elementary children had been invited to help Obama harvest produce from the White House Kitchen Garden, prepare it with White House chefs and then eat it as part of a larger event designed to kick off a two-year effort to promote the marketing and provision of healthy snacks and meals to schoolchildren across the nation.
Donyell said that his favorite part was meeting Obama.
"She even gave us an autograph," he said.
The program is part of the First Lady's "Let's Move!" effort and is being carried out in partnership with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that produces the "Sesame Street" children's program, plus the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America, according to a White House press release.
Characters on "Sesame Street" will be the promotional figures of the campaign, and produce growers, as well as the supply and retail companies that are part of the Produce Marketing Association, will be able to use the characters to market their products free of charge, according to the press release.
Officials with Sesame Workshop have been promoting healthy habits to children, such as eating right and exercise, through the organization's Healthy Habits for Life program since 2004, according to the White House news release.
"Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store and they see the 'Sesame Street' Muppets, lining, all over the produce aisle," the First Lady said during a press conference that preceded the event with the children.
Her remarks were recorded on video and made available on the White House website.
"Just imagine what it's going to be like, moms and dads, when our kids are begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips; it can happen!" Obama continued.
The Muppets Elmo and Rosita were on hand Wednesday to help the First Lady and the children kick off the campaign.
They also had a chance to speak to the assembled media representatives Wednesday.
"Elmo loves healthy food," said the bright red Muppet with the high-pitched voice. "Elmo thinks that fruits and vegetables are delicious!"
Rosita, a shade of aqua, talked about fruits and vegetables as "anytime foods."
"They're so good for you that you can eat them every single day," she said.
Obama later met the children in the garden; they represented schools where administrators have worked to integrate healthy meals and snacks into the school day.
Obama said during the press conference that she had issued a challenge about six weeks before to various business leaders to use "creative, innovative marketing strategies" to encourage children to eat healthy foods.
"There is plenty of work left to be done, and there are plenty of ways to show leadership on this issue, so I am looking forward to celebrating more companies and more organizations as they step up on behalf of our children," she said.
Children at Magnolia Elementary enjoy a healthy breakfast each morning, harvest vegetables from three raised gardens and teachers partner with staff from the University of Maryland Extension Office to teach children about nutrition, Mason explained.
She said school administrators work to bring in healthy foods from Harford County farmers.
"The cafeteria ladies are very instrumental in making sure that the snacks are provided every day and our breakfast program is delivered to the classrooms every morning," the principal said.
Mason said the children harvested produce such as broccoli, pumpkins and carrots from the White House garden and ate vegetable turkey wraps and pumpkin carrot soup.
"I had two whole turkey wraps," Kylah said. "They were very delicious."
Jessica said she likes to try new things, and spoke highly of the foods she tried Wednesday.
"When I tasted them I felt like I was super healthy," she said.