Dietitian and school nutrition advocate, Maureen Pisanick had a lot on her plate this fall, including a trip to the White House to be honored for her creative, effective efforts to provide more nutritious food for her Hudson students. Pisanick, nutrition director and dietitian for the Hudson City Schools, traveled to Washington D.C. for the Oct. 17th ceremony, which honored schools and their nutrition directors nationwide who met the criteria for the Healthier U.S. School Challenge for 2011.
The event was held on a beautiful 70 degree blue sky sunny afternoon, on the south lawn. With military bands playing, and a guest speaker lineup that included the Secretary of Agriculture and the First Lady herself, Pisanick enjoyed healthy snacks of cider, fresh apples, and a fruit and oat bars. Not your normal after lunch stroll, Pisanick was able to enjoy some time on the South Lawn with an incredible view of the Washington Monument, and well-manicured White House grounds.
Pisanick’s three award-winning schools (Evamere, Ellsworth Hill, and McDowell Elementary schools) were among more than 1,600 in the nation to have received the Healthier U.S. School Challenge Award – double the number of schools in 2010. The growth in ranks was a goal First Lady Michelle Obama set for the nutrition supervisors and directors at a similar ceremony last year. She said she wants to add at least 1,000 more schools to the 2012 list.
“It was a call to action. She wanted us to spread the word, to share our passion,” said Pisanick. “And it is a passion for us, as the First Lady shared in her speech it is an honor every day to serve children healthy food.” Pisanick plans to submit Hudson’s middle and high schools for the award next year, she said.
Since the beginning of the Healthier U.S Schools challenge under the Bush Administration in 2004, awards have been given to schools in 44 states. As of September 28, 2011, there are 1631 schools certified, including Pisanick’s in Hudson. Mrs. Obama has put the Healthier U.S. School Challenge at the top of her agenda, along with her own Let’s Move! Initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation.
The schools honored at the White House last week voluntarily agreed to provide healthy meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods, and fat-free or low fat milk. Challenge schools also have to teach their students what it means to eat smart, and ensure that kids take part in regular physical activity.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at the event, hinting at even stricter guidelines for school food to come in the next year with the new reauthorization. Mrs. Obama reiterated to the group that healthy eating patterns learned in childhood and adolescence last a life time and impact the next generation’s health, growth, and intellectual development.
“The First Lady is an inspiring leader. We’re thrilled she’s taken on the problems of childhood obesity and poor nutrition,” said Pisanick. “It’s something we work on every day, and to have support at that level really highlights and boosts s our efforts.”
Pisanick enjoyed her time on the South Lawn, and felt extremely honored by being among the crowd receiving this recognition from First Lady whom approached her during the White House ceremony and provided her a handshake.
“She shook my hand and thanked me for all my hard work, and that felt great,” Pisanick said. Participants were also given a cookbook pamphlet called “Healthy Recipes from the White House to You” as well as healthy snack during their visit.