The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Michelle Obama touts Subway’s kids menu

First lady Michelle Obama ate lunch with local students and star athletes Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin and Justin Tuck at a D.C. Subway Thursday. At the event Obama announced that the restaurant chain will be joining the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) for its largest marketing campaign to promote healthier choices to children. (Video: Casey Capachi/The Washington Post)

In a direct response to Michelle Obama’s declared war on childhood obesity, another food company has changed its business practices and received her blessing. Subway restaurants joined her healthy eating initiative Thursday with a pledge to only include the most nutritious foods on its kids menu and meet the restrictions the federal government has placed on school lunches to include apples on the side and low-fat or nonfat milk or water as a beverage.

To mark the occasion, the first lady visited a Subway sandwich shop a few blocks from the White House, and had lunch and a news conference there with three athletes who endorse the chain and a group of students and parents from Bancroft and Harriett Tubman Elementary Schools in the District.

Before eating a turkey sandwich on wheat stacked with banana peppers, green peppers and spinach, Obama praised Subway for “actually working to get kids excited about eating their vegetables.”

“I asked companies to stop targeting kids with unhealthy products,” Obama said. “Now as parents and consumers — we actually have to buy their [healthier] products. We need to vote with our wallets. That’s how we get even more fresh food in our communities.”

Subway has pledged to spend $41 million over three years promoting its healthier kids menu with commercials and marketing campaigns, which will include the Muppets and the theme “playtime powered by veggies.” It has also stocked the kids menu with fruit, vegetables, non-sugary drinks and lean diary products. Employees will encourage children to pile the vegetables high, a company spokesman said.

The deal, which teams Subway with the Partnership for a Healthier America, comes out of a meeting on food marketing to children that Obama convened in September, where she asked businesses to come up with creative ways to market healthy food to children. The announcement is also the first substantial work Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, which aims to end childhood obesity within a generation, has done with a quick-serve food chain.

Subway also had a few of its famous spokesmen on hand Thursday to join Obama. Justin Tuck, a defensive end for the New York Giants, and Olympic gold-medalist Nastia Liukin put on plastic gloves and made sandwiches for the first lady and a few of the children. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps also touted the menu change.

“Put things into your body that help you perform at your best,” said Phelps, who is famous for both his high caloric diet and fit physique. Obama nodded in agreement and spoke to the parents in the sandwich shop.

“I’m excited about this as a mom,” Obama said. “There was a time in my life when I was a regular parent. I don’t know about you but Saturday I was basically a chauffeur — dance class, soccer and then somebody’s birthday across town.”

Often the only fast-food options were not healthy, she said.

Subway has made it “easy for parents like us,” she said. “You don’t have to argue with your kids about what they can and can’t have. You can let them loose, and no matter what they choose from the kid’s menu — you know it will be healthy.”

The first lady’s efforts, which have been derided as promoting a nanny state by her detractors, elicited a few moans after the announcement. “Who wants to have the First Lady’s face all over advertisements of a sub shop anyway?” asked one right-wing blogger.

Obama supports the marketing campaign, but the Muppets — not the first lady — will appear in advertisements with longtime Subway spokesman Jared Fogle promoting the new menu to kids.