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Defending Michelle Obama's splurge doctrine. When to say yes to fries and a shake

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- First lady Michelle Obama is no eating purist, nor has she ever pretended to not love her french fries even as she champions healthy eating.

"I splurge," she said Thursday, in a pre-emptive strike at critics ready to pounce at the sight of some fries getting within a few feet of Mrs. Obama. "It's a good thing."

The splurge confession is hardly news. She's been talking about how an occasional indulgence is OK since she launched her signature "Let's Move" anti-childhood obesity drive in 2010. There continues to be misunderstanding in some precincts, as recently as Thursday, and I suspect it is deliberate at this point. Mrs. Obama has been preaching balance for years now.

Mrs. Obama traveled to an Olive Garden restaurant in Hyattsville, Md., a Washington suburb, to tout a voluntary agreement made between the Partnership for a Healthier America -- the nonprofit created in connection with Let's Move that serves as its operating arm -- and Darden Restaurants, the company that runs the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze chains.

The restaurant company promised to start to cut calories, automatically serve healthier fruit and vegetable side dishes to kids, reduce sodium and, to decrease cola consumption, give kids free refills of low-fat milk.

While Darden will push to revamp the kids menu by July 2012, the company has a long-term goal of a 10 percent reduction of calories over five years and a 20 percent calorie cut in 10 years.

Darden is acting in the face of competition that has already pledged to improve products aimed at children, including McDonald's, which launched its plan to upgrade menu choices last July.

The headline on the Drudge Report over the AP story about the Darden deal was "No fries for you!" That led me to recall how in September, Glenn Beck at a "Right Nation 2010" convention in suburban Chicago said, "Get away from my french fries, Mrs. Obama."

In February, Mrs. Obama caught flak because of the White House Super Bowl menu, which included bratwurst, kielbasa, cheeseburgers and deep-dish pizza.

Her July milkshake at a Washington diner, the Shake Shack, found some journalists scrambling to figure out the hefty calorie count for their stories.

That's why, I figure, Mrs. Obama tried to inoculate herself against critics ready to pounce on her Thursday speech, where she was talking about how parents have to be good eating role models for their kids.

"So if we want them to develop healthy habits, then we can't order them the broccoli and the spinach and then turn around and have burgers and fries. Trust me, I tried it. It doesn't work. Doesn't play so well," Mrs. Obama said.

Her point Thursday -- and she has been consistent about this since the start of Let's Move -- is to use balance and moderation in making food choices.

"With that said, there is nothing wrong with occasionally splurging on treats and desserts, right? I mean, that's the fun of being a kid. And quite frankly, it's the fun of being human. And I certainly have done my share of splurging. I splurge. It's a good thing," she said.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on September 16, 2011 9:14 AM.

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