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Subway restaurant chain heeds Michelle Obama's call to market healthier food choices to kids

FILE - This Jan. 16, 2014 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Michelle Obama has a new partner in her campaign to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. The Subway sandwich chain will spend $41 million over three years to encourage them to eat more food that doesn’t come from a box, the first lady announced Thursday at one of the Connecticut-based company’s restaurants just north of the White House. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

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FILE - This Jan. 16, 2014 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Michelle Obama has a new partner in her campaign to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. The Subway sandwich chain will spend $41 million over three years to encourage them to eat more food that doesn’t come from a box, the first lady announced Thursday at one of the Connecticut-based company’s restaurants just north of the White House. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

WASHINGTON - Michelle Obama has a new partner in her campaign to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

The Subway sandwich chain will spend $41 million over three years to encourage them to eat more food that doesn't come from a box, the first lady announced Thursday at one of the Connecticut-based company's restaurants just north of the White House.

Subway will also offer a kids' menu that mirrors federal standards for school lunches, including offering apples on the side and low-fat or nonfat plain milk or water as a default beverage.

Speaking as a parent, Mrs. Obama said Subway's commitment will help moms and dads choose healthy food for their kids. Its kids' menu will help eliminate the worry some parents feel about the choices they have to make when eating out, she said.

"Every single item on the kids' menu meets the highest nutrition standards," the first lady said before she went to the counter and ordered a turkey on whole wheat bread with spinach, peppers, and oil and vinegar dressing. She paid the $4.40 tab with a $20 bill and scarfed down her lunch while chatting with a group of local elementary school students who had been invited for the announcement.

Some of Subway's famous celebrity endorsers also were present, including Olympians Nastia Lukin, who prepared Mrs. Obama's sandwich, and Michael Phelps, along with New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and Jared Fogle. Fogle gained fame in a series of TV commercials years ago in which he described losing 245 pounds while eating a steady diet of Subway sandwiches, plus walking.

Subway's commitment is "a natural extension of what we do," Tony Pace, Subway's chief marketing officer, said in a telephone interview. The chain offers a line of lean-meat and vegetable sandwiches that have been certified by the American Heart Association, as well as a trio of breakfast sandwiches with fewer than 200 calories apiece.

Pace said people are becoming more aware of the importance of eating healthier.

Subway's announcement follows a summit on food marketing to kids that Mrs. Obama held at the White House last fall. At the time, she urged food and beverage makers, media and entertainment companies, and others to do more to promote healthier foods to children.

A month after the September gathering, Mrs. Obama announced that the non-profit organization that produces TV's "Sesame Street" had agreed to let the produce industry use Elmo, Big Bird and its other furry characters free of charge in its kid-focused advertising.

Sam Kass, a White House chef and executive director of the first lady's campaign against childhood obesity, told The Associated Press that Subway was "raising the bar for what a responsible, quick-service restaurant can do to help support the health of the nation."

Subway will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America, a non-profit organization that works with the private sector to help advance the goals of "Let's Move," the childhood obesity initiative Mrs. Obama launched in 2010, a year after becoming first lady.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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