First lady Michelle Obama speaks during an event with hundreds of chefs from around the country, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Friday, June 4, 2010.

*Michelle Obama on Friday invited 500 chefs to the White House to serve up a new mentoring initiative in her anti-obesity campaign.

The culinary guests – including TV’s Rachel Ray, Tom Colicchio and Cat Cora – gathered in the White House Rose Garden to launch the program in which they’ll adopt local schools and help parents and teachers educate kids about good nutrition. The chefs will also help develop healthy menus that meet tight budgets for use in school kitchens.

“Chefs have tremendous power as leaders on this issue because of their deep knowledge of food and nutrition and their ability to deliver these messages in a fun and delicious way,” Obama said.

Chef Cat Cora, right, cuts greens with Matthew Louhman, 7, from Hollin Meadows Elementary School in Alexandria, Va.,as they prepare a salad from the harvest from the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House, June 4, 2010

“We can change the future for our children and for this nation,” Obama said. “We want you all in every school in the nation.”

Obama’s program is designed to encourage US schools to improve the quality of school meals, offer more kids more physical activity and education on good nutrition and healthy eating.

“You all know the statistics when it comes to the health of our kids, and they’re staggering,” Obama said. “Nearly one third of children in this country are now overweight or obese.”

Children from Hollin Meadows Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., show a platter of broccoli harvested from the White House Kitchen Garden

Obama said that parents, teachers and food manufacturers must accept their responsibility to help kids be more healthy — and head off ailments later in life like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

“Let me tell you something, my mother didn’t know how to cook broccoli, it was watery and mushy… and we thought you could eat it with a spoon,” Obama said. “I know a lot of parents out there are cooking broccoli like that — it makes it hard to like broccoli if that is how you are cooking it.”

Children from Hollin Meadows Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., wash broccoli harvested from the White House Kitchen Garden

Michelle Obama’s initiative aims to rally families, communities, schools, urban planners, politicians and the media to solve the scourge of childhood obesity in a generation. She points to the urgency of taking action today, at a time when there are already three times more obese children in the United States than 30 years ago.