NEW YORK -- Rachael Ray is putting her "big mouth" to good use: to teach schoolkids to grow and eat healthier food.
The star TV chef and author joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday at a Brooklyn school, one of 25 in the city that have built their own gardens "to empower kids to cook and have a healthier relationship with food," Ray told a gathering of children, teachers and officials on the playground of Public School 29.
They stood in front of boxes of vegetables and herbs that will go into school lunches. Ray is helping create menus for 1,600 city public schools where students also are taught cooking and nutrition.
The New York effort is part of a national campaign against childhood obesity led by first lady Michelle Obama, who helped Washington schoolchildren create a White House garden.
One in three American children is overweight or obese, increasing their risk of diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses, and contributing to health care costs.
The city program, with a goal of creating 50 school gardens by next year, is supported by Ray's Yum-o! organization, plus government, private and community nonprofit funds.
"I pledge my continued support as long as I have a big mouth," said Ray, who then inspected the school garden with Bloomberg, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker and other officials.
As a child in upstate New York, Ray said she ate produce grown by her Italian grandfather. But she confessed with a grin, she also "had the diet of a 75-year-old Sicilian -- I loved salt, I ate a lot of anchovies."
When asked what his favorite vegetable was, Bloomberg deadpanned: "Steak." And the kids giggled.
They had posted "love letters to their garden," as Ray called sheets of colorfully decorated papers tacked to the chain-link fence near rows of wooden boxes filled with budding tomatoes, carrots, basil, dill, spinach and other produce.
One boy wrote that he likes gardens because they're often surrounded by "flowers and buttflys."
A girl said her school's plantings make P.S. 29 "pritty."
And in one box, the vivid green, sprouting leaves were labeled "Mints."