2013 Kids' State DinnerToday was the 2013 Kids' State Dinner at the White House. For those unfamiliar with the event, it's a day where one child from every state, three U.S. Territories, and D.C. is asked to come to the White House for a day of press and a luncheon hosted by Michelle Obama. The 54 kids, who ranged from ages 8-12, were all winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a contest that asked kids to create a nutritious, affordable, creative meal that adheres to the Choose My Plate guidelines. Doesn't sound all that easy -- especially for a tween. But judging by the shockingly innovative winning dishes from each state, you'd think these budding chefs have been doing this for years. (Black Bean Wrap With Jicama-Grilled Corn Salsa, anyone?)
The Stir was fortunate to attend the event, and wow -- it was both an eye-opening and inspiring experience. Who ever said American kids are lazy?
I got a chance to briefly talk with Tanya Steele, the Editor in Chief of Epicurious, who created the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, and she couldn't stress enough how dazzled she was by the entries both this year and last. "Kids' palates are more sophisticated than we thought," she said, mentioning that the star ingredients this year were Greek yogurt, salmon, pineapples, and kale. (Last year, quinoa was the majority of the chefs' choice.) Steele talked about how she had a difficult time getting her twins to eat healthy when they were young, and how, in creating this contest, she was looking for a way to inspire kids with food. She noted that after seeing the entries, she realized that kids are being exposed to global flavors now. AKA, the Reign of the Chicken Nugget is over.
Let's Move! executive director and assistant White House chef, Sam Kass, was one of the judges of the contest, and he echoed Steele's sentiments. Kass said he couldn't believe that one of the dishes, Fun Mini Pizzas With Veggies & Cauliflower Crust, really was gluten-free. He also stressed the importance of learning to cook and eat healthy at young age, saying, "We are the product of our childhoods." But he wouldn't cop to having a favorite. (Sure.)
The kids, though some shy, were all over the moon for being asked to attend the event. But moreover, their passion for healthy cooking couldn't have been more obvious. These kids like making their own food. And their desire for fast food and candy seemed to be completely absent. One winner, Breeze Petty from Wyoming, talked about how she took a comfort food she loves, chili, and made it healthier. "I traded ground beef for ground turkey," Breeze said, "And instead of using oil in the cornbread, I used Greek yogurt." She also quite simply added, "If you feel like you can make it healthy, you can."
When the First Lady took the stage, you could feel the energy shift in the room -- in a good way. It was taking something positive and wonderful, and kicking it up a notch. Mrs. Obama's passion for ending childhood obesity within a generation was palpable. After joking around with the crowd and praising the winners, she said, "This is about giving kids the foundation to fly high and dream big."
And speaking of dreams, during the last few minutes of the Kids' State Dinner, Mrs. Obama's other half decided to "crash" the luncheon. Yep. The President of the United States dropped by to congratulate the winners. After the First Lady mentioned that it was okay for the kids to use their fingers to eat, the President joked that she would "never allow him to do that at a state dinner." Like the First Lady, Obama stressed the importance of learning to eat healthy as a child. He mentioned how people assume that if something is good for you, "it must be nasty", but that's not the case. He recalled disliking vegetables as a kid because basically the only way to eat them was boiled. But now with creativity abounding in the culinary field, it really is quite easy to have a meal that's both nutritious and delicious for your family.
Here are a few photos from the event. Hope this inspires other families to stress healthy eating and cooking with their children.
How do you encourage your kids to eat healthy?
Gorgeous centerpieces from the event
The President congratulating winners
Images via Nicole Fabian-Weber