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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kids' State Dinner Quite A Shindig

First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a first ever White House State Dinner for children who submitted their favorite, healthy kid recipes to the White House in support of the First Lady's Let's Move healthy eating initiative.

We have some real color commentary (too informative and extensive to waste) from a White House pool report that sums up the event quite nicely.   (Thanks to Eddie Gehman Kohan, Executive Editor of ObamaFoodorama, a web site she started that highlights the food events surrounding the The First Lady's Let's Move! initiative and the The Food Archive of the Obama Presidency).

Before we get to that though, let me also add that we thought White House chef, Sam Kass, did a fabulous job working the 'Red Carpet' as the winners arrived through the part of the White House known as the Booksellers area.  Kass interviewed each winner before they entered the East Room of the White House
getting reaction from them all on being at the White House for the illustrious occasion. It was like watching the Red Carpet arrivals to Hollywood's Grammy's or Emmy's.  Take a look see.

Marshall Reid (right) introduced First Lady Michelle Obama.
Now, on to Eddie's report.

Pool was escorted into the Booksellers area of the White House on Monday morning at 9:32 AM to await the arrival of First Lady Michelle Obama's 54 child guests and their parents/guardians for the historic, first-ever Kids' State Dinner. The kids, ages 8-12, were the winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a recipe contest created to support FLOTUS's Let's Move! campaign, which marked its second anniversary last February.

The luncheon was a heady celebration of delicious and affordable home cooking and healthy eating, and the role children can play in literally changing the health status of an entire generation, set against the heady backdrop of full White House formality. The recipe contest was perfectly timed for the start of the 2012 school year, too. The pint-sized chefs, who came from all 50 states, the District and 3 US territories (winners list is below), have already been the subject of local/regional media attention, as well as praise from Mrs. Obama and contest sponsor Editor in chief Tanya Steel, who thought up the contest--two years ago, she told pool--was among the 140 guests (headcount provided by WH).

Guests included the kid winners and their parent/guardians, reps from Epicurious, as well as Marshall Reid, age 12, and his mother, Alexandra Reid, co-authors of the book "Portion Size Me," who also served as recipe contest judges. Marshall introduced Mrs. Obama at the luncheon. Reed Alexander, one of the co-stars of TV show iCarly (he plays character Nevel Papperman) was also a guest; the 17 year old is a longtime supporter of Let's Move!. FLOTUS, as everyone knows, had a cameo on iCarly.

About 1,200 recipes were entered during the contest period, which ran May 21-June 17. Judging took place on June 20, and selections from the winning recipes were served for lunch (menu below). Recipes had to be healthy, affordable, and tasty, and meet the guidelines of USDA's MyPlate icon: Whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Some winners were entirely vegetarian. In keeping with their newly anointed position as young ambassadors for the First lady's child health campaign, the kids were treated to the kind of protocol afforded to world leaders, Nobel laureates and celebrities who attend State Dinners: They were announced individually by loudspeaker as they entered Booksellers, and walked across the tan and white marble floor to face a scrum of media behind a velvet rope line, snapping photos and asking questions (though no one asked the standard "who are you wearing?").

Each child's name, state, and the name of their winning recipe was announced as they entered, as were the names of adult companions. It was primarily moms as escorts, though there were dads in the crowd and a few grandparents, too. The weather was grey and drizzly, but the kids were clad in summer finery, decked out for the luncheon. The young ladies wore summery dresses, mostly sleeveless, in imitation of their hostess, as well as hair bows and sparkly jewelry. Pool noted some very special dresses, with *lots* of sparkles. The girl winner from Idaho rocked a cowboy hat and boots. The young men were split between shirts and ties with trousers, and the same with jackets.

Epicurious editor Steel was first to enter Booksellers, clad in a green sleeveless dress, her blond hair down. She sat at the First Lady's table, #8, during the luncheon, which was center in the East Room.

"I am so inspired," Steel told pool. "It's been a two-year process. I can't believe it's actually happening. It's a thriling moment for all of us today." She hailed the child chefs as "amazing," and "very creative," and said she hoped they'll continue spreading the First Lady's message.

"That's the ultimate prize," Steel said. "Healthy kids."

Aaron Blust, age 9, of Alaska won for his Teriyaki Salmon Wrap recipe. He was seated at Mrs. Obama's table during the lunch, a fact he didn't know when entering Booksellers. "I'm really, really excited," Blust said about the prospect of meeting FLOTUS. His recipe was a no-brainer, he said: "I really like fish. We're from Alaska," he told pool. Asked if he'll be a chef when he grows up, Blust hedged: "I might!" he said. He's been cooking with his mom for as long as he can remember, he said.

Arizona winner Haile Thomas, age 11 from Tucson, was visiting the White House for her second time; she toured it with Sr. Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass after speaking at a conference for Partnership for a Healthier America, the foundation that supports Let's Move! Her recipe for a Quinoa, black bean, and corn salad was served as the luncheon appetizer.

"It's an honor to be here," Thomas said, clad in a summery yellow dress, her hair in curls.

She's been cooking since age 5 with her mother, who runs a catering business when not managing Thomas' budding career as a junior chef and child health spokesperson.Thomas just started 6th grade, and is now the paid child ambassador for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, which has partnered with the Let's Move! campaign to create a healthy kids menu.

Legendary chef Alice Waters is the adult spokesperson for the effort, called For Kids By Kids. Thomas is also on the kids advisory board for ChopChop magazine, and a junior advisor for Alliance for a Healthier America, former President Bill Clinton's foundation. Asked how she feels about having her recipe served,

Thomas replied: "It is a true honor. It's amazing."

Florida winner Deborah Goncalves, age 12, from Tampa, was clad in a brown silk dress, and won for her recipe "Triple F: Fake Fast Food." Asked how she feels about lunching with FLOTUS, Goncalves, who is in 7th grade, did not hold back: "The First lady is like OH MY GOD!" she said. "I can't believe it!!"

Goncalves said she thought up her recipe because "kids love fast food." "But mine is good for you. It uses quinoa, so it can be as fun as fast food, but much healthier!"

North Carolina winner Sydney Brown, age 11 (female) won for Sydney's Homerun Meatloaf Burger. She wore a pink bolero sweater and a flowered dress, and said she was thrilled to be a winner--and to meet FLOTUS.

"I want to thank her for all she's done for kids," Brown said--with no prompting from her mother, BTW.

"It's overwhelming," Brown said about winning. "It's amazing." Brown is a burger lover, and said she originally created her recipe for a burger contest for chain eatery Red Robin, but then realized it could be much healthier, in keeping with the Let's Move! campaign.

"So I took all kinds of vegetables, and mixed it all together--carrots, zucchini, peppers." She still can't believe she won, she told pool.

The winner from Mrs. Obama's home state, Illinois, Jonah Schaik, age 12 of Hinsdale, won for Jonah's Pesto Pasta. He was on a special mission when creating his recipe, Schaik said: His brother is allergic to dairy, and he wanted to "make something we could both eat." His pesto recipe uses no cheese, but "lots of garlic." Schaik has been cooking with mom Madelyn, who accompanied him, since age three, and said he was very exited ("very!") to meet Mrs. Obama. He might be a chef when he grows up, Schaik said.

At the 'Dinner' kids get a surprise visit from the president.

It's mind blowing how long I've been waiting to come here!" said Texas winner Michael Lakind, age 9, who won for "Bunny Bisque and Secret Service Super Salad." Clad in a blue shirt and a tie, with dress trousers, the mini chef was almost levitating with excitement, and also dubbed his visit to the White House "amazing."
Lakind very seriously told pool that his recipe was "in honor of the hard work of the Secret Service, who have a very big role in the life of the President and First Lady." His mother is a caterer, he said, and he, too, has been cooking since he was knee-high to a cornstalk.

iCarly co-star Reed Alexander, clad in a grey summer weight suit, with no tie, gushed about FLOTUS and the Let's Move! campaign as he entered Booksellers. He lost 15 pounds about two years ago after changing his eating habits, Alexander said, and his second career is now being Mrs. Obama's foremost teen spokesman.

"I am 100% an ambassador for Let's Move!," Alexander said. "It's a thrill." "This is such a spectacular event," Alexander added, meaning both the luncheon and the recipe contest. "What an incredible celebration!"

Per the East Wing, FLOTUS's other signature campaign, Joining Forces, was also spotlighted: The Reids and the Wisconsin winner, Finwe Wiedenhoeft, age 9, who came with her mother Kristin Wiedenhoeft, are both military families. The Wiedenhoefts sat with Mrs. Obama. Mom has five kids, and the eldest son, 19, is in the Navy. The kids were done arriving by 10:47 AM, and then they partied on the State Floor as they awaited the start of the lunch. They were entertained by a Marine Corps quintet, clad in red formal uniforms, playing jazzy renditions of kid-friendly tunes, including the theme from "The Flintstones." A balloon artist created shaped animals and funny hats to wow the kids--which included a very large green alien riding on a black motorcycle. Rather than floral arrangements, vases carried arrangements made of fruit, shaped like little trees: Blueberries, strawberries, melon.

Before the lunch, Kass, wearing his formal chefs whites with the White House seal on the breast, taped interviews with the kids and adults, standing before a video camera in the Cross Hall and discussing healthy eating, gardening, and fitness. After the lunch, he led the kids on a closed-press tour of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden. The kids were also treated to a command performance by Nickelodeon band Big Time Rush, who played three songs.

FLOTUS, clad in a green and white print short-sleeved dress with a scalloped neckline and fullish skirt, wore her hair down, with a string of pearls around her neck, and blue closed-toe pumps. She arrived at the luncheon shortly before11:30 AM after the guests had been escorted into the East Room; they rose as she arrived and applauded. Mrs. Obama has worn her dress before, according to an East Wing aide, who could not identify the designer. Guests sat at a combination of round tables for 10 and rectangular tables for 12. Mrs. Obama's Head Table was round, and she was seated with Louisiana winner Michael Prados and his Grandfather Michael Prados; Alaska winner Aaron Blust and his mom Jeanne Monk; Tanya Steel; Wisconsin Winner Finwe Wiedenhoeft, and her mother Kristina Wiedenhoeft; and the District of Columbia winner, Ilianna Gonzalez-Evans and her mother Anita Gonzalez-Evans.

FLOTUS has dined on healthy foods with children throughout her campaign, but never with such formal trappings, and never with the traditional high-beams of full White House pomp and circumstance. Past meals with kids were garden side picnics.

The President made a surprise visit to the luncheon after the salad had been served, and was greeted with a standing ovation. He made brief remarks, congratulating the winners and then went around the room and shook hands with, it seemed like, absolutely everyone. He lingered in the Cross Hall after exiting the East Room to more applause.

A sampling of meals from winners of the Healthy Lunch Challenge.

The winning recipes have been collected in a down loadable cookbook, which should now be available on the and websites. The luncheon menu was created by Executive Chef Cris Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses from the winners' recipes, which were each full meals that included side dishes or notes for side dishes. The two chefs, standing in the back of the East Room during the luncheon, got a shout-out from FLOTUS.

The menu: Kale Chips from the New York winner were placed on each table ahead of the appetizer, which was Quinoa Black Bean and Corn Salad from the Arizona winner. The entree was "Yummy Cabbage Sloppy Joes" from the Kansas winner, accompanied by Baked Zucchini Fries from the North Carolina winner. Dessert was two recipes: A Strawberryana Smoothie from the Hawaii winner; and a "Summer Fruit Garland" from the South Dakota winner, which was chunks of fruit on a wooden skewer. "All the kids are winners," stressed Semonti Stephens, when noting that all the recipes were terrific.

Per the White House, winning recipes "were selected from over 1,200 delicious entries, which were evaluated at D.C. Central Kitchen by a panel of judges that included White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass; Chef José Andrés; Marshall and Alex Reid, authors of Portion Size Me; Epicurious Editor-in-Chief Tanya Steel; and representatives from the USDA and the Department of Education," contest co-sponsors. The WH released a video of the judging process, available on

As part of the prize package, the kids and their adult companions were flown by Delta Airlines to the District, and the Westin Georgetown provided a one-night hotel stay.

Some of the Let's Move!/Epicurious Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Winners are: Alabama: Falcon Wiles, age 9, Alabama's Yummy Summer Soup / Alaska: Aaron Blust, age 9, Alaska Teriyaki Salmon Wrap /Arizona: Haile Thomas, age 11, Quinoa, Black Bean, and Corn Salad / Arkansas: Trey Sims, age 12, Kickin' Chicken Salad / California: Sean Reichbach, age 9, Sean's 3-Pepper Soup / Colorado: Aidan Gould, age 12, Rainbow Salad with Black Beans, Homegrown Mint, and Lemon / Connecticut: Betsy DaSilva, age 10, Heavenly Lunch.

Click here to see the full list of winners.

Check out a few online recipes below
Chicken Casserole Dish /

Spaghetti Bake Recipe /

Wheat Free Recipes /

More Kid Friendly (and adult) Items

Exercise Your Brain

How To Publish Kid's Book

Southern Cheese Straws

Classic southern recipe

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