The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


President helps promote healthy eating at 'Kids' State Dinner'


President Barack Obama drops by the Kids’ State Dinner in the East Room of the White House on Monday. (White House/Pete Souza)

Just as the Agriculture Department began promoting new guidelines for school meals Monday, President Barack Obama elevated the importance of healthy eating by showing up at a White House luncheon his wife Michelle organized to honor 54 children who submitted the winning entries in a healthy eating recipe contest called the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.

The Agriculture Department’s radio service released a feature Monday noting that schools must comply this fall with the guidelines to serve more whole grains and fruits and vegetables and less fatty, salty food that were implemented under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. (See link below)

One child from each state, the three territories and the District of Columbia were selected to attend what was officially called a “kids state dinner,” even though it was held at lunch time.

Obama told the children that he is proud of the first lady’s efforts “to mobilize a movement around the country to give parents more choices and more information so that they can work with their kids to make sure their kids are healthy.”

But he added, “I could not be prouder of you, the young people, because it's hard enough to follow a recipe and make something good to eat.”

Obama also told the kids that he is “not a great cook.”

“I'm an OK cook. I can make a good omelet and toast,” he said, at which point the first lady chimed in that he can make chili.

“I make a very good chili, it's true,” the president confirmed, adding, “But, look, let's face it, I don't cook that often these days. But I remember cooking and it's not always easy to make something that people like to eat. Then for you guys to actually come up with recipes that are healthy and tasty, and to do it in a way that helps to contribute to spreading the word about healthy eating among your peers — that's a really big deal.”


President Barack Obama samples a baked zucchini fry in the Old Family Dining Room
of the White House after dropping by the Kids’ State Dinner in the East Room Monday. (White House/Pete Souza)

Obama also told the kids they looked “very sharp” and asked them not to drop any scraps on the floor because Bo, the Obama family dog, “is on a diet right now and he will eat anything that he sees, especially some of the tasty meals that you guys have prepared.”

The first lady was introduced by Marshall Reid, a 12-year-old who, with his mother Alexandra Reid, has written the book, “Portion Size Me: A Kid-Drive Plan To A Healthier Family.”

Michella Obama thanked Reid for creating “support for young people to get on the right track,” and also thanked Epicurious, a recipe website, that created the contest to support the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to lower childhood obesity.

The first lady noted that 1,200 kids ages 8 to 12 had submitted recipes and thanked the parents and grandparents who were present for teaching the children nutrition.

“I’m sure that there are some wrecked kitchens in this room,” she said. “Sticky things, lots of stuff all over every place. Thank you for being patient and giving your children that sense of possibility to be able to do anything, even compete to win a recipe contest to be here at the White House.”

The kids had managed, she noted, to come up with recipes for foods that are healthy, tasty and have creative names such as Kickin' Chicken Salad, Power Pesto Pasta and Miss Kitty's Egg Salad Sensation. A Texas boy who wants to join the U.S. Secret Service created the Secret Service Super Salad.

The recipes, which all had to comply with the latest USDA dietary guidelines and also be affordable and tasty, were judged on June 20 at D.C. Central Kitchen by a panel of judges that included White House Deputy 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 Agriculture and Education departments.

As they entered the area of the White House known as Booksellers, the winners, who have been proclaimed young ambassadors for the first lady’s anti-obesity campaign, were treated to the kind of protocol afforded to world leaders, Nobel laureates and celebrities who attend State Dinners: They, their adult escorts and the names of their states and recipes were announced individually by loudspeaker as they entered and they walked across the tan and white marble floor to face a scrum of media behind a velvet rope line, snapping photos and asking questions, according to a White House pool report.

At least one child had chosen to use a local product. Aaron Blust, age 9, of Alaska won for his Teriyaki Salmon Wrap. His recipe was a no-brainer, he told the pool reporter. "I really like fish. We're from Alaska.”

After the president and first lady spoke, the children sat down to a formal lunch on the Reagan china. The menu was composed of winning recipes: 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.

After entertainment by the Marine Corps quintet and the Nickolodeon band Big Time Rush, Kass, who also serves as senior adviser for healthy food initiatives, led the kids on a tour of the White House kitchen garden.

The winning recipes have been collected in a downloadable cookbook to be made available on the and websites.

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