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Published July 15, 2013, 10:44 AM

ND girl at Kids' State Dinner

An 8-year-old North Dakota girl created a winning food recipe, earning herself a trip to the White House 'Kids State Dinner" and a place in a cookbook for children.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — An 8-year-old North Dakota girl was one of 54 children who attended the White House “Kids’ State Dinner” on July 10 for creating a winning healthy food recipe that has been included in a cookbook for children.

Charli McQuillan, who lives in Oxbow, N.D., and attends school in nearby Kindred, wrote a recipe for Asian Fajitas.

Epicurious, a food magazine, judged the entries and chose one from each state and territory.

Accompanied by her mother, Heidi McQuillan, Charli got her picture taken with First Lady Michelle Obama, met President Barack Obama at the noontime event, and also met Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House assistant chef Sam Kass, who cooks for the Obama family and is executive director of “Let’s Move,” the first lady’s anti-obesity initiative.

In an interview, Charli said her teacher had put the announcement of the contest in her bookbag and her mother said, “Let’s do this.”

Charli said she entered because she wanted to go bowling in the White House (which did not happen) and because a boy had told her, “You’re never going to go to the White House.”

The family eats healthy, her mother said, because “We live in the middle of nowhere” and have a garden.

Heidi McQuillan acknowledged that her lunch offering in an emergency is tacos. “I love tacos,” her daughter added.

McQuillan said meals in the Kindred schools “are getting healthier every year.” She said the school had qualified for the federal fruit and vegetable snack program one year, but did not get the grant this past year. She said she had been heartened to see kids introduced to fruits and vegetables they had never eaten before — and then to see them in the grocery store with their parents and ask for them.

The “Kids’ State Dinner” was conducted in the same high fashion as dinners for visiting heads of state. Marine guards were on duty, the children went through a receiving line and the tables were set with fine china and silver. Toasts, were offered with water rather than wine.

The first lady did make one exception to the protocol, telling the children, who were eating miniature pizzas with vegetables, however, that “It’s OK to eat with your fingers.”

“The first lady has said that it is OK,” she said, adding “Parents, OK? Don’t make them eat with a fork and knife. Just pick it up.”

Nutritious and delicious

In her speech, the first lady spoke more seriously about the purpose of the contest.

“You all have created nutritious, delicious dishes inspired by the MyPlate nutritional guidelines for healthy meals. And you all stood out among a pool of more than 1,300 submissions for this contest.” Noting that “the odds were pretty tough getting one of these seats at this table.” She urged the children to continue to be advocates for healthy eating.

President Obama dropped by the event, joking that he had not gotten an invitation and that it was “not fair” that the first lady told the children they could eat with their fingers but won’t let him do that.

The president also praised the children for including vegetables in their recipes and noted that he likes vegetables much more now than when he was a child.

The president also told the children that eating healthy, being active and playing sports is helping to create a stronger, healthier America.

“And that saves us money,” he said. “It means people are not sick as much. It means that our health care costs go down. So everything that you’re doing really is having an impact beyond just fixing a good meal.”

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