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Published August 11, 2014, 09:15 AM

54 youngsters chosen to visit White House

WASHINGTON — A South Dakota girl’s recipe for a healthy school meal won her a trip to the White House and an opportunity to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at a Kids State Dinner on July 18.

By: Alex Gangitano and Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — A South Dakota girl’s recipe for a healthy school meal won her a trip to the White House and an opportunity to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at a Kids State Dinner on July 18.

The children in attendance all submitted winning recipes to the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. In support of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” project, the young chefs had to make recipes that adhered to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” guidelines, in which half the plate is fruits and vegetables, the other half protein and grains.

The winners were chosen by a panel of judges, including Sam Kass, White House chef and executive director of “Let’s Move!”

Sabrina Swee, 12, of Beresford, S.D., came up with a recipe for Hawaiian Kale Wraps.

The winner in each state and U.S. territory — 54 kids in all — were flown to Washington by Delta Airlines for the Kids State Dinner, at which the president and first lady promoted healthier school meals.

“A chef from our state will come and talk to our school about healthy eating,” Swee said as she toured the White House kitchen garden. Swee said she has already seen changes in the nutritional value of her school lunches since the rules under the Healthy Hunger Free-Kids Act went into effect, and she hopes her recipe will be served in her school.

Other state winners from the Upper Midwest who attended the luncheon included Tegan Lancaster, 11, from Fargo, N.D., who submitted a grilled veggie brunch; Sophia Webster, 12, from Maplewood, Minn., who submitted quinoa and black beans; and Chloe Long, 10, from Frenchtown, Mont., who submitted a “What! You Don’t Like Tofu” stir fry.

The first lady urged the children to become involved in her campaign to keep the healthier meal rules that U.S. Department of Agriculture has established, but the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service directors and food companies that make school foods, and House Republicans want it scaled back.

The first lady called the members of Congress leading the pushback as “complaining voices,” and urged the children attending the third annual White House Kids’ State Dinner to join her in the battle.

“Now, I know that some of you might have friends who want to bring back the junk food in the schools, right?” the first lady said in the State Dining Room.

“Because there’s always those kids,” she said. “They’re like, give me my junk food back. And I know that in recent months, we’ve even seen grownups, including folks in Congress, trying to undo some of the progress that we’ve made to get healthier food into our schools. And while the vast majority of the schools are doing just fine with these new standards, those few complaining voices, happen to be the loudest voices and they’re getting the most attention right now.

“It’s not surprising that there are certain interests that are resisting change and trying to take us back to the old ways of doing business because for them there’s a lot of money on the line.”

The first lady said, “You all have a right to expect that your hard-earned tax dollars will be spent on food that meets basic nutrition standards,” noting that the federal government spends $10 billion per year on school meals.

“You all represent 54 reasons why we know that we can do so much better by our kids when it comes to eating healthy because the truth is, is that if 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds can cook and happily eat a healthy, tasty meal, then there is absolutely no reason why we can’t get nutritious foods into every school in this country that kids will actually enjoy. You guys remind me of that every single day.”

When President Barack Obama arrived to speak at the event, he acknowledged that even the first family — including daughters Malia and Sasha — likes less-than-healthy food.

“One thing — maybe I shouldn’t say this — but it’s not like our family, including me, don’t have some snacks once in a while that may not be on the perfect nutrition chart,” Obama said.

The president listed the family food weaknesses: Malia, ice cream; Sasha, pie; the first lady, French fries, and his own downfall, chips and guacamole.

“Basically, if there is a bowl of good chips and guacamole … I lose my mind,” he said.

But the president added all the Obamas have learned to control themselves.

Malia, he said, “still has fun when she does have ice cream. In fact, the fact that she doesn’t have ice cream every day means when she has it, it’s like hallelujah.”

The first lady added, “I’m making a vow — I’m going to take a break from French fries.”

The event included a three-course lunch, incorporating nine recipes by the winners. Joining them at the lunch was the first lady, Kass and NBC “Today” show weatherman Al Roker.

After lunch, performers from the Broadway musical of “The Lion King” entertained.

In her closing remarks, the first lady acknowledged the winners as young leaders and challenged them to “pay it forward.”

The group then explored the White House kitchen garden, which Kass said “is where it all started for us.”