Michelle Obama hosts Kids' State Dinner: Better than the real thing?

Winners of the first lady's healthy lunch recipe contest attended a Kids' State Dinner at the White House on Tuesday. It was a lot like a real state dinner, except it was lunchtime and Michelle Obama let everyone eat with their fingers.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters
A place setting for Taddy Pettit (unseen), 10, from Oakwood, Illinois, is seen on a table during the second annual 'Kids' State Dinner,' to honor the winners of a nationwide recipe challenge to promote healthy lunches at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 9.
Susan Walsh/AP
First lady Michelle Obama speaks at a Kids' State Dinner at the White House on Tuesday. Obama welcomed 54 children to the White House for creating winning recipes as part of a healthy lunch contest.

First lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday hosted a “Kids’ State Dinner” at the White House. The event honored 54 children who won a national healthy lunch recipe contest associated with Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.

In some ways the lunch was indeed just like a real state dinner, the first lady noted when greeting the group. Everybody got to go through a reception line. They walked a red carpet past a group of press. They had to wait and wait to get through security.

“It’s a real hassle coming to the White House, isn’t it?” said Mrs. Obama.

But in other ways the lunch was actually better than the nighttime dinners that honor foreign leaders. For one thing, you could eat with your fingers. The first lady, in her remarks, expressly permitted such behavior.

This did not sit well with her husband, who made a drop-by appearance.

“Michelle never said to me I could just pick up something with my fingers at a state dinner. That’s just not fair,” President Obama said, to general hilarity from the 8- to 12-year-old contest winners.

Also, there were balloon animals. A really good balloon person entertained the kids as they filed in. His yellow giraffe was phenomenal.

“I don’t know who’s more popular, Mrs. Obama or the balloon guy,” said Michael Curtin, CEO of DC Central Kitchen and a judge of the recipe contest, prior to the meal.

The food itself was different, too. It was a selection of the winning recipes, one from each state and three US territories. These ran the gamut from “Alaskan Ceviche with Mango” to “Wisconsin Solar Oven-Simmered Chili.”

More than 1,300 children entered the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge contest, which was funded by the food website Epicurious as well as “Let’s Move.” It called for recipes based on the US Department of Agriculture healthy eating guidelines for kids at ChooseMyPlate.gov.

As you might expect, many of the winning recipes are pretty healthy-sounding. Most school lunchrooms don’t feature something called the Bring It On Brussels Sprouts Wrap, invented by 9-year-old Corbin Jackson of South Carolina.

There were lots of lettuce cups. Many winners got their start cooking because they or a sibling has a health challenge that limits their diet.

But gluten-free does not have to mean “tasteless.” Mrs. Obama mentioned that the Fun Mini-Pizza recipe of 10-year-old Olivia Neely of Kansas was so tasty that at least one judge could not believe the crust was made from cauliflower, not flour, and went back to the kitchen to make sure it had been made correctly.

And some recipes sound as if they’d satisfy even a 6-foot, 3-inch 14-year-old of our acquaintance. Who could resist Italian Garden Salsa with Crunchy Chicken Tenders, or Maple BBQ Turkey Burgers?

Now, if only they could get these kids together on designing a healthy Twinkie. That would be a real accomplishment.

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