First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with PBS, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, also known as the White House Kids’ State Dinner, on July 14. The goal is to promote cooking and healthy eating among young people across the nation.


First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the White House Kids’ State Dinner.

Kids aged 8-12, in collaboration with a parent or guardian, were invited to create an original, healthy, affordable, and delicious lunch recipe.

Fifty-six young chefs representing each U.S. state, five territories, and the District of Columbia utilized guidelines from to meet USDA nutritional guidelines to create recipes that provided tasty, healthy, original, and affordable meals. More than 1,200 entries were submitted for this year’s challenge.

“This is about setting kids like all of you up for a lifetime of healthy choices. Because here’s what we know: Eating healthy foods can affect how well you do in school. That’s right. I can’t say this enough – the food that you put into your bodies can actually help you get better grades,” First Lady Michelle Obama told the audience. “When you give your body the best possible fuel, you have more energy, you’re stronger, you think more quickly. You just feel better in general all throughout the day, every day.”

The winning chef for the District of Columbia was 8-year-old Elena Sotobashi. She won the judges over with her D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) Sushi, which she told Obama, was inspired by her Japanese grandfather’s love of sushi. “Sushi has pretty much the same ingredients but everyone gets to make their own rolls. It is good for school lunches because the seaweed is separate and doesn’t get soggy,” Sototbashi said at the event. “I like it because it is easy to make and you can choose what you want. In summer we can get the carrots and cucumbers from our garden and it is fun to make.”

Sotobashi’s recipe, like the others selected by Obama and a committee of chefs from around the country, was chosen as not only healthy, but kid friendly.

“When children eat healthy as a matter of daily habit, it become so natural that as adults they are naturally inclined to eat the foods that will sustain their good health into adulthood,” Unity Health nutritionist Harriet Hicks, told the AFRO. “First Lady Obama’s efforts to make better food choices the prevue of children means they will avoid the bad choices and chronic illnesses, like diabetes and hypertension that plague a lot of children – especially African-American children.”

Maryland’s leading kid chef, Colby Trenor, wowed judges with Maryland Crab Lettuce Cups – a play on the region’s love of fresh seafood that was considered both fun and also quick. “Working with my mom, we nixed some ingredients and reduced others. We also reworked proportions and used fresh-frozen foods in place of some items not in season right now, to save money,” Trenor told judges. “This dish got smiles and clean plates all around, so it’s a hands-down winner.”

The winners and a parent or guardian will enjoy a healthy lunch hosted by Obama that features a selection of the winning recipes. Following lunch, everyone headed to the South Lawn to visit the White House Kitchen Garden.