How do you change the nation's approach to healthy food?
One recipe at a time. That's the takeaway from the Kids' State Dinner at the White House last week, according to 12-year-old Sophie Bollin of Maplewood. She represented Minnesota at the third annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge competition, sponsored by Epicurious, a recipe-based website.
Her Quinoa and Black Beans recipe was among 54 healthy ones that stood out from 1,500 entries and tickled the taste buds of judges like Sam Kass (executive director of the first lady's Let's Move initiative) and Tanya Steel of Epicurious.
The recipe served as Bollin's ticket to a table in the East Room of the White House. She will have quite the tale to tell in September when she heads to Minnesota Math and Science Academy in Woodbury as a seventh-grader.
After a hug from Michelle Obama and a pep talk from 10-year-old Braeden Mannering, a contest winner from last year who spoke about his effort to disburse healthy lunches to the homeless, Bollin was inspired. And maybe a little hungry.
The day after she returned home from D.C. with her mother, Deborah Webster, Bollin shopped at a nearby food stand.
"We bought corn, peaches, cucumbers, potatoes, muskmelon and watermelon. We bought so much because, from hearing from Braeden, I want to make a difference, but I know that to make that difference, it needs to start in my own home," Bollin said. Cooking healthfully at home would be the start of her effort to encourage others to eat well.
"Maybe if I tell just one or two people every week about it, it can go all over," she said.
Her mother was still aglow from their once-in-a-lifetime experience. "I talked with several other mothers there, and we all agreed that this event rated up there with marriage and childbirth," Webster said.
She was also struck by the larger purpose of the gathering: to get the word out to children and their parents that kids are more than willing to eat healthy meals. "There's no reason that parents can't fall in line and follow their children's lead on this. Children would prefer to eat healthy lunches if given the opportunity," she said.
Like many culinary ventures, Bollin's winning recipe was a collaborative effort.
Her mother had been trying to cook more dishes that were vegetarian-based or used less meat. "Sophie in particular loves black beans, and I love quinoa," said Webster. Together with older sister Samantha Webster, they started with an online recipe, gutted it and tailored it to their own family's tastes and seasonings.
"My family loves quinoa, and I love black beans, so we mixed the two together and voilà," Bollin's entry noted. "We serve it with a fresh fruit salad. It is gluten-free and nut-free, and you can make it lactose-free by omitting the cheese." The recipe has landed on their roster of family favorites.
The White House luncheon that day was made up of many of those kids' winning recipes. And the emphasis is on many. Though there were only three courses, they included a total of eight dishes. First course offered bites of Chicken and Grape Salad Lettuce Wraps, Muffin Tin Egg White Frittatas, Mike's Chicken and Vegetable Dumpling Cups, and Smoky Southwestern Dip With Wheat Pita.
Not to worry, though, if some dishes were a bit too bold or unfamiliar.
"We didn't have to eat it all if we didn't want to," said Bollin, who wasn't fazed by the culinary options.
"It was delicious."
Find all the winning recipes at www.letsmov.gov.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste