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Students from Every State and Territory Show Off Local Pride with MyPlate-Inspired Meals at the 5th Annual Kids' "State Dinner"

Posted by Angie Tagtow, MS, RD, LD, Executive Director, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion in Food and Nutrition Farming Initiatives
Aug 01, 2016
Chef hats for each of the winners at the 2016 Kids’ State Dinner
Chef hats for each of the winners at the 2016 Kids’ “State Dinner.” (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

At the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, we are excited about using local foods and flavors to create healthy and delicious plates. Through our MyPlate, MyState initiative, we are working to connect American families with the foods grown in their communities – raising awareness that all healthy foods and flavors have a place on MyPlate.  As part of that initiative it was my privilege to attend the 5th annual Kids’ “State Dinner” last month, when the winners of the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, were honored for their MyPlate-inspired recipes.  For the first time this year’s contest, in which young chefs ages 8-12 from across the country create healthy recipes and show off their food know-how, included an emphasis on local and regional foods through MyPlate, MyState.

It was thrilling to see such creative approaches to amplifying local and regional foods. The winners truly captured the agricultural, historical, and cultural significance of their communities through food. I had the pleasure of meeting many amazing young chefs in attendance, including 11-year-old Abhijith from Missouri, who incorporated local catfish into his recipe, and 12-year-old Grace from West Virginia, who picked the vegetables in her dish from a community garden.

The 56 finalists representing each state, five territories, and the District of Columbia were treated to a memorable visit at the White House with a three-course “State Dinner” hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The event had many notable details resembling a traditional state dinner, from the White House china used to the receiving line and wonderful musical entertainment. After meeting the kids and sampling some of the delicious winning dishes, I can say firsthand that these aspiring young chefs were both enthusiastic and incredibly talented.

During the meal guests were welcomed by the First Lady. Her enthusiasm was infectious. She challenged the kids to “pay it forward” by continuing to champion healthy eating in their communities. In keeping with the theme of homegrown foods, every winner took home a set of gardening tools and a vegetable seed kit.

I was thrilled to see kids eager to experiment in the kitchen and create a variety of recipes that work for their families. The dishes show an inspiring commitment to healthy cooking inspired by MyPlate; it is exciting to see many of these young cooks embrace their local foods and flavors. It was undoubtedly an unforgettable experience for the kids, and for me as well!

The 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook and winning recipes are now available online at What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl for you and your family to make at home! What’s Cooking offers a variety of healthy and budget-friendly recipes with user-friendly search features and nutrition information. Be sure to also check out the MyPlate, My State initiative as part of our MyPlate, MyWins campaign.

To learn more about healthy eating visit and follow MyPlate on Twitter and Facebook. We encourage you to sign up for email updates on such topics as What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl recipe of the month, updates on new features, current promotions, and much more!

And congratulations to all of the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Winners!

The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge banner
Find the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge recipes on the What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl website.