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Quaker Common Threads

Usually the best part of making food is when you get to eat it. Unless it lands you a free trip to the White House, that is.

Then that's definitely the best part. 12-year-old Joey Heidari from Olathe, Kansas, could tell you all about when that happened to her. Her lentil tacos were so special, they sent her straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Joey about to enter the White House. Image via Abby Heidari, used with permission.


"I really feel like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Joey told the KC Star about how a her recipe put her face-to-face with first lady Michelle Obama.

Quite an opportunity, indeed. And one that Joey and 55 other kids can say they've experienced just this year.

56 young chefs ranging in age from 8 to 12 have won the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge with their unique recipes.  

The challenge? To create an original, nutritious, affordable, and delicious lunch recipe.

The winners — representing each state, five territories, and the District of Columbia — celebrated their victories with a three-course "State Dinner" at the White House, hosted by Michelle Obama. (A total dream? I think so.)

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP.

From Alabama's Green Chicken Wrap and Fruit-tacular Salad to Wisconsin's Cranberry Chickpea Salad, every kid contestant put together an exciting dish meant for people of all ages to enjoy. You can see the full list of winning recipes here.

Joey, representing Kansas, won a spot at the table with her recipe for Lentil Tacos with Cilantro-Avocado Drizzle and a Mango-Peach Smoothie. YUM.

Joey's winning recipe. Image via Abby Heidari.

“We’re so very proud of Joey, and it’s wonderful to watch her blossom with confidence, both in and outside the kitchen," said her mom, Abby.

Getting kids involved in cooking has other benefits beyond confidence.

The earlier kids start cultivating well-rounded eating and cooking habits, the more likely they'll stick with them as they grow older.

Photo via USDA/Flickr.

Habits are real, people!

When kids are able to help out in the kitchen, it gives them a hands-on way to try new foods, use their imaginations and all their senses, and even work on their math and communication skills. All of that can go a long way.

"You can take the most introverted kid and they just come alive when you get them involved in cooking, "said Sara Haas, a spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to CBS News.

Cooking gives kids a better understanding of where their food comes from, too.

It's one of the reasons this year's Healthy Lunchtime Competition placed such a heavy focus on locally-sourced ingredients. The young chefs were encouraged to learn about and use ingredients they could find in their area, adding some home-state pride to their dishes and helping to educate others on their communities through food. Learning while eating ... um yes, please!

We all know a well-rounded diet can help kids to grow and focus and learn. Letting them experiment in the kitchen and follow recipes can only add to that positive impact.

Not to mention it shows them that messing up is normal and to keep trying.

Whipping up something at the age of 5. Image via Abby Heidari.

"When you start cooking, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes," said Joey. "The first time I made macaroni and cheese from a box, I didn’t drain the water, and we had macaroni and cheese soup. But I learned from my mistake, and now it’s an experience we talk about that makes us laugh."

She got to laugh all the way to the White House.

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