56 kids created amazing recipes and it scored them a trip to the White House.
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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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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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