Come Monday, Rori Coyne of Shawnee will have lunch with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House.
It would be a big deal for anyone but especially if you’re only in the seventh grade.
The 12-year-old was one of 54 winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a contest run by Let’s Move!, Epicurious and the U.S. departments of education and agriculture. To enter, contestants had to submit an original recipe they created by themselves or with some parental help that fit the healthy eating guidelines from MyPlate.org.
Rori and her mom, Mary Wolarik, will travel to Washington, D.C., to represent Kansas at the White House lunch. They’ll get a tour of the White House and its garden, as well as Julia Child’s kitchen in the Smithsonian Institution and a bus tour of the city. Rori already has a new dress for the occasion.
Wolarik is president-elect of the Kansas Dietetic Association and heard about the contest through her work. She and her daughter submitted the recipe in May, and about two weeks ago, they found out Rori would be going to the capital.
“My mom kept calling me, and I was in Columbia with my friend, and we kept ignoring her calls, and she sent me a bunch of texts,” Rori said. “I finally called her back, and she told me and I was like, ‘uh-uh’ and freaking out. … I didn’t think I was going to win.”
The award notification came to Wolarik via email.
“It said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve won for the state of Kansas,’ and I just hit forward, forward, forward and put it on Facebook,” she said.
The recipe judging criteria included nutritional value, taste, creativity, story behind the recipe and affordability. Judges tasted the top two recipes from each state or territory in a test kitchen to decide the winners.
“It was so exciting to see the enthusiasm that kids and parents had … for healthy eating,” said Tanya Wenman Steel, editor-in-chief of Epicurious. “I think it shows and demonstrates that kids are getting the message about healthy eating and exercise. The creativity they displayed (and) the sophistication of the recipes themselves was amazing.”
The most common ingredients they saw in the submitted recipes were salmon and quinoa, Steel said.
Rori’s winning recipe, “Yummy Cabbage Sloppy Joes,” is one that Rori had been making for her school lunches since January, before she heard about the contest.
“It’s my favorite food, and it’s healthy, because it’s got gobs and gobs of vegetables in it,” Rori said.
She created the recipe with her mother one day when they had some leftover cabbage.
“We just started adding vegetables and meat and stuff, and you can add whatever you want, and it just became this,” Rori said.
With cabbage, peppers, zucchini and other produce in addition to ground beef, the recipe “cleans out the crisper drawer big time,” Wolarik said.
Healthy eating isn’t new for Rori, who calls processed cheese “gross” and prefers to cook dishes from fresh ingredients. She started cooking with her mom because, “it just looked fun, so I tried it, and I liked it ever since I tried it,” she said.
She does have a fondness for cupcakes and other sweets and takes cake-decorating classes at Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts. She’ll also be studying cooking and sewing this semester at Westridge Middle School.