Ten-year-old Mena Choi is the winner from North Carolina of this year’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a competition that asks children across the country to invent a nutritious and original lunch recipe.
This is the fifth year the competition, open to children ages 8 to 12, has taken place. First lady Michelle Obama started it as part of her “Let’s Move!” initiative, an effort aimed at helping American families lead healthier lives.
As their prize, each of the 56 winners (one from each state or territory) will join her at the Kids’ State Dinner at the White House on Thursday.
This year, the 1,200-plus entrants were also encouraged to spotlight local ingredients grown in the child’s state or territory.
I just like that you can know what you put in your meals and that your family always loves it.
Mina Choi, 10, of Chapel Hill, N.C.
Choi, a Chapel Hill native, received the accolade for her recipe for Korean lentil patties. The dish combines her Korean heritage with a vegetable she thinks is often overlooked, Choi said.
“We came up with it because I’m part Korean, and because no one ever thought to use lentils,” Choi said. “We thought it would be cool to combine them with our dish and add a nice flavor to it.”
Choi has been cooking alongside her mom, Tracy DeLozier, since she was 7. It’s this experience that motivated her to enter the competition, Choi said.
“I’ve been cooking for my mom for a few years, and I like it,” Choi said. “I just like that you can know what you put in your meals and that your family always loves it.”
The contest, co-hosted by PBS station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, looks to encourage healthy eating and cooking among American children. Entries had to be original, healthy and affordable; young chefs were encouraged to check out the USDA’s recommended nutrition guide and make sure each food group was appropriately represented.
Choi’s favorite dish to prepare is shrimp and grits, but the patties – which Choi likes to serve with Greek dill yogurt and sweet potatoes – are a close second. It took Choi a weekend and “quite a few tries” to come up with them, DeLozier said.
“I ate a lot of lentils,” DeLozier laughed.
Since then, the dish has become a favorite with Choi’s family and friends. The family’s neighbors, who were among the first to taste the meal, “loved it,” Choi said.
Choi, whose favorite foods include kale and crab legs, plans to pursue a career in the food industry. She doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do yet.
“Maybe I’ll be a chef somewhere,” Choi said. “I’ll cook anything really.”
No matter what the future holds, Choi is excited for her trip to D.C. this week. Although her family has visited the city before, they’ve never been inside the White House.
Choi is especially excited to visit the White House kitchen garden, where vegetables are grown for White House events, and to tour Julia Child’s kitchen, an exhibit at the National Museum of American History.
“I feel great,” Choi said. “I’m really excited and happy.”
The 56 winning recipes will be published in a free e-cookbook Thursday, available for download at http://pbs.org/lunchtimechallenge.
Korean Lentil Patties
By Mena Choi
Makes 6 Servings
276 calories, 7g fat, 39g carbohydrates, 15g protein
For Korean Lentil Patties:
¾ cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
2 cups vegetable broth
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic 2 tablespoons
Korean hot pepper paste or red chili paste
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Juice from ½ fresh lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
For Greek Dill Yogurt:
1 cup low-fat Greek plain yogurt
1 tablespoon dill
To make the Korean Lentil Patties: In a large stockpot, combine lentils with the broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Once tender, drain the lentils to remove any extra liquid and let cool for 10 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, combine the lentils with the remaining ingredients except the breadcrumbs.
Form into 6 balls with your hands. Place breadcrumbs on a plate and roll the balls in the breadcrumbs, flatten into patties, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the patties on a large baking sheet and drizzle olive oil over the top of the patties. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with Greek dill yogurt.
To make Greek dill yogurt: In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and dill and serve with the patties.