During my 5-week rotation at the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), my internship partner Megan and I had the unique and exciting opportunity to participate in the Healthy Lunch Time Challenge (HLC). The HLC and Kids’ State Dinner is a competition that promotes cooking and healthy eating among kids and their families across America. Kids between the ages of 8-12 years old were invited to submit an original, healthy recipe that followed MyPlate nutritional guidelines. Our role in this challenge was to help narrow down contestants' chosen for the final judging, and to assist in the final taste testing of the recipes.
Criteria used to determine contest winners included:
- Nutritional value
- An essay accompanying the recipe
Tanya Steel, CEO of Cooking up Big Dreams and Kids’ New World and creator of the HLC, taste-testing a Finalist dish
Megan and I narrowed down hundreds of contestant entries, leaving two finalists from each of the 50 U.S. states and territories. We were then invited to attend the first round of judging at the DC Convention Center with our wonderful directors at CNPP, Jackie Haven and Shelley Maniscalco. For the fourth year in a row, D.C. Central Kitchen’s (DCCK) were chosen to cook, assemble, and plate 108 dishes, all within a 3-hour judging period. Dishes were rated on a scale of 1-5 using each of the criteria listed above. One winner from each state has been chosen to attend the Kids’ State Dinner hosted by Michelle Obama at the White House this summer.
It was beneficial for us to get a taste—pun intended, of what children across America are eating. We were impressed with the amount of thought that went into these recipes and that many of the children were able to incorporate all five food groups into their dish. The experience allowed us to visualize and brainstorm new ways in which we as future RD’s can influence trends and eating patterns of the youth in our country. Having the opportunity to observe a strong leader like Steel manage a large-scale event, revolved around food, was both empowering and inspiring. Steel commented that the contest has come a long way since the first year and has overcome many barriers, enabling it to run seamlessly.
Megan and I took away many positive memories and learned lessons from our time participating in the contest. Most importantly was the impression and influence left on the kids that will hopefully help build a foundation for healthy eating habits for years to come.