It’s not every day that you get to have dinner at the White House with the First Lady of the United States. But that’s just what 12-year-old Grace Wetzler and her mother had an opportunity to do a few days ago after winning the 2014 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, sponsored by Epicurious.
Wetzler was among the 54 winners that were chosen from a pool of approximately 1,500 applicants who submitted their original recipes. Only one recipe from each of the 50 states – plus the District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico – was chosen.
“I was on spring vacation when I heard about the contest from my cousin,” explains Wetzler. “I thought about it and thought about it and tried to come up with some recipe ideas. And then the recipe just came to me on a whim. I put the ingredients together and it just worked! So I submitted my entry.”
Entries for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge had to meet strict nutrition criteria, with 50 percent of the recipe needing to be fruit-and-vegetable based, and incorporating lean proteins and low-fat dairy and whole grains into the dish. Submissions were also judged on their creativity, originality, affordability and on the personal story that was submitted alongside the recipe.
Entries that made it to the finalist round were prepared in a test kitchen and judged according to recipe test preparation and taste.
Wetzler submitted her entry for healthy stuffed rainbow peppers, and within about two months, she was notified that she had made it to the finalist round. Then just two weeks later, she got notice that she had won.
“I think I was just as excited as she was,” explains Grace’s mother, Amy, who works for Kaiser Permanente in the Northwest region. “I was jumping up and down when we got the notice that we would be flying to Washington DC to meet the First Lady.”
“It all felt so surreal,” says Grace Wetzler. “They took us winners along for two days of fun. We went to the Smithsonian to see the Julia Child exhibit. And, on the second day we went to the White House and shared a meal with the First Lady. They had a band playing there and healthy drinks and a hat maker. Several people got up and spoke before we ate, including the First Lady. And then President Obama came in and gave several remarks. And then we sat down and ate from some of the winning recipes.”
Wetzler, who is preparing to enter 7th grade at St. Pius X School in Portland, Ore. this September is already showing a penchant for healthy living. When she’s not cooking up delicious meals in her family’s kitchen, she stays active playing volleyball and soccer.
About her winning recipe, Wetzler explains that healthy food can win people over if it has multiple dimensions of appeal.
“I think that people want to eat food that looks good and tastes good too. If you see food that’s not as attractive, you don’t want to eat it. But if it looks and tastes interesting and it’s healthy, well that’s a bonus!”