Meet the young chefs behind these healthy, globally inspired lunch recipes

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White House kid chefs

Local schoolchildren from Bancroft Elementary School wash sugar snap peas they and US First Lady Michelle Obama harvested from her garden at the White House in Washington on June 16, 2009.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Need some creative cooking inspiration, or a few new healthy lunch recipes?

Some talented elementary school kids have you covered.

That's thanks to a nationwide recipe challenge for US students that promoted cooking and healthy eating. The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, part of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, selected winners for original recipes that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. The 56 kids represent all 50 US states, five US territories and Washington, DC.

Michelle Obama is hosting the young American chefs on Thursday for a kids’ "State Dinner" (it's actually lunch) at the White House. What’s on the menu? A selection of the winning recipes, of course. After lunch the kids will get a tour of the White House kitchen garden.

“Kids across the country have cooked up nutritious and delicious dishes ... and I continue to be impressed by their talent and creativity,” Obama said. “Kids are truly embracing and enjoying healthy eating and preparing healthy meals for their families, and I look forward to meeting this year’s winners ... and trying some of their tasty creations.”

The recipes will eventually be published together as a free e-book. But we have a sneak preview of a few of the recipes that are globally inspired.

Here, four kids whose recipes reflect their international heritage tell us about their dishes and how to make them.

Indiana - Chef Shakthi Ramachandran, 8 years old

Chef Shakthi Ramachandran, 8 years old


Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

Chicken Tikka Pita with Cucumber Raita
By Shakthi Ramachandran, age 8, from Indiana

“My dad is from India and I like Indian food, especially chicken tikka masala,” says Chef Shakthi. “I asked my dad how I can make chicken tikka masala and make it like a sandwich. I love chicken and I also like to eat a lot of vegetables."

"My recipe combines all these things and is very tasty and delicious. In the summer, most of the vegetables we eat are from our garden. The cucumber raita dressing makes it delicious.”

For the chicken tikka:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 cup low-fat yogurt
1 ½ teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (can use ¾ teaspoon ground ginger and ¾ teaspoon minced garlic)
1 ½ teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder
2 teaspoons garam masala (or coriander seed)
Dash to 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons tikka masala
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the cucumber raita:
2 hot house/English cucumber, quartered
3 sprigs mint
20 ounces plain Greek yogurt
10 ounces low-fat sour cream
½ teaspoon roasted ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt

For the pitas:
4 pita breads
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut lengthwise
1 cucumber, sliced
1 bunch romaine lettuce, chopped
1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped



1. To make the chicken tikka: In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the remaining ingredients and marinate, covered, in the refrigerator, for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight. Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken from the marinade, place it in an oven-safe skillet and broil for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through.
2. To make the cucumber raita: In a medium bowl, combine the raita ingredients.
3. To assemble: Layer each pita bread pocket with vegetables, chicken, and cucumber raita.

Makes four servings: 592 calories, 21g fat, 47g carbohydrates, 56g protein in each.

DELAWARE Caribbean Fiesta! Chef Jamal Bin-Yusif,Age 11

Chef Jamal Bin-Yusif,Age 11

Caribbean Fiesta!
By Chef Jamal Bin-Yusif, age 11, from Delaware

"Jamal's grandparents are Jamaican and the Caribbean flavors are a normal part of our food," says Jamal's mom, Kathy. "He also loves tacos, but the shells can be high in sodium. Jamal found a way to significantly lower the sodium of his favorite dish by using the blue corn tortilla chips, vegetables and beans."  

The combination of Jamaican and Mexican ingredients inspired the name "Caribbean Fiesta." Jamal likes to serve this dish with a fruit salad. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chicken tender, cut into bite-sized pieces
Dash of seasonings like curry, allspice, and scotch bonnet pepper sauce (optional)
8 blue corn tortilla chips
¼ cup pinto and/or black beans, rinsed and drained
4 grape tomatoes, chopped
½ orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/3 green onion, peeled and chopped
1 ounce low-fat shredded cheddar jack cheese

DELAWARE Caribbean Fiesta! Chef Jamal Bin-Yusif,Age 11

1. For the chicken: In a nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken, season with optional spices, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until cooked through.
2. To assemble: Evenly spread the tortilla chips on a plate and evenly distribute chicken, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and green onions. Top with cheese and microwave for 1 minute or until cheese is melted.

Makes one serving; 371 calories, 21g fat, 22g carbohydrates, 24g protein.

Missouri - Tropical Vacation - Chef Abhijith Jenkins, 12

Chef Abhijith Jenkins, 12


Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

Tropical Vacation with Catfish and Quinoa
By Chef Abhijith Jenkins, age 11, from Missouri

"I was inspired to make this dish because my parents are from southern India and one of my favorite beaches is in the southern Indian state of Kerala," Abhijith says. "I used mangoes, pineapple, and home-grown papaya to make it feel tropical. I wanted to keep the recipe simple and healthy, so I chose the quinoa, something my mom likes, especially since she is a cardiac patient. Lastly, I used fresh, local farm-raised catfish because you don't always have to be at the beach to feel like you're there!"

Abhijith likes to serve this dish with a smoothie of pineapple, banana, mango and spinach. "I think it tastes very good. I like to take a slice of the mango and put it on the rim of the cup for presentation."

For the catfish:
8 ounces boneless, skinless catfish, cut into small chunks
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon fennel
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the veggies:
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
½ green papaya, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the quinoa:
1 ½ cups quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ounce raisins
4 cloves
½ teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 small cinnamon stick
Salt to taste
4 cardamom pods
¼ red onion, peeled and sliced
¼ cauliflower, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

For the sauce:
½ cup fat-free plain yogurt
1 tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon cilantro, chopped

Tropical Vacation

Healthy Lunchtime Challenge


1. To make the catfish: In a bowl, combine the fish with the remaining ingredients and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F; bake fish for 25 minutes, or until flaky and cooked through.
2. To make the veggies: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the vegetables and seasonings and mix well. Bake in the oven at the same time as the fish, for 25 minutes, or until tender and golden.
3. To make the quinoa: In a medium saucepan, cook the quinoa according to package instructions. In a nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add all of the ingredients and cook for 7 minutes, or until cauliflower and onions are golden brown and tender. Add cooked quinoa, catfish and stir gently to combine.
4. To make the sauce: In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients together.
5. To assemble: Pack Catfish into a small bowl. Flip bowl over onto plate to make quinoa dome. Place Veggies on side and serve with Sauce in separate bowl.

Makes 4 Servings; 443 calories, 12g fat, 65g carbohydrates, 21g protein each.

Rhode Island - Peace in the Middle East Soup and Salad - Chef Pablo Aizenman, 10

Chef Pablo Aizenman, 10


Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

Peace in the Middle East Soup and Salad
Chef Pablo Aizenman, age 10, from Rhode Island

“I think war causes too much suffering in the world. One problem I see is that people often focus on their differences, rather than things they have in common,” Chef Pablo says. “In the Middle East there have been wars going on for a long time because people often fail to get past their differences. I wanted to create a dish that takes parts of different cultures in the Middle East and shows how they can come together to make a delicious and healthy lunch."

"The lentil soup brings in many Middle Eastern flavors and is joined by a crunchy Israeli salad stuffed into a pita. My dish highlights things that different regions in the Middle East have in common, and shows that, in the end, everyone is more alike than different.”

For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 onion, peeled and chopped
½ cup dry lentils
¾ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
4 large kale leaves, stemmed and chopped

For the salad:
1/3 Vidalia onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes or slices
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice from ½ fresh lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 large whole-wheat pita breads, cut in half and lightly warmed
Optional: Nonfat plain Greek yogurt, as topping

Peace in the Middle East Soup and Salad

Peace in the Middle East Soup and Salad


Healthy Lunchtime Challenge


1. To make the soup: In a large stockpot, warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the carrots, celery, and onions. Cook for 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened and golden brown. Add in the remaining ingredients
except for the kale, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the kale and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Remove 3 cups of the soup and puree in a blender. Return pureed soup to the main pot and heat through.
2. To make the salad: In a large salad bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Carefully open the pocket in the pita bread half and add a quarter of the salad inside. Add some yogurt in the soup or salad for extra flavor and serve
pita and soup together.

Makes 4 servings; 451 calories, 18g fat, 57g carbohydrates, 22g protein each.

 U.S. first lady Michelle Obama harvests vegetables from the White House kitchen garden with schoolchildren in Washington October, 2014.

 U.S. first lady Michelle Obama harvests vegetables from the White House kitchen garden with schoolchildren in Washington October, 2014.


Jonathan Ernst/Reuters