WASHINGTON -- At the first ever White House "kids state dinner," first lady Michelle Obama told America's top junior chefs Monday that the dishes they created are proving that fun eating can be "healthy and tasty at the same time."
"Your recipes truly stood out," she said to an East Room filled with kids who won a nationwide recipe competition. "You came up with dishes that were packed with nutritious, delicious ingredients - dishes that are good for you but more importantly they taste good, too. See? It can happen."
The event was the latest effort in Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity with more exercise and a better diet.
Mrs. Obama listed some of the winning entries, calling them "amazing stuff": Kickin' Chicken Salad, Power Pesto Pasta, Miss Kitty's Egg Salad Sensation and Secret Service Super Salad, dreamed up by one youngster who hopes one day to join the presidential protective detail.
The 54 winners, ages 8 through 12, were chosen from more than 1,200 entries.
"I was just experimenting and being creative in the kitchen," said Haile Thomas, 11, of Tucson, Ariz., whose original recipe of quinoa, black bean and corn salad was one of six winning entries prepared by White House chefs at the luncheon. "It's just an honor. I never thought my recipe would go national."
Thomas, who's been cooking since age 5, hopes one day her YouTube cooking show will make it on commercial TV.
Other kid-inspired dishes served at the luncheon included cabbage Sloppy Joes and baked zucchini fries that resembled hamburgers and French fries, "strawberryana" smoothies and fruit skewers called "summer fruit garland."
Kyle Moore, 12, of Lebanon, Mo., created his winning recipe by using whatever ingredients he could find in his cupboard and refrigerator.
"I didn't want sandwiches for lunch one day in the summer, so I went into the kitchen to see what we had," he recalled. "I put them together and made chicken spinach pasta."
Mrs. Obama called the luncheon the "hottest ticket at the White House."
"You guys inspire us here at the White House to keep doing what we need to do to keep this message at the forefront," she said about her initiative.
President Barack Obama also dropped by to applaud the winners and thank them for "spreading the word about healthy eating."
"Usually, I get invited to state dinners," he said. "This time I had to crash."
"I'm an OK cook," Obama added. "I make a very good chili."
He also warned the youngsters not to drop any table scraps because first dog Bo is on a diet.
The children, who got to bring a parent or grandparent to the White House, were also treated to a performance by Nickelodeon stars Big Time Rush and a tour of the White House kitchen garden.
The contest is a partnership with Epicurious.com and the departments of Education and Agriculture.