By Donna Hill
For the Fort Bend Star
Priya Patel of Sugar Land remembers her first experiment with cooking.
It was her own recipe for strawberry muffins.
“I used a pancake mix as a base and then added my own stuff and fresh strawberries,” she said. “I really like those a lot.”
Her creativity in cooking produced a winning recipe that landed her at a White House dinner. The soon to be fifth grader at Commonwealth Elementary represented Texas for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge for her award-winning recipe of “Tex-Mex Veg-Head Lasagna.” The challenge brought Patel and 49 other winners to Washington, D.C., for the Kid’s State Dinner at the White House, hosted by first lady Michelle Obama in July.
The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is a nationwide recipe challenge for kids that promotes cooking and healthy eating as part of the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. Groups of children from ages 8 to 12 were invited to create a healthy, original and affordable lunch recipe that includes all food groups. The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge received over 1,200 entries, with the focus on getting the whole family into the kitchen to make healthy meals together.
Young chefs – including Patel and her mom –joined the first lady for lunch featuring a selection of the winning recipes, followed by a visit to the White House Kitchen Garden.
Patel mixed up a batch of her winning lasagna for her family before submitting the recipe for the contest.
“I used a lot of things such as black beans, bell peppers, tomatoes and corn and spices and tortillas and cheese. It came out pretty good and I was glad it won the competition. I made the dish a few times after I won because my grandparents and other family members wanted to try it.”
It’s always family time in the kitchen at her house, especially on weekends, when Patel’s father prepares a Sunday dinner while encouraging she and her brother to come up with new recipe ideas. Her brother, Dhilan, who is 16, also likes to experiment with cooking.
“I watch Food Network a lot” said Patel. “My favorite shows are Cake Wars, Cupcake Wars and the Food Network Star.” Last month, it was a dream come true for her to meet one of her favorite food personalities, Rachael Ray, at the White House.
Patel’s mother was her inspiration for creating the award-winning recipe, along with her love of Tex-Mex food.
“Mom always tells us to add vegetables to everything we make and to experiment. She tells us to be flexible so we use canned or frozen vegetables if we’re out of fresh. You can substitute any veggies and fruits, and the possibilities are endless. My mom says not having or liking one ingredient is not an excuse to not try a recipe or to buy fast food.”
Stuti Patel heard about the competition on the Rachael Ray show.
“I thought, this is a great competition and really gets kids thinking about ingredients and healthy eating,” she said. “And the prize – the White House trip – is truly amazing!”
When asked about her experience at the White House, young Patel said, “I was so excited to meet the first lady, Rachael Ray and everyone involved. I was so happy to be there.”
One thing is for sure. She’s come a long way from strawberry muffins.
Patel’s winning recipe can be found at http://www.letsmove.gov/blog/2016/07/13/texas-winning-recipe-tex-mex-veg-head-lasagna.
List of all winners and recipes can be found at pbs.org/lunchtimechallenge. A free, downloadable and printable e-cookbook of the winning recipes is available at the contest site, LetsMove.gov, USDA.gov and ed.gov.