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Triangle girl's recipe is White House fare

Centennial student Sydney Brown meets President Obama.
Centennial student Sydney Brown meets President Obama.

Dipping strips of zucchini in milk might seem strange, at least to the uninitiated.

But seconds later, the strips are coated in breadcrumbs, spread on a pan and popped into the oven. Fifteen minutes later, voilà! Tasty, crispy, and – most importantly – healthy zucchini fries are ready for consumption.

That recipe is courtesy of 11-year-old Sydney Brown of Fuquay-Varina, and she took it all the way to the White House.

Sydney is one of 54 winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a national contest that is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to reduce childhood obesity. More than 1,200 children ages 8 to 12 sent in healthy recipes featuring all the food groups, using U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional information.

Sydney, a sixth-grader at Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School, attended a luncheon dubbed the first-ever Kids’ State Dinner at the White House last month.

She and her mom, along with the other contest winners, dined in the East Wing of the White House, in a room Sydney described as “more than fancy.”

But the most impressive part was the lunch itself, composed entirely of contest-winning entries. Right there on everyone’s plate – including the first lady’s – were Sydney’s own zucchini fries.

“That was a huge surprise,” Sydney said. “I was so excited, I didn’t know what to say or do. I was just blown away.”

During the lunch, she got to meet the first lady, who Sydney said made her and the other kids “feel really warm and welcome.” But there was another surprise to come: the president himself decided to stop by.

“He really wasn’t supposed to be there,” Sydney said, “but he said he always has been invited to state dinners, so this was one he just had to crash.”

Mr. Obama shook Sydney’s hand, asked about her winning recipes (she also submitted her “Homerun Meatloaf Burger” and strawberry lemonade as part of her contest entry), and asked where she was from.

It was the pinnacle of an exciting long weekend in Washington, the first time Sydney had visited. When she wasn’t meeting fellow young chefs or dining at the White House, she and her mother, La Tanya Brown, took in the sights, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where she gazed upon Julia Child’s kitchen.

Sydney learned a lot from her trip, by staring up at memorials as well as down at her plate in that White House dining room.

“I learned what quinoa was,” she said of the meal, which started with a quinoa salad, “and that being healthy doesn’t always have to mean eating vegetables. You can portion what you eat and still be eating what you like.”

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