Twelve-year-old Sienna Mazone of Maine knows the importance of eating healthful foods. Her father, Zach, a family medicine physician, often comes home with stories about people whose diet choices have caused serious diseases that were entirely avoidable. Sienna has often discussed with her parents the physical, mental and financial impacts of an individual’s lifestyle choices.
Sienna, an aspiring chef, has made a habit of trying to create healthful, well balanced, and deliciously appealing meals for herself and her family. Perhaps it was this innate creativity that caused Sienna’s curiosity to be piqued when she found out about a recipe contest held by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Sienna heard about the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge in 2013. It is a national recipe contest that is part of the First Lady’s ‘Lets Move!’ initiative. The contest was created to spotlight healthy meal choices and called upon all interested kids from ages 8 to 12 to enter. Sienna was 11 at the time and entered the contest with a vegeburger, which she tailored to meet the USDA nutritional “MyPlate” guidelines. Her entry came in the top three in her state of Maine. She was just a whisker short of where she wanted to be. The first place winners from each state got to travel to the White House where the First Lady would host a “Kids State Dinner” and showcase their recipes.
When the contest rolled around again in 2014, Sienna knew it would be her last chance to enter. Problem was, she was stumped for a winning recipe. While Sienna pondered what to enter, her mom helped her start the creative process one morning by challenging her to come up with a dish by lunchtime that included an avocado, a sweet potato, and a Fresno chili pepper. Sienna checked other ingredients available in the fridge and decided to make a modified haystack.
A “haystack” is a popular dish at Adventist gatherings. It consists of layers of corn chips (or rice), beans, cheese, sliced olives, onions, shredded lettuce, cilantro, salsa, chopped tomatoes, etc. When Sienna made her haystack, she used a layer of simmered and spiced beans topped by a layer of whipped sweet potatoes with cumin, which was in turn topped by a layer of her homemade mango salsa and chopped tomatoes. The dish was crowned with a scoop of guacamole. Whole-grain tortillas were cut into strips and then baked to make chips for dipping (see photo on opposite page).
Once Sienna entered her recipe, it was re-created by chefs and judged according to contest criteria. In early July she was informed by e-mail that she had won the contest for the state of Maine and would be traveling (with her mom, Kim) to the White House for a reception hosted by Michelle Obama. With invitations to come to the White House July 18, Sienna, along with winners from 49 other states and several territories, gathered to meet Michelle Obama and celebrate healthy eating choices. To the delight of the kids, they also got to meet with the White House chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, Sam Kass, who congratulated them on their accomplishments and urged them to keep cooking up healthy and delicious meals. The kids were then astounded to find that the reception had a special guests: President Barack Obama dropped in to address the kids and parents, praising them for the example they were setting.
When Sienna was asked what it was like to walk through the White House and talk with Michelle Obama her answer was quick and sure: “Amazing! There is so much history in that building! Think of all the presidents who have walked there and all the decisions that have been made! It was awesome!”
Michelle Obama encouraged the kids to go back to their home states and to get involved in their communities as healthy role models for others. Sienna is brainstorming new ideas, but will definitely continue volunteering at The Ark, a vegan restaurant and community resource in Lewiston, Maine, which is run by the Northern New England Conference. At The Ark, Sienna volunteers in the kitchen and helps run the
Kids2Kids cooking class, where she shares her passion for healthful and amazingly good food with her peers.
When asked what one thing stands out most about her trip, Sienna has a ready answer: “It is that one kid can make a difference, and that each and every one of us should be working for what we believe in.”
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