It took just a few minutes — and one bite of baked bass — for Olivia LaRochelle to know she had a winning recipe.
But the Kendall 12-year-old, whose “Bountiful Florida Fish-BFF Cakes” recipe earned her a seat at this year’s Kids’ “State Dinner” hosted at the White House by first lady Michelle Obama, had been carefully crafting it for days.
And thinking about it for much longer.
For the past two years, LaRochelle and her mom, Naylet LaRochelle, have entered the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a nationwide recipe contest for kids that promotes cooking and healthy eating and is part of the Let’s Move! initiative created by the first lady to help children and families lead healthier lives.
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Olivia’s submission was chosen as a finalist the first year she entered. This year, she won.
“I’m glad the recipe made it as a finalist because it gave us an extra boost to keep going and not give up,” said Olivia, a Doral Academy Charter Middle School seventh-grader who has been joining her mom in the kitchen since she was 4.
“I told my mom ‘We can do it!’ We’ve already come so close.”
This year marked the last chance for Olivia to participate in the challenge, which is open to children ages 8-12. Each child teams up with a parent to submit an original recipe that tastes great, is creative and affordable and follows healthy eating guidelines specified on the United States Department of Agriculture’s website ChooseMyPlate.gov.
The contest placed a special spotlight on homegrown pride, encouraging use of local ingredients.
“It’s so rewarding to watch my daughter enjoy something I enjoy so much too,” said Naylet, who is a Miami-Dade County Schools’ psychologist and has won several national recipe competitions herself, including a recent first place win in Publix’s 2016 Aprons Simple Meals Share Your Creation Recipe Contest.
“When she was about 4 or 5 years old, Olivia would follow me into the kitchen when I was cooking and ask me if she could help. I would grab a small bowl and put a handful of flour and water into it so she could play and I’d look over at her and see her smiling, just so happy to feel the flour in between her little fingers.”
Naylet says her daughter’s happiness while in the kitchen has not wavered.
“We made the fish cakes two times before submitting the recipe,” she said. “And the second time, after she tried it she looked at me — eyes as bright as shiny pennies — and said ‘Mom, this is it. This one is going to win.’ and she was right.”
Olivia’s BFF Cakes recipe included a salsa made with avocados and mangos picked from her grandparents’ backyard in Hialeah. It impressed the judges right away.
“Her recipe combined all the elements we look for at Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. It was imaginative and creative, a classic fish cake combined with unusual sides such as brown rice and black beans, an ode to her Cuban heritage, plus a yummy salsa - that’s a winner!,” said judge Tanya Steel, editorial director of Clean Plates, a media company focusing on health and wellness food culture.
“The dish was also very healthy and affordable and hit all the MyPlate recommendations. Olivia’s recipe also showcased Florida’s superlative ingredients, such as citrus and mango. It was a very delicious and memorable meal,” Steel said.
Over three hours, the 10-judge panel tried 112 dishes (two from every state and territory). D.C. Central Kitchen, a Washington-based organization that focuses on meal distribution, food recycling and occupational training, prepares the dishes for the competition each year.
The 5-year-old Healthy Lunchtime Challenge drew more than 1,200 entries, 52 from Florida. Only 56 “aspiring young chefs” were selected to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” in Washington on July 14.
“It feels really good to know I won because I get to meet the other winners and we can share recipes with each other.”Olivia said. “It’s going to be fun because I’ll get to meet at least one kid from each state.”
Naylet and Olivia were to board a free round-trip flight to Washington, where along with other winners they will join the first lady for a healthy two-hour lunch featuring a selection of the winning recipes, followed by a visit to the White House kitchen garden.
Naylet says the most exciting part of the experience for her has been making new memories with her daughter in the kitchen at home — “seeing her jump up and down and listening to her yelling and screaming when I told her she had won.”
During the Kids’ “State Dinner”, winners will have the opportunity to learn from TV personality Rachael Ray, a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Their recipes will also be featured in a free downloadable and printable “cookbook” that will include nutritional analyses and photos. It will be available the day of the event on letsmove.org, usda.organd ed.gov.
For more information on the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge visit www.pbs.org/parents/lunchtimechallenge.
Bountiful Florida Fish ‘BFF’ Cakes
Yield: 4 servings
For the Fish Cake
3/4 pound skinless largemouth bass, or any white- meat fish such as cod, cut into small pieces
1 egg white
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1/2 cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs
For the salsa
1 1/4 cups diced mango
1 1/4 cups diced strawberries
1 cup diced avocado
3/4 cup diced cucumber
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
For the Orange-You-Glad yogurt sauce
1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
3 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
Orange wedges, for garnishing
Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except breadcrumbs. Form mixture into 4 patties, pressing each patty together so it holds its shape. Line a medium baking sheet with parchment paper. Put breadcrumbs on a plate and roll the patties in the breadcrumbs. Place each patty on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until light golden brown and fish is cooked through.
Meanwhile, in medium bowl, toss salsa ingredients until well combined. In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients for yogurt sauce.
Top each fish cake with salsa and drizzle with yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with additional cilantro if you wish. Serve with orange wedges.
Per serving: 341 calories; 8 g fat; 45 g carbohydrates; 24 g protein