It has all the trappings of a White House State Dinner: the fine china, the formal arrivals, the elbow-rubbing with the president and first lady. But at today's "State Dinner," the guests of honor were a tad shorter than usual and the food much healthier.
The first lady pulled out all the stops for the second annual Kids' State Dinner, welcoming the 54 winners, ages 8 to 12, of the "healthy lunchtime challenge," a nationwide competition that asks kids to submit recipes for meals that are healthy and delicious. The event, part of Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move!" health initiative, featured a selection of the winning recipes.
For the second year in a row, a famous crasher made a surprise appearance. "Usually at a state dinner, I get invited," President Obama said. "I don't know what happened on this one - somehow the invitation slipped through somewhere. But it looks like you guys are having fun."
The president admitted he has not always liked to eat his vegetables. As a kid, he said his family would boil them until they were "soft and mushy" and "tasted horrible."
"Now I actually like vegetables because they're prepared right. And so you guys are getting a jump on things because you're figuring that out earlier," he said.
"I just want to say to all of the young people here, keep it up," he said. "You guys are going to set a good example for everybody all across the country. Because you're eating healthy, and you're out there active and you're playing sports, and you're out on the playground and doing all those things, not only are you going to have a better life, but you're also helping to create a stronger, healthier America."
The president did have one objection to today's event, where some of the formal rules were relaxed.
"Michelle never said to me I can just pick up something with my fingers at a state dinner," he said. "That's not fair!"
The White House chefs and a team of judges critiqued more than 1,300 entries to pick the winning recipes, which included "Bodacious Banana Muffins," "Bring It On Brussels Sprout Wrap" and "Confetti Peanut Ginger Party Pasta," among other treats.
"We have seen that when kids like all of you get involved in creating your own healthy meals, the results can really be amazing and delicious and fun," Mrs. Obama said. "You'll come up with ideas that none of us grownups ever thought of. You'll find new ways to get your families and friends to eat healthy and try new foods."
As the children enjoyed their lunches, the president made his way around the room. "I like your bow tie," he told Liam Kivirist of Browntown, Wis., who won for his "Wisconsin Solar Oven-Simmered Chili."
"Somebody stole your tooth!" he exclaimed to Mac Wirth, of Boise, Idaho, who impressed judges with his "Veggie Barley Salad with Orange Honey Vinaigrette."
Kneeling beside Makenna Hurd from Mascot, Tenn., President Obama asked for a hug. The little girl with a big white bow happily obliged.