12-year-old visits White House

Brynna Robert, 12, of Metairie, in front of the White House vegetable garden
Brynna Robert, 12, of Metairie, in front of the White House vegetable garden

An admitted “picky eater,” 12-year-old Metairie student Brynna Robert got into cooking at her mother’s urging because it made her more willing to try new foods.

That extra effort led to Robert becoming Louisiana’s representative in the kids’ “State Dinner” on Tuesday with first lady Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House.

President Barack Obama unexpectedly stopped by to meet the students as well.

Robert’s recipe for “Sweet and Spicy Stir-Fry” was the chosen Louisiana winner for the Health Lunchtime Challenge contest that chose one recipe from each state and U.S. territory.

“Everything was really fabulous,” Robert said while touring the White House’s South Lawn after the event. “Meeting the president and the first lady — that was really amazing.”

The second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, originated and funded by Epicurious to promote healthful eating among America’s youth, received more than 1,300 entries from students ages 8 to 12, according to the contest organizers. The contest is part of the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.

Robert, an incoming eighth-grader at the Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies in Metairie, said she chose to make her stir fry dish because she was not a big fan of her mother’s version.

“It was really bland, so I added a whole lot of spices and other ingredients, and then I ended up making it on my own,” she said. “What I think really makes it is the chili garlic sauce.”

She made a vegetarian version of the meal that featured garbanzo beans and had eight grams of protein.

Robert said the experience has made her more conscious of healthy eating going forward.

“It’s important for everyone to eat as healthy as they can,” she said. “Everyone only gets one life.”

Robert was accompanied by her mother, Sheila Robert, who first put her daughter on the cooking path.

“She always does better with eating something if she’s had a hand in preparing it,” Sheila Robert said, noting that her daughter tried and enjoyed new things for the first time Tuesday, such as vegetarian mini-pizzas made gluten-free on a cauliflower crust.

The family found out Brynna Robert was chosen as the Louisiana winner while they were on the road toward a camping trip and they had to submit all their personal info by the next day.

“It was an opportunity we could not miss,” Sheila Robert said. “It’s just amazing Mrs. Obama would put this on and follow through with the children. It’s exceeded my expectations.”

Michelle Obama said the event is modeled after official White House dinners with world leaders. “If you’re surrounded by parents and teachers and community leaders who encourage you to live healthier lives, then there’s no telling what you’ll achieve,” the first lady said.

President Obama then made a showing and joked it was the first time he did not receive a state dinner invite during his presidency.

“You’re setting a great example for your classmates, and I suspect you’re setting a good example for your parents, who sometimes may not always be eating as healthy as they’re supposed to,” the president said. “So you’re really making a difference in all the communities and all the states all across the country. We could not be prouder of you.”

The president said he does not get to cook much and he admitted he was not a huge fan of vegetables as a child.

“When I was a kid — I’m now older than most of your parents, which is kind of depressing — but my family, when they cooked vegetables they would just boil them. Remember that?” Obama said. “And they’d get all soft and mushy, and nobody wanted to eat a pea or a Brussels sprout because they tasted horrible because they were all mush. And broccoli, it would be all mushy. And 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.”

The one exception from the typical state dinner is that the first lady told the students they could eat with their hands, which the president jokingly took exception with.

“Michelle never said to me I can just pick up something with my fingers at a state dinner,” he said.

“And you can’t,” she responded.

“So that’s not fair,” he added with a laugh on his way out.