V.I. kid chef visits White House for dinner with Michelle Obama

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A young Virgin Islander was among 54 children from around the United States and its territories who sat down for a "state dinner" with first lady Michelle Obama on Friday at the White House.

Ahlissa Pierce, 9, represented the territory in the nation's capitol after winning a contest to make healthier yet tasty meals that show the nation's schools can also turn out nutritious food that kids will actually eat.

Ahlissa's dish, "Ahlissa's Rainbow Caribbean Soup," is a colorful blend of vegetables, including purple cabbage, carrots, red potatoes, pumpkin, spinach zucchini and okra.

"My mom always said that it was important to eat different-colored vegetables, but it wasn't until I saw a beautiful rainbow last week that I felt encouraged to add colorful vegetables to my mother's traditional chicken soup," Ahlissa said in a posting accompanying her recipe at www.letsmove.com, the first lady's website dedicated to healthy eating for kids.

"Adding these vegetables to soups is an easy way to try new vegetables," Ahlissa said. "My soup has 13 different vegetables in it. I challenge the nation to eat as many different-colored vegetables as they can!"

One kid chef from each state, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories were invited to the White House for the kids' "state dinner" hosted Friday by the first lady.

"The truth is, is that if 8-, 9- and 10-year-old kids can cook and happily eat a healthy, tasty meal, then there is absolutely no reason why we can't get nutritious food into every school in this country that kids will actually enjoy," Obama said.

She used the third annual event to wade into a dispute she's currently in with the School Nutrition Association over new standards for school lunches.

The association says rules requiring school meals to include more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, as well as less sodium, sugar and fat are too strict. It has been lobbying Congress to relax the rules, and a bill awaiting a vote in the Republican-controlled House would do just that.

Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack oppose softening the rules and say most schools are meeting the standards.

The first lady said the 8- to 12-year-olds who earned a ticket to dinner all know that what they eat affects how they feel and how they do in school.

"You all represent 54 reasons why we know that we can do so much better by our kids when it comes to eating healthy," she said during Friday's event.

She sought to enlist the kids and their parents in the cause, urging the chefs to share what they've learned about healthy eating and cooking with classmates and teachers and encouraging parents to speak up at PTA and school board meetings.

While the kids' "dinner" technically was a lunch, as President Barack Obama noted when he dropped in unannounced, it had all the trappings of a more formal state dinner.

Each youngster's name was announced as he or she arrived, and butlers served samples of nine winning recipes - including "Grillin' Out Veggie Style" Black Bean Burger, Mike's Chicken and Vegetable Dumpling Cups, and Tropical Strawberry Banana Secret Smoothie - on White House china.

More than 1,500 recipes were submitted. A panel of judges that included chef Sam Kass, executive director of the first lady's campaign against childhood obesity, and Tanya Steel, a contributor to Epicurious food magazine who created the contest, chose the winners.

Epicurious and the Agriculture and Education departments sponsor the competition.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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