Nia Thomas, winner of 2015 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

Arizona PBS honors winner of 2015 healthy lunchtime challenge

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Nia Thomas, winner of 2015 Healthy Lunchtime ChallengeNia Thomas, 10, of Tucson, the Arizona winner of the 2015 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge shows off her winning dish “Oodles of Zoodles with Avocado Pistachio Pesto.”PHOENIX – (June 16, 2015) Ten-year-old Nia Thomas of Tucson is the Arizona winner of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a national competition that invites kids to develop nutritious recipes that promote healthy eating habits.

First lady Michelle Obama, PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the 55 winners last week, inviting each winner representing each U.S. state, four territories, and the District of Columbia to attend a Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House hosted by the first lady on July 10. This special banquet will feature a variety of healthy dishes made from a selection of the winners’ recipes. The aspiring young chefs will then join the first lady for a visit to the White House Kitchen Garden.

Thomas was crowned the Arizona champion for her original recipe for “Oodles of Zoodles with Avocado Pistachio Pesto” (recipe included below).

“I am not a big fan of cooked zucchini, but when my sister made zucchini noodles one day with a tomato sauce, I loved it,” says Thomas.  “So, I started experimenting and came up with a very delicious pesto sauce by using lots of flavors that I love, like avocado, spinach and pistachios.  It turned out so delicious and when I made it for dinner for my family, they loved it. It is crunchy, fresh and the sauce is just awesome.”

Her hard work and creativity earned her an invitation to the 2015 Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House alongside the winners from other U.S. states and territories.

“We at Eight, Arizona PBS are encouraged to see so many kids passionate about adopting healthy lifestyles,” said Kim Flack, associate general manager of Educational Outreach at Eight, Arizona PBS. “The purpose of this contest is to encourage children to develop healthy eating habits, and it’s exciting to see how kids have embraced their creativity to create nutritious meals they actually enjoy. We congratulate our Arizona winner, Nia Thomas, who is 10 years old, and crafted her dish fusing healthy foods with rich flavors. Eight, Arizona PBS is pleased to partner with the first lady on this national initiative.”

This is the fourth year of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and Kids’ “State Dinner,” in which 8- to 12-year-old kids across the nation are invited to create a lunchtime recipe that is healthy, affordable, original, and delicious. In support of the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative,entrants were encouraged to reference information from to ensure recipes met the USDA’s recommended nutrition guidance. Entries had to represent each of the food groups, either in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.

The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge received nearly 1,000 recipes featuring healthy ingredients that support the first lady’s and PBS’ shared mission to promote healthy lifestyles. To make the challenge possible for kids and their families across America, support is being provided by Newman’s Own® and Newman’s Own Foundation.

“Reading over these winning recipes, two things become very clear,” Obama said. “America’s kids are passionate about not just eating healthy food, but about cooking healthy food, too. And we’re raising some truly inventive and talented chefs. I can’t wait to meet our 2015 winners and try some of their recipes at the Kids’ ‘State Dinner.’”

“Healthy eating is an important factor in a student’s ability to learn and achieve academically,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. “These young students harnessed their creativity to come up with fresh, new recipes that are nutritious, affordable and appealing to kids. This competition is just another example of how kids can be inspired to meet challenges—whether inside or outside the classroom.”

“It is critical that our next generation learns healthy eating habits at school and at home,” said Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “These young people have demonstrated creativity in the kitchen, while keeping an eye on MyPlate’s recommendations for a nutritious, balanced diet. The first lady’s challenge is helping them hone skills that will serve them well into adulthood.”

The 2015 winners were selected by a panel of judges that included: Debra Eschmeyer, Executive Director of Let’s Move!; Michel Nischan, renowned chef and president and CEO of the Wholesome Wave; Jackie Haven MS, RD deputy director, USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion; Shelley Maniscalco, MPH, RD, director, CNPP Office of Nutrition Marketing and Communications; Sam Myers, director, White House liaison, U.S. Department of Education; Kristina Spencer, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Education; Tanya Steel, a children’s healthy eating expert who has been involved with each Healthy Lunchtime Challenge; former winners of the contest, and recent graduates of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program for children.

The full list of winners and recipes can be found online at Additionally, a free downloadable and printable e-cookbook of the winning recipes, including nutritional analyses and photos, will be available on July 10 on the contest site,, and

Oodles of Zoodles with Avocado Pistachio Pesto Makes 5 servings

310 calories, 31g fat, 8g carbohydrates, 3g protein


For the pesto:
1 ripe avocado
1 packed cup fresh basil
1 packed cup fresh cilantro
1 jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ cup pistachios

For the zoodles:
4 zucchinis, peeled
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups peeled, shredded carrots
½ medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1. To make the pesto:

In a blender or food processor, blend 1 cup water with all the pesto ingredients, except the pistachios, until incorporated. Add the pistachios and blend until mostly smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Set aside.

  1. To make the zoodles:

Use a grater, peeler, mandoline slicer or spiralizer to turn the zucchini into “zoodles.” (I used a spiralizer to get the noodle, aka zoodle shape.) In a large bowl, mix the zoodles with the tomatoes, carrots and red onion. Arrange the salad in bowls. Top with the pesto and serve.

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