For most kids, scouring food labels for nitrates, snipping fresh herbs for recipes, or baking buns for a house-made makeover of a McDonald’s double cheeseburger doesn’t qualify as fun in the kitchen. But Stapleton resident Rain Adams, the 2015 Colorado winner of Michelle Obama’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, isn’t your typical 11-year-old. When she concocted her winning recipe for turkey chili, she knew that it had to be more than just delicious—it had to be healthy, too. It turns out, the soup was tasty enough to win her a ticket to this years Kids’ State Dinner at the White House—where she will join 54 other winners from across the country, and the first lady herself, to celebrate nutritious eating. Before her trip to Washington, D.C. on July 10, we caught up with Rain to talk about her passion for healthy cooking. Watch out Denver—there’s a new chef in town.

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5280: How did you hear about the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge?

Rain Adams: Actually, my mom told me about it. She heard about it online.

Do you cook a lot?

Yes, all the time. I’ve been cooking my whole life. I’ve always loved cooking.

Did you come up with the winning recipe, Rain’s Turkey Chili, specifically for the competition, or had you been cooking it before?

We already had the recipe, and then we heard about the competition, and we were like, this is perfect.

The recipe had to meet the USDA’s guidelines for recommended nutrition groups. Did you have to change your recipe at all, or was it already good to go?

It was pretty much already like that. But my secret ingredient—oats—is new because the recipe didn’t have grains in it yet.

When you’re cooking, how do you make vegetables tasty? You obviously know what you’re doing.

Well for my chili, we took all the vegetables and we put them in the food processor. So it’s just a paste that melts into the chili. You’re still eating vegetables, even though you might not know it. Mom does that. I don’t like mushrooms, but she likes to put mushrooms in a lot of things. She chops them up and puts them in things like macaroni and cheese and you’d never notice them.

Do you look at cookbooks, or do you just invent recipes as you go?

Both. I like to use cookbooks, sometimes I do the actual recipe or sometimes I change it up a little. For my chili, we always add extra things. It’s not always the same recipe I made [for the contest]. Sometimes there’s Sriracha sauce in it, or different herbs and spices. We live on a third-floor apartment, so we have an herb garden and we’re starting to grow some vegetables up there too. We actually just got plants the other day, so we have tomatoes and cucumbers and all that stuff.

How would you get other kids on board with eating healthy?

I would say, it’s really easy to get in the kitchen and make healthy food yourself. Healthy food can be delicious, it’s easy to make, and it’s fun. We’ve done a healthy food challenge at home, making better versions of foods. We actually made a better version of sweet tea with stevia and honey. We also remade Hamburger Helper. We made a healthy version of it and it was really good. In the original, the amount of sodium is huge.

Do you want to be a chef when you grow up?

I want to be a chef. I want to have my own café where I make healthy foods, breakfast foods and stuff like that. I really want to be an advocate for healthy foods too—kids eating healthy, everyone eating healthy.

Are you excited to meet Michelle Obama?

Really excited. I’m going to be like, pictures! Kids really need to be healthy, and she’s been doing a lot for that kind of thing.

The recipe for Rain’s Turkey Chili, along with all of the other winning recipes, will be available in a free, downloadable e-cookbook after the dinner ceremony at:

Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.