Lake Washington School District kids show off culinary skills at cooking challenge

Rachel Ray watch out, here comes Rachel Raines.

Carl Sandburg Elementary student Spencer Williams prepares “Pizza Cookies” during the Lake Washington School District’s Kids Can Cook competition at Redmond Junior High in Redmond on March 2.

Rachel Ray watch out, here comes Rachel Raines.

At age 9, the fourth-grader from Horrace Mann Elementary School in Redmond already knows her way around the kitchen. And on Wednesday afternoon, she — along with 19 other fourth- and fifth-graders in Lake Washington School District (LWSD) — showed off her cooking skills at the 4th Annual Sodexo Future Chefs: Healthy Snack Challenge.

Students prepared snack foods ranging from sandwiches, wraps and salads to muffins, smoothies and sundaes, competing for top spots in five categories: best table presentation, healthiest, easy preparation, kid friendly and judges’ choice. Rachel’s entry, “Marinated Tomato and Pasta,” received the judges’ choice award.

“(It felt) really, really good,” the young cook said about her win.

Rachel began cooking when she was 7 and said pasta is her specialty.

“I like cooking pasta,” she said. “I really enjoy eating it and it’s fun to make.”

Rachel’s mother, Debi Raines, said her daughter’s culinary career began when she starting making her own lunches for school. Rachel soon realized that if she wanted pasta for lunch, she was going to have to learn to get up early enough to actually make it, Debi said.

During the competition, Debi, along with the rest of the audience, was very impressed with all of the snack entries.

“Just walking around with these healthy treats…(I’m getting) lots of awesome ideas. I think it’s fantastic,” she said, adding that the kids being able to make the snacks themselves is a bonus.

The goal of the competition, which was a partnership between LWSD and Sodexo, the district’s student nutrition provider, was to encourage the kids to create healthy snacks and get them thinking about their food choices. Jane Markham, a food service area manager for Sodexo, said with ingredients such as whole-wheat flour and gluten-free tortillas, it’s obvious they take health into consideration when preparing their snacks.

Eight of the district’s 27 elementary schools were represented in the competition, with Rosa Parks as the second school from Redmond. Fifth-grader Jaime Wilkinson, who received the healthiest snack award for her veggie roll-ups, was also from Horace Mann. Fourth-grader Anjali Srivastava, who entered her “Salad Next Door” (as in next door to a sandwich), was from Rosa Parks.

Jaime, Anjali and Rachel all said they thought the competition is a good way to get kids thinking about healthy eating, though Jaime admitted she eats healthy only “some of the time.”

Anjali’s father, Amitabh Srivastava, said his children’s concerns about healthy eating have influenced their family’s shopping habits. He said the kids bring what they learn in school home, often asking for healthier snacks. In addition, cooking has become a family affair with them as Anjali and her brothers are triplets and like to challenge each other all the time, including in the kitchen.

And while the three girls are becoming more refined with their culinary skills, they don’t mind bringing additional hands on deck.

“Sometimes I like to make spaghetti with my mom,” Rachel said.

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