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Bence Brown is a real tuna casserole lover, and enjoys it so much, he asks for it on his birthday.
So it's fitting that a recipe for that dish that he helped create made him the Nebraska winner of a national healthy recipe contest sponsored by the White House.
“I thought it was awesome,'' he said.
The Omaha fourth-grader will travel to Washington, D.C., next month, along with 53 other winners from across the country, for lunch with first lady Michelle Obama and a visit to the garden of the White House kitchen.
The Iowa honoree is Corrine VanderGaast, 9, of Tipton for her Stone Curry with Brown Rice recipe.
The contest is part of the first lady's efforts to help solve the problem of childhood obesity. Winners were announced Thursday.
Bence, 9, entered his recipe for Terrific Tuna Casserole in the first lady's Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.
The Iowa winner is 9-year-old Corrine VanderGaast of Tipton, who submitted a recipe for stone curry with brown rice.
The contest received more than 1,300 entries. Parents were invited to work with their children ages 8 to 12 to create a lunchtime recipe that is healthful, affordable, original and delicious.
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 proteins and low-fat dairy foods, with fruits and veggies making up roughly half the plate or recipe. The panel of judges included a White House nutrition policy adviser.
Bence, who attends Sunset Hills Elementary, is the son of Sharon and Rex Brown. He plays the piano, hunts for ducks and turkey with his dad and loves to play with Legos. He also likes cooking, and has helped his mom in the kitchen since he was a toddler.
“I put him to work,” his mother said.
The past two summers, Bence took orders from friends and family for custom cupcakes. With help from his mom he baked the cupcakes, and decorated them by himself. One order was for a Fourth of July theme, so he used red, white and blue sprinkles.
He loves making treats but also loves fixing healthful meals.
His tuna casserole recipe, for example, includes whole wheat pasta and peas.
So, how does it taste?
“Really, really good,'' Bence said.
Recipe: Terrific Tuna Casserole
• About ½ bag whole wheat pasta (noodle, rotini or macaroni)
• 1 can low-fat cream of chicken soup
• 1/3 cup skim milk
• 2 tablespoons margarine
• 2 cans tuna packed in water (drained)
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• 1 cup frozen peas
• Black pepper to taste
• Garlic powder to taste
• Dried minced onion flakes to taste
• 1 slice whole wheat bread
Cook pasta on stovetop in boiling water according to package directions.
Drain and rinse.
Mix pasta, tuna, soup, milk, margarine, peas, cheese and seasonings in microwavable casserole dish.
Break bread into bite-size chunks and saute in skillet with 2 tablespoons margarine and garlic powder until toasted.
While the bread crumbs are toasting, microwave casserole approximately 10 minutes — stir after 5 minutes, then continue to cook. Stir again.
Top with sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese and bread crumbs.
Microwave an additional 5 minutes.
Serve with baby carrots, apple slices and a glass of milk.