WATERVILLE – Getting to meet the president of the United States and the first lady at the White House is not something an ordinary 9-year-old gets to do.

But Noah Koch of Waterville is anything but ordinary.

Noah got the chance to spend some time in Washington last month after representing Maine at the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids “State Dinner,” put on by Michelle Obama, food website Epicurious, the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture. Noah’s recipe for a vegan pesto pasta earned him the trip, which he and his mother, Hilary, took July 9.

Although he is just 9, Noah’s taste in food is advanced for his age. Along with strawberries, Noah’s favorite foods include spinach — cooked, not raw — broccoli and avocados. Noah’s love for healthful food comes from growing up with two parents who are passionate about their own eating habits and passing that on to their two sons — Noah and 7-year-old Leo.

“This has been a process for us,” Hilary Koch said. “I was not raised vegetarian. I like meat and dairy and cheese. We believe this is a health issue. We believe this is better for your body.”

She and her husband, Arne Koch, a German professor at Colby College, started to develop healthier eating patterns by the time Noah was born. When Leo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 2½ years old, Hilary and Arne were prepared for it.

“I feel very firmly that if your kids are only presented with certain choices, then that’s all they know and it’s what they will eat,” she said.

About two years ago, both parents started on vegetarian diets. Noah and Hilary are trying to eat vegan, which involves eliminating all animal products from one’s diet; while Arne and Leo are vegetarian, abstaining from consuming meat.

“Ideally, as a family, we’re trying hard to eat as much of a whole-food, plant-based diet as we can,” Hilary Koch said.

The meal that earned Noah his trip to the White House was an original take on a classic Italian sauce. Noah’s pesto recipe cuts out some of the oil and adds some “superfoods” that raise the nutrition of the dish to USDA MyPlate standards.

Noah’s Vegan Powerhouse Pesto Pasta calls for two avocados, a cup of fresh baby spinach, four cups of basil leaves, a half cup of walnuts, a can of cannellini beans, two tablespoons of lemon juice, a garlic clove, a quarter cup of olive oil, some black pepper and grape tomatoes, cut in half. It all goes over a plate of quinoa.

In Washington, Noah and his mother went to Julia Childs’ exhibit and the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum before a healthful pizza party with the other winners.

“We all signed a cookbook for the first lady,” Noah said. “She told us her kids really liked pesto.”

President Obama made a surprise visit, heading to each table to talk with the contest winners and their families.

He even got a fist bump from the president after Obama learned that Noah had made a favorite dish of his daughters.

Jesse Scardina can be contacted at 861-9239, or at:

[email protected] 

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