Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Sophie Bollin and Jason DeRusha at Icehouse
Random fact: Sophie Bollin will be doing cooking demos at Icehouse with chef Matt Bickford in the next few months.
When I was 12, my idea of a recipe was boiling water for Rice-A-Roni, or microwaving an On-Cor frozen entree. Sophie Bollin created a recipe so healthy and delicious that she won the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge contest for our state. She and 53 other winners were whisked away to have dinner with First Lady Michelle Obama. A Maplewood seventh-grader, Bollin plays sports, eats right (mostly), and has a lot of ideas about young people, the future, and quinoa.
Did you ever think you were going to win?
I barely win Bingo, so no! I never thought I’d win. They told me in June that I was going to the White House! There were 1,500 who entered—a 3 percent chance that I would win.
Three percent chance? Where do you go to school?
The Math and Science Academy in Woodbury.
Your recipe is mostly quinoa and black beans. I can’t get my father-in-law to eat quinoa. Tell the truth: Do you really like quinoa?
My mom likes to substitute it for rice. It also had the flavor that would go with the recipe we created. I like black beans, so we added black beans. And it had to be nutritious, so we added vegetables.
What happened at the White House?
It was me and my mom and all the other winners. The First Lady was right in the middle of us. First thing she said when I walked up was, “Oh, a normal-height girl!” She’s 5'10" and I’m 5'9".
Do you like being tall?
Sometimes. My teammates call me “the wall”—they kick the soccer ball and it hits me in the stomach. Normal [height] kids would get hit in the face.
Were you designing your recipe to be delicious or healthy?
I was trying to be in between. We have a big family, we’re athletic, and we do sports all the time. For my older brothers, they’ll have big meals before swimming, and then eat healthy the rest of the time. It’s the balance.
As a society we have trouble with balance—we either go crazy and only eat junk, or crazy and go on extreme diets.
While we were at the White House, Barack Obama shared the unhealthy things they eat: He likes French fries, Michelle Obama likes ice cream, one of his daughters likes pie. That’s cool. They don’t eat healthy food for every single meal.
How does your family eat?
We eat healthy. Salad with fruit on it is sometimes our dessert. It’s actually a great dessert!
You don’t eat junk food?
I do eat junk food! I like cake. My mom makes a great chocolate marble cake.
Do you think your generation will figure out healthy eating better than my generation?
I hope so. We need to eat better and have food sizes go down, not just for obesity but to help the earth, too.
When we were kids we didn’t talk about any of this stuff. We just ate.
When I was at the White House, I met a guy named Braeden Mannering from Delaware. He won the year before. When he got home, he met a homeless man and made him a bag lunch. Now Braeden has a project that makes healthy lunches for homeless people. That inspires me. Part of winning is spreading the word that healthy food is good, and fun. In 2015, I want to set a date where every family in Minnesota will have a meal together: sit down at the dinner table and have a meal and chat—no TV, no phones.
That’s what a meal should really be about: connection with family and friends.
My brother is back from Afghanistan. We sit down and have dinner together every night. We’re cherishing that time.