(Washington) CNN — President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at Tuesday's kids' "State Dinner" at the White House an event thrown by the the first lady to welcome the winners of the second annual "Healthy Lunchtime Challenge."
"Usually at a state dinner I get invited, so I don't know what happened on this one," the president joked. "I hear the food is pretty good."
Obama went around to each table to congratulate the kids before leaving to get back to official business.
"This is what it's like to be a part of an official state dinner," Michelle Obama told the children and their parents gathered in the East Room. "We mirrored it exactly to what people experience when we host world leaders here."
The kids, ranging in age from 8 to 12, even got to experience an arrival ceremony as they were officially announced as they made their way through the booksellers' entrance of the White House.
The "Healthy Lunchtime Challenge" is a recipe contest for kids across the country, first launched in 2012 by Epicurious a website about food to promote healthy eating for children in the United States. It is part of first lady Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' initiative a program developed to "solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation," according to the program's website.
Last week, the White House, Epicurious, and the departments of Education and Agriculture announced 54 winners from more than 1,300 entries. One winner was chosen from each of the 50 states, plus three territories and the District of Columbia.
Each recipe had to meet USDA's healthy meal criteria and had to represent each of the five food groups. Fruits and vegetables were required to be part of at least half of the recipe.
"We have seen that when kids like all of you get involved in creating your own healthy meals the results can really be amazing and delicious and fun," Mrs. Obama told the young chefs. "You'll come up with ideas that none of us grownups ever thought of.
Winning recipes included "Picky Eater Pita Pizza Pockets," made by 8-year-old Jacob Hirsch from West Bloomfield, Michigan; and "Bring it on, Brussels Sprout Wrap!" by 9-year-old Corbin Jackson from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
Tuesday's event featured some of the winning recipesmany of which are considered finger food.
"Using your fingers is completely fine here... the first lady has said that it is OK!" Michelle Obama exclaimed.
The president took mock-offense at his wife's comment.
"Michelle never said to me I can just pick up something with my fingers at a state dinner -- that's not fair!" he joked.
Amber Kelley traveled to the White House from Woodinville, Washington, for the special event. The 10-year-old won for her "Nummy No-Noodle Lasagna" recipe and got to sit next to Mrs. Obama during lunch.
Amber explained to CNN the big secret to her winning recipe: "Instead of putting in the noodles you put in really thinly sliced zucchini," she said. "It tastes really good. Some people told me that you can barely tell."
Amber's mother, Yoko, was "thrilled" about her daughter's win and the visit to the White House.
"She's kind of been dedicating herself to healthy cooking for a while now and this is the big crescendo at the end," she said.
After lunch, recipe winners were treated to a performance by 15-year-old singer Rachel Crow before geting a tour of the White House kitchen garden.