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Frank Gray

This quinoa chicken salad earned Alex Aylward an invitation to the inaugural “kids state dinner” at the White House on Monday.

Salad garners boy, 9, invite to White House

Back when I was 9 years old or so, if someone had asked me for a good recipe, I would have recommended a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

If they were looking for something a little more gourmet, I would have recommended putting potato chips on the sandwich, a transformative touch for the classic dish.

Chocolate milk was the perfect accompaniment.

Oh, I liked chicken livers and lamb chops too, but when it came to food preparation, whipping together something out of a jar was hard to beat. Simplicity is a culinary virtue.

Alas, my recipes never drew a lot of attention.

I did not grow up to be a chef.

Alex Aylward, though, has attracted some attention with one of his recipes, and it wasn’t peanut butter and jelly.

According to Tom Aylward, Alex’s dad, his wife, Ann, is interested in good nutrition and eating healthy foods.

“Not to say that we don’t eat junk food,” Tom Aylward interjects.

But his wife did come up with a recipe that involved cooked quinoa (a South American grain pronounced keen-wah, I’m told) and pieces of grilled skinless chicken or turkey deli meat.

Alex liked the dish, but he had his own ideas on how to enhance it to his own liking, his dad said. He added diced cucumbers, tomatoes and red pepper and fresh chopped spinach to it and added some vinaigrette.

Awhile back, through a friend, Alex’s family heard about something called a Healthy Lunchtime Challenge that was asking for recipes from kids, so the family entered Alex’s modified recipe for vegetable quinoa salad with chicken. In July, the family learned that the recipe had been chosen as one of 54 to be included in a cookbook.

The various recipes are available online at The nice part about the quinoa recipe Alex submitted is that it is simple. No frying or sautéing or browning or any of that. Just dicing and mixing.

As part of all of this, Alex and one of his parents were invited to the first-ever “kids state dinner” at the White House with other recipe winners.

You might have heard about the dinner. It took place Monday, and it’s been on the news, and among those there were Alex and his mother.

Ann Aylward said they had dressed up for the event, but, she added, “It was much more formal than we anticipated. Everyone was dressed to the nines,” and the event even featured a popular kids band from a TV show on Nickelodeon.

The menu consisted of the recipes that the kids had submitted.

It’s worthwhile noting that this quinoa-chicken dish isn’t some lame recipe that was made up on the fly for a contest. Alex, who attends Weisser Park Elementary, actually brings the veggie quinoa salad with chicken to school for lunch, loaded in a bento box.

He doesn’t eat the same recipe every day, though. He likes turkey sandwiches, his dad said, and, thank goodness, peanut butter and jelly.

By the way, Alex doesn’t pack his lunch every day. When pizza is on the menu, he eats the school lunch.

No sense in getting too carried away.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.