Every year, Healthy Schools Campaign encourages cities across the country to host Cooking up Change competitions to help spark a dialogue between students and the community about changes needed to school meal programs.
Cooking up Change, originally started in Chicago in 2007, has now expanded nationwide. In each participating city, teams of high school students try to create a healthy meal consisting of an entrée and two side dishes that meets school nutrition guidelines, is budget-friendly and can be easily replicated in school lunchrooms across the country.
Specifically, “The students must work within the constraints of school food service including limited ingredients, limited equipment and preparation steps, strict nutrition requirements and a tight budget. The teams must also incorporate a local produce item,” notes Sara Porter, Senior Director of External Affairs of the Healthy Foods Campaign.
“Healthy food can be delicious,” explains Gabrielle Arma, a 2014 national competition contestant from Wichita, Kansas. “Students really do care about what we put in our bodies, and we care about what we eat and how healthy it is.”
After each city has concluded its competition, winners from each location move on to compete against each other in a national competition. This year’s national competition was held in Washington, D.C. on June 9, and included contestants from 10 cities—from Los Angeles to Memphis and everywhere in between.
The entrees presented at the national conference included beef empanadas, curry chicken, BBQ chicken pizza, buffalo macaroni and cheese and more; sides included grilled veggies, fruit salads, a spicy bean dip and several other healthy, mouthwatering options.
The 2014 winning meal was created by a team from Valley High in Orange County, California, and was the third national win for the school. Their entrée was a Kickin' Taco, a fish taco with cabbage slaw, and their sides were Zesta Fiesta Salad, a corn and bean salad infused with cumin, and Yummy Tummy Bananas, frozen bananas that have been dipped in yogurt and rolled in granola, cinnamon and ginger.
Along the way, the competition encourages students to learn cooking tips and tricks as well as how nutrition guidelines play a role in the creation of school meals. In addition, the competition also allows students a glimpse of what a day in the life of a school lunchroom worker is like.
“It has really opened my eyes to what schools have to go through to produce anything for us, especially the meals,” says Barrosha Boykin, a member of the winning team from the Houston, Texas, competition. “Doing this competition has made me realize – and made my family and my friends realize – you don’t have to be unhealthy to have a good meal.”
For more information on the competition, visit their website. You can also check out a series of video interviews with the 2014 national competition contestants here.