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Meet Leon, the High School Healthy Chef


When Leon Sanchez reached his sophomore year of high school, he made a change in his life to honor his dying grandmother.

He started to cook.

“She wanted me to become a better man and not go down the wrong path,” Sanchez says. “So, I saw this as a door, a window, to further myself to becoming a better man, and a better person."

Sanchez is featured in a new video produced by our friends at the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods (KSHF) Project that promotes the Cooking up Change contest, an annual event put together by the Healthy Schools Campaign that challenges students to develop healthy meals that meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently updated nutritional standards for school meals. The dishes also must be capable of being prepared in school cafeterias.

Sanchez and his teammates from Chicago’s Washington High School beat out other Windy City schools to be named among the National Winners of the 2012-13 contest, earning honors for their Mexican-inspired dishes such as chicken rancheros, corn elotes, and tropical de fruta.

“Leon Sanchez is a truly talented and inspirational student who shows us that kids genuinely care about the quality of their meals,” says Jessica Donze Black, KSHF’s director. “By preparing a tasty lunch that meets USDA nutrition standards, he and his fellow competitors demonstrate that serving healthy foods is not just possible, it can be delicious!”

Other cities and regions sponsoring contests included Denver, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Fla., Orange County, Calif., Memphis, Tenn., and Winston-Salem, N.C. The team from Orange County was named the grand prize winner back in June for their dish, “Pita Packs a Punch.”

The new video highlights the impact that the program continues to have on students such as Sanchez. After graduation, Leon plans to join the Marines to serve as a cook, then plans to study at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach, according to KSHF.

“I wanted to make my grandmother proud, and make everyone who knows me proud,” he says of Cooking up Change. “We are actually helping kids live a longer life.”