A First-Time Judge Reflects on Cooking up Change

June 01, 2015

Every event requires collaboration from several partners, and our Cooking up Change National Finals is no exception. One of the most important roles on the day of the competition belongs to our judges. Not only are these judges gracious enough to donate their time, they are important voices in the future of school food.

Martin Blank, the director of the Coalition for Community Schools and president of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), will join us as a first-time judge for this year’s national contest. Blank has worked at IEL since 1985 and has focused his work in community problem solving on building bridges between schools and other institutions.

Blank is thrilled to participate as a judge in this year’s competition. “What excites me about this is that this taps into the talent and passion of young people,” he said. “I think we often overlook what young people can do. We overlook their ability to participate, inform and improve their communities.”

Students like the Cooking up Change chefs are working everyday to improve their communities, and Blank says we need more of these kinds of opportunities to highlight all the positive things that high school students are doing. “We need more occasions for adults to see young people — particularly low-income kids and kids of color — contributing to their community. Cooking up Change is one example of what we can do.”

As part of the student chefs’ experience in Washington, D.C., they will speak at a Congressional briefing on school food and meet with their elected officials to talk about their Cooking up Change experience. The Cooking up Change competition not only serves as a way for student chefs to create school meals that appeal to their peers, it also shows that school meals can be healthy, delicious and meet the strict nutritional and budgetary requirements.

This comes at a time when Congress is debating rolling back the nutritional standards for school food set forth by 2010’s Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Blank agrees that the standards should stay. “It’s really important that we have high standards for what we offer our students in our nutritional programs,” said Blank.

At the Cooking up Change National Finals on June 8, the student chefs will show that those high standards for school meals can also be delicious and fun.