A Texas-Themed Meal Wins Cooking up Change Houston

April 17, 2015

The team wowed the judges with their Cowboy Cajun Chicken Lollipop.

We’ve all heard that everything is bigger in Texas, and student culinary teams from the Houston Independent School District (HISD) want to make sure the flavor of school food is bigger, too. On March 28, seven culinary teams from four high schools competed in Healthy Schools Campaign’s Cooking up Change competition, sponsored locally by Aramark, to create healthy school meals, following strict nutritional and budgetary requirements, that their peers would enjoy.

The team from Westside High School came out the winner with a Texas-themed meal, though the panel of judges — which included Roshni Gurnani, a Hell’s Kitchen contestant, winner on Food Network’s Chopped and an instructor at Art Institute of Houston — said the decision was a hard one. That’s a testament to just how hard all of the student chefs worked to develop their incredible meals. Jose A., Jalien N. and Briseida S. prepared a meal of Cowboy Cajun Chicken Lollipop with Black Bean Hoppin’ John; Twisted Texas Cabbage and Collard Greens; and Pineapple Tart.

The team drew inspiration from their home state. “We wanted to bring Texas to the whole theme of the meal,” said Jalien. “Here in Texas, Southern comfort food is really popular.” Hoppin’ John is a traditional Southern dish with rice and beans that’s often served with collard greens, another Southern favorite.

But cooking delicious comfort food while sticking to calorie and ingredient counts was a challenge, the team said. In order to stay under the 10-ingredient per dish limit, the students experimented with differents spices and seasonings that could work in both the chicken and the rice dish, said Briseida. The team settled on cajun seasoning for both dishes, and it paid off.

The Cooking up Change competition not only serves as a way for these student chefs to create meals that appeal to their peers, but it also shows that school meals can be healthy, delicious and meet the necessary requirements. “We learned that trying to create a healthy dish is difficult and challenging, but we found it is possible to do it while being delicious at the same time,” said Jose.

The winning meal will make it on to the lunch trays of HISD’s 213,000 students in the fall. But before then, the Houston team will join other winning Cooking up Change teams from across the country to compete for a national title and to spread the message of healthy school food in June at the Cooking up Change national finals in Washington, D.C.

Congratulations to the Westside team — and all the Houston student chefs — for showing us that school meals can be healthy and delicious.

Here are the other six teams that competed in Houston:

Barbara Jordan High School
Team: Kassandra C., Ta’Mirah C. and Alexa G.
Menu: Chicken à la Naranja, Power Veggies and Wake Me Up Parfait

Team: Alejandra A., Kerena G. and Keonna H.
Menu: Thyme-Lemon-Garlic Sautéed Chicken Breast, Roasted Vegetable Medley and Fruit and Oat Bar

Team: Corina G., Stefanie P. and Dora V.
Menu: Fiesta Chicken Quesadilla, Mexican Blend and Fruit Salad

Jefferson Davis High School
Team: Juanita C. and Jacqueline H.
Menu: BBQ Chicken Baked Potato with Texas Toast, Creole Coleslaw and Tortilla Manzana

Team: Alondra N., Andrea R. and Jeremy W.
Menu: Creole Chicken Pasta with Bread Stick, Broccoli and Cheese and Fruit Cocktail Crisp

Milby High School
Team: Luzclarita C., Oscar C. and Itzamar G.
Menu: Chicken, Cheese and Broccoli Casserole; Creole Stewed Corn; and Cinnamon-Spiced Baked Peaches