Bringing Student Voices to the National School Food Debate

April 16, 2014

School food politics continue, but the need for student voices remains constant

With the passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, many people may have thought the political battles surrounding school food had been laid to rest. The reality, however, is far from restful.

Over the past four years, the politics of school food have been ongoing and unrelenting. We have seen fights over setting science-based nutrition standards , the establishment of wellness team requirements, calling pizza sauce a vegetable , limiting junk food ads in schools , and most recently, questioning whether the school lunch program makes kids soulless .

One constant in these fights is the need for student voices to be part of the conversation about school food. That’s where Cooking up Change comes in.

Five years ago, HSC started the nationwide Cooking up Change competition that puts school meals to the test against student ingenuity, teenage taste buds and the national school food standards. This year, in 10 cities across the country, high school students are reinventing what school meals look and taste like, all while sticking to tight national nutrition standards and budgets while using limited school kitchen equipment. From Chicago, to Los Angeles, to Little Rock, the results have been fascinating, and inspiring.

Soulless? Just the opposite. Pizza sauce as a vegetable? Not even close.

These students are redefining what is possible for school meals. And they’re doing it for reasons beyond just winning awards. Whether advocating for more money for better school food , getting antibiotics out of their meals or investing in school kitchen equipment, students are raising their voices and letting it be heard that they care about the food they eat every day at school.

In June, the 10 winning teams from across the country will travel to Washington, D.C., for the national Cooking up Change competition. And while the students are competing, school food advocates will be working to prevent push-back on the recent competitive foods standards and increase resources to invest in our nation’s school kitchens. While one team will be crowned winner, all students will make their voices heard for improved school food and fitness.

Back in 2010, one of the Cooking up Change students was asked what she learned from the experience. Her comments are so appropriate as we think about how many people it takes to support a healthy school. The lesson? “ Change really can happen if we all help it along .”

Now it’s our turn to help it along.

So help us out. In June, we’re going to serve the winning Cooking up Change meals in the U.S. Congress’ cafeteria and hold a congressional briefing with the Cooking up Change students. We want legislators to hear directly from these students about school food and to try their healthy school lunches. If you want to invite your legislator to be a part of this, post a comment on this blog, and we’ll make sure you have an invitation to send to your member of Congress.