Changing School Lunch: Engaging Students in Creating Healthy School Meals They Want to Eat

October 23, 2012 | Written By:

A recent editorial (pdf) by David Katz in the journal Childhood Obesity highlights an aspect of school food reform that’s often overlooked. New school food standards matter — a lot — but there’s another factor that’s just as key. Katz says: “Improving nutrition for kids will only ever be as impactful as their willingness to swallow our successes. If they don’t eat it, it won’t matter.”

We’ve seen this play out recently in the news, as students in various cities protest new meal standards.

Katz urges us to have faith that kids’ tastebuds will eventually respond to new flavors:

“People like the food they know. It is not coincidence that babies in Mexico grow up learning to eat hot chilies, while babies in Japan learn to love raw fish. A large volume of research that I have reviewed for several of the books I have written, as well as 20 years of clinical practice, convince me that taste buds are malleable little fellas: When they can’t be with a food they love, they pretty readily learn to love the food they are with. Once they do, familiarity becomes a powerful reinforcing agent. We like what we know.”

At the same time, he notes, we must engage students in the process and give them the knowledge and experiences to make their own healthy choices. Katz says: “We must recall that the ultimate decision here — what to eat — resides with the children themselves. . .  we must work with them, as well as for them, to ensure that health is a common priority and to ensure that we share a taste for salutary change.”

We agree that involving students is key.  That’s why we continue to engage high school culinary students through the Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest! Cooking up Change challenges high school students to create a healthy school lunch within the budget and time constraints facing public schools. HSC will launch the national series of contests on Friday, November 9 in with the flagship Chicago contest and benefit. Winners selected by a judging panel that includes Chicago’s leading chefs will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national finals and present their meal to Congress.

We invite you to join us for one of the most exciting, fun and meaningful nights of the year as teens show us how they would change school food. Learn more, check out stories from student chefs, and purchase tickets online at

For more from Dr. David Katz, follow him on Twitter: @DrDavidKatz or check out another recent article of his, The Road to Loving Lunch (That Loves Our Kids Back).

Plus: The same issue of the journal Childhood Obesity features a spotlight on Cooking up Change! Check it out on pages 3-5 of the “success stories” section of the journal [pdf].

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