Climbing ‘The Hill’ for Healthy School Food

June 11, 2014

Students speak up

Cooking up Change student chefs took their message and their meals to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, speaking at a congressional briefing sponsored by Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Susan Collins of Maine, co-sponsors of the School Food Modernization Act .

Student voices for school food are particularly powerful and poignant right now. Recent moves by Congress threaten to roll back updated school nutrition standards. Opponents of the healthier requirements, which call for more fruits, veggies and whole grains, say that kids are either opting out of school lunch or tossing copious amounts of healthy food in the trash. With eye-opening frankness, students explained why.

“Students don’t throw away healthy food,” said Moriah from Memphis, Tenn. whose team prepared a spicy chicken tortilla wrap. “They throw away food that tastes bad. If you give them something that tastes good, they’ll eat it.”

Attendees who tasted the students’ creations — all of which met updated nutritional and budgetary guidelines — agreed that the meals defied common perceptions of school food.

How’d they do it? “Trial and error and a lot of hard work,” said Oscar from Winston-Salem, N.C., whose team dished up a chicken stir fry.

Up and down the line of student chefs, whose meals also included fish tacos, Buffalo mac and cheese and barbecue-chicken flatbread, a common theme emerged: creating a healthy and delicious school lunch wasn’t easy, but they worked hard, got creative and figured it out. The end result was 10 great-tasting student-designed lunches that could be served — and enjoyed by students — across their school districts.

Senator Heitkamp made a personal appearance to congratulate the student chefs and to speak to the critical need for healthy school food. When she served as North Dakota’s attorney general from 1993 to 2001, Heitkamp said that smoking was the number-one public health issue facing the country. But in recent years, childhood obesity has risen to the top of the list.

Now it’s up to all of us to turn those statistics around. Through Cooking up Change, young chefs are providing politicians with a perspective that they often fail to consider. The student perspective.

“We are high school culinary students who have proven this can be done,” said Anna from Winston-Salem. “We’re asking Congress, please don’t roll back the nutrition standards. We’re making progress. Through Cooking up Change, we’re making a difference.”