Cooking up Change Student Chef Speaks Up for School Nutrition Standards

December 09, 2014

This letter to Congress was written by Anna Simeonides (pictured, left), a high school student from Winston-Salem, N.C., who participated in Healthy Schools Campaign’s Cooking up Change program in 2013 and 2014, representing her hometown at the national finals in Washington, D.C., both years. Cooking up Change challenged Anna and her fellow student chefs to create healthy school meals that their peers would enjoy while adhering to the national nutrition standards. As the adults in Congress argue over the school meal standards, and some threaten to repeal the standards altogether, we think it’s critically important to hear from students like Anna who stand to benefit from healthier, better-tasting meals, or suffer the consequences of substandard food that puts students’ health at risk.

Dear Congress,

I would like to share a few words with you about the amazing honor I had to be involved with Healthy Schools Campaign’s Cooking up Change competition for the past two years. Cooking up Change challenged me and my fellow student chefs to create healthy school meals that our peers would enjoy eating.

This program has truly opened up my eyes to how hard people are working to bring healthy and delicious meals to students across the nation. I now appreciate all the time, effort, dedication and resources that go into this challenging process. As a student, it’s been incredible to know that through Cooking up Change I’ve had the opportunity to impact the food that is served at my school and to have a voice on this issue.

This opportunity is increasingly significant in light of the ongoing debate in Congress to lower the health standards of school meals. Legislators are suggesting that nutritious food is poorly received by the students and that the nutrition standards are unnecessarily strict. However, I can say from firsthand experience that the new, healthier options being implemented in our cafeteria have made a positive difference in my school and among my peers. The salad bar is the longest line at my school!

Over the past few years, because of the updated nutrition standards and through programs like Cooking up Change and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign, extraordinary strides have been made to ensure that tasty, wholesome food is available to every student. We have come so far in this mission and it would be a shame to negate the progress that has been made.

Because of issues like childhood obesity, which affect so many of my peers, it is crucial to maintain the current nutrition standards at our schools. Students spend 180 days per year at school and we deserve food that is both appealing and good for us. What you put into your body directly affects how you perform, whether you are an athlete, an artist or a scholar. Therefore, and on behalf of my fellow Cooking up Change participants, I urge you to truly listen to our voices. Not only are we students, but we are chefs who have sampled a significant amount of cafeteria food and have gone through the process of creating delicious school meals that meet the current nutrition standards.

If, as high school students, we could achieve this kind of success in our districts, I know that this mission can be carried out in schools and districts across the country. This is a crucial time in our nation concerning the health of future generations. Let the voices of the students be heard, as we are truly on the front lines of this effort to promote and support healthy food within our schools.

Thank You,

Anna Simeonides

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The issues that Anna wrote about are being debated right now in Congress. We ask you to take action by reaching out to your Representative and tell him or her to make student health a priority by upholding the national nutrition standards. We can’t afford to put children’s health at risk by backsliding on the standards for school food. To contact your member of Congress, go to contactingthecongress.org.