Meet Wichita’s Winning Student Chefs!

June 05, 2014

An invaluable chance to speak up for healthy school meals

Cooking up Change competitions are happening all across the country this spring, with winners heading to Washington, D.C., for the national finals on June 9! HSC’s Cooking up Change contest challenges high school culinary students to create a healthful and delicious school meal that can be served in a school cafeteria. Cooking up Change is not only fun and educational, it also adds student voices to the national conversation about school food. Here’s a profile of one winning team.

For Wichita’s winning student chefs, the Cooking up Change national finals represent an invaluable chance to speak up for healthy school meals. Said team member Gabby, “A lot of kids right now don’t really like school food, but they eat it because it’s their only option. If kids had voice in it they would be able to eat the food they like and have it be healthy.”

What should be on the menu? These West High School students think they’ve found one winning formula. Their macaroni and cheese pasta dish features a kid-pleasing kick of Buffalo chicken, complemented by a special veggie coleslaw and a pear crisp with granola. Their creative process started at a local restaurant, which served a Buffalo mac and cheese that didn’t come close to the nutrition requirements.

“I wanted to figure out how to make it healthy,” Gabby said. She remembers the first time they tried making the recipe. “We had three different cheeses, and it was a lot of fun. We were just testing everything out, seeing how it worked together.”

Their solution eventually involved removing some of the less-healthy ingredients and substituting whole-wheat pasta.

Team member Malena said, “At first we were really frustrated, but by the time it was finished, we were so excited. Our teacher guided us in the right way, encouraging us not to give up.”

These student chefs were also encouraged by their respective families. Team member Abbigail said, “My mom always focuses on healthy eating. There’s multigrain pasta in our main dish… we use that to eat healthy at school, but I also do that already at home.”

Gabby said her passion for food also comes from her roots. “My family is Italian,” she said, “and every Sunday we would make spaghetti. I would get up early and help my grandmother make the meatballs and the sauce. It's just kind of grown as I’ve gotten older.”

Malena, too, is anything but a novice. “I wanted to do culinary ever since I was seven,” she said. For her, this competition feels like a big step from the team’s first days in the kitchen, taste-testing three different cheeses and hoping for a hit. “This is a huge thing for West High,” she said. “It really puts West on the map.”

Not to mention, it puts their voices front and center. They’re ready to tell the world how much healthy food matters, at school and in life. Abiggail said: “I think this competition will show that you don’t have to rely on fast food.”

Read about all winning teams here.