The Art of Promoting Healthy School Food

April 10, 2013

HSC strongly believes in helping students use their creativity to advocate for positive change. Here, we learn about an art contest that showcases students’ nutrition-focused designs for a food service vendor.

HSC strongly believes in helping students use their creativity to advocate for positive change. Here, we learn about an art contest that showcases students' nutrition-focused designs for a food service vendor.

The auditorium is packed with adoring fans who can’t wait to meet the artists. Cheerleaders chant, “We are proud of you!” Francine and Joceline, two sixth graders at Darwin School in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, have just won a nation-wide art contest by using their creative skills to advocate for healthier school lunches.

Darwin is one of several Chicago schools with students who came away victorious in Preferred Meal Systems’ “Healthier Lunch for a Healthier Me” art contest. Mariano Azuela Elementary School in West Lawn also had a winning design, as did Pasteur Elementary. The winning designs will appear on the Preferred Meal Systems trucks, with runner-up designs being featured on tray liners, one per month, for the whole year. Other runners-up will be featured on a calendar.

Preferred Meal Systems works with more than 200 Chicago Public Schools to bring pre-portioned, hot meals to schools that don’t have cooking facilities. The food service vendor is working to transition from these pre-plated meals to a bulk, cafeteria-style service model.

Clare Keating, Vice President of Marketing for Preferred Meal Systems, says, “We really want to promote meals and change the image of school lunch and take away the connotation that school meals are not healthy.”

The art contest was a simple enough idea — something that would already fit into the educational framework of the day and allow students to express themselves and feel as if they are a part of something. For the contest, classes work together on ideas for their designs, and during that time, they discuss healthy food and nutrition. Art, accomplishment and healthy eating are now all linked, and students are reminded of these when they see the new school lunch contest.

Prominent blues musician Dave Herrero also performed for the crowd of 600, and said, “I’ve been making music and traveling all around the world,” he says. “But I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I wasn’t taking care of myself and eating well.”

This year’s contest had about 300 entries from all over the country. Congratulations to the winning artists from the following schools:

  • Pasteur Elementary – Chicago, IL

  • P.S. 24 – Jersey City, New Jersey

  • Hickory Bend Elementary School – Glenwood, IL

  • Darwin School – Chicago, IL  

  • William B. Orenic Intermediate School – Plainfield, IL

  • Mariano Azuela Elementary School – Chicago, IL

“We want to generate some excitement about school meals,” Keating says. “I’m always concerned when it’s not cool to eat school lunch and the child who doesn’t eat it because they’re worried about what other kids think. If we can take away some of the stigma and show that it can even be fun, then we’ll be successful.”

Congrats to all the winners of this contest! For another way that art is spreading the word about healthy food, read our profile of a new play about school lunches.