Time to Transform School Lunch: Cooking up Change Season Begins in Chicago

September 23, 2014

The power of student-created recipes

As the school year begins, about a hundred Chicago high school students have an incredible assignment: Create a healthy and delicious school lunch that could be served across the entire 400,000-student Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district. These students are part of the district’s culinary arts program, and they are participating in Healthy School Campaign’s Cooking up Change competition.

Their voices and recipes will be filling a major gap. Under USDA national and CPS district policies, all food served within schools — including school breakfast, lunch and snacks sold outside of the cafeteria — must meet high nutrition standards. Greasy pizza, burgers and potato chips are out, and lean meats, whole grains, fruits and veggies are in. Healthy food fuels students’ learning and instills lifelong healthy habits. But here’s the kicker: will they eat it?

That’s where Cooking up Change comes in. Nobody knows what students like better than students themselves. Cooking up Change challenges students to create their own meals that comply with local and federal nutrition guidelines and that can be replicated in school kitchens across the district.

With guidance from their culinary instructors and local chef mentors, teams of students engage in a weeks-long process where they create, test, tweak and re-tweak their recipes until they’re just right. The Chicago program culminates with a citywide cook-off on October 30 at the Bridgeport Art Center, where the students’ hard work will be celebrated by hundreds of guests. A panel of city’s leading chefs and food industry experts will judge their creative meals. The winning team goes on to compete at the national finals in Washington, D.C., against winners from other cities.

Why Cooking up Change Matters

HSC founded Cooking up Change in Chicago in 2007 as a way to add student voices to the school food debate and to spark much-needed change to the national school food program. And it’s working. Since that time, CPS has instituted much higher nutrition standards and the USDA has revamped the nation’s school food program.

Having higher standards is one thing. Students embracing healthier school food options is something entirely different. But the key ingredient today is the same as it was in 2007 — student voices.

“When we began working on school food policy, we noticed that student voices were absent from the conversation,” said HSC president and CEO Rochelle Davis. “We started this program to change that. Cooking up Change gives students a chance to speak up about school food, and it’s an opportunity for them to learn about healthy food and to showcase their talent and creativity. These students are creating fun and healthy meals that can actually be served in their schools.”

Your Support

Each year, Cooking up Change student chefs continue to amaze us with their energy and ingenuity. If you’re in or near Chicago, please join us on October 30 to witness these talented young chefs in action. All proceeds from the event go toward our mission to improve school and student health in Chicago and across the country. If you are from outside of Chicago or cannot attend, you can make a donation or enter the grand prize raffle.

Plus: Keep eye out for a Cooking up Change competition in your city. The competition happens in cities all across the country, and we’ll announce the full Cooking up Change 2014-2015 schedule soon!