What Cooking up Change Teaches Us About School Food

November 04, 2015 | Written By:

Last week, nearly 100 students from 16 Chicago high schools competed in our annual Cooking up Change Chicago competition. These students designed incredible school meals, including the winning menu of Cajun Chicken Lettuce Wrap, Roasted Corn Relish, and Peach and Yogurt Pizza.

The Chicago event kicks off the upcoming Cooking up Change season, where student chefs across the country will compete for a chance to join us in Washington, D.C., for the national finals. But Cooking up Change is about much more than crowning a national champion; it’s about elevating student voices in the national conversation about school food. In addition to the cooking competition, student chefs take their messages to Capitol Hill.

Cooking up Change puts student voices front and center in the conversation about school food, challenging them to create healthy school lunches that their peers will enjoy, while adhering to strict nutrition guidelines, ingredient lists and budget constraints.

We can learn a lot from these students. These student chefs show us all that within the constraints that schools face every day, it is possible to create healthy meals that appeal to students using whole grains, low-sodium and plentiful fruits and vegetables.

This is a message that’s desperately needed as Congress works toward passing a new version of the Child Nutrition Act, which was extended at the end of September. When so much of what we hear about school food focuses on challenges, these students remind us to focus on solutions and to not waver in our support for high nutrition standards. The health and success of our nation’s children demands nothing less. These students remind us of the creative meals we could be seeing in our school cafeterias and not waver in our support for high nutrition standards.

Since the passage of 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, tremendous progress has been made in school kitchens across the country. Kids are eating healthier, fresher food—the USDA reports that 97 percent of schools are meeting the new guidelines. But there are those that want to see this progress rolled back. We can’t let that happen.

Cooking up Change and Healthy Schools Campaign stand for healthy school food, and we’re asking you to stand with us. We’ve made it easy for you to send a letter to your Congressional representatives by simply entering your ZIP code via the following link. You can use or revise the templated letter that we’ve created, or write your own. Start your letter here.

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