Culinary Students Showcase What’s Hot in School Food

May 18, 2012

On Monday, six teams of high school student chefs from across the country will come together in the nation’s capital to help transform the future of school food. These young culinary talents have been challenged to create a healthy, great-tasting school meal using the same ingredients commonly used in school kitchens.

These students are great advocates for healthy, appealing school food. In crafting their lunches, many teams got feedback from their peers and incorporated the changes they want to see in the school cafeteria. Each team shared their inspiration and motivation in preparing a meal that their friends and classmates would love. What trends to they want to see in school food?

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Denver’s cheesy chicken pasta baked with vegetable ragu, spinach and carrot muffin with carrot sticks, and a fruit and yogurt parfait

Students recognized the convenience of mobility at lunch time. Competitors in the Cooking up Change Chicago qualifying contest observed that they like school food you can eat with your hands. “Not using utensils when we eat [makes] it a lot easier, a lot faster. It’s more efficient,” one student said. This year, the Winston-Salem finalists created a healthful “el taco loco” wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla while Jacksonville created a chicken wrap.

Many of the teams created a school meal that catered to their peers’ tastes. Each team incorporated chicken into their meal, pointing out that students like the flavor and recognize it as a healthy option at lunchtime.

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St. Louis’ lemon pepper chicken and brown rice with caesar salad and berry parfait

This year, Cooking up Change traveled to the West Coast. The Santa Ana trio created an appealing lunch (pictured below) that represents their vision for the future of school food. Alejandro “Alex” Hernández told the Orange County Register, “I know in my heart that I cooked a meal that will make a change.”

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Santa Ana’s lemon and spinach chicken with Tuscan bean salad and cinnamon poached pears

Rose, one half of the St. Louis team, said she and her teammate wanted show their classmates different methods of cooking and preparation that they know their peers will enjoy once they give it a try. “We just wanted to create something that was healthier and elegant to open up our peers’ eyes,” she said. She added that creating this meal offered “a way to open up their eyes to see that there are different forms of cooking other than frying or deep frying.”

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Winston-Salem’s chicken and vegetable taco in a whole wheat tortilla with black beans and veggies and a home-style tortilla apple pie

Cultural influences played a key role in students’ lunches. From Southern Creole to Italian to Latin American to West African cuisines, Cooking up Change student chefs wanted to share influences from around the world with their peers, pointing to a desire for variety in the lunchroom.

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Jacksonville’s chicken imoyo wrap, jollof rice, and West African succotash

The Jacksonville team wanted their tray to send a message. The team wowed judges in the qualifying contest with a West African-inspired chicken imoyo wrap, Jollof rice, and West African succotash. Phillip said, “we went where no one else had gone.” Hannah explained that “we used simple ingredients that we take for granted every day here in the U.S.,” adding that the team “wanted to raise awareness” of hunger issues.

The Chicago team will serve oven-fried chicken raised without the use of antibiotics. The team recently spoke about their meal at a briefing for Congress and shared the lessons they learned from visiting an Amish poultry farm where the chicken is raised.

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Chicago’s oven-fried chicken, “Cousins” collard greens & cabbage, and sweet potato salad

We can’t wait for the students to come together in Washington, DC!

You can help these amazing young people send a resounding message to Congress: students deserve a healthy school lunch. The day after the competition, one dish from each team’s meal will be served tomorrow at a briefing for Congress on the future of school food and for lunch in the Longworth cafeteria, which serves Congressional leaders and their staff. The students will speak at the briefing to share their experience in Cooking up Change and their perspective on the importance of healthy school food. Invite your legislators to meet these inspiring students and try the healthy lunches they’ve designed by sending a letter here.