During the judge presentations at the Cooking up Change national finals last month, the team from Chicago set their introduction to a popular hip hop song. But their meal of Cajun Chicken Lettuce Wrap, Roasted Corn Relish and Deconstructed Peach and Yogurt Pizza also impressed the judges who awarded the team second place.
The Cooking up Change competition challenges student chefs to create healthy meals their peers will enjoy, and to do so while adhering to the nutritional guidelines, budgets and ingredient lists of the National School Lunch Program. This year, Healthy Schools Campaign held local contests in 10 cities across the country, and the winners of those contests traveled to Washington, D.C., to compete in the 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.
The Chicago team had several opportunities to talk about their Cooking up Change experience and to express their support for healthy school meals. In addition to the cooking competition, these student chefs took their message to individual meetings with their congressional representatives and a Senate tasting event to speak about the importance of healthy school food.
The team met with Sen. Dick Durbin and staff from Sen. Mark Kirk’s office. These meetings are an opportunity for the Senators to hear directly from the students about the importance of healthy school food and their experience creating healthy school meals. Senator Durbin met with the student chefs and talked about the importance of healthy school food and congratulated the students on coming into second place. Senator Mark Kirk’s staff specifically talked with the students about whether they liked the nutrition standards and about the Senator’s support for healthy school food in the Senate version of the Child Nutrition Act.
These student chefs teach us all to focus on the solutions rather than the challenges. And their meals have proven popular among students and have been featured on the CPS lunch menu. The fact that students enjoy these meals is a testament to the students’ skill in creating recipes under real-life constraints, and their ability to design healthy lunches that are popular with their peers.
Two of the student chefs recently spoke about their experiences on WGN Radio.