Cooking up Change Chicago

Cooking up Change

Cooking up Change is a dynamic competition that challenges Chicago high school culinary students to create healthy school meals that taste great and appeal to their fellow students.

Elevating Student Voices

Cooking up Change is about the electricity of competition and tasting the next generation of school meals. It’s about celebrating the promise of healthy schools. It’s also about launching a conversation.

“This competition gives us a voice. I want to keep promoting healthy lunches at school.”
Menajah, student chef

Cooking up Change puts student voices front and center in our city’s conversation about school food, challenging them to create healthy school lunches that their peers will enjoy. These student chefs show us that it is possible to create meals with plentiful fruits, vegetables and whole grains that can be served as part of school meal programs across the country— and that students will want to eat.

Far-Reaching Impact

The impact of Cooking up Change extends far beyond the contest and one exciting evening. Students develop skills that last a lifetime while making a real impact on school food in Chicago and across the nation. Read more about the impact of Cooking up Change and about one student chef who returned as a judge.

Sponsor Cooking up Change

Learn more about the opportunities Cooking up Change creates for student leaders, its national reach and highlights from the past 11 seasons! Find out more about how you can get involved in Cooking up Change as a sponsor.

Rewriting the Recipe for School Food

Cooking up Change challenges students to create healthy, great-tasting meals that could be served as part of the district’s school meal program. This means using ingredients and equipment commonly available for school food service. The student chefs who take part in Cooking up Change are enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools Career and Technical Education Culinary program.

Student teams use the knowledge they’ve gained through their culinary arts studies and guidance from mentors to develop menus and recipes and refine them based on peer taste tests and professional nutrition analysis.

On the day of the competition, students present their meals to a panel of judges—professional chefs, food service professionals, education leaders and public officials, among others—who rate each meal according to its originality, taste, appearance and the quality of the team’s presentation.

2019 Winners

Vaughn Occupational High School Student ChefsVaughn Occupational High School
Student Chefs: Brianna, Emily, George, Jamel, Jason and Nayeli
School Lunch: Pho Sho, Apeeling Vegetable and Time Flies Like an Arrow, Fruit Flies Like a Banana

2018 Winners

Vaughn Occupational High School Student ChefsVaughn Occupational High School
Student Chefs: Adrianna, Ezequiel, Hector, Justin and Manny
School Lunch: Cajun Po’Boy, Elotes Salad and Apple Dippers

Past Champions

Prosser Career Academy Student Chefs2017 Champions
Prosser Career Academy
Read the spotlight on Prosser!

Richards Career Academy Student Chefs2016 Champions
Richards Career Academy
Read the spotlight on Richards!

Washington High School Student Chefs2015 Champions
Washington High School
Read the spotlight on Washington!

Marshall Metropolitan High School2014 Champions
Marshall Metropolitan High School
Read the spotlight on Marshall!

Chicago Vocational Career Academy student chefs2013 Champions
Chicago Vocational Career Academy
Read the spotlight on CVCA!

Washington High School Student Chefs2012 Champions
Washington High School
Read the spotlight on Washington!

Chicago Vocational Career Academy student chefs2011 Champions
Chicago Vocational Career Academy
Read the spotlight on CVCA!

Richards Career Academy student chefs2010 Champions
Richards Career Academy
Read the spotlight on Richards!

Tilden Career Community Academy student chefs2009 Champions
Tilden Career Community Academy
Read the spotlight on Tilden!

Richards Career Academy student chefs2008 Champions
Richards Career Academy
Read the spotlight on Richards!

Chicago Vocational Career Academy2007 Champions
Chicago Vocational Career Academy
Read the spotlight on CVCA!


Members of the Cooking up Change judging panel-including food service professionals, professional chefs, education leaders and local officials, among others-take on the challenge of selecting winners among the many excellent student creations. Judges taste and evaluate meals based on a set of criteria that is shared with the student teams at the beginning of the contest.

Rate the originality and creativity of the school meal.

Are the items seasoned correctly? Is there a balance between the main dish and the two side dishes? Is there a variety of textures? Does it taste good? Would you order it?

Does it look appetizing? Is there a variety of natural colors? Is the tray neatly plated?

Did the team give an articulate, well-planned presentation?

By The Numbers

Cooking up Change began as a small program in a few schools. Today, its impact reaches across our city and beyond.

21 Chicago Public High Schools


920 plus student chefs

4.7 million plus student designed meals served in CPS

$288,000 dollars of scholarships to Washburne Culinary Institute


Serving the Winning Meal to Peers and Elected Leaders

A group of student chefs sit on the steps of the United States White House

Each year in Chicago, the winning Cooking up Change meal is served in schools across CPS to more than 380,000 students, as well as to local and state policymakers. Students then travel to present their meal to leaders across the city and state. For example, students have presented winning meals to:

Transforming the Chicago Public Schools Menu

On the day their meal is first served in schools city-wide, students celebrate at a special Cooking up Change event at their school. Winning meals have proven hugely popular among students and are now regularly featured on the CPS lunch menu. This 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.

CPS serves a Cooking up Change meal once a month to students across the district. These meals have proved popular with students.

Developing Career Skills Beyond the Classroom

A student chef speaks into a microphone at a podium

Cooking up Change helps students build their professional skills and networks, challenges them to think creatively and to work together under pressure, and helps them develop leadership skills and experience that translates to success beyond the classroom and outside the kitchen.

Elevating Student Voices in the Media

The excitement of the Cooking up Change contest has attracted media attention that shares students’ voices and perspectives with a wide audience.

Recent highlights include:

November 19, 2017 | CBS Chicago
Cooking up Change

November 18, 2017 | Chicago Sun-Times
Prosser Career Academy students win Cooking up Change chef competition

November 4, 2017 | ABC7 Chicago
Cooking up Change for CPS

Chicago Sponsors



Official Travel Partner
Southwest logo

Host + Culinary Scholarship Sponsor

Official Education Partner

Chicago Public Schools CTE Culinary Arts Program


School Health Corporation


Clune Construction Company


Cristina Foods, Inc.
Kellogg’s Specialty Channels
Perkins + Will


Research Chefs Association

Host Committee

Susan S. Aaron
Martha Dewey Bergren
Beverly Davis
Rochelle Davis and Ken Rolling
Kelly and Brian Dettmann
Reven Fellars
Lisa Gershenson and John Chavez
Jill Houk and Scott Herrington
Jack Kaplan and Marian Macsai
Daniel and Kathleen Platt
Rob and Susan Rogers
Brian Rolling
Ernest Sanders
Tristé and Ian Smith
Gwen G. Solberg
Rhonda and Jay Stein
Peggy Walker

Benefit Committee

Halsey Ward Chamberlin
Laine DeLeo
Denise Moy Duffy and Tom Duffy
Anayency Elizondo
Chantell Johnson
Meg Kelly
Claire Marcy and Andrew Micheli
John and Stephanie Palmisciano
Aaron and Sara Porter

Get Involved!

Find out more about sponsoring Cooking up Change.

Cooking up Change Chicago Resources

Access related recipes below, or go to our main Resource Center to access recipes across all of our program and policy areas.

Cooking up Change 2019 Virtual Event

We couldn’t let the school year go by without hosting a Cooking up Change competition featuring amazing student chefs and their delicious school meals. The …

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Soup of Sunshine

Cooking up Change Chicago 2011 recipe from Richards Career Academy …

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New Orleans Chicken and Polenta Napoleon

Cooking up Change Chicago 2012 recipe …

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