Cooking up Change National

Cooking up Change is a dynamic culinary competition that challenges high school students in cities across the nation to create healthy, appealing school meals. Winning teams compete in the national finals and present their meals to Congress!

Rewriting the Recipe for School Food

Cooking up Change challenges high school culinary students across the country to create a healthy and delicious school lunch that meets national nutrition standards on a tight budget. Using only ingredients and equipment commonly available for school food service, students create recipes that appeal to their peers and can easily be replicated on a large scale in real school kitchens.

When so much of what we hear about school food focuses on challenges, these students remind us to focus on solutions. Through Cooking up Change, high school students are helping lead the way to a bright and healthy future for school food.

Elevating Student Voices

Cooking up Change elevates student voices in the national conversation about school food. These talented chefs show us that within the constraints schools face every day, it is possible to create healthy meals with a powerful appeal to students.

“Lunch may seem like small topic. . . but many children across the country depend on school lunch when they are hungry and this competition has shown me why it is such an important meal served in schools.”

Tatyanna, student chef, Washington, D.C.

As policymakers debate the future of school food, the student chefs of Cooking up Change are demonstrating that school meals can be both healthy and appealing to young people. The students remind us to focus on solutions rather than the challenges of the school meal program and to not waver in our support for high nutrition standards.

For several years, we held a National Finals contest in Washington, D.C. Students also presented their meals to Congress and were featured at a briefing on school food policy. Teams of students have met with Senators Richard Durbin, Debbie Stabenow and others to share their views on school food. In many cases, teams also share their meal and their message with local elected leaders; the Chicago team, for example, has met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and presented to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Teamwork, Leadership and Creativity

Cooking up Change demands more than culinary knowledge: It challenges students to think critically, work together as a team and develop skills that translate to success far beyond the kitchen or the classroom. Teams navigate the challenge with guidance from their culinary instructors, chef mentors and from dietitians who help them conduct nutritional analyses and adjust their recipes accordingly. While adults offer guidance, student teams develop their own recipes, drawing on their culinary arts studies, peer feedback and their own experiences.

By the Numbers

Since Cooking up Change launched in 2007:

  • 22 cities have hosted Cooking up Change competitions
  • 2,000+ student chefs have participated
  • 9,100,000+ student-designed meals have been served in school cafeterias across the country

Get Involved

We invite schools and school districts to host a Cooking up Change contest to provide your school nutrition team with student-designed recipes and your students with a unique opportunity to hone their culinary, math, writing, public-speaking, teamwork and leadership skills. We provide a contest booklet and guidance to ensure a successful event. We ask you to share recipes, photos and stories so that we can highlight your students.

Contact Sara Porter for more information.