Students Changing the Future of 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.
Elevating Student Voices
In this way, Cooking up Change is about elevating 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.
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.
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.
At the heart of Cooking up Change is a series of culinary contests across the country, with winners from each local competition advancing to the national finals in Washington, D.C. The 2015-16 Cooking up Change season features local contests in ten cities:
Cajun Chicken Lettuce Wrap, Roasted Corn Relish, and Peach and Yogurt Pizza
Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes and Banana Dip Bites
Low Country Chicken and Collards Pilau, Country Cole Slaw, Peanut Butter & Cracker Stackers
Chicken Philly Sandwich with Sautéed Onion, Peppers and Cheese; Cucumber and Onion Salad and Yogurt Parfait with a Graham Cracker Crust and Pineapples
Chicken Quesadilla, Healthy Slaw with Cumin-Lime Dressing and Pineapple Downtown
Moroccan Stuffed Zucchini, Moroccan Salad and Spiced Pear Cups
Taco Burrito, Sautéed Green Beans and Carrots, and PB and Banana Cup
Thai Peanut Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Cucumber Salad and Pineapple Crisp
Barbecue Chicken Pizza Quesadilla, Steamed Vegetables with Blue Cheese Dressing and Frozen Strawberry Yogurt Bananas
The winning team from each local contest will travel to Washington, D.C. in June 2016 to compete in the Cooking up Change national finals and present their meals to Congress. Stay posted for updates!
The national judging panel includes chefs, school food leaders, advocates, policymakers students and many others. Judges taste and evaluate meals based on a set of criteria that is shared with the student teams at the beginning of the contest. These criteria address factors including:
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?
Judges base their evaluation on taste-size samples of the meal and a presentation by student chefs. Many thanks to the judges who take on the challenge of determining a winner among the many excellent entries.
Speaking Up to Support Progress for Healthy School Food
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 waiver in our support for high nutrition standards.
When students travel to Washington, D.C. for the Cooking up Change national finals, they also present their meals to Congress and are 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.
In Students’ Words
“I really love how all students and mentors and volunteers are trying to change the way kids eat a little at a time.”
Shae, student chef, Orange County
“I learned that cooking healthy can be fun and inspirational.”
Guillermo, student chef, Detroit
By the Numbers
Since Cooking up Change launched in 2007:
- 17 cities have hosted Cooking up Change competitions
- 1,600+ student chefs have participated
- 7,000,000+ student-designed meals have been served in school cafeterias across the country
Building Skills, Gaining Powerful Life Experience
Cooking up Change helps students build valuable professional skills, from teamwork and problem-solving to leadership and public speaking.
It also provides a life experience that few students (or adults) experience: traveling to our nation’s capital to take part in a competition with peers from across the nation, then speaking with elected leaders about their experiences.
When students share their perspective at a briefing on Capitol Hill, in a meeting with their elected representative or with Congressional staffers who attend a post-contest reception, they develop a special and powerful understanding that their voice matters in shaping our nation’s policies.
Elevating Student Voices in the Media
During the 2014-2015 Cooking up Change season alone, more than 14 million people heard the students’ messages through traditional and social media. A few highlights include:
March 8, 2016 | The Detroit News
Detroit students gear up for national cooking competition
March 3, 2016 | Twin Cities Pioneer Press
St. Paul students play top chef — for school lunches
February 17, 2016 | Chicago Tribune
Chicago Public Schools student chefs serve their award-winning lunch
June 12, 2015 | Choices Magazine
Meet the Amazing Students Cooking Up Change in School Cafeterias!
June 10, 2015 | Detroit News
Detroit student chefs advance in national competition
June 9, 2015 | Washington Times
Cooking up Change competition puts students in charge of school lunches
June 9, 2015 | POLITICO
Students Cook for Senators
Cooking up Change National Recipes + Resources
Access winning recipes from Cooking up Change below, or go to our main Resource Center to access resources across HSC’s program and policy areas.