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.
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.
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.
After a series of local contests, teams from across the country gather in our nation’s capital to vie for the national championship and present their meals to Congress.
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.
When so much of what we hear about school food focuses on challenges, these students remind us to focus on solutions and not waiver in our support for high nutrition standards. Through Cooking up Change, these students are helping lead the way to a bright and healthy future for school food.
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 nine locations: Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Kentucky, Los Angeles, Orange County, St. Paul and Wichita.
Stay posted for updates as winners are determined in each local contest!
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!
Judges in each local contest and the national finals 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.
Judges: National Finals
The national judging panel includes chefs, school food leaders, advocates, policymakers students and many others. Thanks to these judges who face the difficult task of selecting a champion among the many excellent student-designed meals!
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
“It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it a lot cause I like cooking and I like bringing my own stuff to the table. Just being able to create healthy foods while being flavorful is great.”
—Kim, student chef, Wichita
“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
“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.
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:
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
Official Culinary Partner
Official Travel Partner
American Federation of Teachers
National Honorary Chair Karen Duncan
We are thrilled that Karen Duncan is once again the Cooking up Change National Honorary Chair. As a national leader, former educator, mother of two, and wife of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Karen is a powerful advocate and supporter of healthy school food for all students.
Cooking up Change National Recipes + Resources
Access related recipes below, or go to our main Resource Center to access recipes across all of our program and policy areas.