National Healthy Lunch Finals Held at ED

Secretary Duncan greets student chefs

Secretary Duncan greets participants at the Cooking Up Change event at the Department of Education. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

While you may not consider West African succotash, home-style tortilla apple pie or lemon pepper chicken with brown rice standard fare for a school cafeteria, a group of culinary chef students hope to re-write cafeteria menus to prove that school lunches can be both delicious and nutritious.

The students who gathered at the U.S. Department of Education on May 21 are the finalists in a national healthy lunch competition called Cooking Up Change, and sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign, a non-profit organization based in Chicago.

In the final round of the competition, students were allowed two and a half hours to create their recipes. Each team used ingredients commonly found in school food service in a recipe that was limited to six steps.

Group photo with Secretary DuncanSecretary of Education Arne Duncan greeted the high school culinary whiz students before the cook-off began, and congratulated the participants for making it to the finals.

The secretary’s wife, Karen, and Christie Vilsack, wife of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, serve as Cooking Up Change Honorary National co-chairs and Karen served as a  judge for the event. The panel of judges also included Chief of Staff to the Secretary Joanne Weiss and Deputy Chief of Staff Eric Waldo.

For Alex Hernandez of Santa Ana, California, participating in the competition was life changing.

“I have changed my own cooking habits at home. I tend not to eat fattening foods or drink a lot of soda.” Hernandez said.  “I’ve found myself encouraging my family members, friends and teammates to eat healthy and live a better lifestyle.”

Students from Santa Ana’s Valley High, won the competition with a lemon and spinach chicken dish accompanied by a Tuscan bean salad and cinnamon poached pears.

Click here for more information on Healthy Schools from Let’s Move!

DeRell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach


  1. That was nice. But lunches will become healthy when the government mandates that each individual school has their own chief who prepares meals for the students in house. This will allow more fresh produce and put a limit on number additives that are used in the food. I government mandates because funding will be needed. It cost to eat healthy.

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