How does a lunch of Moroccan stuffed zucchini, Moroccan salad and spiced pear cups sound?
This is just one of the 10 creative and delicious school meals cooked up during the Cooking up Change national finals earlier this month at the Department of Education. Cooking up Change is a dynamic culinary competition that challenges student chefs to create healthy school meals that their peers enjoy. Not only are these meals delicious, they also comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school nutrition standards for calories, fat, sodium, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, including side dishes, which meet USDA Smart Snacks in Schools standards.
Created in 2007 by Healthy Schools Campaign, Cooking up Change presents the future of school food with healthy, fun, locally inspired meals that appeal to kids. By complying with school nutrition standards and using only commonly available school food service ingredients and equipment, students create recipes that include no more than six steps so that their meals can be easily replicated on a large scale and in real school kitchens. Students have limited time to develop their recipes, test their creations and refine their ideas based on peer feedback and professional nutritional analysis.
The Moroccan-themed menu was developed by the team from Orange County, Calif., and took first place. The student chefs hope their meal can serve as an inspiration to improve school food across the country. “We wish that the school meals would actually change because we have a delicious meal, but every school here did, too,” said Mariah.
Through Cooking up Change, students not only learn about healthy cooking and the complexity of the National School Lunch Program, but also have an opportunity to urge their national leaders to support student health and learning by maintaining a high bar for school food. It’s a message that’s particularly important this year as Congress moves to reauthorize the school nutrition standards that were recently adopted to address the nation’s childhood obesity crisis.
“These students are not only participating in a healthy cooking competition, but they’re also lending their voices to the political debate over school food,” says Rochelle Davis, Healthy Schools Campaign President and CEO. “They’ve shown that it’s possible to work within the constraints of the national nutrition standards, and by taking a page out of their cookbook, we too can make healthy and delicious school meals a reality for all students.”
On the day of the competition, Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., offered words of encouragement and reiterated the importance of healthy school meals, especially as we head into the summer months. The Summer Food Service Program provides meals for more than 2 million children during the summer.
When so much of what we hear about school food is about what we can’t do, these student chefs are focusing on what we can do. Show us someone who says kids just won’t eat low-sodium food, and we’ll show you the team from Dallas who used Italian seasoning to flavor their dish when they couldn’t use salt. Show us someone who says whole wheat pasta doesn’t hold up, and we’ll show you the team from Owensboro, Ken., and their chicken alfredo with penne and roasted vegetables that uses whole grain penne. Show us someone who says kids won’t eat healthy food, and we’ll show you student chefs whose friends couldn’t get enough of their healthy and delicious school meals.
Sara Porter is Vice President of External Affairs for Healthy Schools Campaign.