Students Compete in Healthy Lunch Cook-off at ED

cookingchallenge

Students participate in the Cooking Up Change competition. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The school year is coming to an end, but the commitment to ensuring America’s students have meals that are healthy, delicious and affordable is a year-round effort.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education hosted the finalists of Cooking Up Change, a culinary competition sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign, a non-profit Chicago organization. Ten teams presented dishes for evaluation to a panel of judges from the fields of education, nutrition and government. The meals were required to be between 750-850 calories and needed to cost around one dollar per meal, showing the possibility of executing nutrition, taste, and low budgets.

White House Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy Sam Kass stopped by to commend the young chefs who had traveled across the country.

“I think there’s a real effort in undermining rolling back standards,” said Kass. “We need to make sure we’re putting kids and science first and let nutritionists determine standards, not politicians.”

During the event, Kass joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and wife Karen Duncan in voicing support for the Hunger-Free Kids Act. Since 2010, the law has held schools financially responsible for ramping up healthy meals, with quotas on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein while reducing fat, salt, and sugar – standards justified by the Institute of Medicine and the USDA. The aim of the Act is to stem the growing national obesity rate, as well as the billions of dollars spent annually on treating obesity-related conditions.

According to Secretary Duncan, the vast majority of schools are meeting or exceeding standards at a 90-95% rate. He said the USDA is providing flexibility to the remaining schools that need assistance in keeping up with requirements. Full rollbacks, however, would derail their progress.

“This event is a great reminder to us all why we’re here – sometimes what is missing is the kids,” Secretary Duncan said to the student chefs.

Read more about the Cooking up Change competition and to see a list of this year’s winners.

Max Luong is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.