Students Compete in Healthy Lunch Cook-off at ED

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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.

Cooking up Change – Students Transforming the Future of Food in Our Schools

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Today’s Lunch Menu: Tenacious Turkey Chili with a side of Sunshine Fries and a helping of Jalapeno- Infused Peach Crumble for dessert. Sounds delicious, right? Well believe it or not, this mouth-watering meal is not only tasty, affordable, and healthy- but was made entirely by high school students.

students prepareing for cooking up change

On Monday, June 10th, the U.S. Department of Education hosted student chefs from high school culinary programs as part of Cooking up Change, presented by the Healthy Schools Campaign. This healthy cooking contest puts student front and center by challenging them to create a great-tasting lunch that meets nutrition standards on a tight budget. After winning first place in their local Cooking up Change competition, eight teams of student chefs traveled to Washington to lend their voices, and their culinary creativity, to the national conversation about the future of food in our schools.

Picking the winner went beyond the taste buds. Each team was asked to discuss the inspiration for their meal and the various challenges they faced throughout the process. Many cited their culture as the basis for their dish. Team Memphis gave a shout out to famous Southern BBQ with their BBQ Chicken Tacos while Team Los Angeles stayed true to their roots with their Tex-Mex Cornbread and Black Bean Mountain dish- both equally delicious! The challenges were a common theme throughout the teams. Each team was given strict guidelines of 10 ingredients with a budget that mirrors the constraints that schools face across the country. These student-designed meals have been seen on school lunch menus across the country, including their very own cafeterias, proving that cafeteria food can truly be both balanced and delicious!

students distributing food

With full stomachs and smiles all around, the winning team was chosen. Team Orange County, Cesar Amezcua, Cecilia Magana and Carlos Ortiz, culinary students from Valley High School took home the top prize for their dish “Pita Packs a Punch,” with Hot and Sweet Slaw and Delicious Apple Crepes. Not only was their dish healthy and packed with flavor, but their stories were inspirational. The students spoke of their plans to attend vocational colleges to achieve their dream of becoming executive chefs, each will be the first in his or her family to attend college.

“This was so important to us because we want to make a difference in our school”, said Amezcua, and he was able to achieve just that.

Congrats Team Orange County and to all the student chefs! And of course, many thanks to those who help our students learn the importance of healthy lifestyles.

For more information on the Healthy School Campaign, follow @HealthySchools and join the conversation with #CookingUpChange.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Surgeon General Tastes Healthy Schools’ Recipe in Chicago

student chefs with Surgeon General

Greene 5th grade chefs Daisy Salgado (left) and Gilberto Castaneda share healthy cooking tips with the Surgeon General and Mildred Hunter of the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services – Region V. Photo courtesy of the Healthy Schools Campaign

Everyone wants healthy school environments, but limited funding, space and time can challenge robust plans. The Healthy Schools Campaign has helped some Chicago schools build innovative partnerships and strong parental support to work around those issues, and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, got a taste of the results during a recent visit to Chicago’s Nathanael Greene Elementary School.

During her visit, the Surgeon General chopped fresh salad greens with Greene 5th graders and volunteers, dug-in with 2nd graders planting some of those same vegetables, and teamed-up with students jump-roping and other rainy-day recess activities in the school’s limited indoor space.

“As America’s doctor, I can tell you that what you’re doing here is special,” said Dr. Benjamin to parents representing Greene and other Chicago schools of Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables  — formed by HSC in 2006 to combat growing health disparities in Chicago.

Parents told the Surgeon General about after school classes like Zumba and healthy cooking they’ve helped implement in their schools. Many also helped their schools begin to serve nutritious breakfasts – now a standard throughout Chicago Public Schools.

“These activities make a difference for kids. We helped to make them happen,” said parent Jose Hernandez of Calmeca Academy Elementary School.

Local community and government leaders joined Benjamin for a lunch made of locally grown and sustainable items. The meal was developed and cooked by CPS high school chefs as part of a recent Cooking up Change competition.

“Three years ago, we began working with the district to challenge schools across the city to make changes to nutrition education, physical activity and other areas to meet the high standards of the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge,” said Rochelle Davis, founder and executive director of HSC, which recently exceeded its initial goal of helping more than 100 Chicago schools to receive HUSSC certification. HUSSC is promoted through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity.

Healthy schools are a cornerstone of the National Prevention Strategy (NPS) to improve Americans’ health and quality of life.  Benjamin leads the NPS charge that incorporates the work of 17 federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, which last week announced the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees that are helping to create healthy and sustainable learning environments.

Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach for the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. Department of Education