On January 24, 2011, a wintry day in Chicago, 20,000 high school students in the Chicago Public Schools were treated to a prize-winning, delicious and healthy school lunch created by their fellow students. Topping the menu was Afro-Caribe Plancha (Cuban turkey, black beans, provolone cheese and marinated cucumbers baked in a whole grain pizza crust), along with Soup of Sunshine (yellow squash, bell pepper, tomatoes, apples, bananas and peanut butter with cilantro and spices), and Caribbean Crunch Salad (julienned oranges, cucumber apple, cilantro, orange juice and black pepper).
While this may not sound like a typical school lunch, in fact this menu met the highest USDA nutrition standards (HealthierUS School Challenge Gold level), tasted and looked great and had a food cost of only 91 cents a meal! It also met the test of being replicable in school cafeterias across the city. How did this prize-winning meal come about? It was the result of an annual nationally recognized culinary arts contest for high school students called Cooking Up Change, sponsored by the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign.
The Healthy Schools Campaign’s goal is to engage high school culinary students, with the help of professional chef mentors, in creating healthy, appealing and low-cost school meals that can be replicated in school meals programs nationwide. They also aim to foster a national dialogue on improving school meals.
That day, I visited Richards Career Academy, home of the first-place Cooking Up Change winners. There, in a gym transformed into a banquet hall, I spoke to hundreds of student chefs, parents, community leaders and public officials. I met and congratulated the winning team –Gerardo Garcia, Ruby Gutierrez, Claudia Ramirez and Lidia Sanchez. These four intrepid students have a passion for cooking and good nutrition, and their winning menu got rave reviews at the event! Next the team will travel to New York City to share their healthy eating message and to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national Cooking Up Change contest with teams from across the U. S.
I’d like to congratulate all the Chicago Public School culinary students who participated in this year’s Cooking Up Change event. I applaud the Healthy Schools Campaign and the Chicago Public Schools for their leadership in improving student nutrition and wellness and for their support of LetsMove! – the First Lady’s initiative to reverse childhood obesity.
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