This November I served as a judge in the 2013-14 kick off Cooking Up Change competition here in Chicago. What is “Cooking Up Change”? It’s a culinary competition sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign that challenges Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students and others across the U.S to create and prepare meals that are healthy and tasty and also follow National School Lunch Program requirements. This competition empowers students to have a voice about school meals and nutrition. On top of that, it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved!
The day of the competition I prepared by reviewing the rules, reading meal requirements, and skipping lunch. When I arrived at the event, I was impressed to see how many fellow judges there were and the wide range of food experts sitting around me. The competition got started and teams from fourteen schools started presenting their meals to us. The students brought in three or four cafeteria trays and gave each judge a sample. Judging was based on visual appearance, taste, presentation, and originality. Some students set themselves apart by being very well-polished when explaining the dishes, or by adding some creativity with music and costumes that reflected the meal’s ethic background. The competition was really tough, and ranking thee dishes was no easy task. Every meal had something that stood out, and often I found myself saying “I would order this at a restaurant!” Each dish was so delicious that by the end I could not eat one more bite!
Every school’s meal had something interesting or unique, but three schools were superior in every category. Those were first place winner Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVCA), second place winner Prosser Career Academy, and third place winner Roosevelt High School. CVCA’s team will go to Washington D.C. and compete at a national level by serving its meal to members of Congress.
All of the students did an outstanding job and should be proud of their work. This competition gave CPS some new ideas for creative dishes that are practical, affordable, and great tasting. The students who participated in the competition and all the kids around the country who eat school meals are our country’s future leaders. We need them to be deeply invested in nutrition. It was great to be a part of this event and see so many teens interested in healthy eating and cooking.
For more information about USDA efforts to encourage nutritious eating in schools, visit our Healthier School Day site.