WASHINGTON – Sautéed lemon and spinach chicken served with a side of Tuscan bean salad and cinnamon poached pears sounds like a mouth-watering dinner at five-star restaurant. But this meal is likely to be seen on school lunch trays across the country.
Three high school students from Santa Ana,Calif.,created the school lunch as part of a competition to revamp school lunches to make them healthy,delicious and kid-friendly.
Six high school culinary teams from Santa Ana; Chicago; Denver; Jacksonville,Fla; St. Louis and Winston-Salem,N.C.,competed in the contest Monday in a kitchen at the Department of Education.
“The hardest thing for us was finding the right recipes and nutritional values that meet the competition criteria,” Darlene Owens,chef instructor at Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools,said. “It’s not easy,but I think the students learned a great deal from doing that.”
Working with a tight budget of $1 per meal and using only ingredients from school food suppliers,students had to meet nutrition standards while making the lunches requiring no more than six steps to prepare.
Close to 60 teams competed in local and regional competitions,and the six finalists served their lunch recipes to local high schools in the area.
At the finals,judges tasted the food and critiqued the students on originality,taste,appearance and presentation.
“I enjoyed the different types of meals,to hear how they’ve made them – I’m going to be able to adopt some of those at home for my family because it’s healthier for them,” Wanda Davis,director of management services at the Education Department,said.
Teams prepared dishes that included spinach and carrot muffins,oven-fried chicken,West African succotash and tortilla apple pie.
Judges shared their compliments with the chefs as the team from Santa Ana Valley High School won with their lemon and spinach chicken,Tuscan bean salad with cinnamon poached pears.
Each of the winning team members received a scholarship to the Washburn Culinary Institute in Chicago to continue culinary education.
The campaign was founded 10 years ago to help make school lunches healthier and school environments safer.
“Our campaign is based around the simple common-sense notion that healthy students are better learners,” Rochelle Davis,president of the Healthy Food Campaign,said.
Davis emphasized the importance of student access to healthier food,physical activity and health services.
Cooking for Change complements first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign launched in 2010,which fights childhood obesity,helps improve school lunches and encourages healthy eating habits.>
Nearly a third of U.S. children are overweight or obese.
New Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunches are being put into place in schools around the country.
The guidelines included calorie limits,more fresh fruits and vegetables small,local farms and more whole grains,leading eventually only whole grains.
Several teams in the competition prepared meals with ingredients from local farm markets from their home towns.
“Local is better,” Sanjuana Chavez,one of the high-school chefs from Denver,said. “We know that local gives the food a lot more value than what it would if it was pre-packaged. It’s fresher with better quality – as opposed to canned peaches,we cut them fresh from our state.”
Reach Reporter Kathryn Kenny at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.