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Cooking Up Change

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Think back with me for a moment to your days in high school. It’s approaching lunchtime. Are you excited to visit the school cafeteria to see, smell, and taste the healthy and delicious foods warming on the steam tables? No, I didn’t think so. For most of us, high school cafeteria meals consisted of mystery meat, gloppy greenish gravy, and vegetables cooked into unrecognizable mush. There were foods that made an unappetizing splat when the lunch ladies in their white uniforms and hairnets ladled them onto our lunch trays … if we were brave enough to enter the cafeteria line at all. It’s a wonder we were able to think the rest of the day!

Fast forward to 2010 and The Healthy Schools Campaign, an independent non-profit organization that advocates for change in the school environment and raises awareness of the ways that the air children breathe, the food they eat, and the opportunities they have to be physically active shape their health and learning for a lifetime.

To create awareness of the need for healthy, delicious, and nutritious meals for school children, Healthy Schools Campaign developed Cooking Up Change, a competition for high school students in Chicago Public Schools. Students work in teams to create a school lunch that meets nutritional guidelines, adheres to strict budget constraints, and can be prepared in 6 steps or less. Southwest Airlines is proud to be the official travel partner of Cooking Up Change.

The competition was held recently, and I was excited to attend and taste the delicious meals these talented and enthusiastic students prepared. No mystery meat here! 85 students from 14 high schools competed. When asked about the inspiration behind one of their dishes, students from Prosser Academy said, “A lot of kids like Flamin’ Hot chips at our school so we decided to make our own healthier version using potatoes and hot sauce.”

With guidance from their instructors and mentors, the students developed and prepared dishes with depth of flavor, a variety of textures, and inspired presentations. We sampled Farmers Market Vegetable Minestrone Soup, Healthy Cuban Sandwich, Cajun Veggie Mac n’Cheese with Chicken, and even tasted a cookie made with spinach! All were delicious and met the criteria for nutrition, cost, and ease of preparation. A panel of food and nutrition experts judged the students’ meals.

The first place trophy was awarded to the Richards Career Academy team who prepared an Afro-Caribe Plancha, Soup of Sunshine, and Carribbean Citrus Crunch Relish. Congratulations, Richards! 

This winning team of student chefs and instructors will be flying on Southwest Airlines to Washington D.C. in the spring to present their winning meal in the Great Hall of the USDA and see it served to Members of Congress. As you can see, they are thrilled to have this honor!  Closer to home, their winning meal will be served to all Chicago Public Students.

We’re Southwest Airlines, and we’re Cooking Up Change!



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Where can I find this story so I can see all the H.S. from Chicago that participated? What a great idea. I love it. Let me know if you plan on expanding it to near Chicago suburbs for next year's challenge. Sorin
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We're honored to have Southwest Airlines as a partner - thank you for making this experience so special for the students! Claire Heatlhy Schools Campaign
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Sorin, you can read more about Cooking Up Change at Healthy Schools Campaign is the non-profit organization that created Cooking Up Change. The program is in partnership with Chicago Public Schools. Thanks for your interest, Patty