Students Square Off to Be ‘Top Chef’ of Cafeteria


On a recent weekday in D.C., 18 high school students were furiously chopping cabbage, seasoning chicken and sautéing onions.

They represented six teams from cities around the country competing in the finals for the Cooking Up Change challenge at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

Their mission: cook the healthiest, most delicious school lunch under a typical public school budget — $1 per student — and time constraints.

Cooking Up Change is an annual competition that the Healthy Schools Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates for healthy school environments, started in 2007. It began only in Chicago but has since expanded to include Denver; St. Louis; Santa Ana, Calif.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Jacksonville, Fla.

The winning teams from each local competition spent a few days in Washington, D.C., where they competed against each other in late May before participating in a congressional briefing. One dish from each team was served at the hearing.

“We used to have pizza, nachos, things like that with a lot of cheese on it,” said Tatiana Rice, a student at Chicago Vocational Career Academy, speaking of her own school’s lunches. Some of the dishes whipped up by this year’s crop of students included lemon and spinach chicken, cinnamon poached pears, and collard greens and cabbage.

“Healthy students are better learners,” said Rochelle Davis, president of Healthy Schools Campaign. “And we all need to work together to make sure that students
have the opportunity to be in a school that … promotes healthy eating.”

In the days ahead on the PBS NewsHour broadcast, health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser will report on the mounting health consequences young people are facing from poor eating habits, including an upswing in a disease once thought to affect only adults — type 2 diabetes.