Upgrade your browser - Unfortunately, this site has updated features that can't run on this version of Internet Explorer. Download a free upgrade of Internet Explorer.
No image available
Print product
Quantity: {{product.qty}}

And {{products.length - 5}} additional items, click here to review your cart.
Your cart is empty.


Welcome to our newsroom! Catch up on the latest news and updates, learn more about what we're working on and connect with us.

Cooking Up Change: A Student-Led School Meal Program

  • Tuesday, July 9, 2024
  • 5 Minute Read   


Co-Authored by:
Linda Luna-Franks, Program Manager, Kid Healthy
Rajwinder Kaur, Community Nutrition Adviser, Dairy Council of California

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act to help safeguard the health and well-being of our nation’s children. A lot has changed since then and the program has grown significantly. The National School Lunch Program was established under the National School Lunch Act and now feeds just under 30 million students daily.

Newsroom_PoppyseedsCookingUpChange_2School lunch is such an important aspect of daily health for students that in 2007 the Healthy Schools Campaign, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, founded Cooking up Change®. This program engages high school students in the conversation about school food, providing a way for students to learn about and promote healthy eating while encouraging teamwork and highlighting students’ culinary talents to a wide audience. Participating students also have the opportunity to engage with health, education, policy and community leaders to impact the food served in schools. To build an understanding of the complexity of providing nutritious lunches while following government regulations, Cooking up Change teaches the rules, limitations and processes of school foodservice and allows students the opportunity to weigh in with their thoughts on school meals.

In 2012, Kid Healthy, a nonprofit that provides hands-on wellness programs in schools throughout greater Orange County, joined forces with the Healthy Schools Campaign and Northgate Gonzalez Market to host the first California edition of the national Cooking up Change program. “Northgate Market prioritizes giving back to the community under our three pillars: faith, well-being and education. We believe in empowering youth to have access and advocate for their own health through nutrition. We have been a proud partner since the first event and have continued to support the program ever since,” said Teresa Blanco, Director of Community Engagement & Wellness for Northgate Gonzalez Market. 

Newsroom_PoppyseedsCookingUpChange_3The local program operates within the constraints of the national guidelines established by the Healthy Schools Campaign. Student teams are challenged to create a cafeteria-ready menu that they believe students would enjoy eating. Throughout the process students develop valuable culinary arts skills, learn teamwork and are inspired to continue their education in culinary arts and nutrition sciences. Each team is matched with a local chef who mentors and inspires them at all levels of food preparation and service. Professional chefs serve as mentors and are enlisted through a network of partnerships to work hand in hand with culinary instructors and students. Along with the instructors, the chefs assist in recipe review, help to develop the menu, provide insight into the restaurant or hospitality industry and guide the students’ overall skill sets. Following a process of three recipe submissions and edits, each student team presents its creations to an esteemed panel of judges who are community leaders from Northgate Market, Dairy Council of California, Tyson Foods, Avocados from Mexico, W.K. Kellogg, Samueli Foundation, Providence Health Care, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Hormel Foods, CalOptima Health, Kellanova and Kuerig Dr Pepper. 

Prior to competition, the students participate in two workshops to learn flavoring techniques and public speaking skills. Each team, made up of three to four students, creates a new lunch menu, including an entree and two side dishes comprised only of ingredients found in a typical school foodservice department. Tools must also be of common use within a school kitchen, meaning no fancy blenders, choppers or gourmet appliances allowed. Each recipe must have five steps or less and meet all elements outlined in the contest rules. The most challenging element is the cost, which must meet typical school cafeteria standards of $3.25 per serving. Student-created meals are presented on a traditional cafeteria tray and must include a carton of milk, which is donated by Rockview Family Farms.

Healthy school meals are a part of the solution to promote children’s health and are an essential element of a quality education. “Dairy Council of California is passionate about supporting students in learning about healthy, sustainable nutrition and connecting it to the cafeteria. This is why we have been a sponsor of this program since 2012 and continue to support it through our Let’s Eat Healthy Initiative,” explained Dairy Council of California Officer of Partnerships and Programs Shannan Young.

“The ultimate goal of the program is for the student-created recipes to actually be served in school cafeterias across the county. This can only be accomplished through valued partnerships,” said Kim Benson, Executive Director of Kid Healthy. Students hold tasting events at various participating schools, and student recipes have been integrated into the school menu several times over the years.

Newsroom_PoppyseedsCookingUpChange_1The highlight of each year’s culinary competition is the school meal tasting event at Northgate Market corporate headquarters in Anaheim. The event is an opportunity to share students’ hard work and talent with the community.  This year, it was a full house as guests met with the students, sampled their recipes and heard from special guest speaker Mike Hendry, Executive Vice President of Marketing & Merchandising at Northgate Market. The evening was capped with the announcement of the student champions. Each participant earned a medal, and the top teams earned cash prizes provided by Northgate Market’s Familia Gonzalez Reynoso Foundation: $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place and $500 for third place. The excitement among students was overwhelming, and all guests departed with a warm feeling that they had experienced remarkable student talent at a professional level.

To learn more about Kid Healthy and Cooking up Change visit mykidhealthy.org

Originally published in Poppy Seeds Magazine, the official journal for the California child nutrition professional, for the Summer 2024 issue.