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Chefs Cooking Up Healthy Ideas for School Meals

Posted on 02/18/2011

School nutrition professionals (and parents too!) employ every trick in the book to encourage children to eat their vegetables; but for many kids, veggies remain a tough sell.

Now, as schools are being asked to serve even larger servings of produce, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign is mobilizing an army of culinary professionals to give schools some fresh ideas on how to make healthy foods more enticing.

School nutrition professionals have partnered with the First Lady’s Chefs Move to Schools! initiative, which is allowing more schools to benefit from chefs’ expertise in recipe development, healthy preparation methods, culinary skills and more.

Chefs have already made tremendous contributions in school cafeterias. A number of school nutrition programs are managed by professionally trained chefs or have full time chefs in charge of menu planning. Others are partnering with chefs in the community on an array of nutrition education and menu improvement initiatives. For example:

Orange County Public Schools (Fla.), pictured above, has united with chefs from four national culinary organizations to develop healthier school menu items. Students, chefs and foodservice managers partnered to create kid-approved, nutritious foods like fish and vegetable tacos, taboule chicken salad and breakfast fruit roll ups made from melons, strawberries and pineapple, wrapped in rice paper. White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass (in white) participated in the district’s recipe showcase event.

Denver Public Schools has worked closely with numerous chef volunteers from local restaurants.  As the school district has transitioned to cooking its meals from scratch, local chefs have helped train food service employees in baking and cooking skills.  Chefs have also been active in the district’s school gardens, hosting cooking demonstrations utilizing foods grown by the students.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, pictured above, has turned to award-winning local chefs to spice up their menus. A grilled chicken wrap, made with a curry flavored sauce, vegetables and brown rice, vegetable salad coleslaw; couscous with vegetables; Rosemary grilled chicken salad; and mojo marinated roasted chicken are among the new school recipes designed by the district’s culinary expert panel.

Holmen School District (Wis.) recently teamed up with a local chef on a cooking class for fourth and fifth graders.  The program, which featured red cabbage, the “Harvest of the Month” vegetable, was part of the district’s Farm to School Program that promotes locally grown produce.

Chefs nationwide have been joining school teams to participate in the Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge.  At Frederick Douglass Elementary (Del.), a local chef joined the Nutrition Services staff, parents and students to create two delicious recipes that meet school nutrition standards: Roasted Apple & Butternut Squash Soup and Power-Packed Chicken Parmesan.

The School Nutrition Association, representing more than 50,000 school nutrition professionals nationwide, is working to share ideas like these with schools in communities where local chefs may not be available to volunteer.  This summer, SNA will launch its Chef’s Table – a group of chefs who will host ongoing culinary development seminars for school nutrition professionals from every state.  The sessions will teach cooking and menu enhancement techniques and provide new ideas for engaging kids and the community in healthy eating.

Now that sounds like a recipe for success!

4 Comments - View or Leave a Reply


  • Martha Kieffer March 3rd, 2011 1:31 pm

    Sounds good, but good luck in getting the high school students to eat this. I realize we have to try but I think we are going to extremes. Somewhere along the way, parents are going to have to change their childrens eating habits and not relying on schools. It seems that the schools are raising their children. We want the students to learn that they are responsible for what they do, but so should the parents realize that they have some responsiblity in what their children eat and drink.

  • Lauren Gabor Goldstein April 22nd, 2011 5:57 am

    Great idea to improve nutritious and tasty meals at school where kids spend so many days — but I agree with Martha that healthy choices begin at home, and the trouble is that many families cannot afford wholesome foods, nor do they have access to it in their neighborhoods, making cheaper fast food options more convenient. One good way of reaching food equity between socio-economic classes is for families to grow our own veggies either at home or in community gardens or edible schoolyards at the public schools — very popular especially where food can be grown all year round in CA, for example.

  • Kevin July 22nd, 2011 7:37 pm

    Starting kids out eating healthy early on is key! I’m a middle school teacher and am slowly starting to see healthier food choices (wheat rolls vs. white) creep into the cafeteria.

  • Michelle November 16th, 2011 7:28 pm

    I agree 150% with Martha….it has to start at home…school lunch does NOT cause obesity….these changes need to happen at home so children learn to make healthy choices. Parents need to teach children to be responsible for any decisions they make in their lives.
    i also agree with Lauren, that eating healthy is costly and most families can’t afford to eat healthy. The cost of eating healthy is probably about 15 to 25% more than not..


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