Competitions like American Idol and the The Biggest Loser draw in millions of people every week. But to my taste, another reality show competition beats them all: the Recipes for Healthy Kids competition.

This is a contest to create new delicious-but-healthy dishes for school meals in three categories, whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, or dry beans and peas. Recipes for Healthy Kids, which is part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, is open to school nutrition professionals, chefs, students, parents and interested community members. Working in teams, they have invented several new dishes, served them in their school’s cafeteria, then submitted the ones that earned a thumbs-up to the competition. From 340 original entries, the contest is down to 15 semi-finalists now, and the competition is fierce. Here at Oldways, we’ve always supported efforts to improve school meals, and now we’re rooting especially for the one Massachusetts school in the running – Bellingham Public Schools – for three big reasons.
  • They created two of the fifteen semi-final recipes, one in the whole grain category and one in the vegetable category. No other school is in there twice!
  • They’ve used great ingredients. Their whole grain entry, Mediterranean Quinoa salad, merges our love of both whole grains and the Med Diet. And their tator tots are made with yams, a staple on the African Heritage Pyramid Oldways is now creating.
  • They’re the home team. You gotta root for the home team. (This is Red Sox territory, and that concept is ingrained in us from birth!)


According to an article in The Boston Globe, Bellingham’s student chefs caught the cooking bug in an afterschool cooking class run by area chefs in conjunction with Whole Foods Markets and the local YMCA. Last week, a panel of judges including USDA nutritionists and celebrity chefs visited the Bellingham cafeteria, where they judged the two Bellingham entries for student involvement, nutrition, creativity and originality, ease of use in schools, and presentation and appearance. Each recipe has to taste good, look good, be good for you – and be able to be produced in schools that often have limited cooking equipment, time or resources. A tall order — but one achieved by recipes like those finalists below!

L to R: Spanish Chickpea Stew (Oakland, CA); Central Valley Harvest Bake (Manteca, CA); Stir Fried Green Rice, Eggs, and Ham (Chapel Hill, NC); Tuscan Smoked Turkey and Bean Soup (Asheville, NC); and Roasted Fish Crispy Slaw Wrap (Orlando, FL)

$12,000 in prizes is at stake, including a grand prize of $3,000, a popular choice award of $1,500, and first prize ($1,500) and second prize ($1,000) in each of the three recipe categories. The judges are now in the process of picking one finalist in each category; these finalists will take part in a July 25 cook-off in Texas. For the kids, though, the real top prize seems to be the opportunity to cook their dishes at the White House and meet Mrs. Obama – a privilege promised to the winning teams.

While only a few teams will get as far as the White House, kids throughout the country will all win if their schools serve healthier, kid-tested foods, and if more kids get interested in where their food comes from and how to cook it. The Recipes for Healthy Kids competition is just one way that the First Lady is encouraging schools to improve their foods. She’s also promoting the Chefs Move to Schools program, run through the US Department of Agriculture, which matches chefs with schools in their community, so they can work together to create healthy meals and teach kids about good food. Mike Holleman, newly-elected chair of the Board of Advisors of Oldways’ Whole Grains Council, and Director of Culinary Development for Indian Harvest, is one such chef. He works with the Bemidji (MN) Public Schools, and is just loving the experience and the chance to contribute. [caption id=”attachment_2808” align=”alignleft” width=”186” caption=”Chef Mike, cooking up a storm”]
[/caption] “When I registered to be part of  Chefs Move to Schools, I was prepared to travel to help out. Much to  my surprise (and delight), Marleen Webb of our very own Bemidji School District was also signed up, and thus started our partnership in  serving healthier food to kids. Bemidji (4 hours north of Minneapolis) is more progressive than the average school and has embraced whole grains from day one of our partnership. Mandarin Orange Chicken using Whole Grain Black Pearl Medley and Whole Grain 5 Arroz con Pollo are two recipes I’ve shared with them… and they came up with their very own Spicy Pork Stir-fry with Whole Grain Aztec Blend. The acceptance by both students and kitchen staff has been nothing short of amazing. As a chef I’m excited to be able to help introduce more scratch cooking into schools; as a parent I’m thrilled at what my very own daughter will be able to enjoy for school lunch…whole grains combined with fresh veggies and herbs and salad bars on the horizon.” Even if you’re not an experienced chef like Mike, you can do your part to help. Go to the Recipes for Healthy Kids website today and vote for your favorite recipes. Voting is open until May 31, and you can vote for as many recipes as you want (though no more than once for each recipe). Support these student chefs and the grown-ups who are helping them get excited about good food! — Cindy

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