On March 2, 2010, five students from Tilden Career Community Academy High School in Chicago visited the U.S. Capitol. But they didn't come empty-handed.
The students brought along a spread of chicken-vegetable jambalaya, jalapeño cornbread and cucumber salad. The recipes, which they had developed in their school's culinary program, won the 2009 Cooking Up Change competition.
Cooking Up Change is an annual contest sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign that challenges students in Chicago Public Schools to develop a healthy lunch menu.
Since first lady Michelle Obama's announcement of her fight against childhood obesity, the intersection of health and education has moved to the front of the national debate. The Healthy Schools Campaign has been leading that fight for years with advocacy and policy proposals.
The winners from Tilden went to Washington, D.C., to serve their meal and lend their voices to the call for funding for better school meals.
Here, student chefs Lashonda Livingston, Aljibri Reed, Henry Walton, Cari Smith and Jakaia Franklin prepare to present their winning healthy school lunch at a briefing on Capitol Hill.
In addition to honoring the Tilden students and sounding the call for better nutrition in schools, the event at the Capitol also highlighted a second Healthy Schools Campaign student cooking contest.
While the original contest is only open to Chicago high school students, any high school or college students across the country can enter the new one. According to Mark Bishop, deputy director of the Healthy Schools Campaign, this national competition will be spiced up with additional challenges including "using locally procured items, identifying farm-to-school programs, making sure they meet stringent nutrition criteria and tasting good."
In this photo, advocates, members of Congress, staffers and reporters fill the room for a press conference on school nutrition reform—and a free lunch.
The ideas for the Tilden students' menu arose from a discussion at school. "One day we were talking about how we can change our school lunch, and how we want a better selection," says Franklin, a junior. "My chef just brought it out: 'There's a competition for that, to improve your lunch.' And we were like, 'We want to enter.'"
In this photo, the student chefs from Tilden chop vegetables and prepare a healthy salad at the briefing. "You can have healthy food and it can be good food too," Walton says.
Franklin says they chose to make jambalaya because it was a project they'd already been working on. "We were like, 'This would be good for [Cooking Up Change], but let's make it healthy by adding spinach and chicken.' And then my friend Aljibri just busted out with 'You know, jambalaya would be good with a nice cornbread.'"
In this photo, Karen Duncan, national honorary co-chair of Cooking Up Change and wife of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, congratulates the student chefs from Tilden.
Student chefs meet with Duncan and her co-chairs Christie Vilsack, wife of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Rochelle Davis, founding executive director of the Healthy Schools Campaign.
Bishop says when the Healthy Schools Campaign first began calling for reforms to nutrition in schools, the reaction from lawmakers and school administrators was not always positive. "We got a lot of pushback," he says. But now, Bishop says, people are more open to ideas on how to improve student nutrition.
"What we've done in Chicago really is the on-the-ground embodiment of what Michelle Obama is talking about—in trying to get school food reform, in trying to engage teachers and students and parents and community members to prioritize students' health."
Here, students from Tilden share their story and insight on school food with reporters.
Students invite U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky to smell fresh basil, an ingredient in their healthy jambalaya.
Smith speaks at the briefing. "I learned that change really can happen if we all help it along," she says.
The Tilden students' meal was served not only at the briefing but also in the Longworth House of Representatives cafeteria.
"Everyone was like: "Good job. This is just so good for being a healthy school lunch. This is great,'" Franklin says.
By the time the lunch rush ended, the Longworth cafeteria was completely sold out of the meal.
"We wanted to do something to show everyone how great our school really is," Livingston says. "Since we were all really close, kind of like a family, it made Cooking Up Change fun and comfortable."
The Tilden students pose for a photo outside the U.S. Capitol building with David Blackmon of Chicago Public Schools and their culinary instructors Daniel Leszczewicz and Keith Morris.
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