Healthy School Food Competition Celebrates Chicago Youth

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Richard Career Academy High School was the winner for the 10th Anniversary Cooking Up Change competition, held Nov. 17th in Bridgeport. Cooking Up Change program is a CPS initiative that advocates the preparation of healthy school lunches. From left, Armark Regional Vice-President, Stewart McKinney; Director of Nutritional Support, CPS, Leslie Flower; Richard Career Academy High School winners and others. Photo Credit: Safiyyah P. Muhammad

Culinary students from Richard Career Academy High School were all smiles as they were announced winners at the 10th Annual Cooking for Change culinary competition, held at the Skyline Loft Event Center in Bridgeport, Nov. 18th.

The school’s winning meal included Vesuvio Chicken, complete with Chopped Caesar Salad and Caramelized Pear Pone. Team members included Jeffrey Gonzalez, Naheisha Hitchcock, Raudel Ruiz and Edgar Villegas. The dish will become a new lunch item on CPS’s school menu for next year, according to a Healthy School Campaign spokesperson.

The 1st place team will be representing Chicago in a National healthy lunch competition in Washington DC June 2017! While there, the students will get opportunities to speak with their US Senators and Representatives about the importance of properly funding the national school lunch programs. different items from winning teams will be served in the US Representative’s Cafeteria as well.

Dr. Ian Smith, a celebrity doctor and healthy eating advocate said, “We have been coming to this event for four or five years. I’m so glad that we get to support these kind of functions.” Smith and his wife Triste, served as this year’s event co-chairs for Cooking Up Change.

Currie High School placed third and 2nd place winners were North Grand High School. Dunbar High School received the Best Presentation Culinary award.

Roosevelt High School presented their Chicken That Bite Back and Zucchini Chips dish. Yamaira Velez, a team participant said, “Chicken That Bite Back originally started out as a Middle-Eastern dish, but it was too labored intensive to be prepared in CPS cafeterias, so we had to keep it simple.”

Evelyne Luviano, who were part of the Roosevelt team gushed as she talked about how guests enjoyed the zucchini chips. With a big smile, Luviano said, “Everyone really liked the chips, but they are all gone. We don’t have anymore.”

“Cooking up Change is about CPS high school culinary arts students coming up with a collaborative menu for lunch that they would like to see in their school’s cafeteria. They utilize the same ingredients and supplies that are available, follow USDA’s dietary guidelines and create something extraordinary all for less than a dollar!” said David Blackmon, Program Director, Culinary Arts, Career and Technical Education, Chicago Public Schools.

The tasty school food that students served at the competition was a far cry from lunch room food that many CPS students often complain about. According to What’s Wrong With Our Food, an online website that advocates better quality CPS school lunches, stated that lunchroom food prepared during the 90’s were made from scratch, however, today, the quality of school lunches have drastically changed due to privatization. The site further stated in its “Lunch Project: Culinary Denial” findings that school meals are no better than the ones prepared at Cook County prison. It also pointed out that Armark is the provider for both institutions.

Ernest Sanders, executive board member for Healthy Schools Campaign stated that students in the competition are given the opportunity to address the issue of healthy school food before Members of Congress. Sanders also lauded the culinary competition and the Cooking Up Change’s ability to curb Chicago gun violence. “I care about school nutrition, school wellness, and anything that will move our kids forward and advance them. This is one arena that is not talked about where the kids get to advocate and legislate culinary as an option to violence.”

Sanders also stated that Richard’s Academy will go to Washington, D.C. in June 2017 to compete with culinary high school students around the country.

As the celebration neared its end, Marion Brooks, an NBC Channel 5 reporter, engaged the audience in a silent prayer in memory of Curie High School senior, 17-year old Naome Zumber. The teen was shot and killed by a stray bullet. “Naome should be right here, on this stage tonight, but she is not. Gun violence is real,” Brooks said.

Cooking Up Change started in 2007 and has since included more than 20 cities nationwide. The program has also enrolled more than 1,800 students since the program began.

(To learn more about Cooking Up Change Healthy Eating School Program, and the Healthy School Campaign, please log on to

About the author / 

Safiyyah Muhammad

Safiyyah P. Muhammad is a native Mississippian, creative writer, and reporter. Under Miss Muhammad’s authorship, she has published three children’s books including “Prince Hasmir’s High Seas Adventure,” “Princess Feldings & The Academy of Queens” and “When Jaguars Roar.” Muhammad is a Rust College graduate where she received a B.A. degree in Journalism and Mass Communications and she also holds a B.S. degree in Information Technology (2007).

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