Culinary students from Concord, Nashua and Hillsboro-Deering will compete against each other in creating healthy lunches for their schools at the New Hampshire School Nutrition Association spring conference at Exeter High School on Saturday, March 31.
For the competition, students will have to adhere to United States Department of Agriculture school lunch nutrition guidelines and create recipes that have the designated calorie, sodium and saturated fat content. Each team of three students must bring enough ingredients to prepare six portions of their dish in the high school kitchen. The meals will be adjudicated by a panel of five judges, with the sixth portion of each dish displayed for members of the nutrition association.
The competition was modeled after Cooking Up Change, a Chicago-based initiative that challenges students enrolled in culinary programs, at school or after school, to create healthy school lunch recipes. The recipes presented at the conference will be posted on the New Hampshire Farm to School website for any school that would like to use them.
“The idea is that with the recipe ingredients [students] could source some of the ingredients locally … it all goes back to the healthiness and the freshness and, of course, supporting local farmers,” said Stacey Purslow, New Hampshire Farm to School coordinator, who will oversee the challenge. Purslow hopes to include students from culinary programs at more schools in the healthy lunch competition at the New Hampshire School Nutrition Association fall conference. She has been approached by family & consumer science teachers from local middle schools and hopes to also be able to include their students in the fall competition.
Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agriculture at the state department of agriculture, markets and food, said it is never too early for children to learn about nutrition.
“Once you start eating … you can learn about making good food choices and learn about where food comes from so you can have that connection,” she said. “It’s really important. We all as generations are getting further away from understanding where food comes from.” McWilliam Jellie is also a member of the New Hampshire Farm to School board.
“I think there is definitely an interest on the part of school food service directors to provide local and nutritious food in economical manner,” McWilliam Jellie said. Some food service directors run into difficulties with the economic piece because of tight budgets and the number of students they need to provide meals for, she said.
When the New Hampshire Farm to School program was created in 2003, its first initiative was to provide locally grown apples to schools on the seacoast. The program now provides more than just apples to schools statewide as it helps facilitate partnerships between farms and schools.
“Every year there is more participation from farms and schools … we have more than 45 farms now selling to public schools,” Purslow said.
“More and more local producers are interested in working with schools to show them that what they offer can [work] in their economic model,” McWilliam Jellie said. “It just means in some cases that the school has to take the raw product and convert it into whatever they need for the meal.”
Unfortunately for some schools, she added, their facility does not lend itself to preparing raw, fresh products.
“Some schools don’t have a kitchen,” she said. “They just have a prep area and serving area.”