Whitney Vance, R.D., Michigan Department of Education
Mediterranean Quiche? Breakfast Egg Rolls? Cherry-Oatmeal Dunkers? If you want to know what middle and high school students will eat for breakfast, you have to ask them. And, asking and involving students in creating original and tasty school breakfast dishes that appeal to their peers’ ever-changing and often finicky palates, is exactly what Junior Chef 2015 was all about.
“This is our fourth time coordinating the Junior Chef competition and we are continually amazed and impressed by the creativity and professionalism these student teams bring to Junior Chef,” said Whitney Vance, Junior Chef coordinator and registered dietitian at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). “Every year there are new recipes and new surprises. These young chefs keep coming up with creative dishes that are amazingly good and on-target with students’ current interests and food preferences.”
The Junior Chef Competition is an opportunity for students to get involved at the state level and create recipes that can be added to school breakfast menus at their schools. The event, held on May 13, 2015, at Michigan State University, is sponsored by Michigan Team Nutrition at MDE, the Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems, and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan.
As with previous Junior Chef events, the student teams chosen for the Michigan Junior Chef Competition first entered a recipe contest. To be selected for the cooking competition recipes had to include fresh, local and USDA foods (federal commodities) and meet specific nutrition criteria for calories, fat, saturated fats, and sodium. Breakfast menus also had to be practical and easy for school food service operations to offer as part of their school breakfast programs.
Eight teams, including both middle and high school students, won the recipe contest and were invited to compete in the cook-off:
At MSU, in an on-campus cooking lab the student teams prepared their winning recipes for a panel of judges: Karla Love, foodservice supervisor for Olivet Community Schools; Adam Montri, MSU Hoophouse outreach specialist; and Andrea Collier, journalist and author. The recipes were judged on nutrition quality; use of USDA foods and local Michigan ingredients; time and labor to prepare; taste; appearance and presentation; creativity; and use of student-friendly foods. In addition to presenting their dishes to the judges student teams were also required to create and present to the judges a marketing piece that would “sell” their dishes to fellow students.
First place went to the Marquette-Alger RESA Culinary students for their Hearty Flatbread Sandwich, second place to South Haven’s Murtillo Mazzo (The Blueberry Bunch) for Blueberry Oatmeal Sundaes, and third place to Mattawan’s Crepe 66 Café Junior Chefs for their Not-Your-Ordinary Gluten Free Breakfast Crepe. Each team member received a prize, and the school foodservice departments received monetary awards to put toward healthy school breakfast initiatives of their choice.
To wrap up the event the young chefs and their adult mentors were led by Colleen Matts, farm to institution specialist at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, on a tour of The Bailey GREENhouse and Urban Farm, an on-campus learning lab operated and maintained by MSU students. There, participants were able to see fruits, veggies, and herbs growing outside, in a greenhouse, and on a rooftop; as well as hops climbing up a dormitory wall, and bee-keeping on a second-floor balcony. On the tour the students learned more about the importance of sustainable local food systems and the importance of knowing where food comes from.
“It’s important that we continue to actively involve students in making decisions about foods offered at school. Junior Chef is one way to do that,” said Nick Drzal, director of Michigan Team Nutrition at the Michigan Department of Education. “It’s been two years since former State Superintendent Mike Flanagan launched the second Superintendent’s First Fuel School Breakfast Challenge. The challenge was for all Michigan schools to have at least 60 percent of students who participate in school lunch also participate in school breakfast. We want all students and staff to get on board with breakfast and breakfast-promoting events like Junior Chef. The research is there: Kids who eat breakfast do better in school.”
Research shows, that when students are involved in the planning, testing, preparation, and promotion of foods on the school menu, word gets out and other students are more willing to try new offerings. The young chefs who took part in Junior Chef were excited – and invested in - helping their fellow students eat healthier.
When asked, “What is one important thing you learned by taking part in Junior Chef?” responses from the Junior Chef competitors included: “It’s important to work as a team; you have to work fast if you work in a school kitchen; our foodservice director has a harder job than we thought; and you can cook things that are healthy and still make them look and taste great!”
Want to know more about Michigan Junior Chef? Short videos can be viewed on the Michigan Team Nutrition YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/miteamnutrition1
This story is part of a School Breakfast Success Story Compendium by Michigan Team Nutrition. To read more success stories, click here!
Nicholas Drzal, RD, MPH, Michigan Department of Education
Chris Flood, MS; Nutrition Communications Consultant, Healthy Habits Today
Whitney Vance, R.D., Michigan Department of Education