5 student-created dishes that are popping up on K-12 menus

Students across the country got creative in the kitchen and came up with a variety of school nutrition-friendly dishes that can be served to their peers.
Fish Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw and Pink Sauce
Photo courtesy of the Blue Watermelon Project

Students at districts throughout the country put on a chef hat and apron this year to come up with their own recipes that can be served to their peers in school cafeterias.

Many of the recipes incorporate menu trends that are popular with kids, such as global flavors and hot spices, and are also being tested or served in school cafeterias. Here are five school recipes that were created by students this year.

1. Creamiest Vegan Chickpea Curry

Wisconsin students have a chance to test their cooking skills each year by participating in the Whipping Up Wellness culinary competition put on by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Whipping Up Wellness is open to 6th through 12th graders in the state. Students are required to compete in teams of three to five, and each team must also have be supervised by a school employee or parent or guardian. The supervisor’s role is to help the team meet deadlines, teach food safety skills, provide culinary guidance and more. They do not, however, help with recipe development.

The Creamiest Vegan Chickpea Curry

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction 

The competition includes an initial recipe contest and then a cooking contest. For the recipe contest, teams must submit an application along with a photo and nutritional analysis of their dish. For this past year’s competition, each recipe was also required to include at least one Wisconsin agricultural product as a main ingredient.

Recipes were judged on creativity, recipe presentation, school foodservice reproducibility, culinary skills utilized, and if they fully completed the application.

The top five finalists from the recipe contest are then invited to participate in a cooking competition at Madison Area Technical College, where teams had under two hours to prepare their dish and present it to a panel of judges. In their presentation, students had to introduce themselves, describe the dish, explain the dishes’ creation and share results from a taste test with their student peers. The dishes were then graded on overall appeal, appearance and execution, taste, and the team presentation.

This year’s winning dish came from a team of students at New Glarus High School. Their Creamiest Vegan Chickpea Curry includes chickpeas, carrots and other vegetables simmered in a creamy curry sauce that is served over rice.

The dish is currently being tested with students at several schools in Wisconsin in the hope that it can be submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for inclusion in the Institute of Child Nutrition’s Child Nutrition Recipe Box, a national database of standardized recipes for schools.

2. Beet and Corn Salad

The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) has held a statewide student cooking contest for the past eight years. It’s Farm to School Cook-Off includes regional competitions held throughout the state and then a finals round where regional winners are invited to compete at the MDOE’s Child Nutrition Culinary Classroom in Augusta.

Student participants are paired up with a school nutrition professional to come up with a breakfast and a lunch recipe that uses a USDA Food and at least three local ingredients (defined as grown, raised, caught or manufactured in Maine), one of which is a challenge ingredient.

This year, students were tasked with coming up with a lunch recipe using local beets as the challenge ingredient. Contest winner, 6th grader Alain Lemesse, put his own twist on a black bean and corn salad, coming up with a corn and beet salad that includes beets, black beans and corn mixed with cumin, chili powder and other spices to add some heat.

Beet and Corn Salad

Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Education 

His winning recipe and other recipes from the contest were compiled into a farm-to-school cookbook given to all the school nutrition teams in Maine. The cookbook contains information on local farmers as well as the school meal pattern contribution for each recipe.

3. Fish Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw and Pink Sauce

Arizona nonprofit the Blue Watermelon Project holds a student culinary contest each year that is designed to allow students develop dishes that can be served to their peers in cafeterias throughout the state.

Teams of one to four students work with a school-level mentor (a culinary teacher, school nutrition staff member, wellness coordinator or teacher) and a chef from the Blue Watermelon Project to come up with a dish that adheres to National School Lunch Program requirements and takes into account the cost and organizational constraints of a school food program.

Fish Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw and Pink Sauce

Photo courtesy of the Blue Watermelon Project

This year’s winning dish was Fish Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw and Pink Sauce created by Maylie Mickelson at Casteel High School in Queen Creek, Ariz. The menu item features crispy fish combined with a red cabbage veggie slaw and topped with a spicy sauce made with sour cream, hot sauce and lime juice. The recipe, along with other top recipes from the event, are tested and served in school cafeterias following the competition.

4.  Cajun Penne Pasta

Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Wash., participates in Sodexo’s Future Chef Contest each year, which is geared towards getting younger students excited about food and cooking.

Students at each elementary school in the district are invited to submit their own recipes, which are then reviewed by the student nutrition operations manager. He picks at least one student from each school to compete in the finals, where they have two hours to prepare their dish with help from the kitchen lead at their school. The dishes are scored by a panel, and the student behind the winning dish moves on to the regional competition with students at Sodexo schools throughout the country.

Cajun Penne Pasta

Photo courtesy of Clover Park School District

This year, Braylynn F. from Beachwood Elementary School was crowned the winner with her Cajun Penne Pasta that tops penne pasta with smoked sausage, diced tomatoes and chilis, Monterey Jack cheese and more. Along with getting to compete in regionals, her dish was also added to the school lunch menu for Braylynn and her peers to enjoy.

5. Arkansas Black Apple Pie

The Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program through the Arkansas Department of Agriculture held its first-ever recipe competition this fall. Students at K-12 schools, early childhood education facilities and alternative learning environments throughout the state were able to participate.

Students could submit recipes by themselves or with a team of up to 10 students. The recipes had to feature a fall seasonal ingredient from the Arkansas Farm to School’s Harvest of the Season list. Recipes that used an ingredient sourced from a school garden or other local supplier received bonus points.

The winning recipe was Arkansas Black Apple Pie submitted by students Adeleigh Gebert and Sasha Kotyankar, which featured Arkansas black apples. That recipe and others from the competition will be compiled into a booklet for other students or school nutrition programs to try. Gebert and Kotyankar will also get to share their recipe on KATV's Good Morning Arkansas program.



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