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School district hosts take-home recipe challenge to engage kids during the pandemic

Contest winners received a customized apron and had their dish included in one of Pitman Public Schools' weekly meal bundles.
The framed menu and the customized aprons that the contest winners received sitting on a table.
Photograph: Pitman Public Schools

This semester, students at Pitman Public Schools in Pitman, N.J., got to enjoy meals created by their peers during the district’s first Take Home Meal Recipe Challenge. 

Foodservice Director Kyle DiVito came up with the contest, along with his supervisor and the district’s business administrator, when trying to think of ways to engage the community during the pandemic. 

“We really kind of thought about different ways that we could kind of involve the community because they’ve really shown us great support,” says DiVito.  

Getting the contest up and running was a collaborative effort, DiVito says. The corporate dietician at Nutri-Serve, which manages nutrition services at the district, designed a flyer and a recipe card that DiVito shared in his weekly newsletter for district families. Flyers and recipe cards were also distributed at district meal sites. 

Any child under 18 could enter the contest by filling out and submitting a recipe card. The recipes were judged based on their creativity, kid-friendliness, nutritiousness, ability to be reheated and how well they could be scaled up and prepared in a cafeteria setting. Students received bonus points if their recipe had a cultural connection to their family. 

The four winning recipes were homestyle pasta with meatballs, homemade-style cheesesteak with peppers and onions, meatloaf muffins and a personal pork roll brunch pizza. Once the winners were announced, each recipe was prepared by Pitman foodservice employees and served in that week’s meal bundles. 

Along with getting their recipes featured on the menu, winners also received a personalized apron designed by Nutri-Serve, a shout out in DiVito’s newsletter and a framed copy of the week’s menu that listed their dish and their name. 

The contest was a great success, DiVito says, and he is hoping to do it again next year. 

“It's really a beneficial way to include the community because just being in our position, there's only so many different ways that we could kind of reach out and involve the kids,” says DiVito. “[…] The kids were super into it. They're the types of kids that like to cook at home and really try different things for mom and dad, so it was a really great thing and I'd be definitely be willing to do it again in the future.”

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