Feeding Academic Success Culinary Challenge Draws Engaged Crowd to Discuss Changes to FCPS School Food

Over 150 parents, teachers, students, school administrators and health professionals joined Chef Ann Cooper, “The Renegade Lunch Lady,” and a team of expert panelists at Real Food for Kids’ Feeding Academic Success event on October 23 at Marshall High School to further advance the momentum of school food reform in Fairfax County Public Schools.

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Real Food For Kids President JoAnne Hammermaster opened the panel on healthy food by stressing why this issue must generate more dialogue. “We hear a lot these days about obesity, diabetes, and other health issues, and why we need to do something about it. The truth is: the problem is real. What used to be discussed as affecting adults is now having a major impact on our kids. It is now affecting their livelihood and their future. That is why we have asked our panel of experts to give you some insight into why this initiative is so important for our kids and their success at school.” Various health experts described the rise in obesity and diabetes, the difficulty of policy change in school kitchens, and the effects of the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids act, taking effect this fall.

The panel discussion was complimented by a culinary challenge among four of the seven Fairfax County high school culinary academies. Teams of students from Falls Church, Marshall, Mount Vernon and Chantilly high schools were tasked with creating a salad bar that was not only appetizing and appealing, but also met USDA guidelines for reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program. Chef Cooper judged, along with co-panelists.

The Five-Star Award was won by the team from Chantilly High School including Nikki Caballero, Valerie Claunch and Kyung Lee, all of whom plan to become professional chefs. Marshall High School took the second Taster’s Choice Award, which was judged by school board members and other VIP and state representatives.

“I am always impressed by the large crowd, including both local and federal officials, that come out to celebrate Food Day in Fairfax County,” said McElveen, a Marshall alum. “This year, it was especially exciting to see students engage in a culinary challenge and present innovative ideas for improving salad bars in our schools. As this event proved, we can always learn great things from our students when we make the effort to engage them.”

The evening concluded with a robust Q&A session with panelists, members of RFFK and the school board. A 6th grader and Student Council President at Kent Gardens Elementary said that 95% of the students at her school wanted to change school food and she asked how she could make this happen. Pat Hynes answered, “Real Food For Kids is probably the answer. Take a page out of [their] playbook on how to successfully advocate for change. Join forces with them.” She also encouraged event attendees to contact their school board members directly about this issue.


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