During a recent Market Day at Heights High School, when clubs sell food items from local restaurants as fundraisers during lunch, three young women paid close attention to what sold out first.
“Buffalo wings,” said Mikayla Kelley, a sophomore culinary arts student.
“They sold out in five minutes. … So we decided to research how we could use Buffalo sauce as part of a healthy meal.”
Kelley and two classmates, Kylee Herman and Shaneen Anderson, developed a Buffalo-ranch chicken wrap and two side dishes – black bean salad and pineapple-pear crisp – as their entry in the Cooking Up Change competition Tuesday at West High School.
The national contest, sponsored by the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign, challenges teams of high school students to create menu items that taste good and meet the same nutrition guidelines and budgetary constraints that school lunch programs face.
The competition is “designed to put student voices front and center in the national dialogue about school food,” said Sara Porter, spokeswoman for the Healthy Schools Campaign. “Lots of districts are making changes to serve healthier food, but it’s really important to have the kids want to eat it.”
Seven teams of Wichita culinary students – one from each of the city’s seven comprehensive high schools – made their meals for judges Tuesday.
The team from West High was the winner and will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to compete in the national competition. The team’s menu: Buffalo mac and cheese, special veggie coleslaw and pear crisp with granola.
Students said meeting nutrition and budget guidelines was the biggest challenge. Many culinary staples, including butter and salt, aren’t included on school district ingredient lists because of strict limits on fat and sodium. Others, such as olive oil, are not options because they’re too expensive, so cooks must look for substitutes.
“We wanted to put cranberries in our pear crisp, but that wasn’t an option,” said Malena Ward, a sophomore from West.
“It’s way stricter than I thought it was,” added classmate Abbagail Blick. “It’s a lot harder.”
Wraps made with whole-wheat tortillas and stuffed with lean meats were a popular entree choice. Other entrees included broccoli macaroni and cheese, Parmesan-crusted chicken with garlic rice and chicken tacos.
Students seasoned dishes with cilantro or chili powder, embellished them with fresh spinach leaves or purple cabbage and added texture with plain nonfat yogurt instead of ranch dressing or sour cream.
“As culinary students, they want to use salt and olive oil and all these things that they’re learning about in their classes about how to build flavor and season things,” said Porter, the contest spokeswoman.
“It’s really challenging them to be creative and work with what they have access to,” she said. “But there are lots of other different spices and seasonings they can use to build flavor, and that’s definitely one thing we find from city to city is lots of spice. The kids like flavor; they like to see a lot of spice.”
Northwest’s team served collard greens as its vegetable side dish, which was a challenge without salt or butter, said student Marina Mills.
“We added raisins for flavor and carrots for color,” she told the judges.
Along with the trip to Washington for the national contest, each member of the winning team won a 10-piece cookware set. And the winning menu will be added to school lunch menus in Wichita, said Vicki Hoffman, nutrition services coordinator.
“They worked with our guidelines and our ingredients, so really all we’ll need to do is decide whether it works better as an elementary or secondary menu item,” Hoffman said. “Sometimes the spicy dishes are a little more difficult for the younger kids.”
Anderson, the Heights student, said her team taste-tested its Buffalo-sauce-flavored entree with people of all ages, including high school classmates, school administrators and preschoolers in the Heights child development center. The sauce consisted of Frank’s Red Hot sauce diluted with water and cooled with a splash of plain yogurt.
“Everyone seemed to like it,” she said. “Even the little kids.”