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On Today's Menu: Healthful School Lunch

Left to right, Richards Career Academy students Alvaro Aguilar, Emmanuel Sandoval, Jose Tena Jr., Marquice Kent, Rafael Ruiz, Mike Martinez. (Healthy Schools Campaign)

School food is on Washington's legislative menu this year as the Childhood Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act wends its way through Congress. The federal government currently forks over $9 billion annually for school breakfast, lunch and other food programs. Not enough for healthful meals, according to some food advocates.

And so the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign is doing what any self-respecting lobbying organization should do. It's bringing good food and cute kids to Washington.

Today six culinary students from the Richards Career Academy in Chicago will join White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass at Martha's Table, where they will cook their idea of a perfect school lunch. On the menu: carrot quesadillas, chicken-stuffed peppers and a "refrescante" (a.k.a. salsa) salad. The meal also will be served to House members and staffers at the Longworth Cafeteria and to 40,000 students at schools across the country.

The students developed the menu as part of a competition last fall. The approximate cost of the ingredients is $1.30 per person. That might not seem like a lot. But when you add the cost of producing and serving the meal, says Healthy Schools Campaign Executive Director Rochelle Davis, the total to make that meal in Chicago is $3.71 -- a dollar more than the government pays for each student meal.

The message: Schools need more money to produce healthful meals.

President Obama has made healthful eating in schools a centerpiece of his domestic agenda. In his budget, he called for $1 billion to improve childhood nutrition programs.

Will Congress fork over the funds? That will ultimately be up to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee. The kids better hope he likes carrot quesadillas.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  May 5, 2009; 8:02 AM ET
Categories:  Food Politics  | Tags: Jane Black, nutrition, school lunch  
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Way to go, teens. Cook on! The travesty is that a meal with $1.30 worth of ingredients ends up costing $3.71 to produce. Cooking in the schools would send a whole pile of money in the direction of quality ingredients, nutrition and education, rather than transportation, packaging and waste disposal...
Buon app├ętit, Sen. Baucus.
Carol Dannhauser, Editor,

Posted by: CookinTeens | May 5, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see that the Obamas are continuing to support the healthy school campaign. To Carol's comment, though, I don't believe cooking in the schools would lower the costs. I suspect the argument for removing kitchens was to save money. Not that there aren't cost-effective ways to get fresh food, e.g. cooking at a central location within the school district, but it's hard to work in fresh, local, organic food without significantly raising the cost and I don't think this Congress has the will to increase funding as much as is needed.

Posted by: ColleenFoodieTots | May 5, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

What a fabulous tribute to the culinary students' success in creating a faboulous school lunch. Sure did not taste or look like anything I was served in school!!! So imortant to serve a meal with color and flavor

Posted by: Wrigleygirl | May 5, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I think Washington can always use more good food and plenty of cute kids. HSC has done such a wonderful job in many ways, especially that of childhood nutrition. As a Health/Food Coach, this makes me proud! Keep up the good work!

Posted by: bethaldrich | May 5, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful story, and how terrific to have this generation teaching us older folks about eating healthy. Their creativity shines through, and I look forward to recipes!

Posted by: kycitten | May 7, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

It's pretty sad that as a nation we think nothing of spending $5 or more on a lunch of empty calories from a fast-food restaurant, be we can't secure $3.71 for a healthy school lunch for our coming generations. If you factor in the opportunity costs for the effects of poor nutrition (obesity, diabetes, poor dental health, etc), a healthy school lunch sounds like one of the best bargains around!

Posted by: humboldtpark | May 12, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

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