This post originally appeared on the USDA blog on April 15, 2011.
Chicago is fortunate to have a bevy of talented chefs and also to be the hometown for the Healthy Schools Campaign, a national organization that advocates for policies and practices that allow students, teachers and staff to learn and work in a healthy school environment.
These two groups have joined forces a number of times in the past, but no previous effort matches the Chefs Move to Schools event that occurred on a sunny spring day in April. On that day, I watched as “Chef Lovely” Jackson, a former contestant on the Fox TV Network’s Hell’s Kitchen, led classrooms of third graders in a cooking demonstration, a talk about healthy eating and some physical exercise.Stressing safety in the kitchen while using her trademark bejeweled chef’s knife, Chef Lovely created a chicken, bell pepper, cilantro and lettuce wrap sprinkled with a soy-honey sauce. A short time later, the students sampled the wrap and a fruit skewer coated with yogurt and granola. When asked to let Chef Lovely know what they thought of the food she’d prepared for them, the students shouted that it was “DELICIOUS!”
In addition to the Chef Lovely event that was held at the Mark Sheridan Math and Science Academy on the city’s south side, more than 60 other Chicago schools held chef in the classroom events—all on the same day! A follow up to a similar, popular effort held in the fall of 2010, Chicago’s Chefs Move to Schools is the largest such event in the country.
While it’s impressive to see the scale of efforts in the city, it’s perhaps more exciting to see their potential results. The hard work of Healthy Schools Campaign,Chicago Public Schools and Chef Lovely—as well as those of the other 60 or so chefs that participated in events around the city on the same day—seem to be working.
“Children take what I teach them and bring it home,” Chef Lovely says. “When I see their parents buying healthy foods at the grocery store and I see them changing, I know they’re going to be okay.”
Nutritious USDA school meals, healthier eating, physical activity and the efforts of partners such as Chicago Public Schools, Healthy Schools Campaign and many Chicago chefs—including the dynamic and inspiring Chef Lovely—are helping to ensure that the Second City’s students are prepared to win the future.
Alan Shannon is the Public Affairs Director for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Midwest Region.