My daughter has brought the same sandwich to school everyday since the 1st grade: turkey on 12-grain, with an occasional side salad. My son not only brings his lunch, but sometimes manages to eat a second school lunch. His school food isn’t the stereotypical cafeteria lunch however, but part of the Adirondack Farm to School Initiative that is making quality food while supporting local farms and local food.
The North Country Jr. Iron Chef competition is another resource that is bringing students and commercial cafeterias together in a fun, educational environment that mimics the television show “Iron Chef” with a local twist.
Inspired by Jr. Iron Chef VT, middle and high school students in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, create healthy recipes using a combination of local and USDA commodity foods that could be realistically prepared in a school cafeteria.
According to Health Initiative School Program Coordinator Sarah Bentley-Garfinkel the competition has grown over the last few years rising from 18 teams competing for Iron Chef bragging rights last year to 23 teams competing last year.
“This year we will be in the same location but we needed more space,” says Bentley-Garfinkel. “ The second year we moved to A. A.Kingston [Middle School] in Potsdam. We will remain there, but we will be holding the cooking competition in the gymnasium rather than the cafeteria. We can accommodate a combination of 32 middle and high school teams.”
The majority of the students take part because they enjoy cooking, care about the food they are eating and have a willingness to learn. Teams are asked to pay a $50 entry fee, as well as provide some of their own supplies. Fundraising is encouraged.
Bentley-Garfinel says, “They all eat and they all eat in school. The students all have something to say about that. There is a video online of last year’s winners from Northern Adirondack School. It depicts them preparing and serving the food to students. These students have impacted what their cafeterias serve. Some have introduced the recipes to their school board members and at special events.”
Registration for the 2015 Jr. Iron Chef competition will open November 3rd and continue through January 16, 2015; the competition held on March 14th. Admission is free for spectators. The complete schedule is still in the works, but some free healthy activities are being planned for competition day and food will be available for purchase. A free download of the North Country Jr. Iron Chef Cookbook is also available.
This competition is helping to bring good food choices to our schools. How fortunate we are to have these options to connect even more children and families to local farmers and local foods.