School lunch just got a lot more exciting. Students at Holmen High School have the chance to show off their culinary skills and create a new menu item next month at the school’s first ever Iron Chef competition.
Dreamed up and organized by district nutrition service supervisor Mike Gasper, family and consumer education teacher Sarah Halverson and La Crosse County health educator Maggie Smith, the event is designed to get students excited about healthy, local food — which is easy with a top prize of $500.
“We’re always looking for ways to promote healthy eating and local food,” Gasper said. “We’re hoping to get some great entries, especially with such a decent prize.”
Contestants will be judged on a variety of categories including taste, food presentation and cooking skills. The finished product should be both delicious and nutritious, containing less than 30 percent calories from fat and containing at least two “Harvest of the Month” seasonal produce items.
“This month, it’s sweet potato,” said Smith, who coordinates the county’s Farm 2 School initiative that promotes local food within all five public school districts. The winter root vegetable is the star of lunch menus and is promoted in area grocery stories and partnering restaurants.
Previous harvest of the month items such as rutabagas, leeks, tomatillos and parsnips have already made their way into the hearts (and stomachs) of students all over the county.
“The idea is that a kid will see or try a new food at school, tell their families about it and then the families will be able to find it and try it at home,” Smith said.
And when kids are skipping the cereal aisle and asking for Brussels sprouts in the grocery store, it’s a pretty good sign an initiative is working.
Recipes are due Feb. 28, and HHS students are already getting excited about the prospect of creating the winning dish.
The Iron Chef competition is one of the first Farm 2 School outreach events designed specifically for secondary students — most funding is targeted towards working with elementary schools — but organizers hope the idea will catch on with the older kids and expand into more cooking and gardening events.
“It’s been really well-received,” Smith said. “Farm 2 School as a national initiative is growing every day.”