March 11, 2013

Here's an iPhone shot I snapped of the dish from the Great American School Lunch Challenge, held in Washington DC and presented by Cooking Light. Reps from two U.S. schools faced down in a 30-minute, Iron-Chef-Style contest in front of 800 people to produce tasty school lunches under strict budget and nutrition limitations. Chef Jose Garces, teamed with two people from the Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware, won with a main course of spicy, creamy chicken and black beans cleverly nestled on a few tortilla chips, plus a delicious side of caramelized sweet potatoes with spinach and a hint of rosemary. For dessert: fresh and dried pear and other fruit.

The Garces team beat Food Network's Anne Burrell, who worked with a Houston Independent School District team. Burrell made a very tasty burrito, but her peachy-cornbread dessert emerged from the oven a little undercooked—costing her points. The competition proved that, with a bit of culinary imagination, school kitchens can turn out kid-friendly food whose flavor beats that of any fast-food restaurant—for pennies. Thanks to the Partnership for a Healthier America folks for including Cooking Light in this year's competition—I was lucky enough to be one of the judges. The event was MC'd by White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass, who is executive director of the Let's Move! program.

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