West Hartford Student Chefs Enter U.S. Semi-Finals With Fiesta Wrap

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture sponsors the Healthy Kids recipe contest.

A Fiesta wrap with rice and zucchini was served for lunch Wednesday at Charter Oak International Academy.
Photo:Courtesy of Cloe Poisson, Hartford Courant
West Hartford Student Chefs Enter U.S. Semi-Finals With Fiesta Wrap
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West Hartford Student Chefs Enter U.S. Semi-Finals With Fiesta Wrap

A group of five budding chefs, all West Hartford Elementary school students have created a dish that is among 15 semifinalists in a recipe contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contest gives kids the chance to create a healthy and tasty alternative to usual school lunch fare, and is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, an effort put an end to childhood obesity. WNPR’s Ray Hardman went to a tasting of the culinary creation, and prepared this report.

Not much has changed in the decades since I last stepped foot in an elementary school cafeteria. There were the familiar plastic lunch trays, and lunch ladies serving up food behind the counter. But what is missing on this late morning at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford is the lunch fare that I remembered as a kid-cheesburgers, tater tots, and warmed over, doughy pizza slices. Instead, lines of children are trying a new dish:

“I like the fiesta wrap because it has cheese on it…”
“That it has vegetables in it, and a little carrots…”
“There’s something like, delicious, I don’t know what it is, but I still like it…”
“There’s black beans, and it tastes good…”
“I see beans in here, and I think those are rice grains…”

Well so far so good. Students seem to really like the Fiesta Wrap, a healthy combination of black beans shredded carrots, red peppers, red onion and reduced fat cheddar cheese folded into a tortilla.  And the rice - is actually quinoa.

“Quinoa is something that not many of them have tried, but it’s a complete protein which is fantastic, and the beans have a lot of protein, and the vegetables, they may have not eaten if they were out in a bowl, but in a tortilla, it’s more appealing to kids.”

That’s Caroline Corriea, one of the three West Hartford mothers who have formed Growing Great Schools, an advocacy group hoping to improve the nutritional quality of meals being served schools.  

Caroline Correia: “The fiesta wrap was created by this group of five students, five fourth and fifth graders from three different schools that we brought together. And we sat around a table and brainstormed about what are some foods that kids would like to see in the lunchroom that they may not have seen.”

“Well we had our first meeting where we kind of brainstormed on all types of vegetables and whole grain, stuff that we wanted to include, and we tried lots of different things.”
“It was really fun working with Chef Hunter, working on the recipe and all the cafeteria staff.”
“Yeah, it was really hands on in the cafeteria, trying new things out.”

Chef Hunter Morton: “How’s the Fiesta Wrap? Is it good? Yeah, you guys like it? Alright!”

That’s Hunter Morton, executive chef at Max’s Downtown Restaurant in Hartford. He worked closely with the student chefs to develop the Fiesta Wrap. Morton says he was inspired to get involved after hearing a speech by White House chef Sam Kass who was encouraging chefs to get involved in the first lady’s new initiative.

Morton: “Well, what we are really trying to do is get from scratch, real cooking back into the schools which has kind of been lost. It’s lot of processed and just your standard, go-to foods for kids. You know, burgers, pizza, things like that. We are trying to break out of that and get them to try new things”

And the success of Fiesta Wrap is just the beginning, according to Chef Morton.

Morton: “Next month were going to be rolling out some local, organic, we’ll be doing some salad greens and really get some farms involved, hopefully get some kids out to the farm.”

The Fiesta Wrap beat out more than 360 recipes to make it to the final 15 in the Healthy Kids Recipe contest. Later this month, federal and state child nutrition experts will come to Charter Oak and taste the wrap.  The top three finalists will receive a 3,000 dollar prize. You can get the Fiesta wrap recipe online at recipesforkidschallenge.com.

For WNPR, I’m Ray Hardman.



Kids Nutrition

Am so glad young kids got the opportunity to help create their lunchtime menu. This ought to help improve the quality of the kids meals. And it is so important to work on kids diet & nutrition while they're young and impressionable. They then have a much better chance of developing really sound habits which can only benefit their health longer term.

For me personally, I feel that it's great to expose a child "start to finish" - from the garden where food is grown to the kitchen table, and to have them participate in ALL stages. Have them grow their own herbs and vegetables, learn how to cook, plan a menu etc.

SO I was happy to hear (on the audio program) that they are taken to the farm, too, as part of the entire process.