Cypress Restaurant Executive Chef Craig Deihl hopes that by the time his 2 1/2-year-old daughter starts school, cafeteria lunchrooms will be serving fewer processed foods and more nutritious options.
He's been working with a small team on a long-term initiative that would educate students on food and health, and their efforts kicked into overdrive on Wednesday.
The team decided less than two weeks ago to enter a contest sponsored by Let's Move!, first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood obesity, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create new, healthy recipes for school lunch menus.
The Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge required teams to develop at least one recipe using either whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, or dry beans and peas, serve it in a school cafeteria, and allow students to rate the meal.
Three teams from across the country will be chosen for a national cook-off, and winners will be invited to prepare their meals alongside White House chefs.
On Wednesday, Burke High middle school students tasted and evaluated four recipes created by Deihl and four Burke students. In addition to their regular lunches, students could sample whole wheat corn bread, a vegetable salad, black-eyed pea and kale soup, and braised collard greens. Students seemed pleased with their choices.
"Cafeteria food doesn't have some of the good taste that's in some of their food," said sixth-grader Kearsten Rouse. "It has the stuff I like in it."
Colleen Martin is the manager for the Medical University of South Carolina's Lean Team, an obesity-prevention program, and a part of Charleston's team entering the national contest. The Lean Team is based at Burke High and works with a number of schools to improve menus, introduce new items to students and provide higher quality food.
She said she was grateful for students to have the opportunity to interact with Deihl, and she hoped the day's events would help move wellness programs forward in the district.
"The focus (today) is on the contest, but the vision is on the expansion of the initiative to improve school lunches and the health and nutrition of the kids," she said.
Members of Charleston's team are Deihl; Burke High students; Slow Food Charleston, an eco-gastronomic nonprofit; Charleston County School District; and the MUSC Lean Team.
Culinary arts student Tyler Manigault, a junior, helped brainstorm and cook recipes with Deihl, and he described their creations as much better than what typically is served in the cafeteria.
The vegetable salad, for example, used different types of vegetables, had more color and included salad dressing, he said.
The school district may consider using Deihl's recipes in its regular meal rotation, depending on students' response, the availability of the foods, the ease of preparation, and cost. If a few students' reactions were any indication of how most felt, buy-in shouldn't be a problem.
"What's the best part so far?" Deihl asked one group.
"All of it," one student responded.
"Is this something you would eat again?" he asked.
"Over and over and over," one student replied.
Reach Diette Courrégé at 937-5546.