Real School Food Challenge

About Real School Food

Do you have what it takes to rule school food? Step into the shoes of a lunch lady and learn just what goes into getting healthy, delicious food onto the lunch trays of 30 million kids every day. This cooking challenge will spice up your next event and benefit a good cause. You’ll have some fun and help us get delicious and nutritious food to the school kids who need it most.

The gauntlet has been thrown! Will you try your hand at the Real School Food Challenge?

Why Real School Food Challenge?

The Chef Ann Foundation has reached over 7,000 schools and 2.5 million children with healthier school food programs, but with over 98,000 schools in the U.S. and LOTS of highly processed food still on kids’ lunch trays, we have our work cut out for us. We need the help of parents, food lovers and child nutrition advocates like you to spread the word and help us speed up change. 

How You Can Help

Help us raise awareness and funds for our cause by hosting a Real School Food competition! Here’s the challenge – can you create a school lunch that follows USDA healthy meal guidelines for just $1.25 per meal? Believe it or not, that’s how much schools have to spend on lunch for our kids. 

Gather up some friends who have a taste for competition and invite your network to cheer them on and watch as they whip up their school lunch creation. The guests will judge each dish and choose the winner! All donations you collect at your event will support Chef Ann Foundation in our work to get real, fresh, healthy food onto school lunch trays across the country.  

Are You In?

Having an event like this is a fun and easy way to be a healthy school food ambassador and have a real impact on how we feed our kids. Scroll through the Hosting and Competing tabs to get started.


This is a step-by-step guide for competing in a Real School Food Challenge. The guide provides links to competition guidelines and resources to help you create your school lunch recipe.

Competing in the Real School Food Challenge is easy! 

All you have to do is:

Create Your Recipe

  • For this challenge, you are creating a nutritious, tasty and kid-friendly school lunch (no dessert included!), which you will cook and sample out to guests at the Real School Food Challenge. Remember, this is a (friendly) competition, so the guests will be tasting your recipe and judging it against the other competitors’ creations. You can choose to either participate alone, or with a team.
  • This challenge is designed to educate and inform the public about what it takes to create a USDA compliant school meal from scratch. The challenge requirements have been adapted from USDA school lunch guidelines and are meant to give you a simplified idea of what schools must take into consideration when developing compliant recipes.
  • Do your best to follow these guidelines and give yourself at least a week to develop your recipe. You will submit a Recipe Entry Worksheet to your event host one week before the competition. For some inspiration, check out some recipes that other competitors have come up with here.

Get Ready for the Challenge - Recipe Preparation

Once you have your recipe developed, you’ll need to start thinking about how you will prepare it for the event. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Ask your event host how many guests they are planning to have. You will need to prepare enough food to hand out samples to each guest. Guests will not need a full High School lunch serving, since they’ll need to leave room for the other recipe samples. Plan for 1 sample to be approximately ½ of a High School lunch serving.
  • Your event host will be giving you a $50 gift card to Whole Food Market to help you purchase the ingredients for the event.
  • You will be preparing the majority of your recipe at home, saving final prep and assembly for the event location. Here are some tips for what should be prepped before the event:
  1. Do any and all cutting/chopping at home and package things up separately (in tupperware, baggies etc.)
  2. Make any sauce at home and package separately.
  3. Cook anything that can be pre-cooked at home, and make sure to properly cool it before packaging.
  4. Bring things that need to stay cool in your own cooler with ice (or check with your event host to see if they have space in their fridge).
  5. If elements of your recipe need to be cooked/heated right before serving, plan on doing that at the event.

Compete! - Day of the Event

  • Plan to arrive one hour before the event starts.
  • You will have time to finish your recipe and prepare for sampling once you arrive. Set up a “serving station” where you can easily portion out samples to the guests.
  • Create one presentation plate that you display next to your serving station so guests can judge the appearance of the meal.
  • Before the tasting begins, you will have the opportunity to tell the group about your recipe and what you learned from the experience.
  • The guests will score you and your fellow competitors. The host will tally up the scores and announce the winner! The winning recipe will have the chance to be featured on Chef Ann Foundation’s national recipe database so thousands of kids across the country can taste your delicious creation!


Guests will be judging your recipes based on the following criteria:

  • Appearance: Is the meal plated well? Does it have a variety of colors? Does it look appetizing?
  • Taste: Is the dish pleasing to the taste buds? Is it seasoned properly? Do the ingredients complement one another? Was any component over or under cooked? Would students purchase this dish if it were on the lunch menu?
  • Scalability: Can this dish be replicated in a school district? Would they have the time and labor to replicate this for large batch cooking? For example, if your recipe requires the cook to individually prep each serving unit (like stuffing a pasta shell or dumpling) that may not be a practical recipe for expanding from 12 servings to 13,000 servings.

Thank You!

Thank you so much for participating in this event on behalf of Chef Ann Foundation. We are truly inspired and invigorated by your support. To show our gratitude, we have some thank you gifts and prizes, courtesy of our sponsor Steelite International:

Real School Food Apron

Wear these the day of the event!


"First Place Recipe" Plate

The competitor whose recipe receives the highest score will go home with this beautiful inscribed award plate.


This is a step-by-step plan for hosting a Real School Food Challenge. This guide provides tips and resources that can be customized for your own event. 

Hosting a Real School Food Challenge is Easy! 

All you have to do is: 

Choose Your Competitors 

  • Consider friends or family members that have a passion for cooking, a love of competition, or a connection to the school food cause to be your chef competitors. You’ll ideally want to have between two and four competitors for the challenge. Your competitors may also prefer to work in teams, which is great! The more, the merrier!
  • Once you’ve decided who you’re reaching out to, send a Competitor Ask Email to those people, explaining the goal of the event and what their participation would entail.
  • You’ll want to have your line up finalized at least one month prior to the event to give your competitors time to review the challenge guidelines and create their recipes (more on this in the “Competing” section).

Invite Your Guests

  • We recommend using the online ticketing platform Eventrbrite to plan your event and collect donations. To make it easy for you, we already have an account set up for you to use! Contact us for access. (If you’ve never used Eventrbrite before, this guide will show you how to create the event. And of course, if using an online ticketing platform isn’t for you, do what you’re comfortable with!)
  • Next step is inviting your guests!  We’ve written a sample invitation for you to use.  For help on setting up the invitations in Eventbrite, click here.
  • It’s a good idea to send your invites four to six weeks prior to the event. As the event draws nearer, you can send out reminder invites to those who have yet to RSVP. 

Get Ready - Prior to the Event

  • After your chef competitors have had some time to look over the competition guidelines, they might have some questions. You can set up a conference call or Google Hangout with the Chef Ann Foundation team for answers. We recommend having this call at least two weeks prior to the event to give your chefs enough time to plan out their recipes.
  • Thanks to our sponsor Whole Kids Foundation, Chef Ann Foundation will provide a $50 Whole Foods Market gift certificate to each of your competitors to help pay for the food for the event. Email us one month prior to the event and we will send you the gift cards to distribute!
  • Thanks to our sponsor Steelite International, we have Real School Food Aprons for your competitors to wear and a beautiful First Place Recipe award for you to give your competition winner. Contact Chef Ann Foundation at least one month prior to the event and we will send you these goodies!
  • Once your competitors have created their recipes, print out each entry so that you can display them at the event next to the competitors’ serving stations.
  • Print copies of the Real School Food Challenge Judging Sheets for your guests to use while tasting the recipes.
  • One-two days prior to the event send your guests an email reminding them to attend and letting them know what the evening has in store. Feel free to use this sample email.

Take the Challenge! - Day of the Event

  • Have your competitors arrive about an hour before the event starts to set up their stations. Depending on the size of your kitchen / event venue, we recommend that competitors pre-prepare the majority of their recipe at home, leaving final prep and assembly for the event.
  • Decide how much time you’ll be giving your competitors for final prep at the beginning of the evening. When we hosted our 3-hour event, we gave them 1 hour.
  • When the food is ready, explain the contest rules to your guests and give your competitors an opportunity to talk about their dish and what they learned about school food through this experience.
  • Have your guests sample each of the competitor’s dishes.
  • Once the guests have filled out their scorecards, tally up the results and announce the winner! Present them the prize plate and give all the competitors a big thank you for their participation!

Thank You!

Thank you so much for hosting this event on behalf of Chef Ann Foundation. We are truly inspired and invigorated by your support. To show our gratitude, we’d like to send you this hostess gift, courtesy of our sponsor Steelite International.

Event Host Gift

This Laguiole knife set comes from France and includes six 9 inch steak knives with inlaid ivory handles. 



These tools and resources will hep you plan and compete in a Real School Food challenge!

For the Host:

For the Competitors:

  • Recipe Guidelines: Download a PDF version of the recipe guidelines.
  • Entry Form: Download the Recipe Entry Worksheet to help you create your USDA compliant recipe.
  • Nutrition Analysis: Use a reputable nutrition data website such as Calorie Count to find out the nutrition facts for your recipes.
  • Meal Costs: Use a website like Cook Keep Book to help with the cost breakdown. Remember to subtract 30% from the retail value of each ingredient for an estimate of food service wholesale purchasing prices.
  • Sample RecipesCheck out other Real School Food recipes for some inspiration!

Real School Food Challenge: National Restaurant Edition

Dine at participating restaurants throughout October to support healthier school food!

The Program: To educate and inform the public about the importance of serving our children healthy, scratch-cooked meals in school, we host culinary challenges with community partners. This year we are taking it national with our supporters in the restaurant space.

The Challenge: Local, regional, and chain restaurants will be creating a USDA-compliant school meal to feature on their restaurant menu during the month of October 2019 (National School Lunch Week falls in October). Proceeds from the item are donated to the Chef Ann Foundation to support making real change to the food our children eat at school.

The Chefs: 

  • Chef Daniel Asher | River & Woods, Boulder
  • Chef Hosea Rosenberg | Santo, Boulder 
  • Chef Alon Shaya | Safta, Denver
  • Chef Charleen Badman | FnB, Scottsdale
  • Chef Stephen Williams | Bouquet Restaurant, Ohio Valley
  • Chef Erik Bruner Yang | &pizza, Astor Place and Nomad locations, NYC
  • Chef Toni Elkhouri | Cedar’s Café, Melbourne, FL
  • Chef Gayle Pirie | Foreign Cinema, San Francisco
  • Chef Mihoko Obunai | Hosted by Brush, Atlanta
  • Chef Brandon Rosen | Hosted by CWC The Restaurant, Cincinnati, OH
  • Chef Nathanial Zimet | Boucherie, New Orleans
  • Chef Leonard Hollander | Arbor, Chicago

The Live Event: Five recipes from our supporting chefs will be selected based on creativity and scalability, to travel to Brooklyn to make their meal at StarChefs International Congress on Monday, October 28th. Competitors will take over the food carts during the Congress Cocktail Party and attendees will vote alongside a jury of school food operators for the winning dish.

The Real School Food Challenge Finalists:

  • Chef Daniel Asher | River & Woods, Boulder | Asian chicken sliders with pickled vegetables and kale

  • Chef Stephen Williams | Bouquet Restaurant, Ohio Valley | Beef and zucchini meatballs with spinach and tomato sauce over rye bread

  • Chef Erik Bruner Yang | &pizza, Astor Place and Nomad locations, NYC | Garlic ricotta calzone

  • Chef Mihoko Obunai | Hosted by Brush, Atlanta | Japanese chicken curry rice

  • Chef Nathanial Zimet | Boucherie, New Orleans | Red beans and brown rice, with turkey andouille and green beans

Announcing RSFC WINNER Chef Mihoko Obunai!

How to Get Involved: Support healthy food in school and out by dining at participating restaurants throughout the month of October. Order the Real School Food Challenge menu item and proceeds will support the work of the Chef Ann Foundation.

“I’m so excited to help figure out creative ways to get really healthy school lunches for every single child in America.
- Chef Alon Shaya, Saba and Safta

"Our schools are one of the most critical and vulnerable venues for food system reform and you are leading the good fight. Thanks for the all the work you do both in front and behind thescenes. We had such a blast with everyone!"
- Chef Daniel Asher, River and Woods, Ash’Kara and Acreage Cider House & Restaurant

"So grateful to have been in a room full of talent giving its heart and soul to a cause championed and led by even more heart and soul and passion."
- Chef Hosea Rosenberg, Blackbelly and Santo

“We’re here to help support school lunches. I think every kid has got to have a healthier lunch, and we can help be a part of the solution of that. I thought of my own kids and what they could be eating at school to create my dish.”
- Chef Paul Reilly, Beast + Bottle and Coperta

For more information, contact Danielle Staunton at


Real School Food Challenge: Boulder Natural Foods Edition

Is it possible to make a delicious school food recipe for $1.25? You be the judge!

Local natural food industry executives and their sous chefs will battle to see if they have what it takes to make real school food. Each chef must prepare an inspiring school lunch that meets USDA guidelines on an average school budget of $1.25 per meal.

Enjoy wine, beer, and good company at Sterling Rice Group's test kitchen space in downtown Boulder while you sample the challenger's culinary creations and vote for the winning dish.

Click here for tickets, or visit to learn more.



About the Challenge

Do you have what it takes to get to rule school food? Accept the Real School Food Challenge and find out!

Why Compete?