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.