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Queen Creek High culinary students prep for Jan. 28 Blue Watermelon Project's 'Feeding the Future' competition

Education includes gardening, nutrition, taste

Blue Watermelon Project’s Feeding the Future is a culinary contest that challenges students to create healthy, great-tasting meals that meet the real-life requirements of the National School Lunch Program, National School Breakfast Program and Afterschool Snack Program.

This contest was created to help students develop tasty, nutritious and affordable school meals that can be served to Arizona school children. Participation helps students and the surrounding community better understand the challenges that school food professionals face and the ever-changing conditions that impact access to good food.

The Blue Watermelon Project, a 501(c)(3) organization comprised of chefs, restaurateurs, farmers and community food advocates that want children to have access to good food in schools, is led by Chef Charleen Badman, owner of the award-winning FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale.

With over 30 years experience in the culinary industry, Badman remembers coming up through the ranks, and it all started in high school. For roughly 1 million schools in the country, the federal government provides around $3.23 for each lunch served to a student who qualifies for a free meal. After labor and other costs, schools have about $1 to spend on food. This often results in the purchase of frozen, highly processed, bottom of the barrel foods that kids are expected to eat and be nourished by. At the same time, studies show an average 17.5% increase in standardized math scores from students who consistently start their day with a healthy meal.

“I was in a program in high school," said Badman, “and I fell in love with cooking.”

The chef recently visited Queen Creek High and the three students taking part in the contest: Madison Newman, Jacob Curtis and Isaiah Jensen. Badman mentored them through the Feeding the Future competition, challenging them to create nutritious meals that meet the real-world requirements of the National School Lunch Program and to integrate taste education and interactive programming into the school's curriculum.

Newman, Curtis and Jensen will be competing this Saturday with their own recipe against students across the state.

"We are so proud to have a student team working on a recipe for the Blue Watermelon Project Feeding the Future contest. It's a great way to join our culinary arts program with our school nutrition department, and it's even more special that our students have the honor of being mentored by Chef Charleen Badman," said Sandra Brooks, culinary arts instructor at Queen Creek High School.

"Madison is a vegetarian, and vegetarian school lunch options are limited. Madison, along with Jacob and Isaiah have been able to create their main dish, a Spicy Sofritas Burrito Bowl, as a meal that would appeal to both vegetarian students and non-vegetarian students," Brooks explained. "It has taken time for them to develop a recipe that meets budget and nutrition requirements, with limited ingredients and basic preparation steps. Through the process, we have all gained a greater appreciation for the challenges that our school nutrition professionals face on a regular basis. Madison, Jacob and Isaiah have done an amazing job and we are looking forward to them presenting their final dish at the competition on Jan. 28."

Newman, a junior in the Queen Creek High culinary program (part of Queen Creek Unified School District’s career and technical education), said the hands-on experience is helping her build skills for a future career as a chef.

“I learned a lot,” said Newman. “It’s given me a lot of opportunities to get out there.”

Badman worked with Brooks and the high school's cafeteria manager, Olivia Pena, to mentor the three culinary students that are entering a recipe with the Blue Watermelon Feeding the Future contest HERE.

Attendees can join in the fun by tasting the creative dishes of the top 10 student teams presenting to guest judges throughout this weekend's event. While the judges deliberate, attendees can enjoy live music, yard games and children’s activities from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 28 at The Farm at South Mountain, located in Phoenix at 6106 S. 32nd St. Tickets are available HERE.

More information about Queen Creek High School's culinary arts program can be found HERE.