Start Healthy, Stay Healthy! Elementary Schools Kids Play Chef w @FloridaMilk & @cressrestaurant

Up to one out of every five children in the U. S. is overweight or obese. That’s more than 23 million children and teenagers. Those extra pounds put kids at a greater risk of developing a host of debilitating diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Thankfully, our children have the support and resources from organizations such as Florida Milk, who have partnered up with the National Dairy Council (NDC), National Football League (NFL), and in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, and launched a unique in-school nutrition and physical activity program called Fuel Up to Play 60.

Based on youth’s input and in line with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), this program encourages the consumption of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and achieving at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The program is in more than 70,000 schools nationwide – that’s two-thirds of all the schools in the U.S. – with the potential to reach more than 36 million children.

Running on it’s third year, Dairy Council of Florida hosted Gridiron Cooking Challenge – a fun-filled food competition for elementary and middle school students throughout Florida, in partnership with Fuel Up to Play 60 and the NFL. Gemini Elementary School in Brevard County took home the winning title at this year’s annual Gridiron Cooking Challenge.

Chef Hari Pulapaka, Orlando’s very own local celebrity chef, local farm supporter/advocate, and co-owner of Cress Restaurant, generously opened his kitchen for these enterprising groups of children. Giving them an incredible opportunity to sport a chef’s hat for the day to host a six-course dinner for Cress patrons and friends . The menu featured a selection of dishes highlighting dairy, as well as two Gridiron Cooking Challenge finalist recipes. An exciting day which commenced with a trip to local farm – Tomazin in Volusia County (growing 70 varieties of vegetables) to source produce for evening’s dinner followed with a visit to Volusia County’s Fieser Dairy Farm to learn more about the benefits of dairy.


A menu conceptualized and executed, might I add splendidly, by 12 year olds, is a testament of their creativity, aspiration, and dedication. Each dish was not only delicious, it showcased a balance of flavors, and a keen understanding of ingredients. Bellisimmo!!!

These kid friendly recipes will appease both the sophisticated palate of your guests and guaranteed to impress your children’s friends.

First Course: Mixed green salad with house lemon ricotta, Tomazin farms tomato & basil, jackfruit, purslane, toasted pine nuts, blueberry vinaigrette. Recipe from Blue Lake Elementary.

Second Course: Wontons filled with cream cheese, Indian spices, siracha, cardamom, lemon yogurt. Gemini School’s creation.

Third Course: Cheddar & blue stilton smoked sausage soup, crostini – Blue Lake School.

Fourth Course: Naan flatbread, roasted Tomazin vegetables, creamy tomatoes, basil. Collaboration between Schools.

Fifth Course: Herb crusted Florida wreck fish, Tomazin cucumber, yogurt dressing – Gemini School.

Cress Dinner

Sixth Course: Peach and coconut bread pudding – Cress. Rich, sweet, creamy, it had all the ingredients for a decadent childhood favorite with a touch of the exotic.


Peach Pudding

Head over to Orlando Sentinel to watch these talented kids live in action – click here.

Granted I entered the culinary arena out of necessity at the tender age of twelve. Cooking at home still is my very own personal therapeutic session. Yes, the single most important reason to cook at home is for your health. That said, involving children at a young age not only fosters healthy lifelong habits, it cultivates an open-mind allowing them to approach life similarly, with confidence and humility.

And in today’s day and age of technology and social media distractions, it encourages your kids to re-connect with you over deliciousness. A win-win for all!

Click here for a guide with tips on how to support your children’s health at school, or here for a guide on how to reinforce healthy messages at home.

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