Junior Chef Competitions

Hosting a junior chef competition in your school district is an innovative way to increase student participation in your school food program. The competition is appropriate for both elementary and secondary level contestants. You can also involve the local community to engage more stakeholders.


A little competition mixed with teamwork makes for a great learning environment. The junior chef competition model allows students to contribute to their school lunch menu while learning more about how the National School Lunch Program actually operates.

Within a district, competitions usually consist of five to six teams from schools. Elementary and secondary competitions are planned and hosted separately. On the day of the competition, the teams chosen to compete will come together to cook-off for a chance to have their recipe added to next year’s lunch menu.

Each recipe is judged on the following criteria: USDA nutrition guideline requirements, cost per serving for the complete meal, appearance, taste, organization, hygiene and food safety of the team while preparing the meal, and if it can be replicated for large scale food service.

Key Benefits

  • Through engaging in the competition, students learn to appreciate just what it takes to get lunch on their tray each day.
  • Students grow their understanding of USDA school meal requirements (the “complete meal”) and the basics of nutrition.
  • Students gain valuable life skills by working as a team to create and cook.
  • Students gain confidence by presenting and speaking about their recipes to the judging panel and audience.

Documents And Resources

Take advantage of the following resources and documents when planning your own junior chef competitions. You can tailor them to meet your event specifications.


Turn you cafeteria into a classroom with our Lunchroom Education activities.

Project Produce Grants

These fruit and veggie grants for schools encourage increased consumption of and exposure to fresh produce.

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