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Cooking Up a Delicious Meal with a Local Twist

Located in the one of the most fertile agricultural valleys on Earth is the town of Manteca, Calif.  Surrounded by groves of almonds, cherries, olives and a host of other crops for as far as the eye can see, a group of students sought inspiration for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Recipes for Healthy Kids competition  by “going local.” Our judges traveled to the valley recently to visit Joshua Cowell Elementary School in Manteca, to sample the recipe and to watch the students work their magic.


Mary Tolan-Davi (former Director of Manteca Unified School District Nutrition Services) of the recipe team is very proud.  Here is what she had to say about the day the contest judges came to visit on May 10:

It was a very exciting day, which included a recipe demonstration, school garden tour, farmer’s market, student rally, and lunch featuring the semi-finalist recipe, Central Valley Harvest Bake.

The recipe team was very excited and proud to showcase our recipe, Central Valley Harvest Bake.  This succulent  side dish combines the sweetness of fresh butternut squash, which is locally grown in our very own Central Valley of California, with the slightly spicy kick of fresh jalapeno and red peppers.  Black beans, red quinoa, and granola add a striking contrast of flavor, color, and texture. This makes the dish an outstanding accompaniment to a variety of entrees.  We served our Central Valley Harvest Bakewith the new, tasty USDA roast chicken for a winning combination.

Our team’s goal was to develop a recipe that featured a locally grown, dark green/orange vegetable.  We selected butternut squash because of its sweet flavor and colorful eye appeal.  We found that even though a large quantity of butternut squash is grown in our area, many students had not ever tasted it before.  It was important to us to develop a recipe that would expand the palate of our students and introduce them to a new, delicious, healthy vegetable.  We wanted students to know that healthy foods are yummy.

High school Culinary Arts students and their instructor, Amy Lee, along with Chef Bryan Ehrenholm, school nutrition member Sandy Helsel, and I (a community member and registered dietitian) worked countless hours testing, retesting, altering quantities and ingredients to achieve the final recipe.  We first worked with the high school culinary classes to develop the basic recipe through numerous experiments and taste testings.  Next, we moved to our production kitchen at Joshua Cowell School to perfect the details of the recipe.  (Our high schools do not have production kitchens.)  We worked side by side with our Nutrition Services’ main kitchen team to streamline the cooking process.  Final taste testing occurred with elementary students who gave it a “two thumbs up” evaluation.  We are very pleased that this recipe appeals to grades K-12.  We originally used orange juice and pineapple tidbits in the recipe, yet found them to be a bit tart.  We substituted with USDA applesauce, and it was a winner! 

We changed the garbanzo beans to black beans, to be more visually striking.  The final change was the use of low-fat granola instead of whole grain breadcrumbs.  The granola added a nice crunch and attractive, familiar topping to the dish. 

It has been an amazing journey and we have all learned and grown so much through the process.  We are now a very closely-knit team.  We are extremely proud of the originality, creativity, and teamwork that we have put into this challenge.

Recipes submitted by all the semi-finalists, including Joshua Cowell Elementary School’s Central Valley Harvest Bake, are posted on the Recipes for Healthy Kids website where the public can vote for the “Popular Choice” award until May 31.  Prizes range from $1,000 to a grand prize of $3,000.  So, to vote for your favorite, visit  Try this recipe at home with your family or with your classmates.  Best of luck to Joshua Cowell Elementary School and all the semi-finalists!


Central Valley Harvest Bake

1 1/2 TBSP of Quinoa, red Cooked

1 1/4 Lbs of Butternut Squash, Fresh raw cubed

2 1/2 TBSP of Onion, yellow raw diced

1 1/2 TBSP of Red Bell Pepper, chopped

1 3/4 tsp of Jalapeno Pepper Fresh

5 TBSP of Applesauce, canned USDA

5 TBSP of Black Beans, canned drained

3 1/2 tsp of Oregano, Fresh

1/8 tsp of Salt, Kosher

1/2 cup of Granola, low Fat

1 3/4 tsp of Olive Oil, extra virgin

Find out more on how to prepare this recipe, please click here.

Keep an eye on the Let’s Move!blog as we report back from our next stop at Kayenta Unified School District in the Navajo Nation of Arizona.


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