Kids Explore Plant-Based for Future Chefs Challenge

About the author : Stephen Dunmore,

CEO Sodexo At School

Published on : 5/4/23
  • We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. It is a notion worth remembering and living by every day, and it’s a great reminder that we take care of this planet not for ourselves but for the generations after us.  

    This is why it’s especially heartening that younger generations are keen on recognizing and addressing their environmental footprint. According to a 2020 GlobeScan study, 37% of Gen Z expressed an interest in eating more plant-based and meat-free foods. In response, Sodexo’s Campus segment recently announced its commitment to ensure that 50% of menu items are plant-based by 2025. Increasing the number of plant-based and plant-focused options on menus is part of our organization’s plan to reduce its global carbon footprint by 34% by 2025, and it’s also a vital part of meeting evolving consumer expectations, with 35% of Americans actively looking to eat less meat. 

    And as exciting as it is to see college students embracing plant-based dining, it’s even more fun to get school-age children to start thinking about adopting a more flexitarian lifestyle. After all, the sooner they start, the better it will be for their health and the health of our planet. This year, for our annual Future Chefs Challenge, the theme is Favorite Fruit or Veggie Side Dish; the young culinarians are challenged to come up with delicious plant-based dishes.  

    Across the U.S., more than 200 school districts participate, with one winner from each district moving to regionals. From there, five students will become semifinalists and move to the national judging round. One will be crowned National Champion, and their winning recipe, along with three other student-created recipes from this contest, will be added to school menus the following school year.  

    For more than a decade, the Future Chefs Challenge has encouraged elementary students across North America to think about food in a more hands-on way. They learn about nutrition and healthy food choices, and they discover cooking techniques and meal presentation. And to keep up with the most pressing issues of our planet, they also learn about food waste and how to minimize it. Throw in some math skills, and the classroom comes to life in the most delicious way possible.  

    Integral to the Future Chefs Challenge is the inclusive nature of the competition. Students happily don a chef’s hat and feel a sense of belonging. After all, what is a more universal experience than food? It connects us all and offers genuine enjoyment, regardless of age. Learning cooking skills gives these youngsters a creative outlet in which to express themselves. They could very well find the love of food that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives and shape their future career choice.

    I’m proud of how Sodexo and our partner schools work together to celebrate our students’ efforts to incorporate more plant-based dishes into their lives. It’s the way of the future, and it starts now with the littlest chefs in the kitchen.