In a world where, due to diet-related disease, children born after the year 2000 have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, something must be done. And that’s the goal of the Real School Food Challenge on May 16. Put on by the Chef Ann Foundation, this event aims to bring awareness to the inadequate funding for healthy school lunches.

Four top-notch chefs—Max MacKissock (Bar Dough, Señor Bear), Cindhura Reddy (Namkeen, Spuntino), Paul Reilly (Beast & Bottle, Coperta), and James Beard-winning chef Alon Shaya (soon-to-open Safta)—will compete to create “real school food.”

Each chef’s lunch must meet the USDA’s strict high school requirements and an average budget of no more than $1.25 a meal. “Schools receive roughly $3.25 reimbursement for a free lunch,” Danielle Staunton, director of strategic partnerships for Chef Ann Foundation. “After wages and other overhead about $1.25 is left for food.” Think about that: one dollar and twenty-five cents for an entire balanced meal. It’s a travesty, especially when 30 million children—over a quarter million of which are in Colorado—eat school lunch each day.

On May 16, the chefs will battle it out with dishes such as MacKissock’s, which will be focused on carrots (“I love carrots and they are pretty affordable”) or Reilly’s pork gyro (“My kids love pork so I started there”). Both chefs agreed that the effort of staying under $1.25 while making something healthy and delicious, was a tremendous challenge. “I found a new respect for this effort,” Reilly says.

Shaya comes to the table with an advantage: He has already had experience working with school lunches. “I have started a foundation with my former home economics teacher called the Shaya Barnett Initiative,” he says.“Our goal is to help get kids cooking in schools again and help them learn what makes food tasty and how it can be healthy.”

Buy a ticket (suggested donation of $100), try the dishes, sip wine and beer, and vote for your favorite.

If you go: Wednesday, May 16 at 6 p.m.; Big Trouble at Zeppelin Station, 3501 Wazee St., 720-460-1978

Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.