What If a Chef Prepared Pittsburgh School Lunches?

Check out 7 chef-inspired, kid-approved, healthy lunch options.

Studies show that providing healthy meals affect academic performance and other cities are showing us that it’s possible to make it happen.

Chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, walking tacos, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs — these may be the highlights of an amusement park menu but unfortunately, these are also the mainstays in our kids’ school lunch menus.

On the other hand, this is what they have in France:

photo by alternet


We’ve all seen the links to photos from schools around the world, whose message basically makes us feel bad about our school lunches.

But, while there is still a whole lot of work to be done, there are some cities that have started the hard work and things are paying off. Check out this school lunch delivered by DC Central Kitchen (kudos to the alternative milk option!)

photo by PCrm


And these lunches from Boulder — a school district that has completely turned its school lunch service around thanks to Chef Ann Cooper, who made her mark as the Renegade Lunch Lady in Berkeley, Calif. 

photo from civil eats


photo from seeds and fruit


California, Washington D.C., and Colorado, among some others, show us that it IS possible to change school lunch. A good, appetizing and healthy school lunch is not exclusive to France. In fact, a Facebook page called School Meals That Rock actually features school lunches in the U.S. that are doing it right.

We have a lot of work to do in Pittsburgh, though. Some schools do not even provide water as an option and the menu in the first paragraph are all items from my kids’ lunch menu at Dilworth — a Pittsburgh Public School. Don’t get me started about the breakfast options.

What we do when we don’t provide the healthiest lunch possible is that we essentially tax our kids’ performance in schools. There are many studies that are building the case for this.

School meals are the primary source of nutrition for most children in public schools and I am a strong proponent of the fact that all kids have a right to the healthiest meals possible—made with real food and filled with fruits and vegetables.

Community Kitchen Pittsburgh is leading the advocacy for change and this past weekend at the Farm to Table Conference, they held the finals for Project Lunch Tray—a program where chefs and students from seven public schools worked together to come up with kid-approved, healthy lunch options. The options also worked within cost and scalability parameters. Meaning, it had to be within the school lunch budget — the winning dish from the Environmental Charter School ad Chef Keith Fuller totaled $1.33 per serving — and must be realistically replicable in a commercial kitchen.

An esteemed panel of judges had the difficult task of picking the best ones. And their descriptions of the dishes sounded like something out of Iron Chef.

The menus read like items you would get from restaurants!

Arsenal Middle School
Meal: beef carnitas and butternut squash quesadillas; sides: brown rice and spicy black beans, cut honeydew and cantaloupe

Propel Braddock Hills
Entree: stacked chicken cordon bleu; sides: spring greens (with peppers, onions and tomatoes); side salad with homemade garlic and shallot balsamic vinaigrette, wild rice with peas and carrots

Environmental Charter School
Entree: seared pork loin; sides: apple slaw, cauliflower mash, whole-grain pretzel roll

Langley K-8
Entrée: blackened chicken tacos with corn and red pepper salsa; side: fruit kabobs, beans and greens

Manchester Academic Charter School
Entrée: vegetarian "bacon" cheeseburger-stuffed pepper; side: fruit and yogurt parfait

Propel McKeesport
Entrée: spiced apple and cheddar quesadilla; sides: blueberry BBQ pulled chicken, corn and black bean salsa

The Neighborhood Academy
Entrée: beef and veggie stir-fry over whole-grain noodles; side: fruit salad

photo by community kitchen pittsburgh


And my favorite, a vegetarian stuffed pepper with fruit parfait! Mouthwatering.  

The full lineup of chefs and schools are available at the Community Kitchen website.

Here’s the recipe for the Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers. I’m making it for MY lunch!

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Adapted from Project Lunch Tray
Serves 4



  • 8 slices whole wheat bread
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 1 egg or flax egg (1 tablespoon flax in 3 tablespoons water)
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 4 cups tomato sauce (for cooking pan)
  • 2 cups crumbled extra-firm tofu
  • 2 green peppers, cut in half and seeded
  • 1 ½ cups cheese
  • salt and pepper



  1. Start the sauce recipe.
  2. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Dice the wheat bread into 2-inch cubes and bake for 4 minutes; toss/stir and an additional 3 minutes till slightly dry.
  4. Dice onions into ½-inch, set aside and shred the cheddar cheese.
  5. Mince the garlic, parsley and kale; keep separate, and set aside.
  6. Heat up a skillet and add the vegetable oil.
  7. Add the onions, and sauté 5-7 minutes till slightly brown.
  8. Add the tofu and sauté 1 minute.
  9. Add the garlic, kale, water and stir. Then cover with a lid for 2 minutes.
  10. Remove the skillet from the heat.
  11. Cut the peppers in half and remove the stem and seeds.
  12. In a small bowl, mix the egg, parsley and shredded cheese.
  13. In a large bowl, mix the bread cubes (crumble them up in your hands into ¼-inch crumbs), the protein and kale mixture, and toss/stir slightly.
  14. Add the hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and tomato sauce.
  15. Stir this up slightly and take ¾ of a cup and stuff each pepper with it.
  16. Place the peppers in a pan.
  17. Add 1 cup of tomato sauce per pepper into the pan. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  18. Remove from the oven and remove the foil. (Check the tenderness of the peppers. They should be slightly soft. If they are, continue; if they are not, bake covered 10 more minutes.)
  19. Top each pepper with ¼ cup of tomato sauce, and bake uncovered for 10 minutes.
  20. Remove the peppers from the oven and top with ¼ cup of shredded cheddar and bake 5 more minutes uncovered.
  21. Remove from the pan and serve hot.



Categories: Brazen Kitchen