The Vegejita Wrapadilla: Franklin Middle School Team Creates Winning FCPS School Lunch Offering
Ellie Whiteman, a seventh-grader at Franklin Middle School in Chantilly, had a goal in mind since third grade: entering the Real Food for Kids culinary challenge, in which teams of students from across the Washington, D.C. region compete to design and prepare the best school lunch menu offering. Ellie also had another goal: she wanted to beat her brother, who’d come in second and third place in the same competition years earlier.
“I have always loved cooking and baking and I have always loved competition,” Ellie said. “Siblings are my favorite people to be competitive with.”
Ellie, along with fellow Franklin seventh-graders Hannah Lee, Anvita Gandi and Janya Patel, were chosen as the team to represent their school in the Real Food for Kids challenge. The four girls, all united on the idea of coming up with a quesadilla lunch option, got to work months ago on creating their menu. The “Vegejita Wrapadilla,” billed as a quesadilla stuffed with green and red bell peppers, tomatoes and onions, was the eventual outcome.
The entree, which the girls served with a black bean/corn/tomato salad, alongside guacamole and a slice of watermelon sprinkled with chili powder and lime zest, won the “Community Choice” award and was selected by Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) food and nutrition officials to be served on school lunch menus in the 2022-2023 school year.
“We thought about trying to find something that a lot of kids like and a lot of kids like quesadillas,” Anvita said. “Then to meet nutritional goals, we put a healthy twist on it and tried to make vegetables taste good. We got some input from our parents on how they would get us to eat vegetables when we were younger.”
The students worked with Franklin MS family and consumer science teacher Jessica Spencer to create their own taco seasoning, using black pepper, salt, and garlic powder, to boost the vegetables flavors.
They shopped at more affordable grocery stores, like Aldi and Wal-Mart, to ensure their meal could be served for the $2.70 or less requirement set by the competition. And they worked with teachers to calculate calorie and sodium content, to keep the lunch within nutritional guidelines.
Siblings played another role in the competition, with Anvita and teammate Janya seeking insight from a younger sister and brother on their culinary trials.
“My brother told me it was good,” Janya said of the “Vegejita Wrapadilla.” “Obviously, as a third-grader, he doesn’t love vegetables so much, so he suggested we cut back a bit. We took his advice and did wind up reducing the amount of vegetables in the competition.”
It worked. The Vegejita Wrapadilla was chosen for use in FCPS lunches for many reasons, FCPS Director of Food and Nutrition Services Maria Perrone said, “including the fact that many of the ingredients are items that we use or have on contract, the recipe can be adapted and created in our kitchens, and we think this is something the kids at FCPS would enjoy.”
Siri Jeffry, a Franklin Middle School family and consumer science teacher who advised the group, noted middle school teams compete against high school culinary arts programs that have the opportunity to collaborate during the school day. She praised her students for their devotion to finding time after school, during advisory time and at home to work on their entry to the competition.
“It can be challenging to find a time everyone can meet, these students pulled together, came in during their advisory periods, worked well together outside of school, they nailed it down,” Jeffry said.
The Franklin Middle School team ultimately came in second in the overall Real Food for Kids competition, tying the best performance by Ellie’s older brother’s teams years earlier.
She notes her team still snagged the Community Choice award, given to the meal that received the most votes of people who attended the culinary competition.
“So I would say I beat my brother since we got a first place and a second-place-honor,” Ellie said. “I’m good with that.”