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Side dish in First Ladys Healthy Kids contest
Student cafeteria helpers Bailey Lomeli, right, and Elizabeth Lewis help prepare the side dish, “Central Valley Harvest Bake,” for distribution to students during lunch on Wednesday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
The verdict is still to come.

But the “Central Valley Harvest Bake” side dish created by the Joshua Cowell School cafeteria staff in collaboration with a Modesto chef and Sierra High culinary arts students is already a winner as far as the students are concerned.

The dish, featuring butternut squash as the main ingredient, was selected as one of 15 finalists from more than 350 entries received nationally in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Recipes for Healthy Kids competition. The Cowell School cafeteria creation could be on its way to the White House if the recipe wins in the voting on the web site Deadline for voting is May 15. The winning recipe will be prepared by White House chefs.

Additionally, the teams responsible for the creation of the top three recipes out of the 15 finalists will go to Washington, D.C., and prepare the dish for the White House chef, said Manteca Unified Nutrition Service Supervisor Sandy Helsel.

Cowell students had the opportunity to taste-test “Central Valley Harvest Bake” during lunch Wednesday. Among the comments from the young judges who bought lunch that day: “It’s palate pleasing.” “It tastes like a pumpkin.” “It’s really good!” “It tastes just like vegetable. I like it!”

Jerry Farver, the school’s special needs aide, also got to sample the colorful dish creation. His own verdict: “It tastes kind of like beans-and-rice flavor. It’s excellent. I’m amazed.”

He eyeballed some of the ingredients in the dish and concluded that the rich taste partly comes from some of the ingredients that he could visibly distinguish.

“It’s the spices they put in. I see some pepper there,” he guessed.

The ingredients actually include red quinoa, chopped red bell pepper, fresh jalapeno pepper, applesauce, raw yellow onion, black beans, fresh oregano, Kosher salt, low-fat Granola, and extra virgin olive oil.

A copy of the recipe appears in the Friday, March 25 edition of the Manteca Bulletin. It is also available online at which is the same web site where readers can vote.

 The butternut squash used in preparing Wednesday’s side dish for the students’ lunch came from Escalon farmer Danny Costa.

The team responsible for the creation of the side dish “Central Valley Harvest Bake” is made up of Joshua Cowell cook Sharon Bright, main kitchen operator Rosalie Teicheira, Sierra High School culinary arts student Cameron H, Modesto chef Bryan Ehernholm of the Lunch Pail & Pure Joy bakery on Bangs Road in Modesto, and MUSD Nutrition Services Director Mary Tolan Davi.

The goal of the recipe competition was to create a recipe that was nutritious and appealing to kids. Another requirement was that it should include locally grown vegetables.

The other goal of the competition is to have the recipes published in a cook book that can be incorporated into the National School Lunch Program menus. The variety of dishes submitted covered three categories: whole grains, dry beans and peas, and dark green and orange vegetables. Cowell’s entry was in the last category. Each half-a-cup serving of the “Central Valley Harvest Bake” dish contains only 125 calories with 16 percent of the calories from fat, 3 percent from saturated fat, and 16 percent from sugar.