PLT LogoThis year’s Project Lunch Tray brings together 15 schools and youth programs across Allegheny County, partnering with over 150 students to design a better future for school food. The Finals take place on March 19th at the Farm to Table Pittsburgh Conference. Get tickets at
Project Lunch Tray is generously sponsored by BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania. It is a program of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh: a nonprofit job training, food service, and cafeteria provider using food as a foundation to change lives and strengthen communities. During Project Lunch Tray, middle and high school Junior Chefs work through lessons and hands-on workshops with Faculty Sponsors and Chef Mentors to invent cafeteria lunches that are healthy, affordable, delicious, and kid-approved. Find out more at

By: Emily Voelker, Education and Outreach Coordinator

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.32.48 AM





So, what do I have against pizza?

Nothing—pizza is awesome. At Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, it’s often my job to try to convince a room of 80 kids that whole grains, fresh fruit, and raw vegetables are also awesome. But I’ll never try to convince them that pizza isn’t tasty; it’s not my job. My job is to help kids have choices.

Kids 1 (Falk)

Falk School Junior Chefs at work. Photo: Samone Riddle

As much as it still surprises me, I am a grown-up, and one fortunate enough to have options of what to eat. If the Emily of right now eats a month of pizza, it’s my informed decision. But not everyone is in a position to take control of what they eat, including kids: kids often have to eat what they’re given, or sometimes, what they get from a vending machine. What’s more, for many kids the food at school is the food for the day. So when we talk about equitable access to food, it’s vital to talk about school food.

While you’ll no longer find regulations counting relish as a vegetable, too much school food is still in boxes or sunk in preservatives—and it needs to change. This is what Community Kitchen Pittsburgh does, while rounding out the Venn diagram of food that’s both healthy and kid-friendly.

Kids 2 (Andrew St)

Propel Andrew Street Junior Chefs with Kiwi Bob’s bacon-zucchini meatloaf burgers, served with LeQuay’s BBQ Sauce, brussel sprouts, and mandarin oranges in yogurt. Photo: Samone Riddle

To do this, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh brings kids to the table. This is the most exciting thing about Project Lunch Tray: it uses education to give kids power over food. Project Lunch Tray 2016 is a collaboration with over 150 students, some of whom may have never chopped a fresh vegetable before.

These teams of Junior Chefs are paired with Faculty Sponsors and a Chef Mentor, and given a foundational knowledge of cooking. They get the space for hands-on learning and new experiences, and the questions: Can school food be healthy? Can it be delicious and kid-friendly? Can it be affordable for everyone? Could we make it for 4000 kids a day? Then, each team invents that lunch.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.33.01 AM

That’s the challenge of Project Lunch Tray, and our Junior Chefs meet it brilliantly. They think creatively and critically, experiment, discuss, vote, work with their hands, take ownership of their ideas, and create something delicious. In the end, teams win cooking supplies for their school, and some even will win funds for starting a cooking club. Some dishes will also end up in schools, on real Community Kitchen Pittsburgh lunch trays. By bringing kids into the conversation, Project Lunch Tray seeks to give kids agency over food—and what happens then continues to blow me away.

Kids 3 (Braddock Hills)

A young fan of Braddock Hills. Photo: Samone Riddle

To find out more about Project Lunch Tray, please visit

To support our Junior Chefs and join in the fun of the Project Lunch Tray Finals, grab a Farm to Table Pittsburgh ticket at!