Anne Burrell Joins the Great American School Lunch Challenge

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Host Anne Burrell behind the line in the kitchen of Zengo as seen on Food Network's Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell, Season 2.

Photo by: Emile Wamsteker ©2012, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Emile Wamsteker, 2012, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

No stranger to friendly food competition, Anne Burrell is a seasoned restaurant chef known for her no-nonsense mentorship of a team of recruits on Worst Cooks in America and eager executive-chef hopefuls on Chef Wanted. In Washington, D.C. yesterday, she donned her chef's hat for a worthy cause, taking the stage next to Iron Chef Jose Garces for a good-natured cook-off in the Great American School Lunch Challenge. This contest, in concert with the Partnership for a Healthier America, celebrates the work of Let's Move!, an effort headed by First Lady Michelle Obama to reduce the rates of childhood obesity in the United States through a multi-layered plan which includes access to healthy school lunches. It was up to chefs Anne and Jose to work within the confines of a limited budget and dietary restrictions to turn out deliciously wholesome dishes that were not only nutritionally sound but also appealing to kids and their perhaps picky palates.

Proud of the way the Challenge "shines a light on the school lunch program … in a fun and creative way," Anne told us that the event "puts the task to me as a chef to say, 'Alright, show us your creativity and what you can do with these nutritional guidelines to feed the kids in 30 minutes. Make it delicious, make it fast and make it fun.'"

To her, the cook-off was a way to consider "what the kids would want for lunch," so in preparation, Anne explored the ingredients most commonly used in school cafeterias and built her dish around them. She realized that, given their affordability and accessibility, "canned foods are a must." It was important to her to balance those prepared foods with fresh picks, which is how she ended up offering burrito-like wraps filled with shredded roasted chicken thighs and vegetable-packed chili. "I tried to match them with whole grains and the least amount of processed food that I could."

To moms and dads who are struggling to pack their kids good-for-you lunches, Anne recommends preparing meals that are three things: delicious, colorful and easy to eat. Visually enticing food with kid-approved flavors and a design shaped for little hands is the key to guaranteeing that children will not only tolerate nutritious lunches but look forward to them as well. She also recommends letting kids have a hand in meal prep so that they become enthusiastic about what they'll be eating from the very beginning. "Get kids involved in making their own lunches, because then they won't be like, 'Well, my mom packed me this, and I didn't like it,'" she explained. "Get kids invested in and excited about food and cooking."

While some healthful ingredients can be higher in cost, Anne noted that there are indeed plenty of nutritious staples to shop for that won't break the bank. Easy-to-make pasta, beans and eggs are go-tos for her, given their versatility and manageable price tags.

Want to check out Food Network's top healthy recipes as organized by MyPlate guidelines? Check out the MyPlate Pinterest boards to find easy recipes for chicken, slow-cooker favorites, pasta, vegetarian options, side dishes and more, then read more about Food Network's venture with Partnership for a Healthier America and hear from First Lady Michelle Obama.

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Anne Burrell Bio

With her trademark spiky blond hair and pumped-up personality, Anne Burrell has worked at some of the top restaurants in New York and studied the culinary landscape and traditions of Italy. Anne makes restaurant dishes accessible and reveals concise, easy-to-master techniques for the at-home cook on her Food Network series Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. On her show Chef Wanted, Anne helps top restaurateurs find candidates with the right experience and creativity to become executive chefs. On Worst Cooks in America, Anne joins Tyler Florence in mentoring teams of hopeless home cooks from around the country, putting them through culinary boot camp. In 2011, Anne published her first cookbook, Cook Like a Rock Star, which gives home cooks the confidence and support to be rock stars in their own kitchens. Her cookbook earned a place on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 2013, Anne released her second cookbook, Own Your Kitchen. Growing up in upstate New York, Anne developed a passion for food and cooking at an early age. After obtaining an English and communications degree from Canisius College in Buffalo, she pursued her interest in the restaurant business by enrolling in the Culinary Institute of America. Following graduation, she spent a year in Italy attending the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners while working at La Taverna del Lupo in Umbria and La Bottega del' 30, a Michelin one-star restaurant in Tuscany. During this year, Anne grew to truly appreciate and understand the philosophy of Italian cuisine and culture, which left a lasting impact on her culinary point of view. Upon her arrival in New York City, Anne was hired as a sous chef at Felidia, working with Lidia Bastianich. She then served as a chef at Savoy, where she cooked over an open wood fire and created flavorful menus inspired by Mediterranean countries. Here Anne developed her personal culinary style: rustic food made with pure and simple ingredients with intense flavors. Anne then took the opportunity to spread her culinary knowledge and passion as a teacher at the Institute of Culinary Education. After three years, Anne went back to the restaurant business, serving as the executive chef at Lumi. As the executive chef at New York hot spot Centro Vinoteca from its opening in July 2007 through September 2008, Anne served up her "creative-authentic" Italian menu of small plates (piccolini), antipasti, pastas and main courses accented by her trademark bold, pure flavors.

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