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2012 Whole Grains Challenge

A big thanks to everyone who participated in our Whole Grains Challenge program from 2007 to 2012. During the six years of this successful program, hundreds of schools, restaurants, hospitals and workplace cafeterias shared their whole grain creativity with us. Although we chose the best of the best each year, in our eyes all of these organizations (and the millions that they feed every day) were winners.

Now that whole grains have become mandatory in schools and are widely available in other foodservice outlets, we're no longer running our annual Challenge. But don't worry: we still want to showcase your creative whole grain efforts! We invite you to take part in our annual Whole Grain Sampling Day, held each year on the first Wednesday in April. Get details here.

Our Final Whole Grains Challenge in 2012

As of July 2012, every US school participating in the National School Lunch Program was required to make at least half the grains they serve “whole grain-rich.” For many schools, this presented a real challenge. That’s exactly why we made our 2012 Whole Grains Challenge foodservice awards program all about the K-12 Schools.   

We encouraged every US school (public or non-profit private) participating in the National School Lunch Program to participate – whether they were a “veteran” who’s been serving whole grains for a while now or a “rookie” who's new to the whole grain world this year. We asked them to send up their stores (and photos) explaining their best tips for successfully serving whole grains in schools – and describing any remaining barriers and challenges they face in implementing whole grains. 


From the entries we received, our challenging task was to judge and select the top ten schools, then from the top ten, choose one “Rookie” and one “Veteran” as our Grand Prize Winners.  

Well, it wasn’t easy, but we did it!  We carefully read each entry and marveled over the creativity of the schools.  Our winners showed us they were motivated not only to meet the new school food guidelines, but to exceed them, while demolishing any barriers in their path. The following schools impressed us with their stories and therefore were selected as our winners. 

Grand Prize “Veteran” Winner:  St. Paul Public School, St. Paul, MN
At Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS), serving up “great trays for great days” is what they do. The school district has been offering whole grains for more than six years, and is on target to meet the goal of serving 100% whole grain-rich foods next year.  SPPS values students’ opinions, which they gather through a proven process of taste-testing potential new whole grain dishes. This process of slowly incorporating new foods, while honoring the diverse ethnic backgrounds of the student population, helps the district break through kids’ acceptance barriers.  As you can see in the photos below, Saint Paul succeeds in their mission of creating and serving food students get excited about! 

Grand Prize “Rookie” Winner:  Baker School District, Baker City, OR
The Baker School District may be new to whole grains, but they use an age-old concept for getting kids on board – education!  Using the WGC’s Grain of the Month as her guide, Jessica Wickert, Food Service Director, hung posters, engaged her students in trivia games and staged recipe competitions.  By the time the students arrived in the cafeteria, they knew what whole grain would be on the menu and were excited to give it a try!  Having the students help promote the healthy foods is not only fun, but also very effective.

New York Dept. of Education, New York, NY
NYC schools are Fueling up the Whole Grain way!!!  They are currently feeding 800,000 students daily, in the five boroughs of NYC, including whole grains on 26 different menus.  Using a process similar to that in Saint Paul, NYC makes sure all new products and menu items are reviewed in their test kitchen by a panel of chefs, then tested with students. Feedback is then given to the manufacturer to make final adjustments based on the chefs’ and students’ preferences, ensuring the inclusion of a wide variety of whole grain dishes – not just breads and rolls – that satisfy the district’s budget and the kids’ taste buds. NYC was our Large Schools winner in 2009, and we’re delighted to see they’re still continuing to innovate.

Shawnee Public Schools, Shawnee, OK
The Shawnee schools are proudly serving whole grains to their students, just as they have for the last 18 years!  As an early adopter of whole grains, Director Deborah Taylor told us about the highest compliment she’d been given. “The county extension provider for our county told me, ‘I always know when parents of kids from Shawnee Schools are in attendance at my workshops.  The parents say that their kids want to buy whole grains…. because they’re eating them at school.’  So, I would like to think that, in my 21 years at Shawnee Schools, I’ve changed the food choices that my town makes.” We agree, and salute the Shawnee schools.

Chelsea Public Schools, Chelsea, VT 
Focusing on positivity, the Chelsea school has learned that the key to gaining acceptance from students is to have a positive outlook about the changes.  Kitchen Manager Cathy Johnson explained that offering samples to students, teaching about good nutrition, and having positive role models is what it takes to make the introduction of whole grain menu items successful.

New Milford Public Schools, New Milford, CT
The slow introduction of whole grains has worked for New Milford and can only be expanded upon to truly make New Milford a whole grain veteran.  Sandra Sullivan, the Food and Nutrition Services Director at New Milford, tells us about “baby steps” the school is taking as they explore whole grains.  Their first changes began with rolls, then from white rice to brown whole grain rice and on to tortillas, bagels and muffins.  Next step will be to experiment with other, less familiar whole grains, like quinoa.

Southwest Middle School, Orlando, FL 
Motivated to add whole grains to breakfast and lunch, and wanting to make foods the kids would eat and enjoy, Southwest’s Food & Nutrition Manager Luis Daniel Isaac started his quest by creating fun side dishes using brown rice.  By mixing the whole grain rice with a variety of ingredients and using the taste-test method, the kitchen staff were pleasantly surprised at how much the students enjoyed the rice bowls.  Repeating the same approach, they also developed a variety of whole grain breakfast parfaits made with whole grain cereals, yogurt and fresh fruit. Success!  And so onward they will go using this tried and true method.

Union Chapel Elementary, Kansas City, MO 
With the new school rules implemented with the 2012-2013 school year, Union Chapel Elementary has been transitioning to whole grain pizza crusts, breadsticks, and pastas. What Erica Johnson, the Food Services Assistant, reported as the biggest barrier is palatability, “especially in pastas”.   The current favorite of students is whole grain bagels stuffed with sunflower butter and jelly, for a nut-free version of PB&J.

Park School, Baltimore, MD
Past winner and always-impressive Park School cafeteria promoted the Whole Grain Challenge in their upper and lower schools on every menu, including faculty and administrators.  The Director of Food Service at Park, Dawn Ramsey, coordinated a fabulous food demo on whole grains with samples; putting up whole grain posters, and inviting an intern from a local hospital to teach about the importance of whole grains led to yet another very successful whole grain celebration.  Posting reminders of the nutritional value of whole grains has been the key for their acceptance by both students and faculty.

Grace Hartman Elementary, Rockwall, TX
As the Child Nutrition Manager at Grace Hartman Elementary in Rockwall, Vicki Dorgelo has been using whole grains for just a short time.  Also following a baby steps procedure of introducing one new product at a time, Dorgelo and her staff have made their way from whole grain rolls to pasta.   They found the transition to whole grains, so far, has been surprisingly easy. Dorgelo shares her secret for perfectly cooked whole grain pasta: prepare it ahead, timing the cooking process carefully, chill the pasta until meal time, then garnish and “serve all dishes with a smile.”


For the Grand Prize Winners:
We sent a Guest Chef to the winning "rookie" school and the winning "veteran" school to hold a workshop on making whole grain kid-friendly dishes. A big thanks to Mike Holleman and Coleen Donnelly from Indian Harvest, and Barbara Mattaliano from Goose Valley Natural Foods for contributing their expertise as chefs. 

Click here to read about Chef Coleen and Chef Mike's visit to Baker City, Oregon and Chef Barbara's visit to St. Paul, Minnesota.

From Indian Harvest, Chef Coleen Donnelly has an extensive career in professional kitchens as an executive chef, restaurant owner and school chef. Since 2000, she has focused on showing schools a healthy sustainable model for scratch cooking within the budget and equipment realities of the typical school.  Chef Mike Holleman is director of Indian Harvest's culinary team, where he works to deliver meaningful menu solutions to the nation's foodservice operations — from casual-dining multi-units to fine-dining independents and from school campuses to U.S. military bases.


From Goose Valley Natural Foods, Chef Barbara Mattaliano is Vice President of Marketing and Foodservice. Her passion for cooking and teaching shows in her work as she develops new products and provides menu solutions for all levels of foodservice.






For All Winners:
The top ten winning schools listed above each received a variety of cases of whole grain-rich products. 

Company Prize
Amoy North America Case of whole wheat Asian noodles.
Barrel O' Fun Snacks Case of whole grain snacks.
Barilla Case of whole grain pasta.
Bob's Red Mill 25-lb bag of products, Winner's Choice
Catallia Mexican Foods Case of 9" whole wheat tortillas
Gluvana 15-lb bag of gluten-free all purpose mix
HomeFree Treats 10-pack of gluten-free vanilla mini cookies
Indian Harvest Specialty Foods Case of Whole Grain 5 Blend
Purity Foods Case of organic whole grain pasta
Signature Breads Case of Ultragrain Breadsticks, Petite Rolls OR Pull-Apart Rolls


Download our Whole Grain Foodservice Recipes Book. Inside, there are 75 recipes for every meal that were sent in by the 2011 Challenge entrants.  From Breakfast to Dessert, you’ll find lots of creative dishes like Saffron Farro Risotto as well as classic school favorites like Baked Ziti.  And because many of the recipes call for cooked whole grains, we also included a basic cooking chart so you’ll have everything you need to get started.

This was the 6th and final year we’ve run the Whole Grains Challenge Foodservice awards program. Click here to learn more about some of our previous top winners.

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