Veg City Challenge to find winning veg-packed recipe for teens

Happy Maki win Brighton and Hove’s Veg City Challenge 2019

Top chefs from businesses around Brighton and Hove came together on 6th November 2019 to take part in an exciting cook-off at Brighton’s Community Kitchen.  The Veg City Challenge, a competition run by Brighton & Hove Food Partnership and supported by Brighton & Hove City Council, was launched to create a winning veg-packed grab-n-go recipe that is healthy both for pupils and the planet. It will be trialled in secondary schools across the city, with the aim of getting teens to eat more veg.

The judging panel included Chef Michael Bremner from local restaurant 64 Degrees and Murmur, Nicole Pisani, ex Head Chef at Nopi, London, now School Chef at Gayhurst Primary and leading national hospitality and catering expert, Julie Barker.  The panel also included two Year 10 pupils from Dorothy Stringer Secondary School.

“I’m really excited to be involved with the Veg City Challenge.  Brighton’s got so many great food choices and some incredibly talented chefs and restaurateurs.  I think it’s important to come together and use this in schools to help teenagers make healthier choices.” ~ Michael Bremner, Head Chef at 64 Degrees and Murmur, Brighton

Competition finalists who took part in the cook-off were Brighton Food Factory, Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen in collaboration with Big Beach Café, University of Sussex (Compass), Foodini, Happy Maki, Higgidy and Varndean Secondary School.

“The initiative is a great example of progressive thinking in making vegetables attractive and appealing to the next generation; helping schools incorporate veg within their menu planning as an integral ingredient.  The quality of recipes put forward were outstanding and, as a judge, I would commend all those who took part” ~ Julie Barker, national hospitality and catering expert

Criteria were set for competition entrants to ensure the meal was nutritious and affordable.  The current best sellers for grab-n-go food in secondary schools are pizzas (approx. £1.40), paninis and sausage rolls (approx. 80p), so the winning recipe would need to successfully compete against these popular items.


The judges unanimously chose Happy Maki as the winner for their ‘Fully Loaded’ teriyaki ‘chickn’ sushi burrito. It scored highest for taste and portability.

Bringing healthy foods to kids is something I’ve been passionate about for some time. I’m just so excited about the opportunities [for schools] that could come from this.” ~ Anna MacDonald, Founder and Co-Boss at Happy Maki

We can really see this recipe being very popular at our school” ~ Spike and Millie, Year 10 students at Dorothy Stringer School.

What Next?

The winning recipe will be served at several schools and colleges around Brighton and Hove this month to test their teen appeal.  Students will have the opportunity to vote based on taste and value for money. If any other organisations are interested in trialling the recipes contact Chloe Clarke at Brighton and Hove Food Partnership on 01273 234 012.

Chloe Clarke, Project Manager at Brighton & Hove Food Partnership said:

Trends show an increase in demand for vegetarian and vegan food and this is particularly the case within the universities.  This competition is about increasing the amount of vegetables consumed by teenagers, calling on inspiration from our top local chefs.”

School Food Standards in primary schools ensure children are getting vegetables with their main meal and a healthy snack each day.  When moving to secondary school, children have more choice and freedom at mealtimes.  Adults can self-regulate when faced with healthy and less healthy options whereas children are more likely to choose the unhealthy option (Junghans et al 2015).  Providing a level playing field is important for helping children to self-regulate towards a healthier diet.

Scoring the recipes for their nutritional content, I was really pleased to see that the chefs had incorporated so many vegetables and some had included other nutrient-rich foods like seeds which are particularly good for teenagers who often have lower iron levels and also lack other minerals. I’d like to see all of the recipes showcased in our local schools!” ~Martina Gregori, Nutritionist at Brighton & Hove City Council

A survey by Brighton and Hove City Council shows that fruit and veg consumption decreases amongst children from year 8 to year 11 in Brighton and Hove schools (BHCC 2018).  A second survey shows that 87% of Brighton and Hove residents would like restaurants and caterers to include two portions of veg in every kids’ meal (BHFP Survey 2018).

Gold Food City Bid

This challenge and other important food work going on across the city is part of the bid to become a Gold Sustainable Food City. Join in the conversation on social media using #goldfoodcitybid

We’re grateful for funding and support which enables us to do this work, from Esmee Fairbairn, Veg Cities and Brighton & Hove City Council.

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