HINTON – Creating new recipes can be difficult, but three Hinton Community School students took on the challenge to win first place in Food Innovations at the FCCLA STAR events this past weekend in San Diego, California.  

Ian Hertenstein, Kyra Peters and Sara Skuodas, all juniors at Hinton Community, put a healthier spin on fajitas to beat out hundreds of other teams to earn the top spot in the national competition. Hertenstein was the only one of the trio to make the trip to San Diego to present their project. 

Formerly known as Future Homemakers of America, Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America is an organization geared toward “personal growth and leadership development through Family and Consumer Sciences education,” according to the FCCLA website.  

The food innovations category combines aspects of culinary arts and business practices. Contestants must develop a product, test said product on focus groups, and develop a plan to market it. A new scenario is introduced every year for teams to build their plans around.  

“In this year’s scenario, we had to create a meal kit with less than 720 milligrams of sodium per serving,” Hertenstein said. “First, we had to find a food, and then find a way to reduce the sodium by a lot. We chose fajitas because we all like them, and they are fairly simple to make.”  

The team was able to whip up a fajita recipe that only used 190 milligrams of sodium, 530 milligrams less than the maximum amount allowed. 

“To reduce the amount of salt, we added more seasonings and spices and a lot more vegetables,” he said. “And the judges said it was super healthy, they didn’t complain much.” 

Hertenstein, Peters and Skuodas participated in the food innovations competition the year before, placing seventh nationally. Hertenstein said that the biggest difference between this year and last was time management.  

“Sara and I had show choir, Kyra has basketball and track— it all took up a lot of time,” Hertenstein recalled. “There were times when one of us would have something and the other two showed up to work on it. It doesn’t take forever to do this project, but it takes a long time. Last year we walked into something and didn’t know what we would be doing. This year we weren’t walking blindly.”  

It took roughly fourth months to complete the project, with a statewide competition in late March and then the national competition from June 29 to July 3.  

“There was no district competition this year due to COVID,” said Hinton Community School teacher and FCCLA advisor Alison Hertenstein, who is also Ian’s mother. Usually, competitors from Iowa will compete in the district competition first, followed by the state and national competitions.  

Despite their first-place finish nationally, the team members from Hinton did not win the state championship, finishing second instead.  

“It comes down to the set of judges that you end up with,” Alison Hertenstein said. “They are judging according to a rubric, but even though there is a rubric, it can still be pretty subjective.”  

Ian Hertenstein said the team’s goal going into the national competition was to place in the Top 10 and earn a gold medal.  

“Hearing we were in the Top 10 was a relief just to know that the hard work had paid off. I was happy,”  Ian said. “When we came in first it was pure surprise, pure joy.”  

The experience he gathered was the real prize, though. Hertenstein also wants to become a national officer at FCCLA, a step up from his current role as FCCLA Iowa state president. 

“One goal is to use it to get into better colleges like Notre Dame, one of my dream schools,” Hertenstein said. “I can use this as a steppingstone to get experience in the business world. There are board meetings and all these other things that help you in life to understand the real world.”  

Even after the four-month ordeal, Hertenstein is not sick of fajitas.

“I very much enjoy Mexican cuisine,” he said.