Kids Can Cook: UK extension serves up successful cooking program featuring fresh ingredients

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By Katie Pratt
Special to KyForward

Nikita Hampton, 11, thinks she might want to be a chef when she grows up. It’s a big reason why she attended Kids Can Cook twice this summer.

Kids Can Cook is a weeklong day camp cooking program offered by the Boyd County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. The program was the idea of Eugenia Wilson, the county’s family and consumer sciences extension agent. She developed the program, a cross between UK’s Super Star Chef and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Professor Popcorn, when she was serving in the same position in Martin County.

“There are so many kids at home who don’t have anything to eat, other than out of box or out of can,” Wilson said. “We wanted to teach them how to prepare simple,recipes using fresh ingredients.”

Kendra Oo, UK dietetic intern, left, helps two participants with their stir fry recipe during Boyd County’s Kids Can Cook. (Photo by Katie Pratt, UK Agricultural Communications)

Hampton isn’t the only Boyd County young person who got excited about the program. Wilson originally planned to offer it only once this summer, but with a waiting list long enough to fill another week, she decided to do it again. Another waiting list began to form. What resulted was Wilson and Susan Grimmett, the county’s assistant for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, offering the class to five groups.

“Children love to cook, and we have found that if they cook, they are more likely to eat what they have prepared and try different things,” Grimmett said. “Like yesterday we made a pizza with Greek yogurt in the crust. Some of them weren’t sure about it, but they loved it after they made it.”

During the weeklong program, Wilson and Grimmett teach the children one new cooking skill and one new recipe each day. As they are cooking, Grimmett teaches them about different nutrition topics and ways they can improve their family’s diets. The participants are encouraged to try all the recipes and usually leave with a new food or ingredient to share with their families.

When they are not cooking, the young people participate in some form of physical activity each day. The program doesn’t have an age limit, and parents have the option to stay and participate too.

“We don’t just stand around and prepare the food while they watch,” Grimmett said. “We let them stir. We let them mix. We let them cut. It’s all hands-on.”

The hands-on component of the program is something budding chefs like Hampton appreciate.

“Last week I learned how to make seasoning, which is something I have never done before,” she said. “I like learning how to prepare food, and the food is better than I thought.”

The UK Cooperative Extension Service is part of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Jointly with its land-grant partner, Kentucky State University, Cooperative Extension brings the university to the people in their local communities, addressing issues of importance to all Kentuckians.

Katie Pratt writes for UK Ag News

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