OXFORD – Students at the Oxford Middle School attended a special after-school cooking class this year called the 4-H Jr. Chef Program. Chenango County 4-H Educator Jenn Sienko visited the school each week for 15 weeks to teach basic cooking skills and to promote healthier eating habits. Students were then guided in making their own healthy and nutritious snacks each week for the duration of the program. The class was funded by the NYS 4-H Foundation which generously funded the after school program for about 20 students aged 9-14. Students learned to make healthier snacks like fruit smoothies and veggie pizza’s all while learning good basic kitchen skills. Proper hand washing and food preparation also prepares students for future careers in the culinary industry.
This program also follows along nicely with the new healthier lifestyle initiative being promoted by the 4-H Program and Cornell University. By encouraging and educating our kids on making healthier eating choices at a younger age we will be more successful at reducing the obesity epidemic that we face today in the United States. Students enjoyed being creative and tailoring recipes to their specific tastes, all while getting a few servings of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, or whole grains. “This class encouraged students to be creative and allowed them choices when we worked in the kitchen. Since many kids today have certain tolerances to foods it sometimes hinders them from wanting to cook or try new things,” says Sienko. Students commented throughout the school year how they enjoyed the opportunity to cook and that they were allowed the freedom to be creative in the class. Some weeks the class held competitions among students for “most creative snack of the day” or “best team-work displayed by groups” and prizes such as kitchen gadgets were handed out. Students in the 4-H Jr. Chef’s Program were also assisted weekly by teen mentors who stepped in to help in the kitchen. “The kids and teens had a great time learning together and experimenting and I think they walked away knowing that cooking is fun and some recipe ingredients can easily be interchanged and still be healthy and taste great” stated Sienko.