1st Course Whets Appetites

03/05/2012 @ 12:40pm

Cooperative Extension set out in the early 1900s to teach women on farms how to use domestic science to improve their lives and the nutrition of their families. By the mid-1960s, many had declared the mission accomplished. 

But not so fast. Decades later, few would deny that prepackaged convenience foods, microwaves, and hectic lifestyles have contributed to the decline of culinary skills.

Is there a renewed role for Extension to help in an era when: 

1. Less disposable income means more meals eaten at home.
2. Greater emphasis is placed on healthy food to reduce chronic disease.

Some Extension leaders think so. “We decided the Culinary Cookshop would help youth learn how to prepare a healthy meal,” says Natalie Hedlund, Boone County (Iowa) 4-H youth coordinator. “Many young people today aren’t making healthy food choices, which leads to obesity and other diseases.”

Iowa State University (ISU) students opened their food lab to the 4-Hers who learned safe use of kitchen equipment, food preparation skills, food safety procedures at home, and the information available on nutrition labels.

Matthew Kordick, a fifth grader at Boone Middle School and a member of the Montana Miners 4-H Club, attended the Culinary Cookshop. Making pasta and using an 8-inch chef’s knife were new experiences for him.

Along with others, he watched a video demonstrating safe cutting techniques.

“We learned to use a low cutting technique,” he says. “That means keeping the tip of the knife on the cutting board, pushing it down, and then going forward with it.”

Since the Culinary Cookshop, Matthew has made spaghetti for his parents, Kevin and Julie, and his siblings. He was enrolled in food and nutrition last year and is planning another fair exhibit this year.

“It’s good for kids to find out they don’t always just have to open a can of SpaghettiOs,” Kevin Kordick says. “They can improve what they eat by knowing how to cook.”

Kaitlyn Romitti, ISU dietetics and family consumer science major (and former Boone County 4-Her), was one of a dozen Culinary Science Club volunteers helping that day.

“It was good for the kids to see they could make a healthier meal by adding fresh vegetables to the spaghetti sauce or other canned products,” she says.

Madelyn Ostendorf, a sixth grader at Madrid Elementary School and a member of the Madrid Merry Makers 4-H Club, was excited to cook at a college food science lab.

She’s made baked goods for the fair and done a food and nutrition educational presentation. One new skill she brought home from the Culinary Cookshop is sautéing vegetables. “I thought I knew what sautéing was,” Madelyn says. She found that she had confused it with flambé. “It’s not when you pour wine over it and it bursts into flames.”

She also gained tips on nutrition labeling. “They showed us how we could see how many grams of sugar are in a cup of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal,” she says.

Madelyn’s mom, Diane, recommends the Culinary Cookshop. “It was great to have the kids work with college students and to see that food science is a college-level skill. It opens their eyes to future possibilities.”

She welcomes more 4-H focus on culinary skills. “My kids aren’t as involved in baking, cooking, or meal preparation as I was growing up on a farm,” she says. “They’re busier today with extracurricular activities. That’s good for them, but they do miss out on learning more skills at home.”