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Kids cook up new skills

When you're living in a college dorm for the first time, the next best thing to eating comfort food is talking about it.

My younger daughter, Alexa, and her dorm friends have been teaming up to cook a few simple meals as a strategy for stretching their cafeteria meal cards.

One night the discussion led the girls to talk about their favorite home-cooked dishes. Alexa said they concluded that their moms probably learned their cooking skills while they were in college.

I told her that it wasn't true for me. We didn't have microwaves or minifridges in our rooms, or easy access to a dorm lounge with a sink and an oven. Unlike students today, I lived in a dorm for my entire four years.

I told Alexa that I learned almost everything I know about cooking and baking from my mom when I was a young teenager. That included 4-H food and nutrition exhibits for county fair. Looking back now, I said that I wish I had learned more before I left home.

I don't think I'm the only one with this regret. Based on the explosion of local cooking classes, cable TV cooking shows, and how-to cookbooks, many young women either were ignoring their mothers' cooking tips, or their moms relied on a growing array of convenience foods.

OMG! I'm in College and I Never Learned to Cook! by Hollis Ledbetter is a 220-page guide with simple directions for basic, economical recipes.

It's easier than ever today to rely on convenience foods, but we now know that highly processed foods contain unhealthy ingredients.

Recently The New York Times featured an op-ed article written by Michigan State University professor Helen Zoe Veit advocating the revival of home ec classes as a strategy for fighting obesity and chronic diseases.

The first home ec classes were offered at land-grant colleges in the 1880s. A few decades later, Cooperative Extension played a major role in teaching women how to apply scientific strategies to daily tasks to help ease the burdens of farm life.

That's why I was excited to learn about a first-of-its-kind Culinary Cookshop for 30 4-Hers from four Iowa counties (Boone, Hardin, Marshall, and Story). The Culinary Cookshop was hosted by the Iowa State University Culinary Science Club. (Support was provided by Barilla and an Excellence in Extension grant.) See article at right.

The 4-Hers, grades four through eight, spent the day learning skills such as cutting vegetables, cooking pasta, cleaning, and sautéing vegetables. They also were prepped in consumer skills involving serving sizes and reading product labels.

Family members were invited during the final hour to sample the menu and to hear the kids describe what they learned.

Cooking can be fun, too
Cooking doesn't have to become a lost art. Adults need to help kids realize that cooking is a life skill, just like learning to use a computer. Beyond the ability to prepare great-tasting food, cooking also is a tool for healthy eating.

In the mad rush to get meals on the table, we moms forget that cooking is a way to encourage kids to try new foods and to develop a sense of accomplishment. It often creates wonderful family memories. As the kids at the Culinary Cookshop learned, it can be fun, too!

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