Campus News

UK Program Teaches Kids Cooking, Nutrition, and So Much More

Owen County students.
Owen County students chop up vegetables at Recipes for Life. Photo by Katie Pratt.

OWENTON, Ky. (Nov. 8, 2018) In today’s fast paced world, many families find themselves in line at a fast food restaurant more often than gathered around the dinner table. A University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service program in Owen County is trying to change that.

Recipes for Life encourages family mealtime and better nutrition by teaching fifth-graders how to prepare, serve and eat a meal together. Judith Hetterman, the county’s family and consumer sciences extension agent, began offering the program in 2009 as a way to teach young people how to read recipes and cook. The program, funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education, has evolved over the years to meet the needs of the community.

“This is one of the best programs that we have for our students,” said Julie Donahue, the youth services librarian at the Owen County Public Library and Recipes for Life volunteer. “The kids are really engaged, and it’s really hands-on.”

Students spend a day at the extension office working in groups to prepare a five-course meal. They then share the meal in a formal setting.

When the students are not cooking, Cooperative Extension Service volunteers teach them about nutrition-related topics like portion size, fats and sugars, and expose them to different types of milk and produce. They also bring in a family recipe to share with their classmates.

“I wanted them to do more than just cook,” said Hetterman, an extension agent in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “I wanted them to have the nutrition background, learn about manners and spend time with their family talking about food.”

Cooperative Extension agents from across the state host similar programs, which are positively affecting students’ lives. Nearly 900 Kentucky fifth-graders from seven counties participated in Recipes for Life in the 2017-2018 program year.

“After completing the program, 92 percent of the students said they plan to prepare food at home, and 90 percent of them said they plan to try new foods,” said Lola Adedokun, senior evaluation specialist for the Kentucky Nutrition Education Program. “The participants also showed statistically significant improvements in their food and kitchen safety practices, knife skills, order of meal preparation and knowledge of MyPlate.”

It has been so successful that the Kentucky Nutrition Education Program will release it as a statewide curriculum in 2019.

Grayson Rogers is a fifth-grader at Maurice Bowling Middle School in Owen County. He says that while he cooks with his family, he realizes that not all of his peers do.

“I think it’s nice and good for kids to get a chance to learn about cooking,” he said. “Some kids eat out every night and do not know what is in their food.”

All Owen County fifth-graders participate in the program over the course of a week during the fall semester. Jamie Bowlin, fifth-grade writing teacher, has brought students to the program for the past two years.

“It’s a good way to introduce kids to skills in the kitchen,” she said. “Parents tend to do the bulk of the work in the kitchen, and the kids do not get these skills anywhere else.”

At the end of the day, students receive the program’s recipe booklet as well as incentive items such as kitchen tools and aprons to reinforce lessons learned from the program. In Owen County, students also receive a cookbook filled with family recipes from the entire class.

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