By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Mississippi State University’s Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health spent last week turning a group of third through sixth graders into master chefs.
The department started the “Fun with Food” camp five years ago to teach children about food and nutrition.
“We really saw a need for children to understand where food comes from. We tie the culinary, the nutrition, and the farm together,” said Sylvia Byrd, who coordinated the program. “And we try to bring in reading, writing and arithmetic, because cooking involves all of that as well.”
The program aims to expose children to new foods and get them comfortable in the kitchen. Each day, they were introduced to new foods, like spaghetti squash, and learned how to prepare it. While many of the items are usually pushed around the plate at home, the campers are asked to try everything at least once. This, Byrd said, is where peer pressure tends to come in handy. If a child sees the others enjoying a new dish, they’re more likely to give it a chance.
Words like, “yuck” and “gross” are banned from the kitchen. They’re don’t have to like everything, of course, but many of the children had discovered new favorite foods.
Later, they used some of those new ingredients to make lunch. The campers are split up into groups that takes care of at least one aspect of the meal, whether it’s the salad, main course or dessert.
In the kitchen, they got to show off their newly acquired knife skills and French vocabulary, with phrases like “mise en place” and “saute.” When asked if she was going to use her new cooking skills to help her parents out in the kitchen, Lake Little answered, “More like do it for them.”
They were also taught the importance of food safety. With a little help from some MSU graduate and undergraduate students, the campers learned how to handle knives and work around heat safely and effectively.
After lunch each day, the campers went on field trips to see where many of their favorite foods come from, like a cheese plant and dairy farm.
“Our department wanted to make sure that these children see the foods from production and processing all the way to the kitchen,” Byrd said. “We’ve seen that the ability to cook your own food, plan menus, eat together and skills like that have been lost.”
Although most parents struggle to get their picky eaters to clean their plates, at the “Fun with Food” camp, the children developed an appreciation for a wide variety foods.
“It’s a lot of hard work every year, but it’s always worth it,” Byrd said.