Teen Cuisine Is Making a Difference!

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Students from West Middle School, Green Ridge Elementary School and now Wescare Academy are learning to prepare healthier meals and make healthier decisions thanks to the Teen Cuisine program offered through North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Rhonda Peters, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Montgomery County and the program’s coordinator says, “It has been so powerful to watch these kids become so much more confident in their skills to be able to make an entire meal, or just a snack.”  Developed by Virginia Cooperative Extension, the program aims to help teens and preteens choose nutrient dense foods and snacks, read food labels to choose healthier foods (in the grocery store and in restaurants), understand MyPlate and how to incorporate it into meal planning, read and follow a recipe (using correct cooking and measuring techniques), identify proper portion sizes and use safe food handling practices.

In 2019, more than thirty youth participated in the program. “We started through a partnership with Communities in Schools to offer it at West Middle School during the afterschool program. We then offered the program as part of our 4-H Summer Adventures series, and then took it to Green Ridge Elementary School during the fall, also through partnership with Communities in Schools,” says Peters.

Based on evaluations from students, parents, teachers and other leaders, the program is making a difference for families. At the completion of the program, one hundred percent of students are able to demonstrate correct knife skills and how to use a meat thermometer correctly. Ninety-one percent increased their ability to use kitchen equipment, correct follow a recipe and prepare healthy foods without help from others. Follow-up evaluations indicate increases in fruit, vegetable and water consumption as well as increases in physical activity. One parent reported, “This class helped my child become more conscious about what he eats and how it is prepared”. Another parent observed, “This helped my child learn about food groups and healthy servings. It also helped him learn about food safety in the kitchen and to always wash hands”.

“Youth are finding themselves at home alone more and more often, and often at younger ages than in the past. Most kids grab convenience foods and pre-packaged foods like canned spaghetti o’s or crackers, which aren’t very healthy. By teaching them to be able to prepare foods themselves, and giving them the experience to boost their confidence, we are seeing kids making healthier choices – and hopefully we will see long-term results,” says Peters.

The Teen Cuisine program is offered in Montgomery County through funding from N.C A&T University, and Peters hopes to continue the partnership with Communities in Schools and expand it to other schools across the county in 2020. She says, “Shaylen Brown and Mrs. Sandra Clyburn, with CIS, have been so great to work with on this program. Mrs. Sandra was absolutely instrumental in the implementation at Green Ridge and worked hand in hand with the kids every week of the 6 week program.”

In January 2020, a new series of Teen Cuisine was launched at Wescare Christian Academy, working with students in the fifth through twelfth grades. Kayla Shomaker, Extension Master Food Volunteer is helping to implement the program and is already making a difference with her vast experience and congenial personality. Peters hopes to expand the program throughout 2020 into other parts of the county. For more information, contact Rhonda at Rtpeters@ncat.edu.