More than a dozen youth and adults gathered their ingredients, fired up their grills and logged into the 4-H Grilling Club Zoom meeting on a recent Thursday afternoon. Together they made stuffed bratwursts and a banana chocolate peanut butter pie.
“Think of how you can get creative,” Amy Wadding, University of Minnesota Extension 4-H educator in Freeborn County, told them. “You can cut your brat differently than we are. You can stuff your brat with different things. Remember, you are in control of your kitchen. You are in control of what you can handle.”
Food projects have always been popular with 4-H groups, but the chaos of 2020 has created an even greater interest, even though programs had to be moved from in-person to online.
More than 400 youth participated in 4-H food and nutrition programs between March and June.
“The thought process before COVID was that all the kids need to show up in a home economics type room, and that we all cook supper together in that one room,” says Wadding. The new online teaching style has some definite benefits. By cooking in their own homes, for example, youth learn how their stoves and grills work.
4-H Supper Club and Grilling Club
Wadding and Tracy Ignaszewski, Extension 4-H educator in Steele County, teach youth how to cook supper in the kitchen or on the grill. While Ignaszewski demonstrates the steps, Wadding watches to make sure no one gets overwhelmed or left behind.
“And at all times they should be paying attention to their fingers,” says Wadding. “Safety is number one.”
Participants cook noodles, brown hamburger meat and cut cucumbers. They have also learned how to use their grill and avoid cross contamination. Just as importantly, they are learning how to relax and enjoy cooking.
“They hang out. They cook. They talk,” says Wadding. “And when supper is ready, they are good to go. They wave at the camera and tell us goodbye.”
Before food can be eaten, it must be grown. The Healthy Sprouts 4-H program teaches youth how to care for soil, plant seeds and grow a healthy garden. Agricultural experts share information about different job opportunities every week.
“There is a huge movement with the pandemic where people want to feel food secure in their own lives,” says Nicole Kudrie, Extension 4-H educator in North St. Louis County. “Our local greenhouses can’t keep things in stock. People want to grow their own food.”
4-H has been running Healthy Sprouts for three years. Youth would meet and care for a personal garden bed in the Virginia greenhouse or the MN Discovery Center in Chisolm. Now that the program is online, they are growing gardens at home.
“We gave them a suggestion list, but we allowed them to pick whatever they wanted,” says Kudrie. “We have the whole gamut – tomatoes, peas, strawberries, beans. We have some kids growing popcorn. We hope they will donate any excess food to local food shelves.”
By offering the program online, Extension was able to expand the audience from a limit of 20 from the immediate area to 70 from several counties.
With a little bit of knowledge, young people can make everything from bread to salad dressing to seasoning packets at home.
Suzanne Sousa, Extension 4-H educator, presents the Tasty Tuesday program in Big Stone, Lac qui Parle and Pope Counties. She records all the Tasty Tuesdays sessions, so participants can watch them again and pick up on things they may have missed the first time through.
“When kids make their own food, it is enticing,” says Sousa. “Maybe they don’t like ranch dressing, but they may be more willing to try it if they can make it themselves. They can also see the reward of what comes out of the oven, and know that they made it.”