University of Minnesota Extension 4-H recently received Dakota County’s Public Health Achievement Award for their work teaching cooking and nutrition skills to local youth.
Recognizing that not all youth have the same level of access to healthy food and the skills needed to make nutritious recipes, Extension 4-H in Dakota County decided to apply their youth education expertise to this public health issue.
Created in 2019, the 4-H After-School Kitchen is a collaboration between 4-H in Dakota County, Friendly Hills Middle School, and Wescott Library. Working with the adult program leaders, fifth and sixth graders used common ingredients to create tasty treats and nutritious meals that they could later try at home on their own.
Rachel Rezac, Extension educator for 4-H youth development, Krisi Jacobs, an instructional literacy coach at Friendly Hills Middle School, and Martha Metz, a 4-H adult volunteer of 40 years, facilitated the program, which culminated in a five-week cooking series this past February.
Rezac said that without the help of local government, dedicated volunteers and Wescott Library, the program would not have been possible.
Healthy food for all
Program leaders made sure the 4-H After-School Kitchen was accessible to all youth participants.
“We were intentional on the program design because of not knowing where the families were coming from and what they had in their kitchens," says Rezac. "We made sure the recipes included foods that were readily available so that they would be able to find these foods at a local food shelf if they did not have access to a grocery store.”
Over the course of the program, participants learned how to make food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snack and dessert foods. The recipes included omelets, hot sandwiches, English muffin pizzas, apple pie and cereal bars.
By learning how to follow detailed recipes and use common kitchen appliances, the youth in the program developed important culinary skills that will help them cultivate nutritious and fulfilling lifestyles.
For many of the participants in the 4-H After-School Kitchen program, it was their first time cracking an egg, washing vegetables or cooking on a stovetop.
Rezac said that her favorite recipe to cook was the English muffin pizza because of the lesson it taught her youth participants. “Not everything goes as planned in the kitchen. The parchment paper did not handle the broiling setting on the oven. We learned from our mistakes and improved for the next time.”
After the program, one youth participant said, “I think that this was a great opportunity to learn more about cooking and making new friends,” while another said that they “Now cook for my family for dinner.”
At this year’s Dakota County Public Health Awards, the 4-H After-School Kitchen at Friendly Hills Middle School was recognized for its contributions to the health of Dakota County youth.
Flexibility for future programming
4-H programming is responding flexibly to the COVID-19 situation, so that they can continue offering culinary lessons to interested youth.
“Our adult volunteers and youth volunteers are stepping up and being creative in the virtual experiences we’re offering. We have an adult volunteer who’s willing to do a cooking video. We are putting together virtual challenges for participants. We are being creative in how we can support our people,” says Rezac.