Cooking camp encourages kids to make the right food choices

Program offers recipe for nutritious eating

“I had fun preparing foods that I never tried before.”

“I attended the camp so I can help make lunch or dinner.”

“I learned how to cook and to chop an onion without it falling apart.”

No small feats for these kids ages 11 to 13, who participated in Penn State’s Cook Like a Chef! camp last summer. Campers learn about the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables, practice basic cooking techniques, custom-design their own recipes and take part in fun physical activities.

“People today are detached from real food,” said Anne Quinn Corr, Penn State instructor of nutrition in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) and creator of the Cook Like a Chef! program, which is offered through Penn State Outreach’s Conferences unit and begins in July. “For those of us with limited financial resources, too often food comes from a box or a bag and is already processed in very unhealthful ways. Teaching people how to feed themselves simply with real food demystifies the cooking process and makes good health attainable.”

Last summer Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Tracks (TRACKS) provided scholarships for 12 youth who normally would not have had the opportunity to participate in the camp. TRACKS, housed in the Penn State Department of Nutritional Sciences, manages the education component of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is for families of limited income.

Barbara Lohse — associate professor of nutrition education and community nutrition in HHD and principal investigator for TRACKS in Centre County — had heard a presentation by Corr detailing her goal to help youngsters from low-income families attend the cooking camp. Lohse then connected Corr with eligible families.

“Many of these kids have no variety of food at home,” said Lohse. “By attending this camp, with the opportunity to see a variety of nutritious choices, they may be much more apt to try new foods.”

According to Corr’s research since she started cooking camps nearly eight years ago, camp participants gain confidence and mastery of food skills; a majority say they have learned a new skill or improved a skill — such as keeping hands and work surfaces clean and using knives safely — and have also taught the skill to a family member or friend.

With childhood obesity a major problem in the United States, Corr sees a critical need for more nutrition education for young people. “I’m very happy to empower youth to make the right food choices and fight the siren call of fast food.” For more information go to online.

This story is from the spring issue of Penn State Outreach magazine. To view other stories, go to online.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010