Fun with Food

A smiling young girl wearing a green apron holding a measuring cup full of flour.

Kendra McGregory, Fun with Food participant from Chickasaw County

Story by Susan Collins-Smith • Photos by Kevin Hudson

Class fosters cooking skills, nutrition knowledge

Since Kendra McGregory attended the Fun with Food program, her love of cooking has only grown.

The Houston, Mississippi, fourth grader attended the program for the first time in 2021. The 3-day, hands-on class teaches children in fourth to sixth grades about cooking, nutrition, and food safety. It is directed by the Mississippi State University Extension Service and is part of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

“My favorite part of the program was getting to shave carrots” with a vegetable peeler, Kendra remembers.

Vegetable salad, including cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, and tomatoes, was one of the recipes the class prepared and tasted. Oatmeal cookies was the other. While chicken, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and sweet potato pie rank at the top of Kendra’s list of favorite foods, she did add a few more items to the list of vegetables that she enjoys.

“I really liked the cucumbers and carrots,” she says. “Those were good. I also like green beans, but I like fruits a lot more than vegetables.”

Program participants receive an apron, cutting mat, food thermometer, measuring cups and spoons, and recipe cards to encourage them to continue using their food preparation skills at home.

“We have been using everything in that kit,” says Latoya McGregory, Kendra’s mom. “She has always loved cooking and anything to do with cooking. She helps me a lot in the kitchen, and she loves to go to the grocery store with me.”

Happy healthy logo.

Fun with Food is a free program for children in fourth to sixth grades and offers resources on shopping, cooking, and being physically active.

Visit HappyHealthy online to find Fun with Food recipes, information, tips, and videos.

While Kendra has experience helping her mom cook and making her own after-school snacks, the program was a catalyst for Kendra to try new foods, her mom says.

“We have been trying the recipes on the cards that she got, and the Berry Blast Off yogurt and fruit parfait is a favorite,” McGregory says of Kendra and her sister. “Now, she likes yogurt. If we make it, they have to try it at least one time.

“She’s even trying new foods at restaurants. We tried mushrooms, and they were a no. But we tried them,” she emphasizes.

That is a significant result, says Extension nutrition educator Naomi Fulton. Participants learn the practical knowledge and skills that are needed for cooking, such as cooking terminology, how to measure ingredients, and how to interpret and follow recipes. But Fulton also teaches related lessons, like making healthy food choices and how different foods fit into a healthy diet.

“I also want them to understand how easy it is to eat healthy,” Fulton said. “Even simple things like choosing whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, whole-grain cereals and other whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and adding more fruits and vegetables will make a difference. Eating healthy is not complicated or hard to do.”

Class time also incorporates discussion about the importance of physical activity, the food groups, and the MyPlate guide to building balanced meals and snacks.

For now, Kendra’s next culinary challenge is to make pie. But her long-term goal is to use her love of cooking to feed a lot of people.

“I want to have my own restaurant with all healthy foods,” she says with a smile.

Fulton plans to continue offering the Fun with Food program in Chickasaw County; a local farm donates the produce participants use.

“I offer all of my programs in different locations in the county so that everyone has the opportunity to participate, even if they can’t come to the Extension office,” Fulton says. “I always try to have fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruits when I can. I want them to taste the difference in something grown locally and something they get at the grocery store.”

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