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Teaching Kids that Cooking Matters

MU Extension cooking course provides children in Montgomery County with hands-on experience in the kitchen. 

In a crowded kitchen in a church basement, nine elementary school kids are cooking lunch. You might think it’s a recipe for disaster—kids are using knives, handling raw meat, working at a big gas range,  and there’s not much elbow room—but they know their jobs and the turkey tacos and fruit smoothies turn out fine, with no injuries and not too much of a mess in the kitchen.

The students are participants in Cooking Matters for Kids, a six-week course for third- through fifth-grade children that connects learning about health and nutrition to hands-on experience in the kitchen.

Kids may learn some basic kitchen skills in middle school home economics classes, but by fifth or sixth grade, kids already are on average preparing at least one meal per week by themselves, said Chris Merritt, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension. Merritt is teaching the class with assistance from Luella Fischer, MU Extension 4-H youth program associate.

“We need to get information on food and nutrition to elementary school students,” Merritt said. “The kids need to know it now and hear it repeatedly.  The more we get the information out to the students, the more likely they are to continue using this information as they get older.”

A room near the kitchen is set up as a simulated grocery store, with cans,  boxes and plastic-replica fruits and vegetables arranged as you would find them in a typical supermarket.