PHOTO: Aimee Nielson, UK Agricultural Communications Specialist
When 13-year-old Shane Turner walked into the first day of the Super Star Chef program, the instructors could tell he didn’t want to be there, but by the end of the week, everything changed.
“I’ve never really been able to cook at home; I never really wanted to,” said Turner, a soon-to-be Fleming County eighth-grader. “I’m usually playing outside or playing video games, but now I’ll try this at home.”
The spark in Turner is a big reason why the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment sends staff all over the state during the summer to conduct hands-on nutrition, healthy eating and basic cooking skills to Kentucky kids.
“There is a big need for this program in Kentucky,” said Sara Talbott, UK Nutrition Education Program area extension agent. “It helps teach children the importance of nutrition, but also the safety skills that go along with being in the kitchen. Kentucky kids consistently rank low in consuming fruits and vegetables, and this program gives them an opportunity to try them in a way they haven’t in the past.”
The summer program allows the UK Nutrition Education Program to expand their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education efforts. The staff, made up of students from UK and Eastern Kentucky University, use the Super Star Chef curriculum to conduct four-day sessions in county extension offices, housing authority offices, 4-H camps and schools.
“Every week it seems like each of the team members connects with one of the kids; it may be the same one or a different one for each of us,” said Madison Meredith, a recent UK human nutrition graduate in her second summer with the program. “We always find someone who is our real success story, and this week that was Shane. I could tell the first day he didn’t want to be here, but by the last day he was really having a good time. He did a really good job and learned so much.”
This summer, the teams traveled to 32 counties impacting the lives of hundreds of limited-resource youth.
Kurt Brown was another instructor. He is a UK senior majoring in human nutrition with plans to become a physician assistant. He taught a lesson each week showing participants how much excess sugar they consume.
“It really surprised me that kids just don’t realize how much sugar they consume and they don’t realize sugar is that bad,” he said. “It really shocks them when we show them. It’s also surprising how some kids have never tried basic fruits and vegetables like strawberries and cantaloupe. But the end of the week, most of the kids are at least trying things we offer them and realizing they like it.”
That’s really what the program aims to do—change perceptions that healthy eating can be fun, taste good and improve their well-being. Participants got to take home recipes, aprons and cooking utensils to help them continue using their news skills in their own kitchen.
“I hope that if anything, we can inspire them to carry on these lessons for the rest of their lives,” Meredith said. “We hope they will continue learning and improving their cooking skills, eating healthier and that they will encourage family, friends and other people around them to do the same thing.”
Turner said that is what he wants to do—teach his parents what he learned.
Sara Talbott, 859-218-4865