Two hundred youth learn important life-skills at Illinois Junior Chef

Smiling child learns how to safely cut vegetables at cooking class
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“We are not sure who has more fun at Illinois Junior Chef (IJC)….the youth or the staff,” Kaytlin Beekman, University of Illinois Extension SNAP-Education community worker mentioned. Kaytlin and the entire SNAP-Education team serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties spent a good portion of their summer teaching IJC programs throughout the area.

Illinois Junior Chef is a very popular program offered each summer through U of I Extension’s SNAP-Education program. This year all 13 of our week-long programs were either close to or at capacity. Two hundred youth enjoyed the cooking, nutrition, and team building lessons.

IJC gives children ages eight to thirteen a chance to learn hands-on cooking skills that they will use throughout their entire life. “They learn so many important life skills,” Kaytlin mentioned. “I wish every kid had the chance to learn these types of skills at a young age.”

Each day of the five-day program a new cooking skill is featured, along with a MyPlate food group and two delicious recipes. The recipes focus on healthy, easy-to-make foods that participants can make on their own at home. “Many times, kids experience ‘new-to-them’ foods. Sometimes they like them and sometimes they don’t,” Kaytlin continued.

Participants learned how to correctly measure liquid and dry ingredients, mixing techniques, knife safety, and how to read a recipe. 4-H Teen Teachers were also a big part of making the programs a success. They were able to lead the participants in icebreakers and team-building activities each day. On the last day of the program, the participants were awarded a certificate, the Illinois Junior Chef cookbook, and an incentive bag full of helpful cooking utensils.

“We enjoyed watching the children grow a love for cooking and trying new things,” Kaytlin shared. “One boy made his disgust of anything pumpkin known on the first day. By the end of the week, he had tried pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin pudding. He loved them both and left saying that he could not wait to make and share the recipes with his family.

“We are already looking forward to next summer and are in the process of finding creative ways to make it just as fun and educational.”

Being able to give children the nutrition education and skills needed to make good food choices will always be a goal for SNAP-Education.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kaytlin Beekman joined Extension in August 2021 working as a SNAP-Ed Community Worker for Tazewell County. She graduated from Lewistown High School in 2009 and now resides in Germantown Hills, IL.

She is passionate about her current studies in leadership and organization at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Kaytlin was formerly employed as a licensed massage therapist.

Kaytlin enjoys spending time with family and going on adventures with her son. Nutrition and wellness are very important to her, and she hopes to encourage others to feel the same.

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