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Local high schools face off in Regional 4-H Food Challenge

PBL students (left to right), Grace Luenig, Keegyn Martinek and Madisyn Dodge present their dish to the panel of judges at the Regional 4-H Food Challenge competition.

Urbana, Ill – Teams from eight local high schools gathered in Bevier Hall on the University of Illinois Campus for the Regional 4-H Food Challenge competition on March 31. The 4-H Food Challenge is a competition that promotes teamwork, gives youth experience in public speaking, and promotes proper food safety techniques and handling in a competitive manner, similar to the Food Network television show Chopped.

The 4-H Regional Food Challenge includes research-based classroom lessons that follow the Experiential Learning Model and a culinary competition that helps to develop technical, creative, and interpersonal skills necessary for a career in the food service industry. The classroom lessons were designed to easily be embedded into current culinary courses, enhancing their content knowledge and skills. Each lesson allows students to practice applying their culinary skills through cooking challenges that foster creativity, teamwork, communication, and time management, which are all skills essential in the workplace. “The 4-H Food Challenge allows them to challenge themselves, as a team and individually, to use those skills in a real-life situation,” explains St. Joseph-Ogden Family and Consumer Science instructor Joselyn Mohr.

Donovan, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Monticello, Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Rantoul, Saint Joseph-Ogden, Salt Fork, and Urbana High Schools earned the chance to compete by winning the competition at their high school. “It’s one of the highlights of the semester,” says Ashley Young, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley FCS teacher, “they have been brainstorming and talking about it all week.” The teams were given five minutes of planning time followed by forty-five minutes of cooking time to create a dish that included all the five food groups and three mystery ingredients, dark chocolate, honey, and greens, to present to a panel of three judges. While students were not competing, they received tours of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition’s Pilot Plant and Meat Science Lab. The winners were Madisyn Dodge, Grace Luenig, and Keegyn Martinek of Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School for their dish, “Tomato Tornado.”

University of Illinois 4-H Educator, Mynda Tracy, said, “These kinds of hands-on educational approaches encourage youth to learn by doing, reflecting, and then applying their skills and knowledge.”

If you’re interested in learning more about 4-H programming, please contact the Illinois Extension office either by phone at 217-333-7672 or via email at

About Illinois 4-H: Illinois 4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. 4-H grows true leaders, youth who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. The hands-on approach in 4-H gives young people guidance, tools, and encouragement, and then puts them in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. Independent research confirms the unparalleled impact of the 4-H experience, demonstrating that young people are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. 

Source: Myla Munro, 4-H Youth Development Educator,

             Mynda Tracy, 4-H Youth Development Educator,

Writer: Jake Keister, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Unit 13,

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.