KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — The Kosciusko County 4-H group has been practicing for its very own food challenge, right along the lines of famous television shows like “MasterChef” and “Chopped.” Students in third through eighth grades have been given the opportunity to learn a variety of cooking skills and then put these skills to the test in the Indyouth Food Challenge.
A group of five students started learning and practicing basic cooking skills. They were taught safety with hot plate handling and knife skills. They practiced reading nutrient labels, practicing good nutrition and revising recipes to accommodate allergies. They also learned food preparation such as serving size, cost analysis for food preparation, presentation and proper plating.
For the 4-H portion of the challenge, food projects have remained a long standing tradition among members. Each of the five participants were given the opportunity to become an expert in one of the five categories: nutrients, water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and elements, and electrolytes. In each class participants learned about the importance of each of these five categories, the importance of keeping to the MyPlate suggestions and how to eat healthy. This involved learning the difference between good fats, such as those in guacamole, and bad fats, such as fried donuts.
In the beginning, students were given the opportunity to see what meals they could create when given random ingredients. Jackie Franks, health and human sciences manager, and Laura Collins, trained chef restaurant manager, worked along with Mindy Wise, Kosciusko County 4-H youth development educator, to teach the children.
Participants were inspired to use creative thinking when choosing ingredients, choosing the proper tools and equipment, creating their own dish and presenting the dish. The group practiced nontraditional dishes such as grilled cheese and jelly and then asked for healthy substitutions. “I could’ve made it healthier by not adding more butter afterward,” Conner LeCount mentioned. Charlie Krull mentioned a healthier alternative would have been wheat bread even though it was not available.
On Monday, Oct. 1, participants were given eggs, mushrooms, cheese, green pepper and salsa in a makeshift challenge. The group worked as a team, sautéing mushrooms, chopping the green pepper, making an omelet and grating cheese. “I love to see the kids learn by doing,” Wise commented as she supervised the students in their meal preparation.
After completing their dish and giving a mock presentation, Wise and Collins critiqued the students on their presentation, public speaking, flavor and plated food. Participants also learned a few valuable lessons like making sure to use ingredients they enjoy, keeping an eye on their food when it is cooking and to present the best looking portion of their dish to the judges.
At the state competition, students were judged on knowledge, presentation and teamwork by a panel of judges. There were three categories – main dish, fruit or vegetable and bread or snack — and the group of students did not know beforehand which group they would be placed into. After being placed into one of the three categories, each group is given the same ingredients and challenged to create their own dish without any recipes. They were also given the option to choose unique ingredients from a pantry.
In 40 minutes the group was challenged to take these ingredients and come up with their own dish in the proper category, cook the dish, prepare it for presentation, clean up their area, provide a nutrient list and MyPlate analysis and a cost analysis for one serving.
The state competition took place Saturday, Oct. 13, in Indianapolis.