Illinois Junior Chefs program looks to link skills with good eating

Chronicle Media

Proper measuring techniques are just one cooking skill youth learned at the Illinois Junior Chefs programs that were held throughout the four counties. Researchers from University of Illinois visited four Peoria cooking schools to conduct hands-on skills research in addition to the state-wide surveys. (Photo courtesy of U of I Extension)

This year University of Illinois researchers revised the Illinois Junior Chefs curriculum to emphasize cooking skills such as the proper way to crack an egg; grate, chop, and pare fruits and vegetables; juice citrus fruits; measure wet and dry ingredients; and knife safety and use. The team of researchers, headed by Jessica Jarrick Metcalf, Research Coordinator for the Illinois Junior Chefs Program, visited four cooking schools in the U of I Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit to conduct pre and post hands-on cooking skill tests in addition to the standard surveys that are being given state-wide.

Metcalf explains her research focus is investigating the connection between learning cooking skills and healthy eating habits in youth.

“The objective of the research with the Illinois Junior Chefs program is to prove its positive impact on youth cooking and dietary attitudes and behaviors, and to strengthen the evidence base in support of the program,” stated Metcalf.

“Our research involves surveys that assess the participants’ cooking self-efficacy, attitudes, food preferences, and healthy eating and cooking behaviors. We are also collecting additional data in Peoria through hands-on cooking skills testing, which allows youth to demonstrate the skills they have gained as a result of the program.”

State wide the research is being conducted at cooking schools with an estimated reach of 2,000 youth. Approximately 400 of those youth reached are from the Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell programs that were held this summer.

A popular lesson is veggie chow mein. Youth are taught knife safety, and then put it in practice as they dice, chop, and grate vegetables for this stir fry dish. One child was overheard saying, “I don’t eat vegetables,” but she ate all of the stir-fry recipe. Youth learn that preparation methods and spices make a big difference.

Pre- and post-tests were conducted at each Illinois Jr. Chefs program. The research objective is to investigate the connection between cooking skills and healthy eating habits. (Photo courtesy of U of I Extension)

The research data and comments from the surveys will be used to make future modifications to both recipes and cooking skills lessons. In addition, the data will be used to show proof the program is fulfilling the program objective of teaching youth practical cooking skills and healthy recipes that will give them tools they need to cook healthy foods for themselves and their families.

University of Illinois Extension is the flagship outreach effort of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, offering educational programs to residents of Illinois’ 102 counties – and far beyond. The Illinois Junior Chef School program is part of the Illinois Nutrition Education Program that is funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).






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