Giving young people a taste of new, healthy foods can provide them with a delicious meal, but teaching them to prepare those culinary delights themselves has the power to change their whole outlook on food and nutrition — and maybe their lives in the process.
The South Carolina 4-H Healthy Habits Summit was held in the Midlands in late January, with that very goal in mind — providing the state’s youth with the tools to live their own healthy lifestyles under the watchful eye of culinary professionals.
And those who attended came from across the state, with South Carolina 4-H teams from 14 counties participating: Bamberg, Marlboro, Spartanburg/Cherokee, Berkley, Anderson, Dorchester, York, Abbeville, Chester, Horry, Lexington, Florence and Georgetown.
“This year’s Summit was just magnificent in the outpouring of interest from across the state,” said Marge Condrasky, a Certified Culinary Educator and Emeritus Professor from Clemson’s Department of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences. “It’s all about providing youth in South Carolina with the tools to be healthy, well-rounded and ready for school and work, whether it’s nutrition, physical activity, cooking skills, mental health and sleep.”
Condrasky, a registered dietician, said her passions are culinary arts nutrition and creating new recipes and food products — which has evolved within the department as “culinolgy” — a trademark of the Research Chefs Association. Culinary Nutrition programs have been provided as outreach efforts over many years both from 4-H Cooperative Extension and within the department.
After arriving on Friday evening at the Summit for introductory team-building sessions, dinner and a review of the recipes to be prepared the next day. The connection between culinary arts, food science and nutrition has been popular with college students, and it was woven into a full day for the young people who made their way to the Center for Advanced Technical Studies in Chapin on Saturday.
The Summit program was choreographed by a team of professional chefs, 4-H agents and team coaches from Clemson Cooperative Extension and South Carolina State’s 1890 Extension, as well as culinary arts students from the Center and Clemson University’s culinology undergraduate student volunteers from the Department of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Science in a full day of hands-on cooking
The program included an orientation to the culinary lab, knife skills demonstration and practice, numerous demonstrations and discussions of various foods and, finally, the cooking and station work to produce a tasting menu with everything from manicotti made fresh with crepes, catfish filets with corn salsa and low country collards and Chinese fried rice with Napa cabbage slaw and turkey wontons for lunch to Tex-Mex beef fajitas menu with red rice and refried beans and Spinach Macaroni and Cheese with a side of Ratatouille for dinner.
Healthy Habits Program Coordinator Roxanne Cummings said the Summit, which had an “All Stars” theme to provide a collection of the best recipes from the past summit programs and camp manual, epitomized the 4-H mission of educating young people through a learn-by-doing approach.
“From developing basic knife skills to making crepes, youth had many opportunities to try new things,” Cummings said. “They learned that was OK if the crepes didn’t turn out right the first time. The chefs and leaders were there to help them troubleshoot and try again.
With their newfound skills, they now have the opportunity to teach others what they have learned.”
The Summit is part of the 4-H Healthy Lifestyles program area, which empowers youth to be healthy — body and mind — with the skills to make healthy decisions and lead healthy lifestyles. Having the confidence and skills to lead healthy lifestyles not only improves overall well-being; it enables youth to tackle life’s challenges today and become leaders in their lives, careers, and communities as they grow into responsible adults.
Kinda McInnis, 4-H & Youth Development Agent for S.C. State University’s 1890 Extension, said the opportunity her young people from Marlboro County had at the Healthy Habits Summit was “unbelievable.”
“They were able to bring the literature that they have learned in high school culinary arts class to life during the summit and build those outside relationships with other youth and adults across the state of South Carolina that they have never met before,” McInnis said. “My kids learned how to prepare a different type of meal other than that good old country-style Southern meals. What was very impressive to me was that the leadership skills showed as they were willing to step out of their traditional ways of cooking to adapt a new healthier/ different style of meals. They were able to take back a nice healthy meal recipe book to share with their culinary teacher and classmates to enhance the meals that they prepare in class.”
Partially supported by a grant from the Walmart Foundation, and the Healthy Me Healthy South Carolina grant Summit included workshops focused on hands-on recipe work and demonstrations with professional chefs from the center and Cooperative Extension. The Summit worked to enhance culinary skills and nutrition knowledge for the high school 4-H participants in order to equip them with skills training to be able to assist in a weeklong Cook Like a Chef Summer Day Camp in their home county in 2023. The Summit also provided an opportunity for the participants to meet youth from across South Carolina that have the same interests.
Kaliyah Woods, Youth Development Specialist with 1890 Extension, said the Healthy Habits Summit was an excellent enrichment opportunity to enhance daily culinary skills and build positive relationships with youth and adults outside her region.
“The kids from my county learned how to prepare delicious and healthy Mediterranean cuisines,” Woods said. “Each child shared how this experience pushed them outside their comfort zones and allowed them to showcase their leadership skills and love for cooking.”
And the Summit wasn’t just a learning experience for the high school students participating, as students from Clemson University’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS) also assisted in the activities.
Olivia Towey, a senior food science major from Bedford, N.H., said the event was beneficial both for herself and the young people participating, as they were able to learn about cooking and potentially going into a food science major in college, while she learned about how to teach others about the cooking skills she’d been developing all her life.
“My interest in food started when I was very young, as I would always help my mom in the kitchen,” Towey said. “Eventually I began developing my own recipes and experimenting in the kitchen, and when I found the food science program at Clemson, I knew that would be something that would fit my love of cooking with my interest in the science behind it.”
Carly Jones, a senior food science major with an emphasis in culinology from outside of Boston, who is also pursuing a master’s in food, nutrition and culinary sciences, said she enjoyed the opportunity to share her passions for both cooking and science with others.
“When I was asked to partake in the culinary summit, I was excited to be a part of such a unique event,” Jones said. “The summit helped me grow in my culinary pursuits specifically in terms of teaching others, as well as the impact I can have on the youth in the program. I am excited to know that what they learned will then be taught to even younger children this summer. Hopefully sparking interest in children to explore the culinary world a bit more than they may have.”
Meghan McClanahan, a senior food science major from Charlotte, N.C., grew up in a family that loved to cook and talk about food, which she said led her down the academic path she chose to pursue.
“Beyond my family, I have always enjoyed the technical side science has to offer,” McClanahan said. “So, when Clemson University gave me the opportunity to combine both loves in a very applicable way there was no going back.”
McClanahan said the Healthy Habits Summit was not only a way to introduce young people to diverse foods, but also to present it in a non-intimidating way. Jones, McClanahan and Towey helped develop some of the recipes used at the summit in a Creative Inquiry course taken the previous year at the University.
“I feel young people are often quick to assume they can’t cook but when presented in a way that is fun and organized it allows knowledge and creativity to be utilized,” she said. “This program also allows them to pay it forward as these high school students will take what they learn and pass it to those younger than them deepening their knowledge of culinary topics.”
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