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Mixing fun and nutrition in the kitchen

Washington Pediatrics’ registered dietitian Andrea Nikolai blended fun and health during a cooking class with eight middle-school girls from the Beaufort County Boys & Girls Club.

On May 15, the girls, accompanied by Laura Von Gunten who has been working with the girls at the club, and Jackie Boyd with the Beaufort-Hyde Partnership for Children, met Nikolai in the Beaufort County Cooperative Extension Service’s kitchen. After performing a short talk-show skit discussing the benefits of cauliflower, kiwi, edamame and grapples (apples that taste like grapes) and then trying these foods, the girls prepared baked chicken-and-vegetable foil-packet meals, oven-roasted sweet-potato fries and a “healthified” version of banana pudding.

Erin Massie, a 4-H youth development extension agent from the Beaufort County Cooperative Extension Service who helped with the class, made a batch of asparagus for them to try. All of this was done in about two hours.

“I felt like we were on the ‘Iron Chef’ from the Food Network,” said Nikolai. “But the girls worked hard and got it done. Everything turned out well and the girls seemed to have a good time.”

Throughout the cooking, Nikolai touched on a variety of nutrition topics such as the benefits of the foods, portion sizes, modifying recipes to make them more healthful and how recipes may be adapted for foods found at home.

“Learning how to make simple, inexpensive, healthy meals that taste good is as important as ever, and I wanted to show these girls that it is possible to do with ingredients they might have available at home,” she said.

The class provided an opportunity for the girls to improve their food-preparation skills, learn about nutrition and help build a foundation for healthful eating, all while having a good time.

“These kids were learning great life skills while having fun,” said Massie.

The girls met with Nikolai prior to the event to discuss MyPlate, the new food guide released by U.S. Department of Agriculture, typical meals in their homes and what the girls would enjoy learning to cook.

“I wanted to better understand what was usual for them and get their input on what they would like to prepare to help me design a class to best reach them,” said Nikolai. “They were in agreement about the desire to learn to make banana pudding, and judging by the requests for seconds, I would say it was a success.”

The girls were given pretests and post-tests to assess skills and behaviors, and the majority of the girls (75 percent) said as a result of the class, they would try to cook more often, choose more nutritious foods and prepare at least one of the recipes at home.

Nikolai received a mini-grant from the Kids Eat Right campaign to do the class. Kids Eat Right was launched by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to support projects and programs that address the health concern of obesity among children.