'Kids in the Kitchen' combines food, friends and fun

Media contact:

Debbie Johnson
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9183
Email: JohnsonD@missouri.edu

Photos available for this release:

Mark Ohrenberg, community services/youth advocate for Services for Independent Living, shares a joke with volunteer Natalie Cheng and two participants in MU Extension's Kids in the Kitchen program.

Credit: Jessica Salmond

Volunteer Bo Mahr helps class participant Graham Riffles chop celery for the Thanksgiving casserole.

Credit: Jessica Salmond

Participant Sydney Kent mashes sweet potatoes for the Kids in the Kitchen Thanksgiving meal.

Credit: Jessica Salmond

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012

Story source:

Jim Ronald, 573-445-9792

COLUMBIA, Mo.– Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds success. This philosophy is at the heart of University of Missouri Extension’s Kids in the Kitchen program.

Kids in the Kitchen is a statewide program that gives young people hands-on cooking experiences and healthy living and lifestyle information, said Jim Ronald, 4-H youth specialist for MU Extension. “It’s about kids becoming more independent.”

In a class in Columbia, children with disabilities learn cooking skills like reading recipes, and using kitchen tools such as mixers, knives and choppers. While cooking is an important life skill, the kids also learn self-assurance.

“We walk them through every step of the way so that they’re confident in what they’re doing,” said Casey Gergen, Mizzou sophomore.

The class begins with a discussion of important expectations. Everything from following instructions to washing your hands goes up on the board. Then the real fun begins.

At one table, kids are making mashed potatoes. A masher, measuring cups and spoons exchange hands. Seasoning is added. At the other end of the room a more complicated recipe is underway – sweet potato casserole. Eggs are carefully cracked into the bowl, sweet potatoes are mashed and ginger and nutmeg added. At the center table, students chop onions and celery for stuffing.

There’s a bustle of activity in the kitchen too. Steam rises from pots and pans on the stove, ingredients are added and contents are stirred. The smell of baking bread fills the air.

“I made turkey stuffing, corn, potato casserole and also mashed potatoes,” said Timothy McCord, one of the Kids in the Kitchen participants. “I like the teamwork and helping other people.”

“The goal of this program is to help the kids learn independent living skills,” said Natalie Cheng, Mizzou junior. “We encourage the students to take the recipes home and cook with their families.”

Independent living is important for everyone, but it’s very important for these kids.

This particular class is led by Mark Ohrenberg, youth advocate and community service specialist for Services for Independent Living, a Columbia-based nonprofit.

“Everyone does a task in different ways. Giving young people an opportunity to make recipes builds confidence,” he said.

Cooking is an important life skill. If you know how to cook your choices expand.

“For many young people, fast food and microwave food is a big part of growing up. If you know how to cook you can use healthier, fresher foods,” Ronald said.

There’s pride in making something yourself. It also sparks a bit of adventure.

“We teach them about what kinds of fruits and vegetables are healthy,” Gergen said. “They take pride in the food they cook so they’re willing to try new things.”

All the preparation is done and cleanup begins. Like a well-oiled machine, the kids pick up all the tools, ingredients and utensils, wipe down the tables and set plates, forks and spoons for their meal.

McCord has plans for the things he learned in class.

“I’m going to cook enough food to take with me when I go to Festus (Mo.) with my dad and brother,” McCord. “Also, I’m going to watch the Thanksgiving parade on TV.”

More information at www.extension.missouri.edu/N800.