A new nonprofit program is aiming to give young people cooking skills and nutritional knowledge in Winston-Salem.

A pilot program of Kids Cooking Coalition has been teaching classes to children ages 7 to 12 at three locations around town this spring.

The program is spearheaded by Margaret Savoca, a nutritionist who is retired from the faculty at UNC Greensboro and also has conducted research for Wake Forest University.

Savoca said that the idea grew out of her volunteer work with the Boys and Girls Club, though it is an independent project not associated with the club.

“My work has been in nutrition education, and trying to help people to make (healthy) changes,” Savoca said. “The idea of Kids Cooking Coalition is to bring cooking classes, skills, training and nutrition to various sites in the community where kids have an ongoing program.”

Savoca teamed up with the Campus Kitchen at Wake Forest University, and found three sites: Cook Elementary School, Positive Image Performing Arts and the YWCA's Best Choice Center.

Campus Kitchen is part of the national Campus Kitchens Project that combines hunger relief with community service for college students. Much of its work to date has been saving food from area restaurants and food businesses that otherwise would be thrown out and recycling it to help feed those in need.

Brad Shugoll, the director of the Campus Kitchen at Wake Forest, said that when Savoca approached him with the idea of the Kids Cooking Coalition, he realized it was a good fit. “We already had been doing repurposing and redirection (of surplus food), but we have a larger mission to do nutritional education and we had not been doing a lot of that. So this was a perfect opportunity for it.”

Savoca wrote the six-class curriculum with graduate students from UNCG’s Department of Nutrition under the guidance of professor Lauren Haldeman. A portable kitchen, also used by the Boys and Girls Club, came from N.C. Area Health and Education Services (AHEC). Wake Forest Campus Kitchen supplies food and volunteers to lead the classes.

Each 90-minute class includes an overall lesson, activity, teaching of cooking skills and introduction of a new food. Class size averages from nine to 12 children. “The lesson might be ‘Why Eat Fruit?’ and we’ll have an activity looking at different fruit, a lesson on how to chop and then a tasting of a fruit or fruit dish,” Savoca said.

Another lesson taught children about proteins and grains and how to recognize healthy sources of each. During the class, children learned how to use a microwave and griddle and how to cook oatmeal and scrambled eggs.

The classes are led by Wake Forest student volunteers. Three teams of four students are responsible for shopping for the classes, handling the logistics and teaching the classes.

Savoca and Shugoll attend classes and supervise but the students do the bulk of the work.

Last Friday at Best Choice Center, site coordinator and senior Allie Hubbard prepped food in the kitchen, while sophomores Grace Yucha and Iman Ahmed and junior Mackenzie Wilkins engaged the children in a sorting game.

“At Campus Kitchen, we’ve been wanting to work with kids,” Hubbard said. “It’s nice to interact and educate rather than just deliver food.”

During Friday’s class, children looked at pictures of foods and then sorted them based on levels of fat and sugar content.

Later, the nine children worked in teams to make chicken and white bean chili with spinach; tossed salad with apples, cucumbers and tomatoes; and a no-sugar-added dessert of yogurt with banana and pineapple.

After the meal, the class wrapped up with a final exam of sorts — a Jeopardy-style game in which each week’s class represented one of the categories of questions.

Shugoll said that the students received three weeks’ worth of training before the classes. That training including fundamental ServSafe food-handling certification and cooking skills, with help from Aramark staff at Wake Forest.

This week, the classes will celebrate the conclusion of the program with an awards dinner, prpared by Aramark, the food-service company that serves Wake Forest, and attended by participants and their families. Each participant will get not only a certificate, but also a cookbook of all the dishes prepared during the class.

Kyhreem Tymes, 9, said he liked the opportunity to try new foods, like hummus. “And I learned how to make smoothies,” he said.

Nine-year-old Jahiyah Marks-Garris said she was pleasantly surprised to learn she liked sautéed broccoli. “You get to shake the pan around and add seasonings. I did broccoli and it actually turned out really good,” she said. “I’ve been begging my mom to cook forever, and finally I’m getting to do it here.”

Eleven-year-old Jada Brown said she’s sorry the classes were coming to an end. “I think about it all week — ‘Is it Friday yet?’ It’s fun.”

Shugoll said that the program has gotten some positive feedback so far. “The (Wake Forest) students have stepped up to take the lead, and the partners have been receptive to the program.”

Savoca said that her advisory board — which includes representatives from the three partner sites — will review the pilot program before deciding what to do next.

“We’ve been pretty pleased with the format, and all the sites want us to come back,” Savoca said. “but the board will go over the program and decide how to go forward. We might want to tweak a few things. We might want to target middle-school kids next time.”

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