Cooking Matters for area youth

Grand Rapids youth learn about the importance of nutritious foods, while learning how to cook them.

Amy Prins, program instructor for Michigan State University Extension, understands the importance of connecting with community partners and building collaborative partnerships. When Amy saw the curriculum for Cooking Matters and learned more about the program, she immediately knew it would be a great fit for young adults at Grand Rapids Youth Builders. MSU Extension has been programming with Habitat for Humanity’s Youth Builders program for the past year. Grand Rapids Youth Build is a 40 week leadership program for low-income young adults, ages 18-24 that are exiting the Foster Care system, to help them obtain a GED while learning construction job skills by building affordable housing for low-income families in Kent County. A strong emphasis is placed on leadership qualities, life skills and community service. While in this program, participants have been completing the MSU Extension nutrition program, Eating Right is Basic, as a component to the life skills.

A parallel program, Grand Rapids Job Corps, has also been a strong partner with MSU Extension for the past seven years. Job Corps is a no-cost education and career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that helps young people ages 16 through 24 improve the quality of their lives through technical career and academic training in culinary arts and health occupations, among other careers. Students on the culinary arts and health occupation track also complete the Eating Right is Basic program as a component to their life skills program.

The Cooking Matters program connects area volunteer chefs to teach the cooking part of each lesson. Amy located a student through Job Corps who is finishing the culinary arts program and agreed to become the volunteer chef for her classes at Grand Rapids Youth Builder (GRYB). This opportunity not only provided the group with a chef, it gave her experience to add to her resume, and the opportunity to apply the skills learned through the culinary arts program.

The students at Youth Builders learned basic kitchen and cooking skills from a peer in another discipline, empowering them to shop, prepare and eat healthier recipes. The nutrition lesson taught them each why eating these healthier recipes is a good idea. Amber Fox, Director of Grand Rapids Youth Build says, “The Cooking Matters program through MSU Extension was a wonderful experience for our students - it was hands on, fun and very educational. The students want more of it!”

According to Amy, “The cooking matters program had an immediate impact on the participants at GRYB. Each week these young individuals not only received nutrition instruction but also gained the hands-on experience in the kitchen. Then they received the same grocery product to try the recipe at home. In the end they all said that they had gained skills and confidence in the kitchen that they had not had before.”

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