Spark youth’s interest in food science and related careers

Spark youth’s interest in food science and related careers utilizing the National 4-H Curriculum ‘What’s On Your Plate? – Exploring Food Science”

The food industry is the largest manufacturing industry in the United States. Many inter-related fields of food science and food technology contribute to this industry. The food we consume today is a result of extensive food research and food science involving disciplines such as biology, chemical engineering and bio-chemistry to name a few. The National 4-H Curriculum “What’s on Your Plate – Exploring Food Science”, developed by Washington State University Extension and the University of Arizona, is a wonderful resource to lead young people through experiential, hands-on activities to the basics of food science and career opportunities related to the field of food science.

The curriculum consists of four units. A facilitator guide, a youth journal, and many online tutorials and resources are developed for each unit. The activities are written for youth grades 6 to 9, but can easily be adapted for younger or older youth. In this article Michigan State University Extension will share how each activity explores the science behind common every day cooking and baking.

Unit 1 explores “the Secrets of Baking” which leads young people to the secret ingredient of baking, that determines the structure and texture of baked goods: gluten. Youth also will explore the effects of leaveing agents, especially yeast, as well as other common muffin, quick bread and cake batter ingredients such as salt, fat and sugar. They will also look at the effects of mixing and explore the ratio for liquid and dry ingredients in recipe formulations.

Unit 2 explores the “Power of Protein Chemistry”. Through activities such as preparing boiled, poached, scrambled and fried eggs as well as making a soufle, youth will discover egg parts, coagulation, over-coagulation and the effects of heat on egg protein. Youth will further explore coagulation by making cheese curds.

Unit 3 looks at the “Inner Mysteries of Fruits and Vegetables”. Have you ever wondered why certain fresh fruits and vegetables turn brown after you cut them? What could you do about it, and how? You will find out in this unit of the curriculum. The unit also explores the change of color in certain vegetables when being cooked/processed as well as the basics of osmosis and diffusion with simple experiments using cucumbers and apples.

Unit 4, “Be a Food Scientist”, ties it all together and explores various careers and entrepreneurial opportunities related to the food science industry.

The “What’s on Your Plate” curriculum is user friendly and a resource to turn common cooking and baking acitivities into valuable science lessons that teach youth important life skills such as cooperation, critical thinking, communication, team work, record keeping, planning and organizing. MSU Extension recommends asking many open ended questions during and after the activities to help process what was learned and to stimulate inquiry, curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving skills.

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