Our Story: 'Cook This!' for Healthy Living

May 2015

“Cook This!” is part of 4-H healthy living education from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. In 2014 youth came to the Iowa State University campus for this culinary challenge. In 2015 it is part of a camping experience at the Iowa 4-H Center. 4-H healthy living education gives youth the opportunity to develop nutrition knowledge and culinary skills through hands-on activities as they taste and prepare new flavors. They also practice leadership, citizenship and communication skills.

Cayla Taylor, 4-H youth program coordinator, oversees the “Cook This!” healthy living program for Iowa youth.

“Iowa 4-H ‘Cook This!’ is a program designed for youth in grades five through 12. They’re learning to work and communicate as a team to create a dish that is both eye pleasing and tasty as well. Then they present that dish and talk about why they created the dish they did and included the ingredients, or how they divvied out some of those roles and responsibilities while in the kitchen,” Taylor said.

According to Paige Halsted, “Cook This!” intern, “As the kids start and gather their ingredients, you can see the excitement in their eyes and they’re just ready to get going. That’s one of the reasons I really like being involved in ‘Cook This!’ You can really see the excitement and how much this means to the kids, they’re all having so much fun.”

“Cook This!” events are coordinated by 4-H Youth Development, the Department of Food Sciences and Human Nutrition in the College of Human Sciences, and Human Sciences Extension and Outreach.

“We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to bring these youth participants to the Iowa State University campus to get a first-hand look and experience cooking in Iowa State University food labs,” Taylor said. It’s an opportunity to give students on-campus experiences and help them learn about academic majors and potential career opportunities that are food-focused.

Halsted added, “Not only do the teams get to be creative in the kitchen, but also beforehand. Many teams come up with colorful costumes and creative looks so they’re coordinated and everyone knows they’re a team. It’s really impressive to see all of the hard work, even before they come.”

According to Taylor, “Through the Iowa 4-H ‘Cook This!’ program, we’re providing youth participants with life skills. Youth are also gaining a better understanding of healthy living and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, lead an active lifestyle, and how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, healthy grains and lean protein into their diet.”

Youth participate in “Cook This!” because it’s fun, interactive and hands-on. Many youth come back year after year to participate in the event because they enjoy that team setting.

“They enjoy that fast-paced cooking environment and they enjoy working with other youth their age and getting to try new ingredients in the kitchen,” Taylor said.

“Most importantly, the teams have fun. They get to work together, you can see the smiles on their faces and you just know they’re having a good time,” Halsted said.

Contact Cayla Taylor, cayla@ iastate.edu or 515-294-1877, about “Cook This!” and 4-H healthy living education from ISU Extension and Outreach.