Nutrition academy: Healthy food more available now

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Area students attending the North Carolina Cooperative Extension's Culinary Academy at Northeastern High School are eager to learn the secrets of making healthy meals and snacks. Cooperative Extension Agent Olivia Jones (second from the left) helps students (l-r) Broc Nati, Autumn Sale and Juliana Sale prepare pizza crusts.


By Kesha Williams

Sunday, August 12, 2018

If you’ve never prepared your pizza crust with cauliflower, North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents have a surprise for you.

Cauliflower and wheat flower are nutritional alternatives to the white flower used to prepare the traditional pizza crust.

Extension agents from local counties recently instructed 19 area youths attending a 4-H culinary academy, offering a host of nutritious tips and advice for making healthy meals and snacks. This year’s academy was held inside a Northeastern High School kitchen.

The academy has been offered for more than a decade. Six of this year’s participants returned for the culinary academy after attending in previous years.

Ellen Owens, one of several Pasquotank County Extension agents coordinating the culinary academy, said cauliflower is also lower in fat and lower in calories that in white flower. For those counting calories, that’s another nifty trick to keep in mind when planning meals. Using wheat flower instead of white flower adds additional nutritional value to many of our favorite recipes.

“Half of the grains we consume should be whole grain. So a whole-wheat pizza crust allows us to bring more whole grains in the diet. This is a 4-H culinary academy and 4-H teaches kids to learn using hands-on experiences. They had a lot of hands-on experiences during this academy,” Owens said.

“This year’s academy is a collaborative effort between Pasquotank and Camden Extension offices. We feel like it is important to teach good nutrition, food safety and food preparation to young people in an effort to help kids grow up healthy,” Owens said.

“I love working with young people because they are a great audience, eager to learn new things,” Owens said. “They are receptive to that and we’ve been surprised to hear them say ‘that’s really good a pizza crust made from cauliflower.”

In today’s fast-paced society, adults and youths are quick to develop a grab-and-go mode of eating, Owens said. However, parents and youths have more options now to select nutritious foods at home or on the run.

Also, it’s never too early for parents to train children to prepare healthy meals, Owens advised. The extension agents emphasized a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.

The extension agents led the youths to Morris Farms in Currituck County where they witnessed how readily available, locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables are. The merchandise there also illustrated how those products used to create an array of packaged snacks and beverages.

That field trip also revealed the role local farmers play in meeting the nutritional needs of local residents and tourists who shop at roadside farmers markets. From the farm where food is grown to the picnic table lunch, it was a memorable lesson plan.

Autumn Sale, a 12-year old academy student, decided to attend the culinary academy after her mother found a Cooperative Extension notice promoting the sessions. She was searching for area, summer activities. Now, Sale highly recommends the academy where she said kids can learn while having fun.

“I like cooking and helping around the house,” Sale said. “I thought the tips in our (culinary academy) book were good. I learned the different types of cuts: slice, chop, dice, mince and Julienne.”

In addition to creating meals, agents taught the students how to create seasonings that are an alternative to salt.

Academy participants received a recipe booklet produced by the N.C. Cooperative Extension as well as handouts produced by other state cooperative extension offices. The information advised on assorted meal preparation techniques as well as how to properly clean, dry and store dishes and utensils for future use.

In September, the Cooperative Extension will offer a master food volunteer training course. The 10-week course helps participants learn a variety of food safety lessons. Most of all, the participants will be prepared to promote food safety measures to their peers and family members. The cost is $50. The class meets once a week from its Sept. 4 start date until it ends in November.