The contestants don’t really look at themselves as cooks, some of them don’t even see themselves as helpers in the kitchen. This helps them look at food in a different way and empowers them to be self-reliant when it comes to their health. —Teri Oliver, the local coordinator of the Future Chefs program
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s a rare combination of ingredients: fourth-graders and salads.
Donning chef hats and aprons, 20 student finalists from Granite School District elementary schools went head to head in the kitchen at the Future Chefs Challenge Friday, getting their first taste of what it’s like to prepare a meal with nutrition in mind.
Organizers hope it’s the first step for Salt Lake-area kids on the road to a healthy lifestyle — even if it doesn’t mean landing on "Iron Chef" someday.
“The contestants don’t really look at themselves as cooks, some of them don’t even see themselves as helpers in the kitchen,” said Teri Oliver, the local coordinator of the Future Chefs program. “This helps them look at food in a different way and empowers them to be self-reliant when it comes to their health.”
Students from ProStart, a local culinary school, gave contestants guidance as they put together their salads alongside each other. Recipes included desserts such as “fruity crisps,” spicy dishes such as “Kjell’s spicy chicken salad” and hybrid foods such as “pizza salad.”
The elementary school students joined Friday’s festivities after being selected by their schools to compete in January. Rich Prall, Granite School District’s director of food services, said it’s important to start early in giving children the love of making their own meals.
“These aren’t necessarily the times of life that we eat the best of foods,” Prall said. “Our goal is to give the kids a leg up as they move into junior high and high school, where unhealthy habits can become more of a serious problem.”
Future Chefs tries to do something new and reach a different age group every year. In 2012, the contest theme was a healthy breakfast and the participants were in seventh grade. However, Granite School District’s publication specialist, Steven Powell, agrees that no matter how the program might alter its approach in later years, the target age will always be relatively young.
“We hope to instill in their young minds that this is the time for them to begin thinking about following the right diet and developing healthy eating habits, because in a few years it’s going to be harder to that,” Powell said. “You’re going to be with friends, you’re going to be going out to dinner more and you’re going to be a studying a lot — all of those are factors (that can lead to weight gain).”
Friday’s winners who may be interested in taking their young culinary career further will have an opportunity to feed that passion at the northwest regional and national competitions taking place in April.