The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program recently hosted a youth enrichment summer camp to encourage local children, ages 6 to 11, to eat healthier meals and snacks through hands-on cooking experiences.

The camp focused on basic cooking skills, good nutrition, food safety and ways to be active, according to a news release.

Twenty-five children learned about topics including kitchen safety, basic cooking measurements, the nutritional content of different foods and beverages and 4-H yoga for children. They also participated in ice-breaker exercises to get to know each other and were able to prepare foods such as pizza, chicken quesadillas, tacos, pudding, shakes and breakfast treats.

Participants also toured the UAPB Aquaculture/Fisheries Center, where they visited the fish ponds and learned about the production of catfish. Later, they learned about vegetable production and planted their own flower or tomato plants, which they could take home.

Teresa Henson, Extension specialist II – nutrition outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s 1890 Cooperative Extension Program, said the idea for the camp grew out of the desire to support children and youth in the housing complexes near UAPB campus.

“It is very important for children to learn about cooking and nutrition,” she said. “This camp provided local children the opportunity to try new and healthy foods. They were able to learn basic life skills related to cooking, as well as social skills by working as a group and communicating with each other in the kitchen.”

Henson said the obesity rate for children ages 10 to 17 in Arkansas is more than 33 percent. To combat the high childhood obesity rate, it is important that children incorporate physical activity into their daily routines at an early age.

“We wanted to teach the children that they can be active and have fun,” Henson said. “Whether through yoga or dancing, physical activity has a profoundly positive effect on children and youth. We hope the children take what they learned in the camp and inspire other family members or friends to be active as well.”

Henson said the UAPB Cooperative Extension Program aims to provide local children the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for them to live healthy lives.

“We want local children and their parents to see UAPB as a community resource and source of support,” she said. “We hope the same children we worked with at the camp someday become students of UAPB.”

— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.