'Little Chefs' program teaches grade schoolers life skill in atmosphere of fun, faith

(OSV News) ─ What do you get when you take two teachers and 28 students, surround them with cooking utensils, assemble an abundance of edible ingredients, add in a few craft projects, blend with a cup of patience and sprinkle with a bushelful of laughter?

Why, the inaugural "Little Chefs" cooking program held in Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River. It was one of many types of summer camps offered in Catholic schools around the Trenton Diocese.

"(Cooking) is a life skill you need forever," said Meghan Ciniglio, Donovan Catholic's Learning Commons teacher and owner of a catering company. "It is relevant today," she told The Monitor Magazine, the diocesan publication.

She and JoAnn D'Anton, director of marketing for the Toms River Catholic campus, which also includes St. Joseph Parish and Grammar School, decided to add a cooking class for youngsters to the list of summer enrichment classes, for, as Ciniglio observed, "schools don't teach home economics anymore."

Each of the four half-day programs July 17-20 enabled the future chefs, students in grades four to eight, to build upon their culinary skills as well as to practice their writing and creativity.

First, the chefs each decorated their own white apron and toque (tall white hat) to wear, then chose their own trivet to adorn. A tour of the Donovan Catholic industrial kitchen assured the students were acquainted with the tools of the trade, then the budding culinary workers eagerly anticipated the next steps: preparing and eating their creations.

Menus were kid-friendly and included two meals to prepare and eat in class as well as a dessert to take home for their families to enjoy. The children painstakingly recorded recipes for their personal cookbooks; breakfast items such as pancake muffins, French toast, egg bites and quesadillas vied for their attention (and appetites), with luncheon creations such as sandwich roll-ups, walking tacos, personal pizzas and strombolis.

"We were amazed at the outcome," D'Anton said. "It started as fun, and the kids went home with a love of cooking and of food. I kept thinking of the 'feed the hungry' parable, and if I could share a little of my faith journey, I can share that love."

D'Anton's cellphone was filled with messages, texts and pictures from parents of the young chefs, praising their food and relating their eager requests to prepare a meal for their family.

One enthusiastic chef, Brayden, was moved to make a Facebook video in which he held up scrambled egg bites and shared, "I hate eggs, but these are the best things of my life, and these are eggs!" D'Anton received a call from a laughing parent who discovered her son, Dennis, a new chef, shopping online with his father's credit card ordering his own set of pots, pans and cooking equipment.

St. Joseph School fourth-grade student Gemma Baranello is already pleasing the palates of her parents and sister with food she is cooking at home. "I would love to continue to learn more about cooking, food combinations and creating new recipes," she said. "I will keep cooking up some cool new recipes in my kitchen."

Classmate Alessandra Boemio loved creating French toast for breakfast, and desserts are next on her list of cooking goals, she shared. "I like everything that we made and have made a few recipes for my family thanks to the recipe book we made at camp," said Alessandra.

"We had such an amazing time," Ciniglio concluded. "We need basics like cooking, because food brings everything together."
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Christina Leslie is a freelance writer for The Monitor Magazine, publication of the Diocese of Trenton.



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