Youth Nutrition Education: Big Picture Learning Academy Teens Take On Culinary Challenges

On Wednesday, March 3, 2020, very enthusiastic, bright-eyed students from the Big Picture Learning Academy in Camden presented five weeks of hard work in youth nutrition and recipe crafting.

These 10 budding culinary superstars showed off their skills – in cooking, communication and collaboration.

Here is their story…

By Giavanna Troilo

The Health & Wellness Department kicked this round of its Youth Nutrition Outreach Training (YNOT) in the beginning of February. The signature training allows kids to get a taste —literally— of how to create original nutritious recipes and perform cooking techniques. Students from the Big Picture Learning Academy have been in the FBSJ kitchen every week preparing for their final class, during which they put on a cooking demonstration for family and the food bank to show off their original recipes, as well as their newly honed public speaking skills.

Tricia Yeo, Senior Manager of Health and Wellness at FBSJ, says she’s seen great progress in the students participating through the five-week training. “The ultimate goal is we would like to hire the students as nutrition assistants,” said Yeo. “If they’re a graduate of the program and they excelled, they receive an invitation to come work for us.”

Eager to learn their way around creative culinary techniques, the students from Big Picture Learning Academy in the City of Camden participated in the five-week healthy cooking and nutrition training class designed to creatively develop and practice public speaking skills, mixed in with the experience of creating a one-of-a-kind healthy recipe and presenting a full cooking demonstration for friends, family, staff and guests. Successful graduates of the program are invited to work with the Food Bank of South Jersey’s Health & Wellness team to assist in nutrition education activities. The first week of the program focused on public speaking practice, the second week was dedicated to learning food safety, and during the third week, the students began developing their recipes and demonstrations. They conducted a dry run of their demo and watched themselves back for critique. Yeo hopes that the students who excel — such as Ediel Velazquez, who is currently leading YNOT for the Big Picture students — will be able to “teach back to the community with us” using the skills they gain from the training.

Youth Nutrition: Rather than participating in such a training at their school, the students from Big Picture have been gaining knowledge at the Food Bank of South Jersey.

“I think it’s great that this class gets to come here,” said Yeo. “By going to a different location, they can see what the food bank does, and we can talk to them about career opportunities within these walls.”

The kids have been working hard to perfect their recipes, chock full of healthy ingredients from proteins to vegetables, while enjoying some play along the way. “My favorite part of this class was when we played the guessing game,” said Clifton, one Big Picture student. “I’ve learned the claw technique and the ability to work as a team.”

As part of their training, the students were taught the “claw technique,” through which they’ve been able to perfect their ability to avoid injury while using a knife. Several students mentioned this technique being their biggest takeaway from their training. In terms of the big day this week, Clifton and the other students eagerly anticipated showcasing what they’ve learned. Several students expressed that they felt ready for the demo, while others said they were feeling unsure.

“I’m a little nervous about it, but I have my team that makes me have confidence in this demo,” said Eiyannie, another student. “I’m not really good presenting in front of people but not alone on this. My team’s got this!”

Along the way, though the students have learned the how-to’s of home cooking and healthy ingredients, more important, they’ve learned how to work together as a team to create a culinary masterpiece.

Giavanna Troilo is a junior Communication Studies student at Rider University. On campus, she is a Bonner Community Scholar, a Resident Assistant and she writes for The Rider News, the university newspaper. She studies English and completes design work for several campus organizations.