Close up of a child chopping tomatoes and garlic. They wear a green apron.

Mini Chefs is a new program Mission Services is running for youth attending The 196 Afterschool Program. This weekly activity was made possible by the generosity of the Edith H.Turner Foundation and people like you. Thank you for helping us address food insecurity in our community and empowering kids to learn about healthy food and how to make simple, nutritious meals on a budget.

The name of the new program “Mini Chefs” was chosen by kids in The 196 Afterschool Program. Jason, the Youth Food Coordinator leading the Monday night cooking sessions, explained that he wanted the kids to be able to choose a name for the program. “I really like the name,” he said, “it was inspired by the hit television show ‘Iron Chef’, and it fits the program perfectly!”

Food security is a challenge many families in Hamilton are facing. We realize this has a serious impact on the children in our community—kids we work with every day. Mini Chefs was created to address food security in our neighborhood and to help kids we work with build confidence in the kitchen. One of our Mini Chefs, Ethan, said his favourite part of the program is getting to cook with friends. He also added that “cooking is as easy as pie.”
Robin (featured above) is a mother of one of the children in our program and also volunteers with The 196 each week. When we spoke with her about the program, she said, “It’s a great way to show all of the kids how to safely use cooking appliances and utensils so they know how to use them properly when they are on their own and cooking meals for themselves.” Mini Chefs is all about empowering youth to feel comfortable and confident cooking simple, nutritious food on a budget.

Each week a different Mini Chef takes a turn designing a healthy meal to feed up to 20 people on a $50 budget. The mini chef then leads the rest of the group in preparing, plating, serving and enjoying the meal together. “They all want to be head chef.” Jason said, “It’s something a lot of the kids look forward to each week.”

The program is about more than just food education and practical cooking experience, it’s also about teaching the kids how to handle the stress of being in charge and the potential conflict that can arise when leading a team in the kitchen. “One of the best learning moments I’ve had with The 196,” Jason told us, “was discussing what it means to be a leader not a boss.” Having a conversation about leadership and getting the kids to understand how showing others rather than telling them how do do something was really important. “I really enjoy those side moments with the kids,” Jason said, “when we get to have real conversations. I think it makes a big impact.”

Robin noted the impact that the program has had on her own family. Her son, Skyler (a participant in Mini Chefs) loves to cook and, since the beginning of the program, will often help make dinner at home. “It makes a big difference,” Robin said. “His favorite thing to cook is fish, especially haddock, and I love when we are able to cook together.”

Robin also helps out in the kitchen each week. Her favourite meal so far has been the sloppy joes, and she was surprised by how much she enjoyed the vegetarian alternative made with curried lentils! Some other favorites included the nacho bowls, broccoli chicken Alfredo pasta made by her son and chicken Caesar salad. We cannot wait to see what the mini chefs come up with next!

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