Youths heat up 4-H food contest

Eating a balanced diet can be a challenge for people on a tight budget and in areas with limited access to food. Arkansas 4-H teaches teenagers this important life skill, and 50 members demonstrated how creative they can be in preparing an inexpensive but nutritious meal.

Members from eight counties attended the event, which was modeled after the Food Network’s popular “Chopped” show.

The competition was held at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College’s Culinary and Hospitality Management Institute, where teams had 40 minutes to prepare and present a dish. The competition twist: The young chefs had to prepare meals using ingredients available in dollar stores like Family Dollar, Dollar General and Dollar Tree.

Using canned beans, corn, chicken broth, canned chicken, cheese, mushrooms and tortilla chips, the young chefs conjured up a range of dishes from tortilla dip and taco bowls to chicken nachos and soups.

A panel of representatives and specialists from cooperative advisory and consumer science evaluated the teams during preparation and presentation. Fifteen teams from eight counties participated: Benton, Drew, Franklin, Grant, Howard, Madison, Saline and Yell.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The winners were:

Senior department

First Place: Howard County Seniors with Spatula – Alex Trombley, Adelene Westfall, and Sarah Lamb;

Runner-up: Grant County Crafty Cooks – Acacia Lawler, Dylan Rogers, Egan Gunter, and Audrianna Ruiz;

Third place: Madison County Big Boys – Trevor Edwards, Colton Edwards, and Brett White;

Junior department

First Place: Madison County Chopettes – McKenna Cousins, Jade Emitt, and Lillian Samuels;

Runner-up: Howard County Food Choppers – Anna Kate McKinnon, Abi Webb, and Christian Trombley;

Third place: Drew County – Lily Copico, Macy Tolin and Mallory Burgeis.

First place winners will be Adelene Westfall of Howard County, Sarah Lamb and Alex Trombley for the 4-H National Food Challenge in September at the Texas State Fair.

The trio, called “Seniors with Spatulas”, impressed the jury with burgers, which were topped with basil and oregano, sautéed mushrooms and melted cheese on toasted buns. The team competed in the protein category and received ground beef, salt, pepper, oil and bread, and balsamic vinegar.

“The balsamic vinegar blew us away,” Westfall said. “We were trying to figure out what to cook.”

Instead of using the vinegar, the young chefs bought part of their budget to buy cheese, mushrooms, and extra condiments to refine the burgers and keep costs down.

Howard County 4-H director Samantha Horn said team members have been cooking for several years.

“They took part in our food raw material competitions and most of them have food and nutrition as part of their 4-H projects,” said Horn.

The challenge of creating meals with limited availability is well known in Howard County, where there are only two supermarkets – a Walmart and a Cash Saver. Some local residents drive 45 minutes to get to a grocery store, said Jean Ince, chairman of staff for the Howard County Extension Office.

“There’s a farmers market and we have dollar stores, but they’re limited to frozen items,” Ince said.

In the junior division, the Madison County Chopettes received top honors after impressing the judges with their chicken tortilla soup – and matching black chef coats with their names in glitter.

Madison County had another winning team. Brett White, Trevor Edwards and Colton Edwards, who called themselves “The Big Boys”, took third place in the senior class with their beef and rice bowl.

“I cook to eat,” said team member Brett White. “However, working with a team really sharpens your skills.”

Madison County 4-H agent Caramie Edwards has been working with both teams for about four months.

“We ran simulated competitions to help them practice time management in the kitchen,” she said. “They learned how to budget, source and shop for healthy food, and learned how to make food that they could use throughout their lives.”


As part of the Food Challenge, 4-H teenagers learned how to safely prepare food to avoid contamination, how to read food labels and how to prepare nutritionally balanced meals. As part of their presentation, each team had to explain the nutritional value of the ingredients, prepare a cost analysis and make recommendations to improve the nutritional value of the meal through food substitutes.

“The Arkansas 4-H Food Challenge is an ideal event to showcase the Healthy Living 4-H project as it encompasses food and nutrition, decision making, use of available resources, teamwork and time management skills,” said Angie Freel, Associate 4- H head of department. “Teams need to work together to be successful at this hands-on event, and that’s how 4-H teaches life skills to its members. Practicing life skills through 4-H experiences prepares them to use the same skills in different scenarios throughout their lives. “


Good resource management is one of the core values ​​of 4-H, and learning how to use financial resources was only part of the project. UA-Pulaski Tech’s cooking school is a zero waste facility and the young chefs had to explain how they recycled and reduced waste.

At the end of the Food Challenge, the unopened cans of food purchased for the competition were donated to The Shack, a homeless shelter in Little Rock, said Amanda Welch, program manager at 4-H who coordinated the Food Challenge.

To learn more about extension programs in Arkansas, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service representative or visit Follow the agency on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension.

– Tracy Courage is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.

A team showcases their finished dish during the Arkansas 4-H Food Challenge on August 6th. (Special to The Commercial / U of A System Division of Agriculture)

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