Eight-year-old Kaleb Brown, a third-grade student in Dufrocq Elementary School’s magnet program, knows how to win over a teacher. He described his volunteer cooking teacher, Lizzie Viera, an LSU student from Lafayette, as “most kindhearted and nice.”
Viera, a senior in nutritional sciences, was helping him and Christian Mack, 10, make Sweet Potato and Black Bean Wraps during a session of the Big Buddy Enrichment Program at the School of Human Ecology building on the LSU campus.
“We have a kind teacher who helps you and gives good instruction. It’s great,” Kaleb said of the after-school program which aims to teach the youngsters about nutrition, cooking, eating wholesome meals and dining etiquette.
“They’ve been coming here since last September and have learned a lot,” said Judy Myhand, the LSU instructor in nutrition and food science who directs the Big Buddy Enrichment Program at LSU. The second- through fifth-grade “Little Buddies” attend the once-a-week program from September through April.
Fifteen to 18 LSU students volunteer — some regularly, some occasionally — to help with the hands-on nutrition program. Most are LSU dietetic students except for Mallory Katz, a sophomore from Mandeville who is majoring in agriculture education, and Janice Albert, of New Orleans, a junior in kinesiology. Katz and Katie Moses, a junior from Lafayette, assist Myhand in organizing the classes.
“I was here last semester and needed a job,” Katz said. “I want to teach cooking and the ProStart program. I was on the ProStart competition team at Fountainbleu High School in Mandeville. It’s a pretty cool program. That’s why I want to teach it.”
Katz works 12 hours a week with Myhand grouping the Little Buddies and preparing the week’s lesson plan.
“We group the kids based on evaluations by the LSU volunteers. Katie and Mallory choose the recipes. Mallory does the lesson plan and Katie creates the educational materials.” said Myhand, who gets a small stipend from Big Buddies to cover expenses.
During the one-hour class the two LSU students and Myhand also help the student volunteers who are less experienced in working with children.
“We try to make it healthy and try to have a theme, what we want to teach the kids,” Katz continued. “We never really know how many kids are coming. We have eight today but we can handle up to 15.”
The youngsters work in a 1960-era, six-unit kitchen lab on the second floor of the LSU School of Human Ecology building. Each unit is equipped with an electric stove and oven, microwave, double sink, metal cabinets and a paper towel dispenser.
“The objective is for them to learn food safety. Today, we are focusing on washing fresh vegetables. That’s our focus every time,” Myhand said. “Today, we’re looking at Louisiana foods. At the end of the time, we’ll give a simple test to see if they remember what we’ve talked about. The test is written in a fun format.”
Katz groups the children into color-coded teams. “You have to consider who’s tall enough to reach the counter to cut things,” she said.
Also working with the LSU students is Baton Rouge High School freshman Daija Green, who helps monitor the Little Buddies.
“I make sure they get from Dufrocq for the after-school enrichment program and get on the van at 5 p.m.,” she said. “I’m still a Little Buddy. My mom works at the Big Buddy office.”
“I help my mom make every meal we have for dinner,” said Donté Cryer, 8, as he and fellow second-grader Caleb Hawkins, 8, learn to make Tartine With Blackberry Salad.
Red Group member Carmen Randolph, 8, is making Broiled Tunawich, an open-faced, tuna and cheese sandwich. “I like cooking. It’s my second semester here,” she said.
She’s being helped by Shiquita Brooks, an LSU junior from Marrero, who said, “I love working with the kids and applying some of the things I learn in class.”
Albert, the kinesiology student, said she got interested in the program after taking a nutrition class last semester. “I learned about the program and volunteered. I just started. I’m still learning.”
A timer goes off for the blue group, which is making Succotash. Brinin David, 9, who’s in the third grade, and her partner, Aniay Fergurson, 8, are helped by Jenny Hudson, of Springfield, a senior in dietetics.
Over at the green group, Eliot Passman, 9, measured spices for Cajun Pepper Cabbage.
He’s helped by Amanda DiCarlo, of Houston, a senior in nutrition dietetics.
The Little Buddies each week take home a copy of the recipe they made. At the end of the semester they also get a cookbook made by the LSU students. The cookbook includes photos of all the kids, the food and the LSU students.
At the end of their cooking session, they sit down at a family-style meal to eat their creations. Each is given a custom-made cloth napkin with encouraging messages — Say please and thank you; Try it, you might like it; Use your fork, not your fingers; Don’t speak rude of the food — to reinforce manners and healthy eating.
They also must observe the kitchen rules: Wash hands often. Clean up after working in the kitchen. Do not eat the ingredients. Do not say, “I don’t like it’ or “I don’t want to eat that” or “That’s nasty.” Do not interrupt while others are talking. Have respect for others. No horseplay in the kitchen. No cellphone use.
“Sometimes the kids get off task, but that’s just kids,” Katz said. “I think they enjoy it. I know I do. The volunteers are great. They don’t get paid and they come back every week. Most don’t need the volunteer hours. They come because they like it. They like the kids and like the cooking.”