STILLWATER, Okla. — Students at Oklahoma State University are well-versed in attending classes, taking notes and test preparation. Still, some may need assistance with developing skills in food preparation, healthy cooking techniques, food safety and nutrition.
Cooking with Extension and Pete’s Pantry is a joint effort of OSU Extension, Community Nutrition Education Programs, Pete’s Pantry, Basic Needs Resources and the University of Oklahoma’s Oklahoma Nutrition Information and Education Project. The free, five-week pilot program in the fall of 2023 proved to be so successful that a second five-week course will be offered this spring semester, beginning in February.
Each class combines 30 minutes of classroom learning and 30 minutes of cooking to teach students how to prepare delicious and nutritious meals.
Parker Jackson, Community and Nutrition Education Programs educator and program coordinator with OSU Extension, said the collaborative effort began with a discussion between the Community Nutrition Education Programs and Pete’s Pantry, OSU’s on-campus food bank, in the summer of 2023. The Oklahoma Nutrition Information and Education Project provided the curriculum for the classroom segment, and the food was donated by Pete’s Pantry.
“A lot of college students don’t have much experience in the kitchen preparing healthy food,” Jackson said. “The students involved in the pilot class prepared a different recipe each week using ingredients from Pete’s Pantry and recipes from USDA’s MyPlate. The recipes were adaptable to fit vegetarian and vegan preferences, and we used protein substitutes such as lentils and tofu.”
Some of the recipes students prepared last fall included skillet lasagna, chicken pad Thai, chicken skewers and chicken skillet.
Jackson said students learned knife skills, how to use a meat thermometer, food safety and adaptability in the kitchen.
“Many students don’t have fully stocked kitchens, so they have to work with what they have,” he said. “If a recipe called to cover the pot and simmer but there wasn’t a lid available, we taught them how to use a baking sheet as a lid. They also learned about how much protein, carbs, fruits and vegetables are needed each day.”
In addition to gaining experience in the kitchen, Jackson said participants also learned how to determine a grocery budget and shop wisely to get the most for their food dollars.
“We want to make this class as inclusive as possible. Groceries are expensive, and Pete’s Pantry is a wonderful resource to help members of the OSU family have healthy foods to eat,” he said.
Cassidy Davis, graduate assistant for Basic Needs Resources and Pete’s Pantry, assisted with the coordination and implementation of the cooking classes.
“The students benefitted by not only getting a warm, nutritious meal each week, but also learning and utilizing proper cooking techniques and understanding the benefits of healthy eating,” she said. “The curriculum we used is great at connecting students to various nutritional information they may not have known otherwise.”
Davis said the feedback from the pilot class has been positive.
“The students would show up to class excited, and some said it was the highlight of their week,” she said. “The students not only enjoyed trying new recipes but also meeting new people.”
Marissa Story, a senior majoring in communication sciences and disorders, took the class with her boyfriend.
“I love Pete’s Pantry on campus and the resources that are available to students facing food insecurity. When I got the email about the class, we signed up immediately,” she said. “While I enjoy cooking, I’m a community mentor living on campus so I don’t have a lot of experience doing it. My boyfriend struggles with eating certain foods and textures, and I thought this would be a great learning opportunity for both of us.”
Story said the class exceeded her expectations. One of her most valuable takeaways was learning that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated.
“Cooking food that tastes good isn’t as hard as we think it is,” she said. “We learned we can make great tasting, nutritious meals by sticking to the basics. The coordinators of the class make it fun because they were so enthusiastic.”
She encourages other students to sign up for the session that begins in February.
All OSU-Stillwater students are eligible to participate. Each five-week course is limited to 25 participants. Students will receive an announcement in their OSU email accounts with information about the next class.
For more information, contact Jackson at 405-744 -6699 or email@example.com.
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