How a Manitoba school is sharpening the culinary skills of students during a pandemic

News source from CTV News

Students at MacGregor Collegiate Institute are keeping their cooking skills sharp with a new challenge.

Throughout the month of May, the school in MacGregor will be running the “Mustangs Master Chef Challenge.”

mustang master chef

(photo courtesy Penny Wilson)

Penny Wilson, the foods teacher at the school, came up with the challenge to help her students to continue to develop their cooking skills and support their family through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“They are eating three times a day anyway so they might as well make some of their own food,” said Wilson. 

This is the first year for the contest. Wilson said it was only possible because all the students are at home and needed something to do.

“I’ve started calling it a death skill. I heard this at a PD event I was at and the reason we call it that is that there are certain skills you need to keep yourself from dying. And being able to feed yourself is one of them,” she said. 

The contest is open to students in grade 8 to 12 at the school. In an interview with CTV, Wilson said she has everything they need to create meals at home.

“I had planned on feeding them right through until the end of June anyway. I have most of that stuff sitting in the kitchen. The barrier was getting them not coming to the school to get it anymore,” she said.

macgregor collegiate

(Students at MacGregor Collegiate Institute cook cinnamon buns in the food lab at school in an undated photo submitted photo Penny Wilson)

Wilson said she puts together “mystery boxes” full of food for students to cook with. Once the meals are complete they can send in a picture and Wilson will post it to their Instagram account @fireinthekitchen. 

“These kids need skills about nutrition and to read a label and to understand what it is they are purchasing and consuming. They have more processed products in front of them than any generation has ever had before them,” Wilson said. 

If there is a missing ingredient, Wilson said students can use something else. She said many grown-ups have to make a meal from whatever is in the cupboard anyway so it is good students learn to use what is on hand.

“Now is not the time to put an extra burden on families and say, ‘oh you have to go into town and buy this,’ these two weird things you never normally buy for a kid to make this food assignment,” she said. 

Food brings joy, Wilson said, and the goal is to learn to enjoy cooking and nurture families with amazing meals. She added many of the students are also from bigger families and have learned to cook for everyone.

“Learning how to make food from basic ingredients is a skill that they can learn and will save them their health, their finances will be easier,” she said.

There will be five winners in the competition. They will be judged on skill, precision, and presentation. 

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