Empowering Young Chefs Through Culinary Camp

Kids who attend this camp will learn their way around the kitchen. Find out how this program can also have far-reaching effects.

Kids ages 8 to 13 can participate in Kid’s Culinary Camp at Lakeside Arts Park at the Dole, Aug. 6-8 in Crystal Lake. They’ll learn basic techniques around the kitchen, such as hand washing and knife techniques.

Cooking is something we do almost daily and easily take for granted in our busy lives, but it’s something that’s also essential in a child’s development.

Lucky for kids that a Crystal Lake haven for the visual, performing and culinary arts is hosting a special summer camp that aims to unleash their cooking genius – if not elevate them to a MasterChef status.

From Aug. 6-8, kids age 8 to 13 can enjoy Kid’s Culinary Camp at Lakeside Arts Park at the Dole, where they’ll learn their way around the kitchen, from basics like hand washing and knife techniques to trying new healthy foods and exploring their creative sides. These half-day sessions will put young chefs under the tutelage of a professional chef inside Lakeside’s professional-grade kitchen.

“Because we’re an arts park, we really focus on the arts and how we can encourage people to bring them into their daily lives,” says Betty Kay Swanson, Lakeside’s program manager. “So, with cooking and culinary classes, we realize it’s a creative endeavor to start with, and we encourage the kids to combine cooking skills with healthy ingredients and their own creative flair in the kitchen.”

Last year’s camp centered around an international theme, with children preparing a wide range of cultural dishes. On pizza day, campers learned to prepare vegetables, try new toppings, create a sauce, roll the dough and put it together.

While Kid’s Culinary Camp is designed to cover the basics, Swanson knows plenty of young chefs show up at camp already well-versed in the kitchen.

“I think kids today are more into cooking than we were when I was a kid growing up. That was just something our parents did,” says Swanson. “So, we helped in the kitchen a little bit, but with all of the cooking shows on TV these days, kids are attune to cooking.”

Engaging children in the kitchen can have far-reaching effects, beyond learning to cook. When parents and children work together in the kitchen, they can also encounter the five senses, practice following directions, discover healthy alternatives, practice their math skills and build self-confidence through creativity. Some studies link kids in the kitchen with healthier eating choices and a better appetite for fruits and vegetables.

Lakeside’s Kid’s Culinary Camp is limited to 24 students, working in two age groups: one for kids 8-10 and another for kids 11-13. The camp is sponsored by Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital and funded in part by a grant from Jewel-Osco. To register, visit lakesideartspark.org.

For families that can’t make this camp, several options exist this fall to engage with Lakeside’s kitchen. Fall classes are still in the works but may include parent/child and kid-only classes. Scouting troops and other organizations are always invited for private sessions.

Last year, a group of 100 Algonquin-area Girl Scouts converged on the kitchen for a flurry of lessons on healthy portions, proper etiquette and cooking techniques. By day’s end, they were itching to unleash their creativity.

“We broke them into small groups and gave them all these ingredients they could use in the kitchen and create whatever kind of house salad they wanted,” says Swanson. “We put them all out on this long table with a black tablecloth, and we took pictures of them because they were so beautiful.”

No matter how they engage with Lakeside’s kitchen, youngsters are sure to leave with a stronger sense of self-confidence.

“If we can teach them how to cook safely and teach them skills they can use, they’ll feel more empowered to contribute when they go home,” says Swanson. “Maybe they’ll go home and make omelets for the family on a Saturday morning because we’ve taught them how to do that. I think it’s something that gives them a sense of accomplishment.”