DECATUR — Tricia Summers is used to cooking for a mob.
She's the cook at the Lutheran School Association and feeds 255 elementary and 115 high school kids every day at lunch.
And even though her own five kids helped in the kitchen, she realized the older ones went off to college without enough skill to manage on their own, and they're not alone.
A study cited by Forbes Magazine found that most millennials don't know how to check their car's tire pressure and only half have read the owner's manual; 78 percent have purchased prepared meals from a grocery store in the last 30 days, most likely because they don't know how to cook; they're less likely than older generations to know how to sew, make basic home repairs or drive with a manual transmission; and because they've learned to rely on GPS, they don't know how to learn a route by physical landmarks or read a paper map.
The study contended millennials have always had the internet at their fingertips, and don't learn to do things because they figure they can look up whatever they need to know online.
“My son calls me and asks me how to do things,” said Summers, the nutritional director at the LSA.
With the pressure on schools to spend more time on academics, there's no room left in the school day for home economics or shop, so when students head off to college, sometimes they don't know even the basics. The idea for an after-school cooking club developed from a conversation with LSA High School Principal Allison Nolen.
“I think that schools now, especially LSA, are really college-minded,” she said. “Which is a wonderful thing. I have no complaint at all, but sometimes the little things, schools don't focus on as much anymore, like life skills. I had been talking to Mrs. Nolen about having a need for a life skills class, and she said, 'Why don't you consider starting a cooking club?'”
At the first session, she taught them how to make caramel corn.
Two of the students who came for the first meeting already know a little something about cooking.
“I cook most of the dinners for my family, to help my mom out,” said Lily Martinek, a freshman.
Classmate Morgan Wayne said she'd rather bake than cook, but she wants to learn as much as she can.
“A handful of kids acted interested, so I'm thinking over time it'll probably grow,” Summers said. Only four students showed up the first day. “I wish we had a home ec class.”
Once a quarter, the school offers an incentive day for students whose attendance and behavior is exemplary. They have a half day with a fun activity, like a baking class, and because those were popular, it encouraged Summers to create the after-school club.
“Depending on how the group goes, if we have enough, I'd like to teach them different skills over time,” Summers said. “Not just measuring. On one of the incentive days, we baked apple pie, and I noticed that one of the kids didn't even know how to use a knife to peel an apple. That was kind of what got my mind turning on that.
"I think about my own kids, and they're really college-minded, but I'm a cook and they don't know much. Parents are so busy these days that we don't have time to sit down and snap green beans.”