DECATUR – TV is full of competitive cooking shows from “Chopped” to “Iron Chef.” Sitting at home, it's easy enough to say “I can do that” and never follow up. But eight teams of 4-H participants and their parents rose to their own challenge Thursday at the Macon County Extension office to make a healthy snack out of mystery ingredients in 30 minutes.
The intensity of the countdown rivaled that of any TV show and the moment the clock started, participants revealed the secret ingredients: pears, cream cheese and mint. The teams quickly talked strategy and then recruited other supplies from a pantry of healthy ingredients and spices.
Last spring, the competition was reserved for kids, which resulted in some interesting dishes.
“We got fruit with ranch dressing last time,” said Beth Williams, a family consumer sciences teacher at MacArthur High School.
However, Williams, who returned to judge for a second time, said it didn't actually taste too bad. One of the ingredients in the previous competition was spinach, which led to a lot of salads.
This year, the three ingredients didn't lean toward any particular dish so the teams came up with a variety of snacks including wraps, salads and dips. Of the three ingredients, the herb threw off most of the competitors.
The father and son team Benny, 10, and Randy Jefson from the Mount Zion Eagles 4-H Club didn't know quite what to make of the ingredients at first.
“We're winging it,” said Benny, who enjoys watching cooking shows.
However, after talking it over, they ended up making a dish they called “Yogi and the dip” by adding peanut butter from the pantry to the cream cheese along with yogurt.
“We both would eat it, it has to be fun to eat,” Jefson said.
At the next table over, the rest of the family filled out the mother-daughter team of Sammi, 14, and Sonya Jefson. They went for a more sweet and savory approach with a fruit salad along with crackers with cream cheese. Through the process, Sammi said one thing stood out to her.
“You can make something that's healthy and you can make it taste good,” she said.
Each team made two dishes, one for the judges to taste and rate and another that everyone voted on for visual appearance. Everyone finished in time and had an additional 10 minutes to write a presentation that included figuring out how many servings of a food group it had based off the My Plate nutrition guidelines.
Like projects 4-H students make for the county fair, after making their dishes they also had to present them to the judges. Williams and Doris Dougherty, a food sciences expert who was in 4-H growing up, asked questions about the process and nutrition before tasting each dish.
“It's all so different from the 4-H I knew, which isn't a bad thing,” Dougherty said.
The top two highest scores, and the results were close, received prizes. Team six, made up of Susan, Emma and Claire Reidy won for their fruit wrap. Team five of Nicole Piontek and her son Jonathan took second place and Evus and Akpevwe Akpogibe had the most votes for the most visually appealing dish with their pear salad.